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Published on November 2016 | Categories: Documents | Downloads: 8 | Comments: 0





Exclusive chat
th K
Mahajan ater
his explosive
w book
b k


A coastal village in
Mumbai fights to
stay relevant

Telecom guru Sam
Pitroda's autobiography
says it like it is



The famous Mellon
Lectures feature
the Chola bronzes

Get pampered silly
on board a decadent
floating resort



STREET FIGHT Wall cartoons in the 70s and 80s. (l to r) A jibe at the alliance formed between DMK and Congress even after Indira Gandhi’s Sarkaria Commission indicted Karunanidhi for corruption; another cartoon
mocking the “unholy” DMK-Congress alliance made at the expense of partymen who sacrificed their lives during the Emergency; MGR and Morarji Desai extending their hands for votes even as they watch the
common man being gobbled by the inflation tiger; and people celebrating ‘liquor’ Pongal knowing MGR will never implement prohibition even though he often promised it. PHOTOS: SADANAND MENON 

From sharply satirical cartoons to pure adulation to anonymous memes: tracing the political iconography of Tamil Nadu

hen the floods
Chennai early
this year, there
was a lot of controversy around
India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) party workers slapped on all relief
material. Online, though, everyone was
dissolving in laughter because someone
had cleverly created a meme that showed
Prime Minister Narendra Modi boarding
a plane to leave Chennai, unaware that an
‘Amma’ sticker had been pasted on his
back as well. 
In a State ruled by larger-than-life figures and their larger-than-life images,

Satwik Gade

suddenly it is the quick and sneaky political meme that rules. This is a major
change in the visual language of politics
that Tamil Nadu has seen over the last
many decades where the close connection between rulers and cinema has
meant that political imagery has always
been overpowering and glitzy. Now,
changing public sensibilities and the
ubiquity of smartphones and the Internet appears to have impacted not just
socio-political behaviour but political
iconography too.
This evolution is worth exploring because if, as Marshall McLuhan famously
said, the medium is indeed the message,
then the change in iconography might

Internet memes are fast becoming the new language of
political satire.
well be the harbinger of other changes to
Mostly created by unknown youngsters with pseudonyms such as Meme
Maams, Kathi, Cookie Kumar, Tight Mohan, etc., the memes borrow heavily
from film songs and dialogues. They are
spliced with real photos to create short
clips or pictures that spread like wildfire
online. The main target this year has

been film star Vijayakant aka Captain
who has become, for the first time in
decades, a third chief ministerial choice
in the typically two-pronged contest in
the State. To parody his ambitions,
there’s a still photo of him in tears taken
from one of his films and a caption that
says he’s crying because he thought
Game of Thrones was only a game. 
Because of their anonymity, the
memes spare nobody — from Dravida
(DMK) M. Karunanidhi and his
son Stalin to Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, to new aspirant Vijayakant and Pattali Makkal Katchi’s
(PMK) Anbumani Ramadoss, everyone is a target. The creators are
not directly affiliated to any political party but sometimes it’s a politician who picks up the tab for
their work. According to a recent
report in The Hindu, they could be
paid as much as Rs. 1 lakh for a
really good meme. As a result, the
political meme has become the
most democratic visual tool today,
breaking the hegemony of cash
and clout over physical spaces.
Interestingly, the three chief
ministerial aspirants occupy distinct graphical spaces in the public
imagination. From Karunanidhi
who once ruled hand-painted wall
graffiti, to Jayalalithaa who is synonymous with gigantic banners,
and now Vijayakant who has
emerged as the undisputed king of
Internet memes. 
The 1970s and 80s saw an exContinued on page 2






Inheriting the sea
Chimbai’s tenuous survival is probably characteristic of most fishing villages along
the coastline of Mumbai, as they shakily fight the onslaught of dwindling fish and
proliferating concrete
Chimbai village is what historic Bombay
might have looked like: a chain of small
fishing villages, facing the sea, packed tight
with small homes, occupied by families
who have shared the joys and trials of life
with each other from a time beyond
memory. Amidst the houses are small

Photos: Clare Arni

shrines and grottoes with images of Mary
or Jesus, although this cosmopolitan
village is not defined by religion but by fish.
Christian Kolis and their Hindu neighbours
both share the common inheritance of the
But this village now has an urgent

tenuousness to it, menaced daily by
collapsing fish stocks and the irresistible
march of predatory property developers.
As the children seek employment
elsewhere, the fishing boats are now
strangely melancholic; grounded, holed
and overflowing with garbage. The tiny
houses are still kept scrupulously clean,
riotous with colour and filled with
houseplants. This is how the Kolis fight
the ugliness of Mumbai’s vast plastic
tides that threaten to drown their
villages. This place seems like the
antithesis of the city; suffused with a
sense of collaboration, where religious
identity is subsumed in the shared spirit
of the sea, and where the slow pace of
the tides permits a connectedness and
hospitality that the burning lights of
Mumbai often forbid.
— Abhimanyu Arni



Continued from page 1

Feminism over chai


When Sadia Khatri Instagrammed a picture of herself and her friends at a
dhaba, she had no idea #girlsatdhabas would become a thing in Pakistan
A Tumblr blog from Pakistan has been making
waves and trending on social media around
the world. The blog, ‘Girls at Dhabas’, features
photos of women hanging out at dhabas,
drinking chai, eating, reading, and just being
as an act of liberation. It all began when Karachi-based Sadia Khatri posted on Instagram
a photograph of her hanging out with some
friends at a dhaba, drinking chai, with the
hashtag #girlsatdhabas. It was soon trending.
Some suggested that Khatri turn it into a series. A Tumblr account was started and soon
women from all over Pakistan began sending
photographs of themselves in tea shops and
other public places, engaged in activities traditionally considered ‘male’, like riding motorcycles, cycling, playing cricket or driving
rickshaws. The idea was for women to reappear on streets. In an interview, Khatri speaks
about mobility, unlearning gender identities,
and drawing inspiration from feminists in India. Excerpts:

A giant cut-out of Jayalalithaa at a
rally last week. PHOTO: T. SINGARAVELOU
ians and their banners began to be
The lampooning of earlier days seems unimaginable today. In the ensuing humourless milieu, even the rather tame hits that
the DMK took on Jayalalithaa this year were
received with glee. DMK borrowed the punchline, “Ennamma, ipdi panreengalemma” 
(loosely translated as ‘What Amma? How
can you do this?’), from a Tamil reality show
and plastered it across full-page ads to address different complaints about the
AIADMK regime. 
As Joker might ask, ‘Why so sad’? Says
writer and political commentator Gnani,
“Political parties and political culture has
become corporatised; they now hire advertising and public relations agencies to run
their campaigns. They are more interested
in brand positioning now.” Interestingly,
where Gnani sees the bigger loss in humour
is in the classic print cartoon. “Young and
creative people are moving to cinema now,
not to print media. Magazine cartoons are
neither funny nor punchy as they were in
the 60s and 70s.”
The memes might be funny but they rarely attack ideology or make a point with cutting wit. On the other end, of course, we
have the worshipful vinyls. “AIADMK has
only one layer to its campaign,” says Gnani,
“and that is the projection of ‘Amma’ as
god.” This clearly leaves no room for humour or satire. 
But is a shrinking sense of humour the
main reason for the lack of political punchlines? To quote McLuhan again, if the
characteristics of the medium affect the
message, then today’s quick and ephemeral
parodies probably suit the fleeting attention
span that the Internet encourages.
Also, as Menon points out, the best cartoons derive their humour by pitting ideologies against each other. In Tamil Nadu, the
two major parties have marginal ideological
differences. And with both facing allegations of rampant corruption, there is no
moral high ground that either can occupy.
In these unfunny days, all we can do is smile
and bear it.

