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  • 11/03/17--21:52: An ageless icon
  • She is a pioneer in many ways. Vyjayanthimala was the first
    female actor to be known so much for her dances in Hindi films. Though there were some female actors from the South who did Hindi films even in her time, she was the biggest among them. She was the first South female actor to reach the numero uno position, and at her peak worked in the home productions of three big names - Dev Anand (Jewel Thief), Raj Kapoor (Sangam) and Dilip Kumar (Gunga Jumna) - as well as with Rajendra Kumar (Ganwaar) in her last film. For good measure, there was also Bengal titan Uttam Kumars Hindi debut and production Chhoti Si Mulaqat.

    Across industries

    Her career also spanned films in Tamil and Telugu and one Bengali film, Tapan Sinhas Hatey Bazarey. But her real achievements were a bevy and more of other Hindi hits like Bahar (her Hindi debut with mentor producer A V Meiyyappan and his banner AVM Productions, which was a Hindi remake of Vaazhkai), Ladki, Nagin (the biggest hit of 1954), Naya Daur, New Delhi, Kathputhli, Amar Deep, Aasha, Sadhana, Madhumati, Paigham, Aas Ka Panchhi, Nazrana, Zindagi, Suraj and Jewel Thief.

    Two more films did not do well but became cult movies later, each with an unforgettable character - Bimal Roys Devdas (as Chandramukhi) and Lekh Tandons Amrapali. Whichever way we look at it, and long before the term was coined for popular use in Hindi cinema, Vyjayanthimala was a superstar. Thanks majorly to her dances, she even got the best songs, including cult classics like Man Dole Mera Tan Dole (Nagin), Honthon Mein Aisi Baat (Jewel Thief), Aaja Re Pardesi (Madhumati), Do Hanson Ka Joda (Gunga Jumna), Tumhein Yaad Karte Karte (Amrapali) and even Titli Udi. It is a fact that from her earliest film, her bharatanatyam-oriented dances became huge hits in North India for their sheer exotic novelty.

    Catching up with the ageless diva took some effort, as the lady does not reside in Mumbai. Luckily, her son Suchindra Bali co-ordinated, and after a brief personal meeting at a Mumbai event just so that we would not be anonymous voices on phone, we managed a nice conversation after she was back home in Chennai.

    We begin with the pre-eminent topic of her music, as she also won the Lata Mangeshkar Award for her contribution to the arts some months back. The singer has rendered an overwhelming majority of her songs.
    "I hold Lataji in tremendous esteem,"
    she says.

    Recounting a memorable incident from her life, even before she made her Hindi debut, she says, "My first film was Vaazhkai in Tamil in 1949. After its release, my producer A V Meiyyappan brought Lataji to my home in Chennai as he felt that I sang fairly well. She heard and complimented me. The best part is that over the decades, she and I are still close."

    She denies being among the heroines who, in their contracts, insisted that only Lataji would sing for them, but does not deny that Latas songs for her were timeless creations. But apart from the language, why did she herself not sing in films, as she was trained in music as well as dance?

    "My era was more about semi-classical and folk songs, but I do not think I was a great singer," she says. "My director Tapan Sinha persuaded me to sing in his Bengali Hatey Bazarey though. I may have sung tillana (tarana) once or twice. I was keener on dance. But in our times, the co-star, director and great music were so important for a stars progress and standing. Also, they wanted to ensure a situation where I could have at least one solo dance in a film even when it was not on or about dance."

    Amrapali remains a special film for her in this respect. "The legendary Gopikrishnaji was the dance director," says the actor. "However, I got to work with the best - P L Rajji, Sohanlalji and others in my career." Adding a contemporary touch, she notes, "I have worked with Saroj Khan too - she was assisting Sohanlalji."

    How did her love for dance originate? "My maternal grandmother Yadugiri Devi had a great passion for classical dance and music. My inclinations are deeply rooted from there. She would stress on the importance of gestures - the mudras and the footwork. But she came from a conservative family," she says.

    However, her grandmother and actor-mother Vasundhara Devi (who she called akka or elder sister as there was only a difference of 16 years between them!) had the vision to sense her potential. They encouraged her, did not care what society would say, and so the actor even danced at the age of five at the Vatican in front of the Pope!

    Enchanting moves

    Vyjayanthimala learnt dance under K P Kittappa Pillai and Mylapore Gowri Amma, and Carnatic music from Manakkal Sivaraja Iyer, while her icon for music was Pattammal. At 13, just after her arangetram, she was offered Vaazhkai, and life changed for her instantly. "I never went back to school after that," recalls the actor.

    Her leading men included the best and biggest from the 40s, including her first Hindi co-star Karan Dewan, who was a big name then. But she herself feels that she teamed very well with Dilip Kumar. "We made a good team, and even Saira Banu (Dilip Kumars wife) says so." She rates their first film Devdas high among their collaborations. "Until that film, I was only considered a great dancer and an ordinary actor. My role as
    Chandramukhi decisively changed all that," she says.

    However, Vyjayanthimala has great memories of fun times with Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand and Rajendra Kumar. The
    actor recalls her youngest co-star
    Dharmendra very fondly. "I came to know that he signed the film because he wanted to work with me. By that time, I was married to Dr Bali and was quitting films," she says. "He was such a shy and charming man who respected me hugely. I even helped him with a step or two for the song Tu Mera Main Teri, Duniya Jale To Jale, and he was a quick learner."

    Shatrughan Sinha also had a negative cameo in the film, while Sanjeev Kumar was cast in a negative role in her Sunghursh. These actors were the youngest heroes she worked with. She missed a chance to work with Shashi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan by turning down their mothers role in Deewaar!

    As directors, she rates Bimal Roy
    (Devdas, Madhumati) high apart from Raj Kapoor (Sangam), Vijay Anand
    (Jewel Thief), B R Chopra (Naya Daur, Sadhana) and Amiya Chakravarty
    (Kathputhli). "They were all visionaries," she states simply.

    Chairperson of the 48th National Film Awards, Lok Sabha member for two terms and Rajya Sabha member for one, her joining the BJP after 19 years with the Congress, and a fan following of rare magnitude, Vyjayanthimala Bali is known for much more than just her performances. Her autobiography some years back made news as she came clean on her alleged affair with Raj Kapoor. And even today at 81, Vyjayanthimalas dance performances continue to make waves by drawing crowds globally.

    In fact, yesterday, today or tomorrow, Vyjayanthimala is a born iconic star who makes news as naturally as the sun shines.

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  • 11/03/17--21:54: 5 'Psycho' surprises
  • 5 Psycho surprises

    At three minutes and change, the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcocks Psycho is one of the most familiar in film history. The deadly encounter between Marion Crane and the cross-dressing Norman Bates was shot over seven days in 1959, and every element is instantly recognisable: the shadowy figure tearing aside the shower curtain, the stream of blood and water circling the drain, Bernard Herrmanns shrieking violins.

    The scene has been dissected by scholars and critics and parodied by everyone from Mel Brooks to The Simpsons; its score has become aural shorthand for "something really scary is about to happen." Is there anything a Psycho fan still might not know about this most famous of cinematic moments?

    Turns out, plenty. In his new documentary 78/52, the director Alexandre O Philippe examines the sequence in myriad ways, looking at, for example, audience reaction in 1960 (sustained, unremitting screams) and the films visual obsession with shower heads. In addition to talking with directors, historians and others, Philippe pored over the original storyboards and Hitchcocks handwritten notes. Philippe estimated that he has seen the iconic scene thousands of times. Still, the documentary maker continues to be fascinated by it. Since completing the film, he has talked with the choreographer Sean Curran about the movement of bodies within the sequence and hopes to look at the Bauhausian use of triangles, squares and circles.

    "Theres so much Im still discovering. Thats why people keep going back to it because it goes so deep," he said, adding, "Theres only a handful of movies that do that."

    Think you know Psycho? Here are five things that might surprise you:

    The murder in the book is much different from the movie.

    The story was adapted from a 1959 novel of the same name by Robert Bloch. But the killing is a lot shorter in the original telling. Hitchcock took 78 shots and 52 cuts (hence the documentarys title) to capture Marions murder. Bloch took only 2 1/2 sentences to describe the killing, which ends with Norman lopping off Marions head. Bloch also reveals Normans heavily rouged mug (which the movie keeps in shadow). "In the book, the murder itself is an afterthought," Philippe said. "With Hitchcock, it was all about the murder."

    Hitch had a fine ear for melons.

    To find just the right sound of someone being stabbed, Hitchcock famously listened as his prop man hacked away at a variety of melons. Which one sounded most like a knife cutting through flesh? Hitchs one-word determination:
    casaba. Six decades later, Philippe replicated the
    experiment, hunting down 27 varieties of melons from across Latin America, Asia, and Europe, and chopping into them. He then sent the sound files to Gary
    Rydstrom and Shannon Mills, award-winning sound designers at Skywalker Sound, and asked them to listen. Their expert conclusion: casaba. "It has a very thick skin, and its very starchy and gooey in the
    centre," Philippe said.

    Normans parlour wasnt just filled with stuffed bird carcasses.

    There were also paintings - including a reproduction of Susanna and the Elders, by the 17th-century artist Frans van Mieris the Elder. In a promo for the movie, Hitchcock nods at the paintings "great significance" before quickly scuttling away. A popular subject of painters like Rubens and Rembrandt, the biblical tale tells of two old men who leer at a woman as she bathes, then threaten to blackmail her unless she has sex with both of them. In the film, Norman uses "Susanna" to cover the peephole through which he spies on Marion, the paintings depiction of voyeurism (and more) mirroring Normans own lecherousness. "The version that Hitchcock selected is the most graphic version you can find," Philippe said. "Theyre not just looking at her or watching her, theyre groping her, and it conveys this idea of the violation of a woman being watched."

    It inspired another great movie moment.

    Martin Scorsese used the shower scene as a model for the bout between Jake LaMotta and Sugar Ray Robinson in Raging Bull, from the sprays of sweat flying across the canvas to the streams of blood shooting out of every inch of LaMottas battered skull. When Robinson raises his right arm high above his head before smashing in LaMottas face, its lousy form for a boxer, but perfect for a knife-wielding murderer, which is what Scorsese was going for. Watch the two scenes side by side, and the similarities are remarkable, Philippe said, adding, "The moment you know that it was inspired by the shower scene, you can never look at it the same way. When you watch it, you can almost hear the strings."

    Anthony Perkins wasnt the killer.

    Spoiler alert: Normans mom didnt kill Marion Crane. But it wasnt Norman either, or at least not Anthony Perkins as Norman. The mystery stabber was a body double, Margo Epper. Perkins was in New York rehearsing for a Broadway show, so Epper donned Normans unbecoming dress and wig for the climactic scene. During filming, however, her features were visible in the shot, so layers of makeup were applied to darken her face. Audiences didnt notice that the killers face was completely in shadow in a shower flooded with light. "Youre too busy focusing on whats happening," Philippe said. "Its an obvious trick, but youre so focused on this shocking scene, the last thing youre going to notice is the trick. Thats Hitchcock as Houdini. Hes doing his magic right in front of your eyes, but you cant see it."

