Thursday, November 29, 2007

Moon Unit

Click for better view


Went for a Kannada play recently by arguably the best company in Karnataka (Ninasam). Very interesting and very dark comedy. Incidentally my first attempt at photographing theatre theatre.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Not So Mammuli

I was in Mammulpet recently, where the wholesalers of the world (or atleast Bangalore) unite. Here you can get anything for the lowest price, pencil to pant, saree to statuette. Only for most of these things you need to be prepared to take back a whole bunch. These guys laugh out loud when you say you want 2-3. 100 stickers of Jesus and Mother Mary? Step right in sir.

But where there's money to be made, you'll find people aren't real sticklers for the rules. In some shops the wholesale ideal was sacrificed for a more plain and practical sale. We edged our way through the milling crowds that had everyone from low income mothers dragging their kids behind them to Page 3 types, trying hoity toitily to keep their high heels out of the muck. A real juxtaposition.

It didn't help that was with three girls united in a single minded need to shop for cheap clothes and that I was the only one who knew enough Kannada to keep asking for directions. And we went main road to street, street to lane, lane to bylane, bylane to gully, gully to building, up a dingy staircase and finally into a shop filled to the brim with clothes, people and salesmen all mingling together in a musty humid mess. Ventilation was something these people were talking about with fondness, like those old buildings that get replaced overnight by some concrete monstrosity.

But I'm a survivor and lived to tell this grubby sweaty tale. (note to self - NEVER AGAIN).

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Marry Me Beyonce :)

50 seconds. That's what we were given. We balked. We fretted, fumed and kicked some non-existent pebbles. We groaned and moaned, begged and pleaded. Through all this we were shown the hand. The proverbial faces weren't listening. Beyonce's management said 50 seconds and 50 seconds are all we'll get. Ad nauseam.

So like a line of grumbling sheep we were marched into the photo pit. Where we waited. And waited. And waited. And waited....and waited. Finally, after all the instruments, stage settings, lights, sound, curtains, cameras, bouncers were in place, a PR person rushed through the line of lens, whispering in their ears, until she was rasping into mine (it wasn't much like a whisper after all).

"They've given you two songs," she hissed, making a thumbs up sign and flashing me that winning smile. I could hear the tension wearing down. The taut tight noose was now a comfortable lasso. Two songs to photograph Beyonce. That's like an eternity compared to 50 seconds. So we all stood and waited.

Until someone else came a-whispering. Only this time, to our dismay we had to move OUT of the photo pit. "To where??" many puzzled faces enquired. To the sound booth, in the back of the first section of the audience, with a good 20 rows of people between us and the stage. Ah. Nice. Thank you so much.

All this is well and good when you, like the Reuters guys have a monstrous telephoto that looks like some weapon Arnie would be packing. Otherwise you stand shoulder to shoulder with our nation's fine press and wonder how the hell you're going to get a clear shot of Beyonce.

So I broke free. Ran into the audience, squeezing, excusing myself and tramping on few toes (sorry :S) until I was 4-5 rows away from the stage. That's when the Beyonce burst happened with Crazy In Love. I was lost, oblivious to anything other than my camera. A little shift to the left and one to the right. Two songs went by in a burst of skin, colour, notes and lights.

I don't really listen to Beyonce's music but I have to admit that the show was SPOT ON. Her singing was powerful, seductive and soulful all at once. The production was huge, astronomical. And there were all those beautiful people - the dancers and the all-woman band of incredible musicians. I didn't stay for long but what I saw blew my socks off.

And there was Beyonce. Mere words won't suffice to describe a Goddess. Phew. Sigh. Gasp. Gurgle. Swoon. There was a guy in the front row, who had on a cheesy, hastily painted sweatshirt that said, "Beyonce Marry Me." I scoffed then, erroneously. Sigh.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Happy Children's Day

Waking up to wild yelps from the school opposite my place, I'm instantly reminded that its Children's Day. Everywhere in India, kids will be pampered and entertained, fed and cuddled and if they're really lucky, even have a holiday.

Well, not everywhere. On the outskirts of Bangalore, in a campus misleadingly titled, "The Indira Gandhi International School". If they're lucky, maybe someone would've dropped in with some sweets.