What is the idea behind selfies at dhabas?

slice of life

traordinarily rich visual landscape of politics, when M.G. Ramachandran (MGR) and
Karunanidhi were at the peak of their rivalry. Pictures taken by artist Dashrath Patel
and photographer-journalist Sadanand
Menon, of campaign graffiti of the period,
show a series of wickedly funny and sharply
satirical cartoons. The humour was raw and
earthy and the canvas was the city’s walls,
often pre-booked by the two parties. Each
side exposed the scandals of the other. “It
was the rape of the citizen held up before
their eyes for their own entertainment,”
says Menon. It was irony at its best. “Today,” he quips, “they might earn their creators a defamation or sedition case!”
In that era, however, the cultural background of the Dravidian movement meant
that leaders were respectful of editorial
spaces and the form and content of each
space. Symbolism was used sharply. The
rising sun, the two leaves, classical Tamil,
MGR’s dark glasses and woolly cap, Karunanidhi’s dark glasses and curly hair — all
these were their stock in trade. Clearly, the
Dravidian parties had mastered the art of
‘indexical’ sign language. As American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce said, indexical signs — films, videos, personal
trademarks — require almost no knowledge
of convention to make an impact.
The vibrant imagery was also, of course,
the result of the Dravidian movement’s
deep roots in cinema, publishing and writing. “They were on the cutting edge of image-building and promotion. They had
strong in-house teams and also used art
students to transmit party messages boldly
and effectively,” says Menon.
Then came the age of the colossal cutouts. Art historian Preminda Jacob has
written about the extravagant advertising
that’s the signature of Tamil cinema, and it
was in the 1940s that the first film cut-outs
appeared on Chennai streets. Fittingly, it
was superstar MGR’s protégé Jayalalithaa
who took this and perfected it into the giant
political cut-out. In the 1990s, Chennai’s
skyline was defined not only by massive
cinema posters but also by competing cutouts and banners of Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi, sometimes reaching heights of 80
feet or more. Soon, these were replaced by
the equally in-your-face vinyl banners,
which continue to reign despite a ban.
But with increasing size, the sense of humour proportionately decreased. In fact,
far from being lampooned, politicians began to assume god-like forms and the language changed from satire to adulation. The
first artists hired to paint banners were
those who made calendar paintings of gods
and goddesses, so it wasn’t surprising they
catapulted their new subjects to the status
of deities. More important, politicians
themselves began to believe they were gods,
and just as coconuts are broken on posters
during a Rajinikanth film release, politic-

In addition to being a public space, dhabas TRENDING Women reclaim the ownership of public spaces. PHOTO: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT
represent a break of sorts from the daily grind
without having to necessarily buy the experi- several work with NGOs and research with each other. The response we’ve got convinces us that we need to keep the community
ence. It is like people sitting at streetside collectives.
going, because it is clearly filling a gap.
coffee shops or in other public spaces simply
Have you been influenced by parallel movements in
to hang out — have a cup of coffee or chat.

Anuradha Sengupta

Taking a selfie or photograph is important,
too, because it implies ownership of the space.
Women are frequently told to stay out of, or
remain invisible in public spaces. Putting all
those prescriptions aside to take your own
photo in a space you are traditionally not
supposed to be in — there is a moment of
reclamation there.
‘Girls at Dhabas’ wasn’t necessarily a preconceived idea. Our growth has been very organic. The hashtag found resonance after we
started documenting photos at dhabas. The
hashtag has now come to symbolise a lot more
in terms of the conversation around reimagining public space for women in Pakistan.
We are around 10 girls across Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad who manage the page,
plan events in our city and co-ordinate with
different groups to raise some noise about
women’s participation in public space.
We come from varying socio-economic
backgrounds and work across fields. Some of
us are working full-time, some are in undergrad or grad school, one is a journalist, another, a filmmaker, teacher, graphic designer, and

We have definitely found a lot of strength
from ‘Why Loiter?’, as well as other groups such
as BLANK NOISE and ‘Feminism in India’. It’s
reassuring to know this work isn’t being done in
isolation. It’s particularly encouraging to know
that there is a history and context to gender
dynamics in public spaces in South Asia that
many people are trying to battle. Since starting
the group, we have connected with feminists,
rights workers, NGOs, anthropologists, designers, businesswomen and social workers. It is
incredible and relieving to know there is a bigger support group and resource base than we
realised, that so much more can be done when
we do it together.
What has been the reaction so far?

For the most part, it’s been fantastic. Submissions haven’t stopped coming in. Girls and
women are very enthusiastic about the page
and what it stands for. We are constantly getting more stories and ideas and requests for
collaborations — which shows that the issue of
gender and public space resonates with a lot of
women. The best are the messages from women, even young girls in school, thanking us for
bringing up issues of everyday misogyny.
“I’m so glad I’m not the only one who feels
like this,” they say. There is a lack of spaces,
online and offline, where feminists can connect

Have you been able to involve men?

There have been a few men actively involved with #girlsatdhabas from the beginning — a circle of friends that has been
supportive by helping us with male allies and
being there as a sounding board.
The conversation has to take place among
all genders because public spaces affect us in
different ways, and our interaction with it
affects others’ interactions. Amongst our
friends, for example, we have discussions
about how men, who are extremely comfortable in public space, might be contributing to
creating a hostile environment for women.
What are the ways in which they can be conscious of their behaviour…
Audience wise, men are probably the biggest critics of #girlsatdhabas. There is the
popular argument based on religion, where we
are told our narrative doesn’t fit into the one
Islam has prescribed for women; there is the
quick dismissal by elite, progressive and ‘secular’ men who feel threatened and can’t figure
out why women want to sit at a dhaba and
have chai, why it is even an issue — but there’s
a long way to go before any of those mindsets
can be eradicated or addressed.
Anuradha Sengupta is a freelance
journalist who focuses on issues
affecting women, youth, environment
and urban subcultures.  





Old is cold?

The art of
A series on Chola bronzes will be the first
time Indian art becomes the subject of the
prestigious Mellon Lectures in the U.S.

Let’s begin with a quiz. You just have to name

the film. It features an attack by a grizzly
bear. The victim is a Caucasian man making
a living in an unforgiving, inhospitable, bitterly-cold setting. The protagonist, based on
a character who ate liver, has a dead wife, a
son who is murdered — he swears revenge.
The film’s director made a big deal about
publicising how difficult the shoot was.
“There are no second takes for a director to
cover himself with,” he said. “There was
barely enough light… the crew had to set up
(a shot) at three in the morning.” Then
there’s an attack by Indians. The film is
headlined by a big star, known for his environmental activism, a heartthrob who
played the lead in a film version of The Great
Gatsby. You’ve guessed the film, of course.
It’s Jeremiah Johnson, the 1972 hit that
featured Robert Redford.
Not many speak of Jeremiah Johnson today, at least not as much as they do of the
other big hits of 1972, like The Godfather or
The Poseidon Adventure or Deliverance.
The film wasn’t exactly at the top of my
mind until I saw Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant, which is similar in all

emple bronzes from
the Chola era have immortalised, in their
sensuous shapes, the
history of a people and
the fertile land around
the Cauvery that sustained them between
the 9th and 13th centuries. Columbia University art historian Vidya Dehejia is taking overflowing audiences
at the National Gallery of Art in Washington
for a journey through an age when people
shaped gods in their own image.
Over six spring Sundays (inaugurated on
April 3), Dehejia is delivering the A.W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts, named after
the founder of the National Gallery, which
was established 75 years ago and is now an
iconic American institution that sits between the White House and the Capitol.
The Mellon Lectures, now a prominent
event on Washington’s cultural calendar,
will focus on Indian art for the first time
since they started 65 years ago. Gods and
humans from a millennium ago will come

Baradwaj Rangan
Varghese K. George

Baradwaj Rangan is The Hindu’s
cinema critic.