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  • 11/03/17--21:54: Slowly losing the grip
  • Enemy of the State by Kyle Mills, the latest book in the series, sprinkles all the spices in the Mitch Rapp recipe originally created by the late author Vince Flynn.

    If Flynns thrillers are not too original, that is beside the point. He has created a pretty popular formula that seems to be working pretty well. Even this new novel by Kyle Mills, the current author, takes the franchise forward and reaches the #1 New York Times Bestseller slot, as expected. It helps that Hollywoods remake of Vince Flynns American Assassins has also been a hit after its release just last month. The timing, obviously, has been well-planned.

    The novel is an action drama that has the right ingredients â€" plot lines that move off into various directions, different characters that suddenly pop in and out of the narrative, supposed surprises at almost every turn, and the good vs bad characters that are sketched out but not fleshed out.

    The book by Kyle Mills is careful to stick to the action and pace of the original - and also to the unidimensional, stereotypical characterisation. The descriptions of the characters are straightforward and state the obvious. For instance, Rapps motives are mapped as: "Sure, hed originally joined the CIA out of anger and hate, but those emotions had been replaced over the years by a sense of duty."

    Hence, you find the heroic Mitch Rapp in the centre of the book, while the baddies are men from the Middle East. The storyline and craft are arresting and come up with unique twists in the tale. But the villains fail to keep the reader in too much tension as they are almost comically shown to be dumb and mentally off-kilter.

    They take decisions that are successful for a while, but soon get lost in a maze of errors that come across as inefficient and badly planned. The meanies of the story are not as well-crafted or rounded as classic thriller biggies that fans have enjoyed for ages. So, its doubtful whether this brand will survive the test of time.

    The novel begins with Mitch Rapp deciding to duck and enjoy a huge estate outside the DC region. However, he gets sucked back into his busy schedules due to the news that the Saudi Prince Talal bin Musaid has been nabbed for donating to ISIS in order to attack the US. Aali Nassar, chief of the Saudi General Intelligence Directorate, is on his own path to work against the king and support the terrorist groups head. Switch to the American president, who tells Mitch to eliminate Saudi officials. Mitch cobbles together a small but deadly team. They include Claudia Gould, his girlfriend; Grisha Azarov, one Russian agent who had almost massacred him, and a US Army sniper who became an illegal arms dealer…

    So in the beginning, there is a reasonable peg to start a bestseller. But as you progress, things get murkier and more complex, so that the plotlines shift crazily as you muddle through them. Being based on a Middle East conspiracy, you do tend to get hooked, but you quickly begin to wander a bit as the story careens off the course. You can get confused with the multiple subplots, villains, side-villains, motives and para-motives that criss-cross and undercut each other.

    Soon, the novels narrative becomes a nest of scorpions, which is mainly gripping due to the pace. But after a while, Enemy of the State becomes tedious because the reader who is interested in the subplots could get irritated with the continuous shifts in perspective.

    Some flashes of Mitch Rapp do come through, and they give some glimpses of a man who is emerging from the memories of his lost wife and forging a new love interest. However, his focus continues to remain on being an automatic killing machine, who has sided with the big American mission of ISIS assassination. You realise this is one man who appears to be a hard-headed hero, but whoa! There isnt much description of the human element that you are supposed to know exists behind this hunk. This is one man who is reputed to have wrestled with a number of monsters in his past as well as his present, but why dont any of the villains appear to be particularly monstrous?

    The prose is straightforward and contains some thoughtful descriptions. But a lot of them are sparse. At one point, Rapp is described as: "He believed in America and the idea that everyone had a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Could any description be more banal?

    Enemy of the State isnt what you call a great thriller, but it has done a few things right in fixing the plug-ins. As long as there is an anti-terrorist war, or even a wave, in the world, it is bound to hook the readers, but not beyond that.

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  • 11/03/17--21:58: Fresh off the boat
  • His third Hindi film as a music composer, Chef, had a delectable score. Raghu Dixits music was appreciated even as the film sank without a trace. However, essentially, Raghu is someone who has been a live musician, performing in multiple countries besides his homeland Karnataka, skipping smoothly across languages and cultures, and making a mark in India as well as internationally. He performed at the diamond jubilee celebrations of Queen Elizabeth in the UK alongside celebrity dancer-choreographer Mayuri Upadhya, his wife. And you cannot slot the man, as he may himself not know what he will be up to next. Collaborations are a special forte, and the partners can be from anywhere.

    Third time lucky?

    He shares a special rapport with Hindi film composers Vishal-Shekhar. When the duo launched their own music label, he was their first artiste with The Raghu Dixit Project. His first fling with Hindi cinema was a single song in the 2009 film Quick Gun Murugan, after which he started out with Yash Raj Filmss Mujhse Fraaandship Karogi as a full-fledged composer. Up next was Bewakoofiyan with the same team.

    He now states that he has formed a special team of friends with Chef director Raja Krishna Menon and its lyricist Ankur Tewari, with whom he had been associated with even before the release of his film.

    We straightaway move to the aspect of film music direction: why has he done such less films until now? He laughs and says, "I am a free bird in my music - I can do just about anything I feel like. But film music is different, and a live musician like me had to grasp the technical aspects of it. Production, sound engineering, programming - I had to go back and learn these aspects. It took almost two years, and I was not only studying on my own but also enrolling for online courses. Today, I can tell my sound engineers and programmers what I am looking for, which I could not do earlier."

    Raghu also says that he has a team in place now, though earlier he had to work with "people I did not know."

    Technical aspects apart, what about the creative side? "When I make my normal songs, I do not have any restrictions. But composing music for films is defined by the parameters of a script," he replies. "We have to take guidance from that. We have to assess the atmosphere, the directors take and vision, the needs of the song - like solo or duet, and whether it is a silent, montage kind of song or a lip-synched one. Finally, the market demands are the biggest determining factors."

    Which was his favourite song from among his compositions in Chef? "My top songs are Khoya Khoya and Darmiyaan. Khoya Khoya is a rare ghazal in a modern mode. Darmiyaan was a very different song for me, and lyrically it was so simple yet so emotional."

    In more than one song in Chef, especially in Shugal Laga Le (which Raghu sang himself), we felt that he is influenced quite a lot by R D Burman? "Really?" asks the composer-singer. "But as far as I know, the only aspect we share is our initials
    R D!" A guffaw follows before Raghu goes on, "Actually, I have not grown up on film songs at all. My growing up influences have been, first, Carnatic, folk, and later, Western music that I would beg and borrow CDs of from my friends. I have also learnt bharatanatyam for 18 years. Film music was never played at home!"

    Now the bharatanatyam, Carnatic classical and folk angles must be the reason why his wife Mayuri told us that she cannot work at her choreography without the support of his music. A roar of laughter follows as he says, "Thats not true, you know. Our interaction is more like her telling me, Jaao, grocery leke aao (Go get the groceries)! Actually, she has worked with people like Ajay-Atul and others. I have always told her to work outside the comfort zone and widen the ambit of her work. But yes, we do understand each other completely, and it becomes easy to follow each others brief, and that makes us happy."

    Keeping busy

    In the last decade, Raghu has taken to film music in a big way and has achieved immense success. His first film, Psycho (2008) as well as Just Maath Maathalli (2009) were both musically huge. Another hit was Kote (2011) and yet another one was Happy New Year earlier in 2017. And while all these films were in Kannada, Raghu is also widening his horizons now.

    Coming up are eight movies, of which five are in Kannada (Fly, Pradesha Samachara, Orchestra, Relax Sathya and Garuda), one in Telugu (Deeksha), and one in Malayalam (Joshua And Jenny). Raghu is also scoring for a Telugu web series called
    B. Tech.

    But all said and done, the live musician in him is also thriving - after all, that is Raghu Dixits forte. Did we not hear even the hero of Chef telling us that he is the famous musician who sings in a lungi?

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  • 11/03/17--22:00: Bitten by the travel bug
  • She is just back from Male, having soaked herself in the beauty of white sandy beaches and the crystal-clear waters of the Indian Ocean, all the while shooting for her popular travel show, Musafir Hoon Yaaron. The soft-spoken, gorgeous Deepti Bhatnagar is on a high, with her travel show for pilgrims, Yatra, netting in sizeable applause as well.

    We meet at her sprawling bungalow in suburban Mumbai where she is busy nursing her operated knee. "Honestly, I overdid it just a little bit with long skiing and hiking holidays in Austria," she smiles. "But that isnt keeping me down. I am only doing those destinations where I can swim, as that eases the pressure off the joint," she says.

    "Musafir Hoon Yaaron has gone online now, and my blogs and travel writing have increased. Yatra is on air again, albeit in a different avatar. We are shooting in HD format now. I shot the first episode at the famous Siddhivinayak Temple in Mumbai. In this edition of Yatra, I am delving deeper into the ritual fabric at every holy place. For instance, we look at the stories behind the different prasads offered to different gods at various temples. I am also bringing out the iconic chants for the deities, the kind of puja done on different days of the week and so on. These are some informative nuggets that make for an interesting show."

    Of course, temples are very difficult to shoot in. For spaces where cameras and phones are not allowed, getting permissions to shoot inside sanctums is even tougher. Of course, Deepti manages it all with a smile. "Often it takes a month for one permission to come through," she says.

    Both the shows have come a long way since 2001 when Deepti ventured into television production. For Musafir Hoon Yaaron alone, she visited almost 80 countries in six years! She has always been a familiar face on the telly with her commercials on the air and several blockbusters, including the Jackie Shroff-starrer Ram Shastra and the Aamir Khan-starrer Mann, apart from movies down South.

    Musafir Hoon Yaaron is now spanning novel pegs in the best skiing destinations, spa specials, adventurous locales... "If you are starting out with skiing, Gulmarg in Kashmir is your best bet. It is home turf, the slopes are gentle, and you can get your comfort food in hot aloo parathas easily," says Deepti.

    "Once you have broken the ice, literally, you can move onto the mountain slopes in Europe: Swiss Alps, Pittbull in Austria and more," she says.

    Deepti is a one-woman army. She has been powering Deepti Bhatnagar Productions for 20 years and can handle shooting, editing, anchoring and more all by herself.

    Deepti has been feeding her creative appetite by producing films as well. Now she begins the promotions for her upcoming movie, Sunglass, starring Konkona Sen,
    R Madhavan and Jaya Bachchan. "I have shot it in Kolkata, in two languages: Hindi and Bengali," shares Deepti. A nice, light, humorous film, Sunglass plays around the curious insights of Konkonas mother Jaya who peeps inside peoples heads to read their thoughts once she slips on a pair of antique sunglasses.

    "We have done the festival circuit and are readying for release in the end of November," she says.

    Travel is in her genes and Deepti is looking at starting her own travel channel soon. Even her sons have inherited the travel bug and love skiing, snorkelling and swimming at exotic locations across the globe. "My son Shubh believes in visiting small remote villages in India to teach the locals new skills like acting and photography, and create an interesting travelogue around that. There are millions of hamlets in India and getting them to monetise on their specialities in arts and crafts and food is a unique way of rallying support for them. Thats next on my radar," she shares.

    "I live and breathe travel. Life is all about learning. So, heres to my secret dream of shooting small films on travel pegs in different countries. Live life large!"

