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  • 12/01/17--17:46: Fastest feline first
  • Have you recovered from the cheetah attack?" - this is a question I often face these days. I wish it was the cheetah. But unfortunately, in the minds of most of us, the leopard is confused with the cheetah. We do not realise that the cheetah was one of the little-known victims of extinction at a time when we were rejoicing the countrys independence. In 1947, the last of the Indian cheetahs were hunted by Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh Deo of the erstwhile state of Korea (in the current state of Madhya Pradesh), bringing in a sad end to one of the graceful cats described by Emperor Akbar as one of Gods wonders. Thereafter, a few patchy, unverified records of cheetah sightings have been registered till 1968.

    It is indeed an irony that the etymology of the word cheetah comes from the Sanskrit name chitraka, meaning the spotted one. Also called the hunting leopard in English, this graceful cat once roamed the grasslands and plains of pre-independent India in the present-day states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab, Haryana, and ranged widely in the Deccan Plateau through Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Bihar, Chattisgarh and West Bengal.

    Karnatakas distinction

    In Karnataka, cheetahs were recorded from Ballari, Mysuru and Chamarajanagara. Sixteen cheetahs were known to be used by Tipu Sultan, of which three of them were sent to King Geroge III after Tipu fell in the Battle of Srirangapatna. Two skins were seen in the 1860s in the Mysore state by G P Sanderson, a British officer who took a keen interest in wildlife.

    In 1882, another British officer, Russell, saw five cheetahs near Beerambadi, which is at the northern edge of what is the present-day Bandipur Tiger Reserve, of which one was shot dead. A district manual of Coimbatore, published in 1887, records the cheetah in Bandhalli in Kollegala taluk, Chamarajanagara district, very close to the southern boundaries of the present-day Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary. A cheetah was seen by the British coffee planter Morris, between 1890 and 1895, near Attikalpura, about 15 km from Chamarajanagara town.

    I learnt my Kannada word for cheetah, Sivangi, from my father when he took me to a circus in my younger days. Three decades later, I read the word again in the acclaimed book on cheetahs, The End of a Trail, by Divyabhanusinh.

    Curious relationship

    There was a curious relationship between this graceful cat and humans. Cheetahs were domesticated by Egyptians as early as 1700 BC, a culture which later spread to Assyria, and finally into India and Central Asia. Sanskrit literature and Muslim records in India depict the training of cheetahs to course antelopes, but at later stages of history. Its downfall in India is largely attributed to the disappearance of its natural habitat - the grasslands to agriculture - and other developmental activities, and to the hunting of cheetahs for sport by the erstwhile princes, Mughal kings, and later the British rulers.

    Cheetahs occupied a unique place in the imperial court life and the pastime of many Indian rulers. Mughals collected cheetahs for their royal hunts, ironically to hunt the cheetahs prey species - the antelopes. Emperor Akbar is recorded to have collected 1,000 cheetahs. However, in his entire reign, he may have collected as many as 9,000 cheetahs. Even the Hindu kings of Rajasthan and Maharashtra used cheetahs to hunt antelopes, but the impact of the Mughals on cheetahs is of a vast and lavish scale for all times, say historical records. The enterprise of hunting also had a direct consequence on the range contraction of its primary prey, the chinkara, and the blackbuck. In 1619, Mughal King Jahangir, in a span of 12 days, hunted 426 antelopes in Palam (where the Delhi airport is now located) as per wildlife historian Mahesh Rangarajan. Such was the scale of hunting!

    Cheetawala pardhis, the hunter/trapper tribals originating from Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, with specialised skills to capture and train cheetahs, were appointed on a monthly salary to catch cheetahs. They caught the animals through various means including pitfall traps and snaring, and sold to the durbars.

    Cheetah has also been a victim of conflict. It came into direct conflict with people by preying on domestic sheep and goat, resulting in retaliatory killing, one of the possible causes for its declining numbers.

    Current & historical distribution

    Today, the swiftest mammal on earth exists in 23 countries in Africa, and is found in only one relict population in Asia, in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This depicts that this unique member of the cat family has perhaps vanished from approximately 91% of its historic range, with about 7,000 individuals surviving in the wild.