alive through Dehejia’s illustrated lectures
before an elite gathering of art connoisseurs.
“This set of lectures will indeed acknowledge
and delight in the sensuous beauty of the
Chola bronzes, but we will move beyond the
sensuous, to ask questions that have never
been asked before,” Dehejia said at the opening lecture.
The title of the lecture series, ‘The Thief
Who Stole My Heart’, is inspired by a line
from the 7th century child saint Sambandar’s description of Shiva. The lecture
dwells not merely on the ascetic and
cosmic aspects but the emphasis, as the
subtitle suggests, is on the material life
of the period as well.
It traces the prosperity and the economy
that supported such a massive spending on
bronze images. Not only were they numerous but they were solid bronze, whereas contemporary pieces from other parts of the
world were sculpted hollow. The lectures
look also at the role and status of the women,
both royal and commoner, who commissioned the bronzes and oversaw the
temple events that showcased these
pieces of fine artisanship.
The lost-wax technique, which
makes each Chola bronze a

unique piece of poetry, used the fine clay of
the Cauvery basin. But where did the copper
that was needed in large quantities come
from? Tamil Nadu does not have copper deposits. Dehejia seeks to explore that question and she is possibly moving closer to
finding an answer.
She has gathered granules from a few
bronze pieces kept in American museums.
They will be analysed later this year for a
chemical signature that marks out copper
from Seruwila mines in Sri Lanka. If the Sri
Lankan origin of the Chola bronzes were to
be established, that would provide the most
authentic explanation for what Dehejia calls
the “Chola obsession with Sri Lanka”.
“There could be many reasons for this
obsession with Sri Lanka. Copper may be
one. They were also very interested in the
pearl fisheries in the Gulf of Mannar. That
was a reason they always wanted to control
Sri Lanka. They needed a huge amount of
pearls to decorate these bronze images, to be
sent as tributes to China with whom they
sought direct trade links. They were interested in trade, not territory. And Sri Lanka
was central to this trade,” Dehejia says.
She argues that the prosperity of the Cholas came from rice, which was plenty, thanks
to the irrigation system they designed. “Today, rice is cultivated on a million acres in
this area. We have estimated that in those
days, it was around 70,000 acres. It was their
ingenious irrigation system that made this
possible.” The Cholas used the climate system and the topography of the region to
design an irrigation system that is still
in use and that overcomes the shortfalls of the Cauvery.
The lecture series will turn into a
book later, to be published by Princeton University Press.
Some other legendary books
on art born from the Mellon
Lectures include E.H. Gombrich’s Art and Illusion; Kenneth Clark’s The Nude: A
Study in Ideal Form, and Oleg Grabar’s The Mediation
of Ornament. Of the 65 Mellon Lectures so far, 60 have
been on Western traditions.
Two were on China; one was on
Mayan art, and now we have one on
India’s Chola bronzes.
Dehejia has memories of the
agraharam near Tiruchi where
her ancestors lived and she
visited as a child from
Mumbai, her birthplace.
The nameless sculptors

MIGHT OF METAL (Clockwise from top) Chola bronzes of Nandi, Krishna,
Karikala Chola and Parvati. PHOTOS: WIKI COMMONS
and timeless bronzes continue to lure her to
that land. Dehejia spent around seven
months in Thanjavur, Kumbakonam and Tiruvarur, preparing for the lecture.
Priests of village temples that have lost
their ancient bronzes to safekeeping by the
government complained that the festivals
were no longer the same.
“For big festivals, say a Brahmotsava, peo-

ple go to a big town. The intensity associated
with small temples has lessened since the
bronzes are not there. The cultural lives —
centred on these temples — the festivals,
dance, theatre and music — are fading out,”
she said.
Cast in Bronze, Written in Stone is the
tentative title of her book. But she may well
go with The Thief Who Stole My Heart.


Remains of the day
Blood-stained clothes, photographs, torn umbrellas, and bones: Atish Saha’s photographs capture the
detritus of April 24, 2013, the day Rana Plaza in Dhaka collapsed and killed 1,135 people

wide angle

the ways listed above. But there’s one crucial difference, and that’s the technology
available at the time of the movie’s making.
Take that bear-attack scene, which has now
slipped into legend. The way the enraged
creature lumbers towards the DiCaprio
character, pockets of flesh rippling beneath
its fur; the way it mauls him, tossing him
around like a rag doll; the squelchy sound of
its claws slashing into the flesh on his back,
yielding deep rivers of blood; the dull shine
of greyish claws as its foot rests on his face;
the rasp of its breath, the strings of saliva as
it takes a break to sniff the air, apparently
wondering if this is enough proof of its superiority in these surroundings.
Compare this with the wolf attack in Jeremiah Johnson. Because they couldn’t obviously set a pack of wolves on the leading
man, and because the animatronics technology that birthed such terrifying-looking
wolves in The Grey was still 40-plus years
away, the film had to resort to quick cuts. We
see the blur of a wolf’s underside as it leaps
across the screen. We see a wolf baring its
fangs. We see a wolf pulling at a shoe. (Or
maybe it’s a fur coat, the quick cuts make it
hard to tell.) What we don’t see is man and
wolf in the same frame, at least in a way that
makes us fear for his life. It’s like abstract
art, leaving us with the mere impression of a
wolf attack, as opposed to the one in The
Revenant, which we watch horrified, as
though this man is really being ripped to
shreds by this enormous bear.
The point isn’t about which is the better
movie. (I’d pick the minimalist Jeremiah
Johnson any day, over the overblown, overpraised Revenant.) What I’m talking about
is how a film like The Revenant ends up
making a film like Jeremiah Johnson irrelevant, old-fashioned. The older film may still
appeal to critics and cinephiles, but to general audiences, Jeremiah Johnson, today,
will be a disappointment because its frames
aren’t imbued with the you-are-there-ness
of today’s technology — just like the astonishingly life-like animation in the splendid
new Jungle Book movie is going to make it
just a little more difficult to view the simpler, cartoony frames in the 1967 classic a lot
of us grew up with. Again, this isn’t about
which is the better version. It’s about how,
in the earlier film, the serpent Kaa’s mesmeric abilities were depicted through everexpanding circles in the eyes — it looked like
something a child would draw — whereas in
the new film, Kaa’s orbs light up like chambers of hypnotic secrets.
Even more amazing than the newness of
all this technology is how quickly it becomes
old. While I was entertained by this Jungle
Book, my jaw didn’t quite scrape the floor
the way it did when I met the shape-shifting
killing machine from Terminator 2: Judgment Day, or the mother spaceship at the
end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind,
or Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or
the fantastically-expressive ape in King
Kong — all first-time-ever experiences for
me. And the reason The Jungle Book wasn’t
that kind of a blow-the-mind experience
was that Life of Pi has already shown us
what today’s techno-magicians can whip out
of a keyboard, how bits and bytes can transform into teeth and whiskers and fur to the
extent that if someone placed this tiger next
to the real one, no one would be able to tell
the difference. Life of Pi was released in
2012, just a little over three years ago.
That’s how “old” has come to be defined in


On a sombre evening in Mumbai, photographer Atish Saha and I sit under a sprawling tree outside Tarq art gallery, not far
from Gateway of India. The Dhaka-based
photographer is in the city for the opening
of art curator Kanchi Mehta’s new show
‘Feedback Loop’, which includes Saha’s
work apart from seven other artists’. He is
somewhat anxious but also excited. He
lights up a cigarette and offers me one. I
politely decline, and we begin to talk. 
‘Lost and Found’, the series of photographic works Saha is here to exhibit, has
taken up most of his waking life since April
24, 2013. That was the day Rana Plaza, an

Chintan Girish Modi

eight-storey commercial building in Dhaka,
collapsed, leaving in its wake a death toll of
1,135. Most of the dead were garment factory workers who got buried when two illegally constructed floors, the substandard
building material, and a heap of building
code violations came crashing down. Saha,
who trained at the Pathshala South Asian
Media Academy, arrived at the site on his
way home just minutes after the collapse. 
He had no idea what he was walking into.
He kept going back, day after day, for 16
days, to collect objects belonging to those
who died — mangled mobile phones, photographs, gloves, umbrellas, vanity bags,
undergarments, bones and human hair. He
brought them home, along with the stench
of human flesh and the stains of blood.  
Saha felt “empty, as if something had
ended,” when he stopped visiting the site,

so he resumed even after the government
built a fence around the area. Six months
into the process, Saha started taking photographs of the objects. “It was not a normal thing for me to do,” he says. “For the
first time, I was seeing so many dead bodies
in one place. In fact, when my grandmother
died, I ran away from the body. I could not
bear to see it.”
Overwhelmed by what he saw at Rana
Plaza, Saha felt “the need to process it in
some way”. He also wanted to honour the
memory of those who had died, particularly
as he realised how, for the workers, it was
an unequal world — in death, as in life. It
hurt to know that some tragedies, despite
their magnitude, pass off as lesser tragedies
because they happen in the ‘third world’. 
Saha began working closely with ‘24
April’, a collective of artists and activists
involved in documenting the stories of
these workers. “Almost half as many had
died in the Rana Plaza collapse as those in
the World Trade Centre in New York in
2001,” says Saha. “The footprint of the
building was no larger than a basketball court, while the twin
towers covered 16 acres.” 
The ugly reality is that
these factory workers provided cheap labour for international brands such as
Walmart, Benetton, Mango, and Primark. 
On one of his visits to the
site of the tragedy, Saha
stumbled upon the broken
head of a mannequin. It reminded him of a skull he
had seen lying around
months after the