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  • 11/03/17--22:04: Theatre on the move
  • Travelling theatre groups have played a significant role in imparting life skills to people and introducing them to a whole new world. Geoffrey Kendalls Shakespeareana was one of the first touring theatre companies that travelled to distant towns and villages and performed plays by the Bard in the 1950s. However, there have been very few troupes that have targeted children or young adults. In the late 80s and early 90s, Mohan Agashes Grips Theatre from Pune (which looked at the world through the eyes of children or youth) travelled and conducted workshops in several parts of the country.

    Ninasam, a cultural organisation located in the village of Heggodu in Sagar taluk in Karnataka, organises a travelling theatre for three months even today. Shaili Sathyu, artistic director of Gillo Theatre Repertory that works exclusively in the Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA), felt it was high time that she and her group of adult performers, who present plays for children of different age groups, should take a small step in this direction.

    On November 1, Sathyu and her theatre company embarked on Gillo On the Go, a 15-day trip across various parts of Karnataka where they will stage English, Hindi and non-verbal plays, conduct workshops for children as well as teachers, and engage with members of the local arts communities. The troupe will travel to Gubbi, Bengaluru, Mysore, HD Kote, Chamarajanagar and Heggodu where it will partner with local organisations including Ninasam, Dr Gubbi Veeranna Trust, Shantala Kalavidaru, Natana Mysore, Untitled Arts Foundation and Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement.

    Though Gillo Theatre Repertory has been performing plays and conducting workshops for children of Bengaluru since 2010, this is the first time they are showcasing their work in distant towns too. Sathyus original plan was a lot more ambitious but the lack of funds proved to be a dampener. She says, "Initially, we wanted to embark on a one month-six weeks tour across four-five states. We were supposed to go to 20 places from Maharashtra to Goa, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. But it was a huge project and we couldnt get funding and manage the logistics due to various reasons. So, we decided to be realistic and embark on a 15-day project."

    For the first time, Gillo has also launched a fund-raising campaign at Ketto (a crowd-sourcing platform) and has even invited people to donate books as part of their mobile library that will be a part of the tour.

    The idea for Gillo on the Go came from Sathyus fascination with the touring theatre that has a great culture and history in the North-East, Karnataka, Maharashtra and some parts of Kerala and Tamil Nadu as well.

    She states, "Most of the traditional performers take off for three months and perform at various spaces. However, this is not common in childrens theatre apart from Maharashtra and Karnataka where performances for children have travelled, thanks to Agashes Grips movement, and the arts outreach programme in government schools in Karnataka. We are taking inspiration from them and want to share our experiences with children through workshops as well as other arts engagements."

    As part of the tour, plays such as Hanuman Ki Ramayan (based on an original short story by Devdutt Pattanaik), Catch That Crocodile (based on the book by childrens authors Anushka Ravishankar and Pulak Biswas that looks at the hilarious exploits of a reptile who finds itself on land), and a non-verbal comedy play based on two short stories written by Sathyus grandmother, will be staged. The non-verbal play will be staged for the first time and revolves around a family whose patriarch doesnt have great life skills and makes a hue and cry when he is entrusted with a household task.

    "We will use a lot of gibberish and mime in this play. As it was written in the 1950s, Im a bit concerned about the gender stereotyping. So, after the play, we will have a conversation with the kids and ask them questions like who does the household work in their family, why its necessary that everyone should contribute, etc. It will encourage the importance of life skills," she adds.

    The tour will also give Sathyus team members an opportunity to engage with a new audience and explore new places. She elaborates, "The tour will help us to see places of interest and interact with like-minded people. We will be going to Ninasam where it will be a good opportunity for us to share practices and work approaches with other artistes, and observe how they function and train."

    The travelling theatre aims to work closely with adults and caregivers such as parents, grandparents, teachers, etc. "We will conduct workshops for teachers and engage with parents also through discussions after the plays. We want to make them understand the significance of arts in a childs life," she mentions.

    One of Gillos long-term objectives is to create a network of institutions that are interested in arts and cultural experiences for young audiences and to enable other practitioners to engage similarly with them, all around the year. Sathyu concludes that in the long run, she wants to take theatre outside metros to smaller towns and rural spaces across India, where the locals have no access to theatre.

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  • 11/03/17--22:08: Goodall's unparalleled life
  • If you ever meet Jane Goodall and well up with overwhelmed joy, you wont be alone. "I make everybody cry," said Goodall, the primatologist and conservationist. "The Jane effect."

    Tears have indeed been shed at Jane, a new documentary about her early life and accomplishments. Its based on more than 100 hours of footage, shot in the 1960s for National Geographic and hidden in its archives since. The cameraman was Hugo van Lawick, who arrived to document Goodalls life among the chimpanzees in Gombe, Tanzania, and left as her husband.

    "Its like Marlene Dietrich and Josef Von Sternberg, this classic coupling," said Brett Morgen, the director of Jane.

    Goodall, 83, has a dry sense of humour ("You grow from a baby to an old lady, and then you get older, or not, depending on how many face-lifts you have," she said) and a well-earned warmth.

    "Can I give you a chimp hug?" she asked at the end of an interview in a Manhattan hotel in New York.

    These are edited excerpts from the conversation:

    Now youre used to attention, but early on, how did you feel about being observed yourself, in the same way you observed chimps?

    I knew Geographic sent Hugo out to get what he could of the chimps but also to document me, and I wasnt happy particularly, but I knew we needed to get that - I needed Geographic funding. So, if Hugo wanted to film me washing my hair, so be it. I couldnt think why on earth anybody wanted to see me washing my hair. It turns out to be one of the most favourite scenes in the film.

    The footage is beautifully composed. Were there moments when Hugo said, can you just move a little to the right?

    Oh yes, it was nightmarish. I had to eat the same thing five times, redo everything. Luckily, one of the first jobs I had was in a studio in London, in the very old days, doing 35-millimetre stuff for advertisements, and I learned a lot of tricks. And so when these film-makers say, That was perfect, can we do it again? I know why, whereas most scientists get so pissed off.

    What was the experience like of watching the film, especially the start of your romance with Hugo and then the dissolution of your marriage?

    I actually hadnt imagined that there could be anything new out of all that footage. So many documentaries have been made about me. Miss Goodall and the Wild Chimpanzees (the first one) was so inaccurate. Orson Welles narrated it, and so I got my lawyer, and Orson Welles had to re-record it.

    When I saw this one, it just took me right back to who I was, in a different way. I loved watching the growing closeness between me and Hugo at Gombe, and the happiness of our wedding and the birth of our son. And it was healing to suddenly realise, with hindsight, how the end of our marriage was, in a way, inevitable - and for the information we both could share with the world, very important.

    You always dreamed of going to Africa to study animals, but initially, you had no formal training or scientific background. Did you ever have any impostor syndrome, worrying that
    you werent up to the task?

    Not at all. When the chimps were running away, I was terrified the money would run out. I knew if I could have long enough, it would be OK. Im an obstinate kind of
    person, so challenges are to be met.

    It was almost unthinkable for a young woman to do this job, but you never considered that an obstacle.

    No, I wasnt brought up that way. Everybody else laughed at me, but Mom didnt. Women werent scientists. When I was growing up, you could be a nurse, a missionarys wife, a secretary, and then, oh, how exciting, you could be an air hostess. A lot of people said to me, dont you want to be an air hostess? Looking back on it, being a woman in Africa was a plus because back then, it was just newly independent or moving towards independence, and white males were threatening and not liked by the Africans. But as a woman, they all wanted to help me. And this business about (being) the Geographic cover girl - it didnt hurt that I wasnt ugly. There wasnt any competition with males in that field because nobody was doing it. Sometimes being a woman, theres, you know (the suggestion from a superior), lets have a little fling. And (if you say no, you worry) will that compromise your success in achieving your goal? Maybe I was lucky that it didnt work out that way.

    Were you ever afraid?

    Sometimes - when the chimps began to lose their fear, they became extraordinarily aggressive, and theyre all eight, 10 times stronger than you are. They treated me like a predator like they would treat a leopard. So their hairs sticking out, and theyre screaming, and theyre up in a tree, swaying branches, hitting my head with it. Fortunately, while it was going on, I wasnt scared. I thought, Oh, itll be all right, Im meant to be here. (I) dug little holes in the ground, ate leaves, didnt look at them, and indeed, as I hoped, they went away. It was afterwards, though, that my legs were all shaky.

    The scientific method of observation is very different now; there is no contact between scientist and animal. Do you miss the closeness that you had?

    I miss being in the forest. When I look at that film and think of the relationship I had with (the chimps) Flo and David Greybeard, it was magical, and itll never come back. Nobody will ever do it that way again. I go back (to Gombe) twice a year, and I insist on one day when Im on my own in the forest. But there are tourists and VIPs coming, and its so different.

    Is that bittersweet?

    Well, in a way, if it was exactly like it used to be, Id be even more miserable not to be there.

    What are you afraid of now?

    Not death, per se. Because its either nothing, or something, in which case, thatll be very exciting. But I think one is afraid of getting decrepit and all that. (For the world) I think weve got to tackle poverty, the unsustainable lifestyle of the rest of us, and human population growth. Those three things, its led to climate change and all the rest of it. Weve got to make the change somehow, or else whatll it be like in 50 years? Im afraid for my grandchildrens children.

    What can we do to help this gloomy situation? I meet so many incredible people doing amazing things, saving animals on the brink of extinction, restoring the forest, cleaning up a river. Its knowing what can be done that gives people the courage to fight.

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  • 11/03/17--22:08: Not so l'awful'
  • Earlier this year, John Grisham announced that his next legal thriller would be about the scams behind many for-profit law schools. But its a long leap from subject matter to story, and Grishams newly reanimated storytelling skills are what make The Rooster Bar such a treat.

    This novel was prompted by an illuminating essay that condemned student-entrapping practices: The Law-School Scam, by Paul Campos, which ran in The Atlantic in 2014. But how do you translate the ethical and economic issues raised by Campos into the high drama of a swift legal thriller? If youre Grisham, you postulate a David vs Goliath situation and take it from there.

    He begins by describing the sleaziest for-profit law school he can imagine. Foggy Bottom Law School advertises the ease with which its happy graduates land high-paying jobs at prestigious firms, but this books three main characters - Mark, Todd and Zola - are not happy. Halfway through their final year at school, they have wised up to the only real attainment Foggy Bottom has earned them: a mountain of debt.

    Grisham demonstrates a Dickensian flair for evocative names. Yes, Foggy Bottom is a real neighbourhood in Washington, D.C., but its also the perfect name for a school this dismal.

    Hinds Rackley is the billionaire who owns the school, and others like it, through shell companies with names like Varanda Capital, Baytrium Group and Lacker Street Trust. Hes also a loan shark, with dirty dealing going on at firms including Quinn & Vyrdoliac and Sorvann Lenders.

    Gordy, a friend of the three law students, has pasted all these company names, plus pictures and connecting lines, on a board in his apartment, like any good wild-eyed conspiracy theorist. The monstrousness of what he discovers drives him out of his mind.