Otherwise, it'll be a day like any other. All the kids here are orphans or abandoned, mostly comprising of Sri Lankan refugees rendered homeless by the tsunami or constant fighting between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan army. "The government refuses to acknowledge that these refugees could become Indian citizens and thus be able to earn a living. And there are people who have come here over 2 decades ago and still struggle with the meagre government handouts," says Renu Mukunda, who heads the administration of the IGIA, hardly an easy job. She also works with many other NGOs.

The buildings are decrepit, you have to struggle to find any paint left. The classrooms, bubbling with youthful exuberance are dingy at best. The children, age 4 upwards all contribute to the upkeep, wash their own clothes and help the younger ones through their baths and grooming. This when they aren't playing football or cricket, barefoot, with reckless abandon. In fact, the large brown playing field is the only place when they look like any other children, lost in their games. The dormitories are stuffed to the brim and yet more children keep arriving from the refugee camps. The only thing that separates the splinters of their bunk beds from skin are thin mats, mattresses are an expense they can ill afford. To make things worse a big corporate has donated a bulk of wood to the school and insist that they utilise it within 6 months. So a small battalion of carpenters work incessantly carving out tables, chairs, bunk beds and shelves all of which will lie out in the open as there are no buildings to house them. No one thought of donating money or manpower to build more dorms.

Other than a few in-house teachers and a matron, who came here as a refugee 15 years earlier, Renu tries desperately to source teachers. When I visited there were two gentlemen, working at huge corporations, who spent time on weekends and holidays to teach the older kids physics and maths. Apparently there are others like them who would rather nurse a budding intellect than a hangover. There are also doctors and medical students who come in and do free check ups and consultations, constantly striving to counteract the scabies epidemic that rears its ugly head every time a new batch arrives from the even more dismal conditions at the refugee camps.

The most endearing of these volunteers would have to be bearded Babu and his band of barbers. On the terrace of one of the buildings they had set up shop, scissors shimmering as they went clip, clip, clip through a variety of mops, long and short, curly and straight. All this for free. Babu explains, "I'm a barber by profession but I like to think of myself as a social worker." And so, he spends his holidays going from institute to NGO, armed with scissors and smiles. He wants to give "of himself" he says.

If you've ever felt the same way you can contribute to the IGIA, as a volunteer teacher, doctor, counsellor, administrator, advisor or anything else you can think of. I'm sure they desperately need financial assistance as well, so if you or your company would like to help out, don't think twice.

Here are their contact details:

Jakkur Santhe Beedhi

Jakkur village,


Bangalore - 5600064

Ph: 080-28563430

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Tavern

Good times at the local watering hole. Hic!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Daft Phunk

Firstly, thank God for Fergie. The show would've been unbearable if we didn't have her to gawk at.

I honestly don't understand how a band/group/posse/whatever can sell millions of records, make five fabulously produced albums in the studio, perform countless times and yet sound like long nails itching a blackboard, when they played live in Bangalore. The sound was an amplified swamp. Everything was mashed together like the regurgitated mess birds spew up for their hatchlings on Discovery.

Wait, it gets better. The backing band. They'd be tight, I thought. They'd have to be with the grooves they play on the BEP songs. No one told them though. They strutted their terrible tones, their slipping grooves and trumpet and sax solos that made us fantasize about the mute button on the gigantic sound console.

Then the vocals. Ah, the mixed up, out of time, off key vocals. Fergie hit a few notes but mostly she panted through her songs (no, the heavy breathing was definitely not a turn on). had flashes of brilliance in his supa fast raps but once you've seen Freestylin' from the likes of Mos Def, Tupac or Supernatural, all this practiced stuff seems a tad flat. As for Apl and Taboo, I have no clue what they're doing in the BEP. They barely sing or rap and mostly make the kind of guttural noises that a rude chimpanzee might have been trained to do.

Now there might have been a problem with the sound that precipitated that series of unfortunate musical notes but I don't buy that a multi-million dollar performing circus doesn't ensure perfect sound before hitting the first chords for a paying audience (luckily I didn't have to). I mean they performed (the non-musical bits) like pros and I'm sure most of the crowd lapped it up, ears firmly turned deaf. Bravo Black Eyed Peas. Clap, clap.