Atish Saha (below) went to Rana
Plaza for 16 days running,
obsessively collecting objects that
belonged to those who had died
in the building collapse.

collapse. On another visit, he found a
torn umbrella, the metal shining
through. “It was like a human
skeleton,” he says. “I tried to
imagine who the owner might
have been. The cloth looked new.
Perhaps the umbrella had been
bought only a few days before
the collapse.”
Much of what Saha collected
continues to occupy his house, a
collection that has won him,
along with writer Jason
Motlagh, the Overseas
Press Club Madeline
Dane Ross Award for
best international re-

porting in the print medium showing a
concern for the human condition. “The
world is imbalanced. Human beings are
imbalanced. I do not have any middle-class
guilt,” he says about his collection. But
equally, Saha is hesitant to accept any
praise about his contribution to documenting human rights abuse in Bangladesh.
That, he feels, belongs to the people “who
really care, who fix problems, not just talk
about them.”
On view till April 23 at
Tarq art gallery, Mumbai.

Chintan Girish Modi lives in Mumbai,
and writes on art, gender, films, education,
peace and conflict.








‘My god is a faith in flow’



Actor and author 
has teamed
up with Penguin Random
House in the U.S. to
launch a new “voicedriven” publishing
imprint called Lenny. The
new imprint is a spin-off
from Dunham and Jenni Konner’s
website of the same name
that covers “feminism, style, health,
politics, friendship, and everything else,”
and will launch in 2017.


Karan Mahajan’s latest book, which has set off a small explosion of praise, will be released in
India next month. “I see flaws as beauty,” he says in this interview
aran Mahajan’s second book, The Association of Small Bombs,
is a sharp, pacey novel,
which has the uncanny qualities of both
prescience and retrospection. It is a study
of grief, of violence, of
men from small towns, moustaches and
mothers. It is also a study of a changing
India. Mahajan is a writer of many skills, the
most marvellous of which is his ability to
describe a particular kind of interiority.
“Why do the poor refuse to give an accurate
picture of their suffering?” thinks one of the
protagonists, Vikas Khurana, whose two
sons die in a bomb blast in Delhi. “Why
aren’t they frowning, or at least moaning?
Vikas was almost upset at how much they
were misrepresenting themselves. Then he
felt bad for wanting them to be wretched —
wasn’t his job to humanise them?” In his
writing, Mahajan manages to do exactly this
— humanise the circumstances around terror, terrorists and victims of terror.
Excerpts from an interview:

Former drug smuggler-turnedpassed away
at the age of 70. Marks,
known as Mr. Nice, had
been diagnosed with
inoperable bowel
cancer. Marks wrote his
autobiography,  Mr. Nice,
after serving a sentence
for cannabis trafficking in
one of America’s toughest
federal prisons, Terre Haute in Indiana.

Howard Marks

Author and biographer

Greenwood was

killed in an attack in his
home in Oxford.
Greenwood’s Victoria’s
Scottish Lion: The Life of
Colin Campbell, Lord
Clyde was published last July.

‘I felt life was
meaningless and
I thought, foolishly
perhaps, that
writing would be
a way to give
it meaning.’
happiness. And in both these instances
you bring up, we’re talking about characters who are deeply unhappy, even when
they’re recalling happy moments. Everything in the past and future has been
infected by death.
Saul Bellow once said, “I don’t think that I’ve
represented any really good men; no one is
thoroughly admirable in any of my novels.” Is this
something you can identify with?

Circuitry is a trope in your novel — whether it’s in
the construction of bombs, the “circuitry of grief,”
the way events echo other events. Was the circuitry
of your novel laid down in advance, or did it reveal
itself in the writing of it?

Yes. My worry with Mansoor was that
he was too good, too nice, too much of a
good boy. I like writing about people who
make terrible mistakes.
Small bombs, small cities, small men, small
burdens, small thefts, small bones — all that
pitched against the dust, grandeur and corruption
of Delhi. What is it about representing the small
that interests you?

Tishani Doshi

The plot developed organically. I wanted
there to be a connection between the actors
in the novel — the terrorists and victims —
and then, suddenly, in the writing, I would
see it, and race toward it. Let me give you an
example. I did not know that the Khuranas
would meet Malik in prison. It wasn’t in the
rudimentary outline I’d made. But the writing funnelled me toward it, and it became
inevitable. My excitement at the discovery
comes through in the prose.

Among the writers lined up to speak at
this year’s
Simon Schama, Germaine Greer, Salman
Rushdie and Caitlin Moran. The festival
will be held from May 26 to June 5.
Shakespeare will be a key focus at this
year’s festival.

Hay Festival


To write phrases like “his nose was a beautiful
chorus of pores,” or “mynahs with their minimal
beauty” suggests someone who is interested in a
particular way of describing the world — not mocking, but not elevating either. What are you most
tuned to when you are in observational mode?

Hubli. But the mental landscape of these
towns is out of sync with their reality.
Many of these towns are hellholes.
I remember returning to Bangalore
after a few months of travel and seeing it
It’s interesting to go back and see these as a first-world city, like New York or San
patterns because I’m not aware of them as I Francisco. This may be obvious to some
write. These phrases reflect my worldview. I people, but I grew up in Delhi and I had
suppose it’s one that is highly attuned to no experience of how someone from a
flaws and tragedy, but also perceives these 'Tier 2' city may view a 'Tier 1' city. You
flaws as somehow essential to understand- really do emigrate between worlds when
ing the world. I see flaws as a kind of beauty. you come from those towns. I’ve been an
I was struck by the study of the small-town Indian immigrant in the US. Perhaps this makes
male in your book, and your depictions of male it easier for me to enter the worldview of
friendships in India, could you say why you were any immigrant, of any outsider.
interested in writing about these things?
As for male friendships, the sexes
I travelled around small-town India a lot remain highly divided. Men tend to hang
for a job from 2010-2012 and I was im- out in groups of men. Movies present
pressed by the energy I encountered in these these groups as brutal or funny, but there
places. I met a number of young, striving, can be a kind of tenderness in these
enterprising people in cities like Aligarh and groups too, particularly when the men

don’t have fully developed friendships
with women.
When Vikas Khurana meets Deepa (his wife to
be), he sees her as “a fragile biological creature.”
Mansoor, on the other hand, is consumed by the
idea that his mother “noble creature with her dark
thick skin and mauve lips” is going to die. Death
and almost-death are everywhere in this book.
Have you always been interested in mortality?

This is a wonderful observation. I have
always been interested in mortality. An
early awareness of death is what drew me
to writing in the first place. I felt life was
meaningless and I thought, foolishly perhaps, that writing would be a way to give
it meaning, or at least to connect all the
meaningless things I was observing.
For this book, I was interested in how
depression makes us attuned to mortality.
I don’t think happy people think about
death all the time. It’s a sign of un-

I think our dreams are often out of step
with the reality, our means. There’s a
sadness and comedy there. This is what
drew me to the work of R.K. Narayan and
even V.S. Naipaul. They seem constantly
aware of it. It’s an admittance of defeat on
the part of the writer as well, a sort of
humility. A very different kind of writer
writes political novels about the people
truly in power, I think. This kind of writer
may be a politician at heart.
The consideration of God — whether it’s the
young politicised men who find Allah, or Vikas
wondering whether the State Bank of India could
be God — is a significant part of the book’s
texture. As a novelist, who or what are your

My god right now is a faith in flow. I’m
afraid this faith will be destroyed, proven
empty, at some point. But I have a faith in
the unconscious mind. I trust the jump
between sentences and I trust readers will
follow them. I suppose I have put faith in
readers as well.
I also have a deep-seated belief, which
is either Hindu or Rawlsian, that I could
have easily been born into a different
family or country or religion; that my
“self,” so to speak, is an accident. So I feel
driven to enter into the lives of people
who are suffering. I feel a duty to
understand them. It’s a stupid way to live,
but I come from a guilt-based society and
guilt remains a powerful engine.