    Always helpful to his readers, Grisham lays out the basics simply, including this list: "(1) FBLS was a subpar law school that (2) made too many promises, and (3) charged too much money, and (4) encouraged too much debt while (5) admitting a lot of mediocre students who really had no business in law school, and (6) were either not properly prepared for the bar exam or (7) too dumb to pass it."

    Once Mark, Todd and Zola have figured this out, they realise that completing their studies is a waste of money and time. So they come up with a rebellious idea: why not start behaving like lawyers before graduation? Theyve seen low-level members of the profession hanging around courthouses trying to drum up business; nobody ever asks for proof that these hustlers have passed the bar. So Mark and Todd begin doing that, while Zola gets the ambulance-chasing beat. The Rooster Bar of the title is their local watering hole, above which they keep an apartment/office to use as an address on business cards for their completely bogus firm.

    It all goes swimmingly - for a while. Grisham writes in such an inventive spirit that he even includes the three characters correspondence with the agents assigned to service their school loans. The collection agents also work for Rackley-owned companies, and the tactics Mark, Todd and Zola use to keep them at bay are great fun to follow. Mark goes for sympathy. ("The last thing I want to talk about is repayment. Thanks for your patience. Your friend, Mark.") Todd plays it nasty. ("I can make more money tending bar than you can harassing students.") Zola plays it polite, and has truly extenuating circumstances with which to deal: Her Senegalese parents, who have been U S citizens for more than two decades, are about to be deported. Even so, the lenders nagging never ends.

    About two-thirds of the way through this buoyant, mischievous thriller, the rogue students own scamming starts to falter. Theyre in over their heads. Theyve gone to a terrible school, and their legal training hasnt prepped them for much. They know theyre committing a few little felonies but dont quite grasp the magnitude of the trouble theyre in. Their gamesmanship skills have to shoot sky-high as they try to stay one step ahead of the forces aligned to nail them.

    The Rooster Bar is written with the same verve Grisham brought to this summers Camino Island; with the same sense that this reliable bestselling author is feeling real pleasure, and not just obligation, in delivering his work. He seems genuinely to like this books main characters, even if the two men sound very similar and could be mistaken for young boys if it werent for their perfunctory sexual encounters - with the same woman, Hadley, an ace prosecutor whos young, single and competing with her roommate over how many guys each can sleep with.

    As in all of Grishams best books, the reader of The Rooster Bar gets good company, a vigorous runaround and - unlike those poor benighted suckers at Foggy Bottom - a bit of a legal education.

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  • 11/03/17--22:16: Quick Take
  • When Aravind Adigas debut novel, The White Tiger, won the Man Booker Prize in 2008, the world woke up and took notice of this prolific writer who grew up in Mangaluru, studied in Canara High School and St Aloysius College, before emigrating to Sydney in Australia. He pursued his higher education in English Literature at Columbia University, New York, as also at Magdalen College, Oxford. He began his career as a financial journalist and worked for TIME before taking up writing full-time. He now lives in Mumbai. His other notable works include Between the Assassinations, Last Man in Tower, and Selection Day, which has been shortlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2017.

    Excerpts from an interview:

    Who are your literary icons?

    Ramachandra Guha, Shivarama Karanth, William Faulkner, and many more.

    Do you have a writing routine?

    Yes. I try to write every morning, every afternoon, and every evening.

    Whats on your writing desk?

    A laptop.

    What helps you write?

    My mother, my icons, and my insecurity.

    Your current read?

    Accidental Magic, a new novel by a brilliant young writer named Keshava Guha.

    What are you scared of?

    A book called The White Tiger.

    Whats on your plate next?

    My first novel set outside India.

    What would you change about

    I would not have left Mangaluru after my mothers death in 1990.

    Your worst habit?

    Thinking about the past, and how I would change it.

    Your greatest achievement?

    Standing first in the SSLC exam in the state of Karnataka in 1990.

    Your favourite place in the world?

    Landour, Uttarakhand.

    Your favourite hero of fiction?

    Raju, the hero of RK Narayans

    The Guide.

    Your heroes in real life?

    Ram Guha, for his brilliance, which all of you know, and for his compassion.

    What do you most appreciate
    in people?


    Favourite place to holiday?

    Garhwal. In particular, the town of Landour.

    Your idea of happiness?

    An evening with my maternal grandfather, Udupi Mohan Rau, and my mother, Usha, in our
    ancestral home in Chennai.

    Your present state of mind?

    Bewilderment, at what is
    happening to India before my eyes.

    Life, according to you... best lived in Mangaluru. Or maybe in Chennai. I cant decide.

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  • 11/03/17--22:32: The island flavours
  • If theres one thing that shaped the landscape, cuisine, economy and in fact, the very destiny of Mauritius, it is sugarcane. Such is its importance that it features in the Mauritian coat of arms. Mauritius may be located just over a 1,000 kilometres east of Madagascar, yet its cultural and culinary influences are far-reaching - from African, Dutch, French, British and Indian to Chinese. The reason, again, is sugarcane

    While the Portuguese were the first humans to set foot on Mauritius in 1505, the Dutch colonised the island in 1598 and named it after their ruler Maurice, Prince of Orange. Besides introducing African slaves, wild boar and tobacco, the Dutch also brought in sugarcane from Java in mid-17th century. Being inferior in quality, it was mostly used for producing rum. After the Dutch left in 1710, the country came under the French, who initiated sugar production and turned Il Maurice (French for Mauritius) into a successful trading base. Plantation workers and slaves brought from Africa and Madagascar during the French occupation to work on the sugarcane fields eventually formed the Mauritian Creole community.

    By the end of the 18th century, Mauritius was producing enough sugar to supply passing ships and the Mascarene Islands (a collective term for Mauritius, Rodriguez and Reunion islands). In 1810, Mauritius was ceded to Britain, who freed the slaves and transformed sugar into an industry. The turning point came in 1825 when Governor Farquhar persuaded the British Empire to allow Mauritian sugar into the British market at the same rate as West Indies. The exploitative navigation law was also repealed, allowing Mauritius to trade with countries other than England.

    After slavery was abolished in 1835, new immigrants were needed to develop the island and the workforce was replenished with workers from China and India. Indian immigrants landed at the Aapravasi Ghat in capital Port Louis to work as indentured labourers, and Mauritius became the first country to benefit from Indian labour under contract. Governor Higginson (1851-1857) called them "the key to colonial prosperity." Whether they came from Bharuch or Bhagalpur, the Indian immigrants brought their food with them.

    From frata (paratha), achard (anchar), briani (biryani), samoussa (samosa), gajak (pakoda), alouda (falooda) and curries to an assortment of chutneys, many dishes in Mauritian cuisine are of Indian parentage. Perhaps the most iconic crossover and easily the national dish is dholl puri. Borrowed from the Bihari staple dalpuri (a dal paratha), it is often rolled up with white bean curry, pickle and chutney.

    A taste of India

    In Mauritius, everything seems like a case of misheard lyrics. Familiar Indian words are softened and stretched like dough into convoluted forms, phonetically interpreted with Caribbean flair.

    As we drive, the road is lined with sugarcane fields that extended to the coast on one side and collide against jagged mountains on the other. The island was formed after the eruption of the Bassin Blanc volcano, now a crater on the islands southwest with a freshwater lake.

    Its a short ride to our resort, an oasis by the sea with diverse culinary experiences. At Rum Shed, manager Bobby Ghoora plies us with bottomless barrels of spiced rum, as we feast on prawn pancakes and calamari. There are signature cocktails like Rum Dawa using ginger-infused rum, Waw Mojito with cardamom & lime-infused rum, and Bab Daiquiri with banana and vanilla-infused rum!

    At La Vanille Crocodile Park, a 3.5-hectare reserve, besides feeding Aldabra giant tortoises and petting iguanas, you could try crocodile meat. Ironically, the restaurant is called Le Crocodile Affam or the Hungry Crocodile, and it serves a sample crocodile degustation platter with mini spring rolls, mini kebabs, smoked crocodile and salad. The local favourite, "urs de palmier or heart of palm, makes a great salad, often mixed with salad leaves and a variety of seafood - oysters, shrimp, crayfish, prawns, smoked marlin and crabs - and tossed with sauce rouge (red sauce) into Millionaires Salad.

    The best place to learn more about the history of Mauritius and its tryst with sugar is LAventure du Sucre, a sugar factory and museum near the famous Pamplemousses Botanical Gardens. The self-guided tour, enlivened by info panels and videos, ends with tasting 12 types of sugars and nine rums! At Chamarel, besides exotic flavours like vanilla, mandarin and coffee rum on offer, the LAlchimiste restaurant liberally uses rum for various dishes - Chamarel espresso, pork braised with Chamarel rum and Chamarel rum baba or baba au rhum, a small yeast cake saturated in syrup made with rum. Chateau de Labourdonnais, a historic estate started in 1771, has a distillery and old bungalow run like a heritage museum, showcasing Mauritian lifestyle in the 19th century.

    July to December is sugarcane harvest season, when distilleries are busy with production. Mauritius is a tropical paradise also known for its sweet pineapples and coconuts, best enjoyed on the beach. Be it Casela Wildlife Park or La Vallee des Couleurs Nature Park, most tourist attractions have great dining options.

    In Port Louis, a visit to the food market is a must. For an authentic French and Mauritian gastronomical experience, head to Le Courtyard, a boutique restaurant set in a courtyard around a fountain. They serve terrific seafood paired with French wines - scallops, scampi, salmon, mahi mahi and gueule pav(Goldlined seabream), with special touches like confectionery and amuse-bouche (literally mouth amusers - single, bite-sized starter) as compliments from the chef. The desserts are to die for, especially the crème brulee, made with Mauritian Muscovado, unrefined brown sugar, a chefs favourite.

    If sugar is a precious commodity in Mauritius, its salt is equally coveted. Fleur de sel or flor de sal in Portuguese - literally flower of salt - is hailed as the Queen of Salts. It is formed as a thin, delicate crust on the surface of seawater as it evaporates, and is known for its characteristic crunch and clean light taste.

    From around the world

    Despite being a small island nation, Mauritius packs in great culinary diversity. The French touch is apparent in the love for bouillon, tuna salad and coq au vin. The Chinese influence can be seen in the spicy noodles, fried rice and seafood dim sums.

    Mauritian favourites include calamari salad, daube (an octopus stew), fish vindaye (local version of the vindaloo) and rougaille, a Mediterranean dish of fish or meat with tomatoes, onions and garlic. Creole classics like Mauritian fish and aubergine curry & chicken curry are relished with rice and a chilli paste called mazavaroo.

    At its peak in the 19th century, there were nearly 400 sugar factories in Mauritius. Many of these have now been converted into museums, resorts and restaurants. Radisson Blu Azuri Resort & Spa, built around an old sugarcane factory, has a dilapidated chimney as a reminder of colonial plantation life. Overlooking the pool, the Le Comptoir restaurant serves strawberry lemonade and hearty breakfasts with seafood.

    Today, sugarcane is grown over 85% of the arable land in Mauritius, and on an average, 6,00,000 tonnes of sugar is produced annually. And yes, a lot of rum! I bite into my caramelised pineapple dessert flambed with Mauritian rum, and sigh... Joseph Conrad was right. Visiting Mauritius in 1885, the author set his story A Smile of Fortune here, and called Mauritius the Sweet Pearl of the
    Indian Ocean.