Did I remember to thank God for Fergie? Oh, yeah I did.
Good night.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

"Be very afraid"

It was in July 2002 when I looked at my project topic through bleary eyes. "The Godhra Riots" it said. I had a week and I was planning another one of those splash dash attempts at meeting a deadline. Leaning on my crutch, google, I quickly dug up a ton of info on the riots and even chanced upon studies on the mechanism of riots, with socio-political and psychological inputs. As I read, I became hungry, for more, and more until I had read every detail, significant or otherwise. Born of a fertile imagination and healthy sense of revolutionary zeal (in peace of course), a conspiracy theory took seed in my addled brain.

Could the riots have been engineered? Could they have been a result of careful orchestration rather than a raging fire set in motion by a random spark? Could Narinder Modi be nothing but Hitler in saffron? The questions floated around me like phantoms, teasing.

I put together the project with a lot more effort than I first envisaged and got a good grade. Then like so many other 19 year olds, I smiled smugly and promptly forgot all about the riots. Until now.

"Be Very Afraid" read the headline of Tarun Tejpal's editor's note in a landmark issue for journalism. The issue that deconstructed the "rioters and conspirators" and gave them faces and names. He sets the tone for the bleakness, horror and stark raving communalism that follows in its pages.

But before we raise chief investigative reporter, Ashish Khetan on a pandaal and dub him India's answer to Woodward and Bernstein, let us first reflect on what he has done.

W&B, broke down the Nixon brigade and exposed him to a country of complacents.They used an inside source (the famous Deep Throat) and printed a string of stories that never dared reveal his name.

Khetan, with immense personal risk, infiltrated the squalid inner circle of the Hindutva clan. He pretended to be a student doing a report on the RSS, sometimes he was an RSS man travelling across Gujarat to report on its workings to the head office in Delhi. Considering that he was actually a sting journalist knocking at the echelon of violent extremism, his very life hung in a balance. Like he says so often in his note, if at anytime he was searched by any of the goons he was speaking to, they would've found 2 spycams and a mic, three tiny things more powerful than the swiftest death sentence.

The people to whom he was speaking were convinced that he was a Hindutva himself. Can you imagine the acting performance that would take? Here were people telling him, almost salivating with glee that they had cut open a pregnant ladies' stomach and killed the foetus, that they had chopped a Muslim politician limb from limb, that they had raped with impunity ("If the fruit is there, who will not taste"), that they had killed with cold discrimination, that they were bribed, that they were tortured (the muslim tea vendors), that they covered up the truth, that they had doctored evidence and events. These were the men he was talking to - goondas, lawyers, politicos, fundamentalist citizens, chief investigating officers, witnesses, the whole shebang.

I think Watergate is a report on a child's birthday party compared to this.

How do mere mortals find the heart of darkness within them? How do they embrace it with the light of fanaticism in their eyes? How do we ensure that the names Babu Bajrangi, Rajendra Vyas, Mangilal Jain, Ramesh Dave, Prakash Rathod, Suresh Richard among so many others remain etched in our collective memory?

By reading this issue of Tehelka. Yes, you could always go and read most of it on their website ( but that doesn't quite do it. You need the visceral addition of paper, you need a magazine to wrestle with, to flip, fold and almost tear in frustration. Read it and find out the depths and lengths that were employed to cover up a mini-holocaust. Read it and peer into one of India's darkest hours. Read it and weep.

I did. I wept because I was a Hindu and knew this wasn't what Hinduism is all about, just like Terrorism isn't Islam or Christianity isn't the KKK. I wept as a thinking Indian. I wept as a human being. Tears of rage, injustice and sorrow. Then I stopped and decided to channel my rage and write. But I still haven't done justice to all I felt as I read this issue from cover to cover.

The only way I can effectively communicate all that I'm feeling is to urge you all to read this yourself, and soon, very very soon, immediately. Lets not forget that every action has an equal and opposite reaction and in the absence of any justice, it gives me nightmares to imagine the kind of retaliation is brewing.

We might all not feel the same things but hopefully they'll all be in the same direction. The direction of demanding that something be done. That this gross violation of human rights doesn't get swept under the carpet of convenience.

If you happen to be a thinking Indian PLEASE READ IT NOW!!!!!!!!