The telecom man


Sam Pitroda’s autobiography traces the country’s telecom revolution with a touch of wry humour


If the phone is ubiquitous in India today, it is
largely due to the amazing journey of one
man — Satyanarayan (abbreviated to ‘Sam’
by an HR clerk who couldn’t get her tongue
around the name) Pitroda (a Gujarati community of metal-workers who traditionally
used pitr or brass), the son of an unschooled
labourer. Pitroda’s drive and vision not only
earned him a 100 patents and millions of
dollars in America, but the role of a change
agent and path-breaker in his home country.
Pitroda believes his destiny was shaped by
his parents’ decision to send him away, at
the age of eight, from their meagre home in

Govindan Nair

Orissa to a school in Gujarat. The Gandhian
values instilled there, followed by a Baroda
college, which honed his interest in physics
and revealed his entrepreneurial instincts,
provided the platform for a master’s degree
in electrical engineering from Illinois Institute of Technology and entry into the field
of telecommunications.
“Most of my personal work,” Pitroda says,
“is about disruptive innovations.” Engaging
with digital switching technologies that
would change communications systems
across the world, he went on to patent an
electronic diary that he claims was the first
electronic handheld device, and a mobile
wallet that pioneered mobile payment systems.
In his 70s now, he says: “I still keep in-

venting, filing more patents, and seeking built a young team to implement his vision,
new opportunities to design products and is enthralling. C-DOT set about developing a
change the world.”
completely indigenous sophisticated teleWorking in America gave Pitroda domain phone technology, coordinating production
expertise, management skills and unbound- and managing installation of a network of
ed confidence in his capacity to get things rural telephone exchanges (RAX), all in a
done. Having been the chief executive offi- 36-month time-frame. ‘A RAX a day’ was
cer of an influential firm and earned his first their slogan. The result: more than two milmillion well before the age of 40, he was lion yellow public phones across the country
ready to take up bigger challenges: to make a connecting India like never before, flagging
difference in the country of his birth. The off the telecom revolution.
possibility arose when he witnessed the
In the light of the success in utilising techplight of telephone services in India.
nology to effect deep-seated change, with
With an arrogance born partly out of igno- Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s encouragerance, he saw himself as the one to fix it. ment, Pitroda turned his attention to other
“Connecting India” became
his big dream. Realising politleading to establishment
ical will was crucial, he spared
of National Technology
no efforts in bringing on
Missions in areas of conboard those he considered imcern such as drinking waportant to his plans. They inter,
cluded Rajiv Gandhi who he
immunisation. Pitroda
came to regard as his “most
himself accepted the poimportant friend”. Shuttling
sition of adviser to the
tirelessly between Chicago
prime minister with
and Delhi for three years, Piministerial rank.
troda networked to set up the
This reviewer rememCentre for Development of
bers the frisson that his
Telematics (C-DOT) in 1984.
mission-mode approach
Thus began the transformacreated in government
tion of India’s telecommunicircles and the infectious
cations system.
enthusiasm that Pitroda
Pitroda’s narration of how
conveyed during interache wheedled the political estions. But the dream untablishment and negotiated
the bureaucratic labyrinth,
Gandhi’s defeat at the
won over sceptics and over- Dreaming Big: My Journey to
polls in 1989, the recrimcame resistance to his interlop- Connect India; Sam Pitroda, Penguin
inations arising from the
er status, altered mindsets and Books India, Rs. 699.
Bofors arms purchase —

about which Gandhi is reported to have confided plaintively: “Sam, I have not taken a
penny, and neither has my family” — the
new government’s accusations of misappropriation against Pitroda himself, a massive
heart attack he suffered and a multiple bypass surgery and, the last straw, the assassination of his friend. Pitroda found himself
not just broken but broke; having taken no
salary for over 10 years, his financial resources were exhausted.  
Returning to America, not only did Pitroda’s indomitable energy soon refurbish his
personal finances, but the restoration of
Congress rule saw him back in India as head
of a newly-formed National Knowledge
Commission and, later, as adviser to the
Prime Minister on his pet subject of innovation. This book is about a self-made
man who let nothing come in the way of his
goals, who claimed that work was his spirituality and who, more than anything else,
wished to see India transformed into a modern nation. Pitroda comes across as remarkably free of prejudice and ideological
baggage, with inclusiveness at the core of his
belief system and a deep empathy for the
Presented in straight-talking prose with a
touch of wry humour, peppered with moving
personal anecdotes, Pitroda’s autobiography will inspire many.
Disappointingly, the later chapters about
his second stint in government deteriorate
into a turgid compendium of his official activities. But that does not detract from the
value of this book, which will be a beacon for
today’s youth.  
Govindan Nair is a retired civil servant.





lling the heart
‘Did colours ever know that prayers lived in them’, asks Vajpeyi in an ode to the painter,
Raza, whose work illustrates the cover of a new collection of the poet’s works

Swati Daftuar

sented in some fashion.  So much of poetry
depends on its structure, its choice of language and words, and their sequence and
And so, while reading poetry in translation, it is always interesting to see the
essence of the original make its way to the
new version in a new language. To a very
great extent, Soni’s translation succeeds in
doing this, and with each poem, Vajpeyi’s
own voice finds room, these new lines in

English echoing their meaning in Hindi.
There are numerous other preoccupaThe poems are grouped in six parts, with a tions contained within Vajpeyi’s poems —
seventh section containing extracts from es- some appearing and disappearing in a few
says by Vajpeyi, interviews with him, and an lines, others returning for more and more.
afterword by Ranjit Hoskote. The sections Amongst the latter is the need and role and
are neither in chronological order nor rigid- perhaps the inevitable presence of poetry
ly labelled, and so the act seems more of a itself. A 2003 poem titled ‘Lament’ expands
rough categorisation that groups together on this in one way, when Vajpeyi writes, I
poems of similar styles, themes and mood. lament/ only in poetry/ because there is no
For example, Part IV contains poems that space left/ for regrets or dreams. In the same
make ‘a place for love’. There is a beautiful poem, he shows us a world with borders and
abandon in the way Vajpeyi writes these — geographical differences and cultures bleedsometimes he colours them with metaphors ing into each other, existing together in joy(Flower that grows between two hands… a ous peace. He laments not living in a world
sky that exists between two bodies), and at like this, but creates the idea of it in his poem
other times they are placed within the con- (where merchants in the bazaar would sell
fines of a very real, everyday world (The city embroidery from Baghdad/ to soldiers from
America). Vajpeyi’s explois still a possibility/ I realised
ration of poetry’s role
when I touched/ Sveta’s friendly
emerges at other points in
hands on a busy road).
the collection. SubramaIn the preface to the collecniam wonders if this “notion, Arundhathi Subramaniam
tion of confluence”, this
writes about looking for the
hope for a coexistence of
“heart centre of a book”, and
the past and present, global
mentions coming across these
and local, East and West, is
two lines: As long as you still
the “heart centre” of Vajhave words/ you can’t reach
peyi’s work.
Brahma’s forest./ This too, we
Whether you discover
learned through words.
this centre, this bindu, that
Much of Vajpeyi’s work contains musings on the nature, and
lies at the core of his work
power, of language itself. The
or not, Vajpeyi’s poems are
book opens with a single poem,
a pleasure to read. The
separate from the other secscope of his references
tions, and titled ‘The Beginning’. A Name for Every Leaf: Selected
and his knowledge is imIt speaks of the word, emerging Poems, 1959- 2015; Ashok Vajpeyi, mense. The book devotes
like a worm from dry leaves, and trs. Rahul Soni, HarperPerennial, Rs.
an entire section to poems
beginning to create.
written in praise of people

Many of the poems
contain musings on
the nature and
power of
language itself.
— artists, painters, musicians, poets — who
Vajpeyi admires. He doesn’t critique,
doesn’t weave in definitions and debates.
Instead, his words seem to explore the magic
of these masters, putting in beautifully-evocative words the very emotions their art
evoke. In ‘Raza’s Time’, penned for the painter on the occasion of his 80th birthday,
Vajpeyi writes, Did colours ever know that
prayers lived in them? Did geometry ever
feel that it possessed the structure of
Vajpeyi’s work is simple, accessible, and
immense in its scope. A single reading only
opens one door to it, and even then, these
poems stay with you for longer than you
thought they would, so that if you returned
to them, you’d find that they had changed a
little. The verses Vajpeyi writes seem to carry meanings that emerge slowly, in layers,
not unlike the ones that surround Raza’s
bindu, their deceptive simplicity hiding a
wealth of ideas within.