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  • 11/03/17--22:44: The palace made prettier
  • Udaipur, nestled on the slopes of the Aravallis, hidden from the winds of the Thar desert, was historically the stronghold of the Mewar dynasty. Here, the air is cool, unlike the dust-laden winds of Jodhpur and Jaisalmer. The Old City is quiet and still retains the charm of a village, with its many winding lanes dotted with Mewar architecture leading to beautiful ghats that step into Lake Pichola.

    The Old City begins with the Udaipur City Palace on the south and develops densely along Lake Pichola on its eastern bank. In fact, it is difficult to point out where the city stops and the palace begins because of the dense development.

    We meet Miss Ahuja, an architect, who takes us around the palace. We soon realise how large the complex really is. There are rooms that lead you into more rooms, each one more colourful than the other. The rooms are in beautiful pastel shades, and some are elaborately painted with motifs of peacocks and elephants. It is here that we understand the vibrant relationship Rajasthan has with colours. The colourful rooms are interspersed with cool marble courtyards adorned with intricate tile and mosaic work. Mor Chowk, one such courtyard in the palace, is adorned with peacocks delicately crafted with pieces of coloured glass and mirror.

    Architecturally, the palace is a fine blend of Mewar, Mughal and British influences. The palace is huge and would require a good day or two to cover completely.

    The palace was built on the previously existing courtyard of Rai Angan in the 16th century. Its custodianship now lies with the Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation (MMCF), the face of which is Maharana Arvind Singh Mewar from the royal family. It has recently been restored by Shikha Jain and her team at DRONAH, an organisation that regenerates historical city centres. Funded by the Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles, the restoration work was done in collaboration with architects, heritage professionals, city planners and federal ministries.

    Currently, the work on archiving, curating and interpreting the large collection of textiles, artefacts, musical instruments and other such cultural resources is on. The most prized collection of the palace is the Osler cut-glass crystal gallery, which can be accessed on purchase of a ticket.

    The MMCF, in collaboration with DRONAH and the Getty Conservation Institute, recently launched a book on the palace -Living Heritage of Mewar, Architecture of the City Palace Udaipur - authored by Shikha Jain and Vanicka Arora. The MMCF has been integral in supporting the conservation works at the palace, and is also keen on continuing the local festivals and traditions. On this accord, the local festivals of Gangaur, Teej and Holi are celebrated publicly at the palace every year.

    Udaipur also plays host to festivals like the Udaipur Music Festival (in the first week of February) and the Wonderflip Festival, an electronic music festival which debuts this month.

    Udaipur receives a lot of tourists owing to its proximity to Ahmedabad. The many shops here are a pleasure for any tourist to visit. Especially the antique shops, which mean business. Accessed through small doorways, these shops are covered from floor to ceiling with interesting artefacts, one more beautiful than the other. On the other side of the lake are restaurants offering beautiful views of the palace.

    In all, Udaipur is a place that entices tourists like no other.

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  • 11/03/17--22:48: The middle land
  • After the explosively lush beauty of Sangla in the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh and its forests of pine and cedar, wild flowers and gushing streams, we were heading for the high-altitude desert starkness of Spiti valley. This entailed an eight-hour drive but we soon realised that the Trans Himalayan region does not let you enter its charmed heart easily.

    Initially, we exulted that the roads had improved, but half an hour before the rough and tumble town of Spillow, our car ground to a halt behind a serpentine queue of vehicles of every shape and size. People had spilt out of their cars and a wedding party decked up in all their finery, the women in rustling silks and the men in jaunty Kinnauri caps with plumes, were posing for selfies on the filament-like road.

    Below us, the Sutlej river tore through the gorge reflecting our impatience, but there were no signs of road rage or anxiety amongst the laid-back queue of cars brimming with happy vacationers and locals. Minutes, then hours, ticked away as the road was being widened. A couple of times, calls of "Khool gaya. Its open," rippled down the line of cars, but they turned out to be false alarms. A gentleman from the wedding party said that delays such as these were to be expected in these parts. A group of smiling locals handed us a few apricots in a gesture of friendship and we immediately felt better despite the delay.

    It was a valuable lesson that we learnt in the mountains - of patience, fortitude and faith in the gods! After three hours, resignation was replaced by smiles and soon, we were away. With typical urban impatience, we overtook several cars and sped away over a fragile bridge that could take only one car at a time!

    Beyond, the road was often gravelly and narrow, so narrow that the two left tires of the car grazed the sides of the mountain while the other two clung to the edge of a ravine. The frequent bumps and grinds would have had us airborne but for our seat belts.

    After lunch at the one-horse town of Spillow, the landscape decided to pull out all the stops. Mountains rose like huge seismic humps and struck belligerent poses. Vast gorges swept past, resembling the open cavernous mouth of a giant, while the river ripped through like it was on steroids.

    In the distance, the white-tipped Himalayas shimmered in the sun, while below, brown mountain ranges that changed colour under passing clouds - from dun to steel-grey, dark-blue to bruised purple - rose like angry, bunched fists.

    We passed towns with quaint names and reached Khab, which is the confluence of the Sutlej and Spiti rivers that roared through a vast gorge. Above us soared the Reo Purgyil, (6,816 m or 22,363 ft), the highest peak in Himachal Pradesh.

    The town of Nako turned out to be a charming one with the air of a Central Asian settlement on the Silk Route. It has a monastery and a poplar-rimmed lake, but we did not linger as darkness was gathering, and driving at night in the mountains was a scary prospect.

    Naturally interrupted

    But fate had other plans for us and a little ahead there was a landslide and another knuckle-biting wait of two hours. Once on our way again, the dark road was lit only by the headlights of our car and a stainless steel moon that spilt its beams on the other-worldly landscape.

    Three kilometres ahead of the town of Sumdo, which marked our entry into the magical Spiti Valley, a fork in the road towards the north leads to the village of Gue, the home of the sacred, naturally preserved Mummy Lama. According to legend, the mummy is of a lama who lived 600 years ago. It is believed that he purged the village from the scourge of scorpions. When he died, a rainbow straddled the sky and, today, the village of a few hundred souls worship the mummy like a living god.

    Dressed in silk robes and kept in a glass chamber in the monastery, the mummy has not been embalmed yet is well-preserved, and even his hair and teeth are intact. But we had to skip Gue as darkness clung to the landscape like a highwaymans cloak.

    We reached Tabo around 9 pm, shrouded in the quiet of night and seemingly fast asleep like a spell had been cast on it by a wicked witch. However, our hotel, the oldest in Tabo, was lit like a beacon and after a hot dinner, we fell asleep dreaming of fire-breathing dragons flying over soaring massifs. The next morning, just beyond our verandah stretched glistening-green barley fields, and in the distance were low-slung, whitewashed mud-brick homes similar to the ones in Ladakh.

    High tea
    We couldnt wait to get to Tabo Monastery, the oldest continuously functioning gompa in India dating to 996 AD, and said to be the Ajanta-Ellora of the Himalayas. A young monk showed us around the spotless monastery consisting of nine chapels in mud-walled buildings. Five of them, dating between 10th and 11th centuries, glowed with murals that looked like they had been painted yesterday. Indeed, the best Buddhist muralists painted them in the Tibetan and Indian styles.

    After our exploration of the old and new gompas, filled with a vibrant energy, a wizened lady invited us to tea which she had brewed fresh on a portable stove in the expansive grounds. With typical urban insensitivity, we offered to pay for the tea, but she gave us a toothless smile and said that it was a service to welcome visitors. Another lesson learnt - dont offer cash in these remote inhospitable tracts where kindness and compassion are the only legal tender.

    Soon, we were on our way to Kaza, the sub-district headquarters of Spiti, revelling in the scenery once again. Back in Mumbai, we dream of the mountains that rise in defiance of the heavens; some that crouch like wrinkled folds on an ancient face while others clad their nakedness in shawls of fleecy clouds. Nor will we forget the villages that balance on precarious ridges, sparsely populated with a few hundred souls - warm, welcoming and nurturing.

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  • 11/03/17--22:58: A day with dolphins
  • Its 9 am and the Mauritian jetty we are standing at is slowly coming to life. The sun is out, sunshine beautifully bouncing off the waters of the Indian Ocean. Boats, both big and small, are being readied for the day. Having woken up at six in the morning, we haven driven some 70-odd km through some sleepy villages, the capital city of Port Louis, salt fields, the Black River National Park and luxurious resorts to reach the Tamarin Bay jetty, from where we would be whisked off on a day-long dolphin cruise.

    One of the major attractions for both Mauritians and non-Mauritians, dolphin cruises are perfect to pencil into your Sunday calendar. Such cruises generally offer dolphin-watching opportunities (obviously), some snorkelling time, a lunch out on the sea, a visit to an island, and front-row views to the oceanic landscape of this stunning island nation.

    Bruno, our catamaran skipper, starts off by giving us some basic safety instructions, after which we set sail for the open water. Pretty soon, the jetty is but a distant dot in the landscape. We pass by mountains and beaches that seem to have materialised out of a picture postcard. Behind us, on our left, we are told to look at the grand Le Morne Mountain, whose summit is a huge, square-shaped monolithic rock.

    Sitting pretty at the extreme south-western tip of Mauritius, this mountain has a sad history. In the 19th century, this mountain was a refuge for many runaway slaves. After the abolition of slavery in the country, when the police went to inform these slaves about their freedom, many slaves misunderstood their intention and jumped to their deaths. Today, the place is a World Heritage Centre and also a favourite spot of many hikers, and might also be home to a few ghosts of the past.

    Coming to the star attraction of our cruise, dolphins, we are told these aquatic mammals head to Tamarin Bay every morning to catch up on some sleep, and mating. Thats where we are headed, screams Bruno, over the blaring Mauritian music in the catamaran. As the sun climbs higher in the sky, the water turns turquoise green, and then a deep shade of navy blue.

    The water games

    Luck seems to be favouring us today: the weather is clear, the ocean calm, and in the distance, we hear dolphins splashing about in the water. Bruno informs us that the dolphins we see jumping out of the water are spinner dolphins. The dolphins put on quite a show for us: they leap out of the water, spin around and splash back into the blue, leaving us with dropped jaws and out of breath. Its a big pack, Bruno says, almost 100 to 300. As an acknowledgement of their playful antics, we collectively ooh and aah till the dolphins disappear deeper into the waters.

    At the catamaran, chilled rum cocktails flow freely and the music turns more upbeat. Our fellow cruise companions, comprising Indian honeymooners and a Mauritian family, ditch their seats for coveted spots closer to the water. The sun has risen higher in the sky and the water has magically turned crystal-clear, and sports the lightest shade of blue ever possible. With the wind in our hair and ocean air in our lungs, we sail further into the ocean to look for that perfect snorkelling spot. Finally, the catamaran slows down, and while the crew sets up a grill by the side, we get ready to meet and greet our oceanic friends. Wearing a life jacket and a snorkelling mask, I stand on the edge of our catamaran, ready to disappear into the blue beauty beneath me. My worried mother mouths words of caution and goes ballistic when a crewmate jokes about sharks swimming in the waters below. I dont know if its the utter serenity of my surroundings or my own fear, I can suddenly hear my own heart thud loudly. But whats a trip to Mauritius without a few splashes in the Indian Ocean? So, I take a deep breath, and leap into the air, screaming, before splashing into the cool waters below. I seem to go down for a while, deeper and deeper in the ocean, before rising up, a blob in the water. Bruno throws in a couple of bread pieces around us in the water, which lead an entire school of fishes to us.