    In Asia, the cheetah survives precariously in Iran with about 40-70 individuals surviving in the Miandasht Wildlife Refuge, Touran Biosphere Reserve, Naybandan Wildlife Sanctuary and, possibly in the Darband-e Ravar Wildlife Refuge, according to the Iranian Cheetah Society.

    In other parts of Asia, it had ranged in Kuwait, Iran, Iraq, Saudi, Israel, Jordan, Oman and a few other countries till the early 1950s with India being its easternmost boundary. They were also found in the former USSR states of Turkmenistan, Georgia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan regions, but none exist in these countries today.

    Present-day scenario

    Over its entire present-day distribution, the drivers of the decline of this cat, known for its docility, include loss of prey species, conflict with humans, and habitat loss. Its classified under the vulnerable category by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), but its subspecies found in Northwest Africa and Iran are classified as critically endangered. Cheetahs speed is legendary, and nothing in nature can outrun a cheetah. But, there are no solutions to high-speed vehicular traffic in Iran. According to the Iranian Cheetah Society, of the 34 known cheetah deaths since 2001, 15 cheetahs were killed in vehicular collisions. Thats a very high rate, considering the tiny population of Asiatic cheetahs.

    However, cheetahs in Iran are now a symbol of wildlife conservation.Even their national football team has adopted the cheetah as its logo on its jerseys.

    Did the cheetah exist in India?

    Some well-known naturalists, including Kailash Sankhala, argue that cheetahs are not native to India, and that they were brought to the country by princes and potentates for sport. Noted among them include Valmik Thapar, who writes in Exotic Aliens (the book he has co-authored with Romila Thapar & Yusuf Ansari) that "there was never an Asiatic cheetah", and "cheetahs in India came into this country as gifts or tributes, and were imported by land and sea from Africa and Persia." He bolsters his arguments by the fact that there was a flourishing trade in animals from Africa to India by the Romans.

    It is also argued that the British shikar literature hardly has any mention of the cheetahs. On the contrary, Divyabhanusinhs book argues that the cheetah population was already dwindling, and the animal had become very rare in India in the 19th and 20th centuries. This necessitated the import of these animals from Africa, for cheetah coursing, by princely states.

    But what is notable is that most art history in India depicts cheetahs from the 12th century onwards, while the tiger, leopard and other big cats have been depicted in several of our art forms from time immemorial. However, Divyabhanusinhs book has shown Neolithic paintings depicting cheetahs from the cave shelters at Kharvai near Bhopal, Chatarbhujnath in Chambal valley, and several other locations. In all probability, these cave paintings are assumed to be products of the ancestors of todays tribals of non-Aryan and non-Dravidian origin. Perhaps this provides a very ancient evidence of the cheetahs presence in India.

    Thapar also says that the cheetahs in Mysuru and Bengaluru areas were escapees from royal menageries. Nevertheless, the authors of Exotic Aliens agree to the fact that there is no conclusive genetic evidence to prove or disprove their theory. And geneticists have said that African and Asiatic cheetahs had been separated thousands of years ago.

    History has to grapple with science, chiefly biogeography, if it has to make its point based on species distribution. Biogeographers could pose serious questions about the theories raised by Valmik Thapar. India is part of the Ethiopian biogeography where similar species including gazelles, antelopes, and small and large carnivores are found across continents. Hence, convincing biogeographers from this perspective would have further enriched the claims made in Exotic Aliens.


    With the cheetah extinct in India, the issue of reintroduction has been bandied about from time to time. "Thanks to Project Cheetah, the cheetah may well roam the plains of India again," declares a Ministry of Environment and Forests document from September 2010. Several attempts were made to reintroduce them during 2010-2011. When Iran refused to part with its cheetahs for reintroduction, India looked towards Africa, and a few cheetahs were planned to be brought from Namibia.

    The Nauradehi and Kuno-Palpur wildlife sanctuaries in Madhya Pradesh, and the Shahgarh landscape in Rajasthan were identified as potential areas for cheetah reintroduction. But the top court of the country had other ideas and shot down the then governments proposal. Sadly, today, the issue of cheetah reintroduction has gone silent in the country.