Rebellious love


Shah Hussein, widely revered as a Sufi pir, is a
particularly interesting character because he
revelled in his ignominy
which are a challenge to translate, such as:
Repeat ‘Sain, Sain’ even if the parents
Ghoom charakhra saiyan da
Start a romance, make the lover
Teri katan wali jeevey, naliyan vatan vali
Budha huya Shahe Hussain
Heer was in love since infancy.
dandey jheeran paiyyan
she turned in her cradle, no respite for a
uth savere dhoondan lagon
saanjh diyan jo gayain
This has been translated by Alam as:
Like a butcher with his slaughter knife
Go round and round, O Handloom,
the agony of separation rips into the veins
May she live, the one who spins you
The troubles of a hundred years gone
May she live, the one who spools you
once Ranjha glances her way…
— Shah Hussein (1538-99, as translated
Shah Hussain, you dotard
by Nadeem Alam)
gaps widen between your teeth, rise
A deeply romantic poetic mysticism
and search for them in the morning
flourished 500 years ago in Punjab. It was a
the ones who left in the twilight
However, as Alam points out, many of the
form of rebellious literature, breaking away
original verses by Hussain
from hidebound rituals, taking
might have themselves been
freely from Hindu and Islamic
changed by singers over the
traditions, and based entirely
years. As I tried to match his
within the metaphor of love. All
translations to the poems that
the yearning and pain of a
I am familiar with, I became
physical relationship was
unsure whether the words I
transported to a spiritual
knew were actually the ‘origisphere, and Sufi saints sang the
nal’, or had the verses also
language of the Bhakti tradition as they longed for union
changed somewhat (as they
with their ‘beloved’, whom they
must have) while being transworshipped.
lated. Added to this is my
None of these faqir-composproblem of mishearing words
ers cared about themselves or
while they are sung.
their reputations; they were
So my request to the pubimmersed in devotion. They
lishers would be to please
could dance, plead, debase Verses of a Lowly Fakir;
bring out another version of
themselves only to get a Madho Lal Hussein, trs. Naved this very important book, but
glimpse of their “murshad” Alam, Penguin, Rs. 399.
with the Punjabi verses pubwho could take a physical form
lished in the roman script for
or remain on an ethereal plane. The trans- easy identification. Or, better still if the
lated lines (above) from Shah Hussein’s ka- book is accompanied by an audio recording
fis are an example of deeply felt passion, and of the verses, because much of the language
used by Shah Hussein is fast fading away.
That little quibble aside, the book also
reveals to us, yet again, how much this poetry has survived just through oral tradition,
Kishwar Desai
defying religious codification. This was despite the fact, as the translator points out,
that it was studiously ignored by the amahow closely it connected to the folk narra- nuenses of that time who preferred it be
marginalised. Apparently, the only exceptives, in this case Heer Ranjha.
Shah Hussein, widely revered as a Sufi pir tion who noted the presence of this Sufi
is a particularly interesting character be- saint was Dara Shikoh, who sought out these
cause he revelled in his ignominy, calling mystics.
Fortunately, the popularity of the verses,
himself fakir nimana, or the lowly fakir. The
more he fell in everyone’s estimation the and their very human and plaintive refrain
freer he became to express his love. Thus he has survived the wrath of emperors, mulwould meander around the streets of La- lahs, pundits and puritans through the cenhore with a carafe of wine and become in- turies. It is now seamlessly absorbed in
famous for his love of a good looking Hindu popular culture and memory.
Indeed Bulle Shah, Aamir Khusro, Shah
boy, called Madho Lal. He even changed his
name to Madho Lal Hussein, and the two lie Hussein are now much more likely to be
buried side by side at his shrine at Bhag- heard in Bollywood films than in Sufi
shrines. And that is why it is imperative that
banopura, Lahore.
In this little treasure house of a book are we try to preserve some of the original posome known and unknown kafis, translated ems (wherever they survive) in the transwith great sensitivity by the award winning lated form as well.
Kishwar Desai is an author, former TV
Pakistani poet, Naveed Alam. But within it
Media professional and the Chair and
lies the importance and relevance of making
Trustee of The Arts and Cultural
these works accessible to a wider audience.
Heritage Trust undertaking the
Of course, I did miss the earthy flavour of
Partition Museum Project.
some of my favourite verses in Punjabi,


The objective of the book is to study village panchayat level databases and their potential use in
local level administration, planning and policy implementation. The authors study the overall status of
local-level data of two village panchayats.

The Oxford India
Anthology of
Telugu Dalit
Writing; Ed. K.
Purushotham, Gita
Ramaswamy &
Gogu Shyamala,
Oxford University
Rs. 995.

This anthology showcases the works of nearly 80
Telugu Dalit writers and public intellectuals. It
presents Dalit perspectives on caste oppression,
their stinging critique of Hinduism and the Left, and
their angst against a social order that relegated
them to a life of abject poverty.

Resistance and
Politics of Seeing
the Indian
National Flag;
Sadan Jha,
University Press.

The book seeks to understand the politics that make
the tricolour flag possibly the most revered among
symbols, icons and markers associated with nation
and nationalism in 20th century India. The study
reveals specificities of visual experience in the
South Asian milieu.

Mathematician Ken Ono on how a chance letter
from Ramanujan’s wife changed the way he
looked not only at the world of numbers but at
life itself
In the pursuit of sharply-defined goals, we
can at times forget that the journey itself
holds riches that, by far, outweigh the goals.
Life’s journeys hold all kinds of signs and
messages that reveal new destinations that
are far more intimately connected with the
self than with preset goals.
My Search for Ramanujan is the story of
one such journey.
The first author of the book, mathematician Ken Ono, is a professor at Emory University. Born to Sachiko and Takashi Ono,
who was himself a leading mathematician,