    Soon, a call for lunch is made and we reluctantly swim back to our catamaran. Its almost noon and the ocean looks spectacularly blue. We are told we need to get into the smaller boat trailing behind our catamaran to go see the world-famous crystal rock of Mauritius.

    One of a kind

    Situated about 200 m from the shores of the biggest lagoon in the Southern Hemisphere, this crystal rock is a fossilised piece of coral reef that juts out of the water. It looks like a rock bouquet and can only be found in two other places of the world: Maldives and Seychelles. We circulate this chunky piece of rock in our small boat before getting off on Benetiers Island. Named after the clam-shell-shaped crystal rock, this island is perfect for an afternoon snooze. You can also pick up some souvenirs from the numerous surfboard stalls here. Ever tried tamarind ice-cream? You might just find it on this island.

    About 30 minutes later, we are back on our catamaran, on our journey back to the jetty and reality. We all are satiated and drowsy: you might wonder if its all those rum cocktails. But no, it was the delicious combination of water, land and air that make Mauritius a heady cocktail. And mind you, one sip of this natural concoction and you will get addicted. And suffer from a hangover that you cant shake off, even after going back home.

    Getting there: Almost all hotels will be able to hire taxis for you from your
    hotel to Tamarin Bay.

    What to do: You can book the full-day catamaran dolphin cruise from 9 am to 4 pm, whichll include a barbecue lunch and snacks. Or, you could go for the shorter, two-three-hour version in a speedboat, which will include breakfast and swimming with the dolphins.

    Book at least two days in advance as such cruises fill up quite fast. The simplest way to book is through your hotel.

    Cost: The price for these cruises usually ranges between Rs 2,000 and Rs 3,500.

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  • 11/03/17--23:14: A tour of changes
  • With global warming soaring, the time for a green turn has hopefully come. To meet visitors growing ecological concerns, tourism operators are peddling green vacations, socially responsible holidays and community-based responsible tourism (RT) ventures. The preservation of the environment and the willingness to accommodate visitors interested in interacting more with local communities has become a significant trend. Since the time Costa Rica, an early pioneer, prioritised sustainable travel and conservation back in the early 1990s, many players have entered the fray. Committed to minimising the carbon footprint and adhering to sustainable principles of tourism, Ministry of Tourism has formulated guidelines in the comprehensive Sustainable Tourism Criteria for India (STCI), which is a heartening move. Heres a pick of some incredible RT destinations and initiatives across the globe offering you green vacations that focus on sustainable travel. Hence, travel with a purpose in the International Year of Sustainable Tourism and Development.

    A venerable ecological utopia

    If you want to experience a shining example of how tourism and conservation can work in unison, head to Kangaroo Island, off the coast of South Australia. You can set out on a koala-spotting expedition, watch the kangaroos hopping around, gaze at the sea-lions basking on snow-white beaches, fur seals frolicking beneath the Admirals Arch, or stop by at Remarkable Rocks, a bunch of surreal stones perched on a headland, traverse the rolling farm lands, untouched national parks, tiny country towns, fishing hamlets, deserted sandy coves, towering sand dunes, and spectacular landscapes in this diverse island.

    The Islands commitment to sustainable tourism, its partnership with core government agencies responsible for managing the Islands resources, and adoption of the innovative Tourism Optimisation Management Model (which monitors the long-term health of Kangaroo Island as a tourism destination) ensures that the experience you have today will be the same as the experience enjoyed by generations to come. Kangaroo Island is protected through conservation zoning, wildlife
    reserves and heritage listing.

    Give waste a second chance

    Tourists can join hands in giving waste a second chance for better oceans by participating in the clean-up effort which will not only transform the plastic debris found in the ocean into thread to make fabric, but also help preserve Thailands crystal-clear sea and unspoilt coastal areas, especially in popular marine tourist attractions. As part of the development of sustainable tourism in the Kingdom of Thailand, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has kick-started the unique project of Upscaling of the Oceans by collaborating with several partners like PTT Global Chemical (PTTGC), the local administration, communities, fishing villages, volunteers, divers and tourists.
    The project reaffirms TATs commitment to promoting RT and also driving green initiatives, bringing together over 100 divers and volunteers to remove trash from the seabed and along the beach on Ko Somet. The project will also ensure Ko Samet remains pristine, by providing the necessary infrastructure for trash collection, including special trash containers on the island.

    Beyond the backwaters

    Kumarakom is a live model of how tourism gives meaning to the lives of people by creating several lessons on people participation, grass-roots level leadership, women empowerment through myriad entrepreneurial innovations, sustainable livelihood, agricultural production and environmental preservation. The new mantra in the field of destination management in Kumarakom is that the quality of destination has to be defined by the quality of life of the local population. The Grama Panchayat, Department of Kerala Tourism, the Kudumbashree, tourist fraternity, local self-help groups, NGOs, and farmers are actively involved in the implementation of the RT initiatives. Interesting packages that offer tourists a chance to explore, observe and interact with the villagers have been devised to encourage bonding with the local people.

    Kumarakom, a zero-waste destination, focuses on the ecosystem regeneration programme. Other commendable achievements of RT are conservation of natural and cultural heritage, protection of traditional livelihood, declaration of the bird sanctuary as a plastic-free zone, promotion of bicycle trips, organic farming, mangrove protection, control of backwater pollution, procurement of local produce from local communities by resorts, and the promotion of local cuisine. These innovative initiatives have won the Kumarakom RT project accolades and awards at national and international levels.

    Interact with a tribe

    In Taiwan, concern for the dwindling wetlands following the destruction and conversion of innumerable wetlands into industrial zones for economic development has forced government and private organsations to step in to protect the wetlands. Consequent to this, a growing number of farmers have turned entrepreneurs and reaped economic benefits from tourism. The luxuriant Mataian Wetland Ecological Park, at the foot of Masi Mountain in Hualien County, is a laudable venture of the Council of Agriculture and the Hualien County Government. Tourists can interact with the traditional Ami tribes and imbibe lessons in farming and fishing using indigenous, traditional three-layered fish trap or palakaw, and watch the cooking session. It is low-impact and education-focused. It is an encouraging factor for the tourism industry as it has helped in employment and income generation, revitalising the agricultural sector through tourism, empowerment of Ami tribes, and an increase in tourist footfalls to the region.

    More than a jeep ride

    Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve, which is ecologically integrated with the adjacent Kruger National Park in South Africa, has become a big hit with green travellers. Indisputably one of Africas best safari destinations, the reserve is a classic example of the role the private sector can play in conservation and community development in South Africa. It is the essence of the link between sustainable ecotourism, conservation, and the community. If there was no tourism in Sabi Sabi, rhinos would have vanished already.

    All environmentally concerned travellers contribute directly to the protection of the park and the maintenance of round-the-clock anti-poaching units. The income they provide additionally funds school outreach programmes for educating local communities about the significant contribution these animals, if kept alive, can make to the local economy. Sabi Sabi also supports the local communities through a wide range of projects including the sponsorship of a crèche, youth development through sports and environmental education, and the initiation of a rhino education drive within the local community. Conservation Contribution, an interesting initiative, has allocated funds for anti-poaching, general conservation and community measures within the reserve, security manpower, upgraded fences, updated gate controls, technology and surveillance, and the re-introduction of all indigenous flora and fauna species.

    Experience the spirit of the land

    If you want to nurture the earth by getting into the shoes of a plantation worker, join hands in picking coffee and pepper, or ride in a farm tractor, join the tribal dance, embark on forest safaris and bullock rides, head to the themed resorts promoted by Evolve Back in Coorg, Kabini and Hampi. With green consciousness catching up, travellers prefer these resorts which have excellent responsible tourism bona fides.

    Steeped in local lore and legends, the group prides itself in its community-based activities and initiatives which include showcasing Kuruba tradition, school adoption, distribution of books and school bags, school teachers training, cultural shows by local artistes etc.

    They demonstrate that responsible tourism is not a one-way street. Right from native and eco-friendly architecture to locally inspired activities, to interaction with the ethnic communities, the entire experience is life-enriching, in keeping with the spirit of the land in luxury philosophy.

    The indigenous guides and staff are the faces of the resorts claim to fame. These signature holidays which preserve the purity of nature and culture on the land have received due global recognition and prestigious awards. At the end of the stay, even a casual visitor will be converted into a sustainable tourism practitioner.

    Mussel power

    For a green vacation, head to the tranquil Thekkekadu Island in the Kasaragod district of Kerala. Here you can sit in the verandah and watch women diving for shell fish, farmers immersing themselves in the backwaters and collecting mussels, clams and oysters, fishermen hauling in the days catch, seaweed farming, and drift along the placid Valiyaparambu backwaters, or visit the tiny islands and watch North Malabars rich offering of theyyam and other folk arts.

    Recipient of the national award for his innovative technology (mussel farming on coir), Gul Mohammed, a social entrepreneur, shared his technical expertise and honed the entrepreneurial skills of the local populace, transforming the lives of nearly 6,000 farmers. The project grew to become Indias largest marine farming co-operative. He works with local farming communities to provide alternative sources of revenue through green mussel and oyster farming and tourism. His passion to enhance the livelihood of his fellow villagers culminated in the form of Oyster Opera, the first theme village.

    Started as a social enterprise to help the unemployed local folk of the region, Oyster Opera is managed by in-house trained locals who play host during your stay. Women handle housekeeping and dish out mouthwatering authentic Malabar fare at this rustic-themed retreat.

    Trails along the Nila

    Be part of the myriad trails along River Nila (Bharatapuzha) which crisscrosses through the districts of Malappuram, Thrissur and Palakkad in Kerala. Passion to revive and regenerate the depleting river culminated in the setting up of Nila Foundation. To generate funds, Blue Yonder (TBY) was started. Since its inception, it has been awards galore for TBY for its innovative activities spread across the country and abroad.

    Using tourism responsibly, TBY has worked with riverbank communities engaged in traditional occupations such as pottery, handlooms, puppetry, folk art forms, musical skills, craft traditions etc to understand their bond with the river. By incorporating their activities into its travel itineraries, TBY has given the art forms a larger lease of life and provided livelihood options for the otherwise marginalised artists, artisans, craftsmen, environmentalists and NGOs. Ruminating over the success of the project, Gopinath Parayil, founder, TBY, adds, "This ranges from showing alternative sources of income and new markets for farmers producing Climate Change Resistant-food like Pokkali (a unique variety of rice), to hand-holding families struggling to maintain their heritage properties by being part of the circuit. The awards instituted by Blue Yonder have given a fresh breath of air to many art forms by financially supporting the people and organisations involved."

    Socially responsible tourism

    Anegundi, a semi-rural town with its strong, agrarian and inherent crafts culture, is a successful example of how tourism can embrace vernacular heritage conservation, promote womens empowerment, and help share our rich cultural heritage with visitors.