turned home to make peace with his
parents. Despite being brought up to deny
anything irrational, he even went on a ‘pilgrimage’ to Kumbakonam, Ramanujan’s
birthplace, where more signs and treasures
awaited him.
The journey is, at one level, literally that,
as Ono moved from place to place, institute
to institute, learning, teaching, failing, recovering and, most importantly, discovering
the mathematics of Ramanujan.
There are many other threads to Ono’s
complex story — an Asian-American teenager growing up at the interface of incompatible cultures and breaking free; an arc of
recovery of an individual suffering from low
self-esteem and lack of motivation; a young,
Shubashree Desikan
bright mathematician moving from bookish
knowledge to an appreciation of what is
divine about math.
Ono’s future in mathematics appeared set.
The long sections devoted to describing
However (and that’s what this book is his life story apart, Ramanujan makes his
about), his life was far from being smooth or presence felt in other ways too.
dictated by logic. Ono had to undertake his
Beckoning from his world of numbers,
own version of a hero’s journey before com- Ramanujan slowly reveals the secrets of his
ing in contact with a mathematics he could mathematics to Ono. Subtly, the reader is
call his own; before, in fact, being able to drawn to understand the difference beembrace with love his “tiger parents”.
tween problem-solving and theory-building
Ono was, even as a child, groomed to be- in mathematics, and how Ramanujan fits
come a first-class mathematinto neither category, but is an
ician, and the demands played
anticipator of mathematics.
havoc with his self-esteem.
In his short lifetime and brief
Being a prodigiously talented
stint at Trinity College, Ramateenager did not help either.
nujan spewed out ideas and theViolin lessons and mathematorems on number theory at a
ics were the two activities he
furious rate. Ramanujan was a
was encouraged to focus upon.
supernova among mathematiAnd focus he did, at great excians, throwing out multiple
pense to his self-worth and
ideas, which no one recognised
motivation. As it happened,
then and few do now.
when the pressure rose to an
Guided by this presence, and
intolerable degree, he decided
nurtured by mathematicians
to quit music lessons and
such as Basil Gordon and Paul
Sally, to whom this book is dediThe day he decided to quit
cated, Ono chooses to work on
and break the news to his fa- My Search for Ramanujan:
the underlying theories in the
ther, a letter arrived from Ja- How I Learned to Count; Ken apparently disconnected statenaki Ammal, widow of Ono & Amir D. Aczel, Springer. ments made by Ramanujan, and
renowned mathematician Srinot just work on his ideas. Ranivasa Ramanujan. In the letter, Janaki manujan used to jot down his ideas methodthanked Ono’s father for making a contribu- ically in notebooks, in green ink. One of
tion towards building a small statue of these, called the ‘lost notebook’, was discovRamanujan.
ered in the Trinity College library by matheOno harboured no real hope of his father matician George Andrews in 1976, and later
permitting him to leave school. Strangely, published as a book. Ono made a discovery
perhaps triggered by Janaki’s letter, his fa- about elliptic curves recently that was
ther — with his thoughts now dwelling on prompted by Ramanujan’s comments in his
how Ramanujan’s life was tragically cut notebooks.
short by neglect, malnutrition and tuberOno and his co-author Amir D. Aczel have
culosis — half-heartedly accepted Ono’s idea woven real-life incidents into a story that is
of taking a break and going bike tour.
engaging while prodding the reader to exOno undertook his journey around the plore the world. The book will make a great
world, where he ultimately found mentors, turning point not only for young and aspirmathematics and freedom from the voices ing mathematicians but also for others who
of disapproval he had internalised. His jour- have a voice in their heads telling them they
ney took him full circle, and he finally re- are on the wrong road.

The Last Queen
of Kashmir;
Rakesh Kaul,
Rs. 399.

A historical saga of treachery, betrayal and the
quest for land and religious supremacy in Kashmir
in 1430 AD, The Last Queen of Kashmir is the story
of the beautiful Kota and how she is, unknowingly,
swept into the intrigues of the court of Kashmir.

books & beyond

n the cover of A Name
for Every Leaf is an
S.H. Raza painting,
one with that now-legendary bindu encircled by concentric
layers of greys. It is,
really, the best way to
introduce the book;
just the right door to lead to the pages within, the words on them spanning decades of
poet Ashok Vajpeyi’s work.
This new collection is perhaps the most
thorough introduction to Vajpeyi’s work,
and to those already familiar with it, a most
delicious slice of its vast expanse. Translated
from the Hindi by Rahul Soni, the volume
contains selected poems penned from 1959
to 2015, with almost every mood, every style,
every idea that Vajpeyi worked with, repre-

A New Statistical
Domain in India An Enquiry into
Village Panchayat
Databases; Jun-ichi
Okabe & Aparajita
Bakshi, Tulika
Books, Rs. 850.

Founts of
Knowledge - Book
History in India;
Ed. Abhijit Gupta &
Chakravorty, Orient
Rs. 750.

The third in a series titled 'Book History in India',
this volume carries the second instalment of thefour-part study of censorship of print during the Raj.
This collection will be an invaluable resource for
book historians and literary scholars.

Rs. 299.

The book occupies a shadowy space between YA
and adult, dealing with a range of issues like leaving
home, existential angst, rootlessness and love.
Steeped in youth, pop culture and a healthy dose of
decadence, Hedon moves between high-society
India and the American heartland.





Gett pamper
pampered at sea
On board bespoke cruise vessels that offer everything from
private diving instructor to customised itinerary

The Strand Cruise on the placid waters of the Ayeyarwady River, Myanmar.
hen the journey becomes the destination’ is a maxim that
perfectly sums up the
cruise ship experience. Journeying to
exotic lands on gargantuan ‘floating cities’ and stopping
almost every day at a fascinating new port of
call makes cruising seem like the perfect way to
do the world — minus the jet lag. Now, how
about revving it all up a few degrees? Simply
replace the ubiquitous and, dare we say, pedestrian cruise ship with smaller, bespoke luxury

Raul Dias

vessels from some of the world’s top hospitality
names, and you get vessels that are as exclusive
as they are decadent.
Amandira, Amanwana Resort
Moyo Island, Indonesia

This one’s for those who regard the word
‘luxury’ as much more than the mere sum of its
alphabet parts and for whom the‘good life’ is
simply, well, a way of life. If the glamping,
tented camp-resort feel of Amanwana on Indonesia’s Moyo Island doesn’t add up to much,
then how about combining a weekend stay at
this tropical haven with a five-night journey
aboard Amanwana’s very own floating exten-

sion — Amandira. This 170-foot, double-masted, five-cabin sailboat — called a pinisi in the
local language — cuts an impressive figure as it
cruises through the archipelago, depositing
guests at the famed Lesser Sunda Islands for a
glimpse of its famous residents, the Komodo
dragons. With an on-board crew of 14, including a private chef and diving instructor, this
hand-crafted vessel by the Konjo tribe is fitted
with all the creature comforts and diving gadgets and gizmos.
Cost: Starts from $42,850 for two, all-inclusive for a seven-night stay (two nights at Amanwana and five nights on-board the Amandira)
The Strand Cruise, The Strand
Yangon, Myanmar

A perfect reflection of the unbridled charm
and hospitality that one has, over the years,
come to expect of The Strand — itself a 114year-old icon of Myanmar — The Strand
Cruise, the hotel’s latest trump card, turns it all
up a few notches higher. Promising ‘a mystical
journey in Myanmar’, this 27-cabin riverboat
languidly cruises along the placid waters of the
Ayeyarwady River, offering a range of itineraries, with the three-nights ‘Bagan to Mandalay’ option being the most sought after.
With all mod cons in place, including a spa,
luxurious en suite cabins, and an on-board
sommelier, getting pampered silly should be
your only concern, as you take in the serenity of
Myanmar passing you by.
For the gourmets, The Strand Cruise offers
up a plethora of dining options that range from
sampling local delicacies, like the sublime tealeaf salad, to more informal BBQ nights orga-


Cost: Starts from Rs. 1,10,000 per cabin, inclusive for a three-night cruise.
all-inclusive for a two-night cruise.

nised on the upper deck. For sundowners,
Sparkies Bar is the place to nurse the classic
‘Strand Sour’ cocktail, rumoured to be George
Orwell’s favourite tipple during his stay at The
Cost: Starts from $2,592 per person, allinclusive for a three-night cruise.

Four Seasons Explorer, Four Seasons

Perfect for worshippers of sun, sand and
surf, Four Seasons Explorer glides over
the transparent, cerulean waters of the
Maldives as it sails from Kuda Huraa to
Landaa Giraavaru via Malé and Baa Atolls
on its most popular itinerary, that is, the
three-night Northward Cruise. With a
maximum of 22 guests on board, at any
given point, your experience on the Explorer is guaranteed to be an exclusive and
personalised one. Why, you can even charter the entire vessel, replete with your
very own customised itinerary and fine
dining options.
The 39-meter-long, three-deck catamaran has 11 spacious, fully kitted-out cabins
and comes with its own on-board chef, spa
therapist and marine biologist, who makes
sure that the three daily dives that are a
part of the package are the perfect introduction to the wondrous marine life
down below. And for those hard-to-reach
diving and fishing spots, the Explorer’s
very own dhoni (a local Maldivian fishing
boat) steps in for an authentic Maldivian
experience. Dining options on the Explorer range from beach Robinson Crusoeesque BBQs featuring Maldivian classics
like maashuni (fish cooked with coconut)
and roshi, to dining with the captain. Aye,
Cost: Starts from $2,250 per person, all-

The Oberoi MV Vrinda, The Oberoi Group

While Kerala’s much-celebrated epithet
as ‘god’s own country’ might seem a bit
overused, the luxury-seeking traveller
would beg to differ. And amply reinforcing
this truism is The Oberoi MV Vrinda that
serves as a vehicle that not just transports
guests down the southern Indian state’s
meandering, coconut tree-lined backwaters, but provides them with a complete
immersive (pardon the pun) ‘Kerala’ experience. While it may be relatively small in
size when pitted against the other vessels
on this list, the Vrinda has eight deluxe
cabins, each revelling in their king-size
beds and polished teak flooring, among a
host of other luxury features.
Offering guests a choice of either two or
three nights of cruising down the vibrant
waterways of Alleppey or a ride along Lake
Vembanad, the Vrinda offers guests the
option of daily check-ins. A complimentary 24-hour butler service, on-board Mohiniyattam and Kathakali performances,
and local delicacies like meen pollichathu
and appams with stew add those extra
special touches to The Oberoi’s legendary
brand of luxury and pampering.