    From endogenous tourism it has metamorphosed to a role model in sustainable rural tourism by providing ample employment opportunities to the locals, enhancing their lives and enriching the visitors experience.

    With the active involvement of The Kishkinda Trust (TKT), restoration of vernacular architecture in traditional houses transformed into guest houses rented out to tourists and managed by locals opened up employment opportunities to the locals. This helped the tourism initiative become a reality for the village community, bringing them joy and a sense of pride, and an engaging exposure to the visitor. A natural-fibre cottage industry helps women of the village recycle banana plant waste and river grass, converting them to make attractive bags and curios.

    By peddling their traditional handicrafts and tourism services to the tourists, women have become self-reliant and empowered. Other remarkable achievements of TKT are organic farming and education through the performing arts.

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  • 11/03/17--23:20: A silver celebration
  • Once considered an aberrant child, Installation Art (IA) has become the boldest, most flamboyant arm of the Family of the Arts. Through this medium, artists have consistently pushed boundaries in an attempt to encourage societal soul-searching, and continue to be the strident, persistent voice of humanitys collective conscience. In that respect, IA is a chronicler of our times and of the rapidly changing face of our cities. Eminent Artist Shantamani Muddaiah puts it into perspective when she says that "Art articulates the democratic process and culture."

    "IA emerged in India in the early 1990s, and "within the first decade, the most contribution was from Bengaluru", says distinguished artist C F John. "A band of artists, schooled as they were in one particular form, were ready to look at art with an open mind, experiment and explore," explains renowned artist Raghavendra Rao.

    A definitive step forward was Cultural Spiral (1993), the artists communitys answer to the carnage of the Babri Masjid riots. This was probably the first time that a group of artists collaborated to create a single work of IA. But the one that had the most impact was Silence of Furies and Sorrows - Pages of a Burning City (1995), done in the aftermath of the debilitating communal violence in Bengaluru in 1994. Muddaiah reminisces on "the emotional necessity to address something immediate... using materials from the location of violence and the language of the violent space, to communicate." This, despite the fact that "there was no light, camera and media as seen today, as well as very little comfort of money either as support or as corruption. The spirit of togetherness and collaboration was our strength then," says John.

    Earth Work "A Time and Site Specific Art (1996) by Umesh Maddanahalli, Sthalapuranagalu (1999) curated by Pushpamala N, Sakshi Gudda Sakshi Gode (2001) by artist Sheela Gowda, and Walls of Memories "An Art Event of Unresolved Edges (2003) initiated by C F John were some of the prominent works of the first decade.

    Importance for a city

    Apart from being a reflection of our times, art also serves to educate and inspire. John best describes it when he says, "A new kind of creative alertness ferments within both the artist as well as the viewer... It is to creatively engage with our life situations and to open up a realm of perception both for the artist and the viewer..." By moving out of galleries and museums, artists are making art more accessible to the public. IA in particular is constantly in conversation with viewers, goading them to rethink, challenging their perception, and by virtue of its three-dimensionality and use of quotidian objects, making them an integral part of the artwork.

    Having said which, one might question the purpose or validity of a temporary art installation. "It is wrong to think that the prolonged physical existence guarantees its influence and presence in our minds/ hearts. On the contrary, it is often a fleeting sight or experience that stays within us for the whole of life, defining what we are," clarifies John Rao, cautions about "visual pollution" through Photoshop and DTP, which he says is "an example of the misuse of technology."

    "There is a misconception of what our culture is about and because of this art suffers badly," says Muddaiah. While technology and other fields have aspired to keep up with their contemporary counterparts, our concept of art, and in particular visual art, she says, is still rooted in 3,000 years ago. She excoriates our Culture Department for its concentrated focus on tourism, and berates the powers that be who consider visual art a "commodity" at 12% GST and art materials a "luxury" at 28% GST.

    Umesh Maddanahalli echoes her thoughts when he says that our Culture Department is more comfortable with tangible elements like dance and painting, and is "not open to the culture of imagination." He rues the fact that in our country, Culture and Science & Technology departments are independent entities, which makes it difficult for artists who wish to integrate both media.

    Having worked extensively abroad and in India, the lack of accessibility to good workspace and technology, to facilitate the creative process is a serious deficiency for Rao. Lack of a dedicated arts fund and transparency in public art funding by the government are other big hurdles. The fate of art and artists depends on the current incumbent of the ministerial chair at any given time, says Rao.

    Sense vs sensibility

    "The most common misconception of IA is its understanding for the common man, especially in our country," says young multidisciplinary artist Aishwaryan K. Visual art saved this youngster when his school teachers deemed him a "living failure." "As an artist I cannot force my thoughts/opinions on my audience. I can only sensitise them to pause for a moment," he says.

    Maddanahalli admits that while he does keep the audience in mind, it is most definitely not at the cost of seeking new vocabulary or sacrificing his vision.

    Muddaiah once again puts things into perspective when she says, "We may not understand Science, yet we accept it. Why then do we question art?"

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    The San Diego Museum of Art, an ornate building resembling a Spanish palace, nestled in Balboa Park, California, boasts of a collection of over 1,400 Indian artworks created for the Mughal, Deccani, Rajasthani and Pahari courts between 12th and 19th centuries.

    Opened in 1926, its the oldest, largest and most-visited art museum in the region, serving about 2,50,000 visitors each year.

    As San Diego is located adjacent to Mexico, the museums exhibition text is in both English and Spanish. The museum is most famous for its selection of artworks by European masters like El Greco and Henri Matisse. But, its Edwin Binney 3rd Collection is one of the most comprehensive and high-quality collections of South Asian art outside of India.

    Of those related to India, the works were created for Indian rulers as well as merchants from Persia, Central Asia and Europe who travelled to India, set down roots and commissioned art to local Indian artists.

    The artists were expected to adapt to the whims and aesthetics of their foreign patrons, while maintaining a quintessential Indian quality. The artworks are organised chronologically as well as by form, like paintings or sculptures, and by theme.

    The museum has South Asian, Southeast Asian and Persian art galleries, where selections from the Binney collection are always on display.

    The collection was put together personally by Edwin Binney 3rd (1925-86), an heir to the Crayola fortune. Crayola is known worldwide for its art products.

    Rather than acquiring examples of just one era or type of art, Binney sought to collect an encyclopaedic range of art from different epochs and schools of painting.

    Binney also collected objects dart like Persian miniatures, ballet prints, art from the Ottoman Empire and theatre books. He began by focusing on Persian and Turkish art, but as interest in this type of art was widespread at the time, Binney focused on collecting less faddish and, therefore, less expensive South Asian art.

    The Binney Collection ranges from narrative illustrations of Indian epics to portraits of important personages like emperors, as well as folk art from various regions of South Asia. Not all of the art was intended to be hung on walls.

    In addition to the massive assemblage of paintings, sculptures play an important part in the collection.

    However, paintings originally housed together in a single manuscript were removed and sold individually; the text in these large manuscripts was probably destroyed. So, the museum is now trying to preserve the art for future generations to appreciate.

    Marika Sardar, the museums associate curator of Southern Asian and Islamic Arts since 2013, has written extensively about the art of India, including the section on South Asian art, for the textbook Asian Art.

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  • 11/03/17--23:30: For the love of puns!
  • He looks like Vinod Kambli and sounds like Sachin Tendulkar. He tempts you to ditch the deadly Blue Whale Challenge for his amusing Pink Dolphin Challenge. An erstwhile TV writer, Sorabh Pant took to stand-up comedy when the art form was still nascent in India.

    Theres nothing subtle about the founder of The East India Comedy, who was recently in Bengaluru for the Black Dog Easy Evenings. From Pant on Fire to Travelling Pants and Rant of the Pant, Sorabhs style is, typically, over-the-top, with puns intended. Not surprisingly, hes a rage on twitter.

    Excerpts from an interaction with the comedian and author, who considers Jon Stewart (American comedian, writer and TV host) the funniest of them all:

    Whats the best and worst part about being a comedian?

    Travelling to so many places is the best part. Also, the people who come to see my show. Its awesome! However, sometimes people tend to get ridiculously vitriolic and hateful. But then, that comes with the territory. The worst part of being a stand-up comedian is that I spend a lot of time travelling alone, which means I get too much into my own head… which is not a very nice place! A comedians head is a dark and weird place.

    Is Indian stand-up comedy on par with the worlds best?

    The stand-up comedy scene in places like the US, the UK, Australia, and, perhaps, Canada may be better than ours, but we are doing pretty well. Our output and audience response are great. New-age channels like YouTube, Netflix and Amazon have been very helpful. Not just the comedy shows, but the web series and experimental content out there is changing the future of entertainment.

    Where in India do you find the most receptive audience?

    I dont think they are in the metros. This year, I did shows in places like Bhopal, Indore, Nagpur and Nashik, and saw how excited the audience gets. They cant believe you came all the way there! But its not so much about the city or the town; its about the crowd. In that sense, college shows are usually the best. Sometimes, older audiences are very receptive too. Im always happy to be surprised.

    Of all your opening acts, which is the most memorable?

    Ive enjoyed them all, whether it was the opening act for Rob Schneider or Vir Das. All of them were fun. Nonetheless, if I had to choose one, it would be Wayne Brady. You may or may not find him funny, but his crazy work culture is quite something. He was in India for five days and we were taking 6 am flights to new locations every day. Despite the jetlag and everything else, he was always on the ball.

    Whats more challenging, writing comedy or books?

    As a comedian, you usually write with your brain. The best jokes, though, are those that have heart. Ive started to realise this now, so my writing is more personal. I try to use my heart and soul too. With stand-up comedy, it takes a long time to get to crack the joke you want. But the good thing is that you get feedback from the audience every night. Writing fiction, on the other hand, takes a lot of focus and hard work. It needs structure, organic flow, characters with motivations. Ive written two novels and the third will be out this November. It has been five years in the making!
    Ultimately, both kinds of writing come with their own challenges.

    How has becoming a parent changed you?

    If I didnt have children, I would have just headed out to the US or Canada, and honed my stand-up comedy skills. However, when you have a family to support, you have to keep working. Your sons playschool fees have to be paid, daughters diapers bought… Theres no leeway to be lazy, which is a good thing. It keeps you pretty grounded.
    Besides, kids are more joyful than anything else you can have in life. And Im not saying that because I have two of them!

    Is stand-up comedy a viable career option?

    Yes, it is, but dont expect it to be easy. Even if you have two videos that go viral, you have to keep at it for years. Ive been a stand-up comedian for nine years and I can tell you that its not a place for lazy people. A word of advice for aspirants: dont quit your day job right away.

    What keeps you so active on social media?

    I like following news, and am fascinated by peoples opinions. So, I love twitter. Initially, I didnt quite understand Snapchat and Instagram, so I had to figure out a way to like them. And with Facebook, I love doing live video streaming. Basically, I like to interact with people, as long as they are not ****heads. I try be relatively balanced, even though many people may think Im not.

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    This weeks deadly truck attack in New York could not deter blind Japanese runner Toshiaki Ito from joining 50,000 fellow competitors in the citys marathon this Sunday.

    "I will not be defeated by it," Ito, a 59-year-old banker, said as he picked up his race number three days after an Uzbek immigrant drove a truck down a Manhattan bike path, killing eight people and injuring a dozen more.