The Oberoi Zahra, The Oberoi Group

Picture this. You’re cruising down the
Nile in Egypt aboard a plush vessel with
the wind in your hair. Historical and archaeological wonders like the Temple of
Edfu and the Valley of the Kings slowly
drift past, while you sip that nth cup of
sweet mint shai (tea). It’s fantasies like
these that are an everyday reality aboard
The Oberoi Zahra, from the group’s newest jewel on the Nile. Along with its sister,
The Oberoi Philae, it rules the waters. The
27-cabin cruiser offers everything from a
pillow menu to a spa where post-excursion comfort can be sought. Speaking of
which, the five-night cruise snakes its way
down one of the world’s most enigmatic
rivers, stopping to pay obeisance at exoticsounding ports such as Aswan, Edfu, Komo Ombo and Luxor, where experienced
guides await to show you around ancient
Egypt’s marvels. Once back on board the
Zahra, expect to be pampered by the onboard team of chefs who whip up dishes
like a roasted, spice-rubbed Nile perch and
saffron pilaf as you sit back and savour the
sweet wispy smoke of an apple sheesha.
Cost: Starts from €870 per double occupancy cabin, all-inclusive per night for a
minimum of five nights.

Raul Dias is a Mumbai-based food and
travel writer who is an ardent devotee of
the peripatetic way of life.

The Sunday Crossword

The masala martini has arrived
Sample this cocktail: fresh jamuns muddled
and shaken with ice and gin, lime juice and
sugar syrup, served in a Martini glass with — if
you like it — a half rim of chilli powder, and you
have the Jamuntini. Or how about a paan martini, with some betel leaf and a hint of rose
A great cocktail is all about a unique combination of flavours. Bartenders in India have
long been handicapped by the unavailability of
a range of spirits, liqueurs and bitters, which
their counterparts in New York or London take
very much for granted. This has perhaps forced
us to look deeper, in our own kitchens, for that
unique spice, herb or fruit that will make the
customer go aaah!
Yangdup Lama, ace bartender and partner at
Cocktails and Dreams Speakeasy in Gurgaon,
has begun work on a range of cocktails that use
single estate teas from Darjeeling. I can hear
the excitement in his voice as he talks about
how the muscatel flavour of select teas from
Margaret Hope’s tea estate would work in a
Further afield in Manhattan, Hemant Pathak, bar manager at Junoon (helmed by award-

Vikram Achanta

winning Michelin-starred chef Vikas Khanna),
has a whole masala library to play with, and he
says their mixology programme is all about tea
and spices. Best of all, he says, guests love the
cocktails because of their unique flavours and
the way they complement the food at Junoon.
The use of Indian spices and herbs is not
unique to Indian restaurants.
According to Pathak, Mace, an award-winning cocktail bar in New York, has a cocktail
menu where each drink is named after a different spice or ingredient from around the world.
And India is well represented in cocktails such
as ‘Saffron’, ‘Nutmeg’ and ‘Clove’.
The use of Indian ingredients in cocktails is
not necessarily a new phenomenon. Back in
2006, Dimi Lezinska who was then the brand
ambassador of Grey Goose came up with the
Grey Goose Chai Tea Martini, which uses his
homemade chai tea syrup to good effect in this
sensational cocktail.
However, as the cocktail culture has flourished overseas in the past 10 years, so has it
slowly begun coming of age in India, leading to

A cocktail menu says it all.
an exploration and discovery of Indian ingredients. It could be a drink as simple as a Jamuntini. When I serve it at parties at my house, I
spend the whole evening muddling jamuns.
And it’s not just ingredients; bars in India are
also innovating when it comes to service. North
Indians will be familiar with ‘banta soda’, a
carbonated lime beverage served in a uniquely
shaped bottle, with a marble acting as stopper,
which you need to pop to drink (South Indians
know it as the ‘goli soda’). Riyaz Amlani’s enormously popular Hauz Khas Social in New Delhi
has sourced a machine that enables them to
bottle and sell their own range of ‘Banta’ cocktails. Again, a unique Indian take on the ‘bottled’ cocktails trend in the West.
And then there’s the bar du jour, Ek Bar,
restaurateur A.D. Singh’s spanking new concept place in Delhi. Nitin Tiwari has put together its bar menu and says that although
bartenders and bars have been working with
Indian ingredients for a while now, what has
changed is the approach to their usage.
Cocktails like paan martini and imli Caipiroska are now passé, both examples of drinks in
which a strong Indian flavour dominates. As
Tiwari says, the audience for such drinks is
limited, as not everyone might like the dominant ingredient. As bartending in India has

evolved, bartenders and consultants like Tiwari
have realised the importance of balancing flavours. So, a modern-day paan martini is not
made with the complete paan, but with betel
leaf and a hint of rose water, so that the paan
flavour is represented, but not dominant.
The other factor that has influenced changes
in the bar scene is the emergence of chefs like
Sujan Sarkar (Ek Bar) and Manu Chandra
(Toast & Tonic, Bengaluru), who seek out new
Indian ingredients and flavour combinations.
Tiwari says he was inspired by Sarkar’s use of
mango and ginger in a dish to give a twist to
Penicillin, a classic whisky cocktail, resulting in
a cocktail called Queen Victoria, one of the
more popular drinks on Ek Bar’s menu.
Until now, India’s significant gifts to the
world of spirits and cocktails have included
Punch, a drink very much in vogue in leading
cocktail bars, and Tonic water, which came into
being during the British Raj to serve as a way to
have your quinine and drink it too!
As mixologists in India and overseas search
for the new ‘new’ thing, it’s clear that our next
big contribution is going to be the masala drink.

Vikram Achanta is co-founder and CEO of
tulleeho.com and Tulleeho, an alcohol
consulting firm.

the good life

Indian bartenders are experimenting with desi flavours, and how…


1 Hissing bird turned and left insect (8)
5 Gathers energy to return prize (6)
9 Mercy one ordered in ritual (8)
10 Hollow case, prosecutor’s last (6)
12 Fix article, breaking nothing (4)
13 Cry, dim hope renewed, for syringe (10)
16 Time poorly occupied by game, second in
town (9,5)
17 Conservative hurt by insulting campaign to
win support (5,9)
19 Golfer modified range, retaining good
standard (4,6)
20 Singer back in Scotland (4)
22 Close attention applied to book set in
New York (6)
24 Money from gambling factions divided
by pub (8)
25 Changing treaty, talk incessantly (6)
26 Appeal to share (8)

8 Damage airman starts to appraise, slowly
rattling instruments (7)
11 Prisoner in rage got out of order
in assembly (12)
14 Hate man with brutality dispatching one (11)
15 Appalling prohibition I’m lifting, filling
a trunk (10)
17 Firm information about year in power (7)
18 Staff brought up and established in county (6)
21 Formerly working with church (4)
23 Routine agreement, no pressure (3)



1 Instant alternative (6)
2 Exclude piece on universal merit in sedative (11)
3 Caustic substance in tree (4)
4 Novelist showing dynamic front, unusually (5,7)
6 Were tests designed to keep one familiar with
urban life? (10)
7 Put away in the attic (3)

The clues for last week’s puzzle, which were
inadvertently missed, can be found online.

© Guardian News and Media Ltd., 2016


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