    Holding his white cane, Ito, who will run with a sighted guide, said through an interpreter that while the attack gave him "a little trepidation," he is "definitely running."

    He is far from alone, according to organizers of the annual road race, who said runners were defying concerns to join the worlds biggest marathon.

    "Theres been no spike in cancellations that weve seen," said Chris Weiller, a spokesman for race organizer the New York Road Runners.

    New York officials allowed the citys Halloween parade to step off just hours after the attack and vowed that the marathon would go forward, with some enhanced security.

    Cancelled once

    The race has been canceled only once in its 47-year-history, in 2012, following Superstorm Sandys devastating hit to the region. It even went forward after the September 11, 2001, attacks, which killed about 2,600 people in New York.

    Marathoners train for months to prepare their bodies for the 26.2-mile race, and some wait years before winning a spot in the drawing which gives about 30 percent of them access to a field that includes the worlds top runners and draws about 2.5 million spectators.

    "The determination that got them here is the determination that I think that they have right now going into Sunday," Weiller said.

    Sundays race will not be the first time U S runners have had to worry about violence. Two brothers inspired by al Qaeda killed three people and injured more than 260 with bombs at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon.

    Philadelphian Neil Gottlieb remembers that attack vividly as it occurred shortly after he crossed the finish line.

    But he was back on that course in 2014 and said he was undaunted about racing in New York.

    "Im not going to win the New York City Marathon, but its a victory for me, and Im not going to let anyone stop me," said Gottlieb, a 48-year-old healthcare executive and father of three.

    Blocking trucks

    New York police stepped up security, saying they would deploy extra "blocking trucks" to protect against vehicle attacks, rooftop snipers, heavy weapons, dogs and helicopters.

    "This increase will supplement the already large, substantial detail of uniformed officers that you will see along the route," New York Police Chief Carlos Gomez said on Wednesday.

    The route connects all five of the citys boroughs, starting near the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in Staten Island, snaking through Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan, before circling up to the Bronx and back to Manhattan.

    Stephanie Trumbino, 35, of Maplewood, New Jersey, said she felt concerned about the attack but did not consider missing her first attempt at the race.

    "I never gave it a second thought," said Trumbino, a human resources manager at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey.

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  • 11/04/17--05:08: In praise of 'tuttofare'
  • In the year that Bobby Robson coached Barcelona, 1996-97, he was not short of players to praise. His defence was marshalled by Laurent Blanc, his midfield controlled by Pep Guardiola and his attack spearheaded by Ronaldo, the greatest talent of his generation.

    Even among all those masters, however, Robson took particular delight in his jack-of-all-trades. "Luis Enrique," he once said, "can play right side at the back, left side at the back, right midfield, left midfield, central midfield. He can play up front, if you like. He can play anywhere. Hes fantastic."

    In Robsons eyes, Enrique was six players in one, and it gave him particular pleasure to point out the circumstances of his arrival. "I got him for free," Robson would say, leaving a beat for the payoff, "from Real Madrid."

    Few teams ever had a player of Enriques versatility, of course. Fewer still had a player who performed so many roles with such poise: Ricardo Gallego, a teammate of Enriques at Real Madrid, said he was "an example, because no matter where he plays, he is at his best."

    Almost every team, though, saw the value of a player like that, a squad member capable of adapting to any and every position. They had their own place in soccers lexicon: the prosaic "utility player" in English, and the more poetic tuttofare ("does everything") in Italian, or todoterreno ("all terrain") in Spanish.

    In recent years, however, utility seemed to have fallen out of fashion. When clubs can name at least seven substitutes, rather than three, for every game, managers had no need to reserve a space on the bench for someone who could cover anywhere.

    As squads grew, too, managers learned to favour expertise. Most elite teams employ two specialists for every position, with those positions ever more tightly defined. Few would expect an attacking midfielder to slot into a holding role, much less play at fullback. In many ways, José Mourinho encapsulates this thinking. In the spring of 2016, when he agreed to replace Louis van Gaal at Manchester United, Mourinho commanded the clubs executive vice chairman, Ed Woodward, to sign four players, each of them designated a specific role: Paul Pogba, Eric Bailly, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

    "As you know, especially the ones with more vision, I am a manager that likes specialists," Mourinho explained at the time. "I am clear with my approach and model of players." At most, he said, he likes "one or two multifunctional players," because "you always need someone that can give you a hand."

    In such an environment, then, it should be no surprise that players are increasingly keen to define themselves as specialists. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, for example, cited a desire to play in his favoured central midfield role when he joined Liverpool, and Aaron Ramsey made the same request to Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, with more success.

    "Some guys, they only want to play in one position," Guardiola, now the Manchester City manager, said recently. "They say that they are not comfortable in another one." Soccer, it seems, no longer has much room, or much appetite, for the jacks-of-all-trades.

    Guardiola, however, was speaking immediately after his team had beaten Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, thanks in no small part to the performance of Fabian Delph - who has spent much of his career as a midfield player - at left back. "He showed us," Guardiola said. "Its not easy when a manager gives you an opportunity to play in a position youve never played before, so it means a lot. Im so happy for him."

    It is the same across Manchester at United, where Mourinho, for all his professed preference for specialists, is enjoying no little success with Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young, brought up as wingers, as his two fullbacks. At Liverpool, midfielder James Milner was deputised as a left back for much of last season.

    To some, in fact, soccer is moving beyond the traditional, tight definitions of positions. Modern systems and tactics demand that players fill any number of roles during any given game, shifting between duties as the situation demands.

    "Who even decides the positions?" Jurgen Klopp, the Liverpool manager, said. "If you are a left back, maybe you started as a left-winger. A central defender might have started as a No. 6. We play sometimes with wingers, but really only when we defend. It is quite fluid. I am not interested in positions: only when we are defending, and in terms of the distances between players."

    It is much the same message many young players are given during their education. "There are different, and continually evolving, systems and styles at the highest level," said Joel Waldron, the manager of Evertons youth academy, among the most prolific in England. "We feel it is important that we develop players who are tactically flexible."

    That process involves playing young prospects in as many positions as possible: not just within games, Waldron said, but during coaching sessions designed to "expose them to a variety of selected positional roles and responsibilities," and in the classroom, too. "As the boys get older, we supplement their learning with video sessions," Waldron said.

    There is an element of pragmatism behind all this; as Waldron noted, many of his graduates will make their debuts in "unfavoured" and occasionally unfamiliar positions. But mostly it is a philosophical choice.

    "Its important we have a curriculum that is conducive to developing players who understand the breadth of roles they may be asked to fulfil at first-team level," he said. "Though understanding a wide range of roles must not be to the detriment of being outstanding at some or all of them."

    That was Enriques secret, of course: He was a master of every position he played, not simply a place-filler. It is the model, more and more, that all teams are trying to follow in an age when fluidity is paramount, when managers require players who can adapt to any system they choose. They need players who can play anywhere, who can do anything.

    Soccer has not outgrown utility players. It needs them more than ever.

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  • 11/04/17--05:10: The king of speed
  • Lewis Hamiltons success in claiming his fourth world championship has moved him within range of becoming the most successful racing driver of all time.

    His ninth-place finish at the Mexican Grand Prix lifted him into the company of the sports true greats as he joined his nearest contemporary rival Sebastian Vettel and Alain Prost as a four-time champion.

    Only two drivers have achieved more -- seven-time champion Michael Schumacher and five-time champion Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio -- while Hamilton leaves behind a cluster of five celebrated masters of the track on three apiece.

    To have won more than men like Australias Jack Brabham, fellow-Briton Jackie Stewart, Austrian Niki Lauda and Brazilians Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna is a spectacular statement of achievement.

    The son of a black father and a white mother, who survived a broken home in his youth, Hamilton, 32, grew up on a municipal housing estate in Stevenage where his father Anthony at one time held down three jobs to fund his sons embryonic racing career in karts.

    His journey was unprivileged and without luxury, but it was clear from an early age that he had an outstanding gift for speed and all the gutsy natural instincts of a born racer.

    In 1995, aged 10, and wearing a jacket and shoes borrowed from his predecessor as British Formula Cadet karting champion, he went to a glittering awards ceremony in London where he met McLarens then-boss Ron Dennis.

    He asked for an autograph and told him "one day I want to race for you". Dennis replied: "Phone me in nine years and Ill sort you a deal."

    The McLaren chief did not wait that long. After less than three years, he agreed to support Hamiltons passage through the junior formulae en route to his F1 debut with his team in 2007.

    Bold, determined and individual, he almost won the title in his first record-breaking season as he reeled off nine successive podiums from his debut in Melbourne, rocking the establishment along the way with his speed and his style.

    On and off the track, he was fast, somewhat mercurial and occasionally tempestuous and this combination led to a fierce rivalry with team-mate and two-time champion Fernando Alonso, who left McLaren at the end of the year.

    That was a signal of how tough it was to be for all his future team-mates as Hamilton, who narrowly missed out on the 2007 title, returned to triumph in 2008 with a dramatic last-gasp fifth-place finish in Brazil.

    He also showed frustration as McLaren failed to deliver the speed to beat Vettel and Red Bull, who reeled off four straight title triumphs from 2010 to 2013, by when Hamilton had departed for Mercedes.

    Escaping the management regime of Dennis and his father, Hamilton found freedom at Mercedes alongside team-mate German Nico Rosberg, his teenage karting friend and rival. This enabled Hamilton to express himself with a headline-grabbing trans-Atlantic lifestyle, mixing with musicians and fashionistas.

    He showed little love for any duty to obey conventions and, for many observers, gave his sport a welcome injection of freshness and diversity as champion again in 2014 and 2015. Rosberg broke Hamiltons sequence of supremacy in 2016 and then retired, leaving the Englishman to return this year and, helped by Ferraris October failings, deliver another season of record-breaking success.

    He arrived in Mexico with a record 72 pole positions to his name and 62 wins, 29 fewer than Schumacher on 91, but established as arguably the fastest of all time over a single lap. His former McLaren team-mate Jenson Button summed up Hamiltons pure speed when he said: "For me, over one lap, I dont think there is anyone as quick as Lewis and I dont think there ever has been."

    That speed, which has always been a natural talent, has this season been allied to a more mature attitude to his job as team leader in the post-Rosberg era at Mercedes.

    Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff summed up: "He is never satisfied. He never settles. He is never happy with where he is as a racing driver and a human being. He wants to optimise, to develop and he is very much part of the leadership of the team."

    Niki Lauda, who is the now non-executive chairman of the Mercedes team, feels Hamilton is up there among the greatest. "Lewis has driven like a god this season. He has proved he is the best on the grid and deserves his success. He is possibly the best ever - he is certainly up there with the best weve ever seen."

    Having achieved so much as his sports outstanding man of the moment and best-known ambassador, it is now likely that Hamiltons humanity -- and his sensitivity to social issues -- will emerge more frequently.

    His own career and his quest for self-expression and freedom has shaped his advice for young drivers.

    "What I can definitely advise any kid thats out there trying to race is dont listen to people who tell you that you need a mental coach or you need someone to help control your mind," he said.

    "You need to let it run wild and free and discover yourself. It is all about discovery. And only you can do it."

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