    Apart from the cheetah, in India, four other large mammalian wildlife species went extinct in the first 50 years of the 20th century - the Javan and Sumatran rhinos, the Sikkim stag, and the banteng. All of them seem to be wildlife species that are adapted to specialised habitats. These habitat specialists lost ground in India well before the Wildlife Protection Act was enacted in 1972. Despite strict enforcement of the act, we seem to have failed to learn our lessons from the extinction of cheetahs and other species, as we continue to lose habitat specialist species such as the great Indian bustard, Bengal florican, Siberian crane, Jerdons courser, Indian wolf, wild buffalo, and many others that go unnoticed. Hence, a critical question to ask is - are we failing to understand and manage the needs of the habitat specialists?

    Fact file

    Scientific name: Acinonyx jubatus.
    Local names: Kannada - Sivangi, Telugu - Chita-puli, Tamil - Sivingi, Marathi - Cheetah, Gondi - Chitra, Hindi - Laggar, Sanskrit - Chitraka.
    Habitat: Largely open grasslands, plains, scrub forests.

    Spot the differences

    Though the cheetah may not look different from a leopard to an untrained eye, their external body features are distinctly different.

    * Spots & rosettes: The cheetah has well-rounded and solid spots on the body while the spots on the leopard are irregular and group together to form the rosettes.

    * There are two clear black lines that streak from the inner corner of the cheetahs eyes and down their cheeks to the outside edges of their mouth called as the tear marks. These markings are missing on the leopards face.

    * The cheetah has a smaller head compared to that of a leopard.

    * Its certainly a slimmer animal than the leopard.

    * Most animals of the cat family, including the leopards, have retractable claws, but the cheetahs claws are semi-retractile.

    From the pages

    * The End of a Trail by Divyabhanusinh

    * Exotic Aliens by Valmik Thapar, Romila Thapar & Yusuf Ansari

    * Indias Wildlife History by Mahesh Rangarajan

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  • 12/01/17--18:00: Beats, bandana, beatific!
  • One of the most recognisable faces in Indian music with his signature bandana, Sivamani is widely recognised as one of Indias best drummers. Siva, as he is fondly known as, has performed all over the world with legends like Billy Cobham, Shankar Mahadevan, A R Rahman, Ilaiyaraaja, L Shankar, Louis Banks, Ustad Zakir Hussain et al. Once, Zakir Hussain, in a live show, introduced Sivamani to the audience as a "phenomenon that walks this planet but once or twice in a century." In 2009, the Tamil Nadu government conferred upon him the title of Kalaimamani, the states highest honour in the field of the arts.

    How did it all begin? How did you start drumming?

    Drumming runs in my blood. My father, S M Anandan, was a percussionist in the film industry in Chennai, and he initiated me into percussion training at the age of seven. I learnt to play the octoban, darbuka, udukai, and kanjira, and also the violin and harmonium. After my
    initial exposure to Carnatic percussion, my father put me onto Noel Grant, who was one of the best-known Western drummers in the film industry at that time.

    When did you decide to turn professional?

    My professional music career started at the age of 12. My first break into film studio work was with music composer K V Mahadevan. A year later, when I was 13, I started playing for S P Balasubramaniam, who I consider my godfather. Around the same time, I also started substituting for music maestro Ilaiyaraajas group. After a while, Ilaiyaraaja sir began to notice my playing and made me a permanent member of his group. This opened doors for me; in a few years, I was performing for a host of Tamil and Malayalam music directors including T Rajendar, Sam Joseph and Sankar Ganesh. Bollywood came calling a bit later. Ive played drums for many Bollywood movies like Rang De Basanti, Swades, Taal, Lagaan, Dil Se, Guru, Kabul Express, Rockstar...

    You are known for your showmanship on stage. How did you make the transition from being an instrumentalist in the recording studio to being a star on stage?

    It was Ilaiyaraaja sir who first gave me the idea that people would come to see me perform. He told me, "Youre a natural performer, and your talent needs to be seen as well as heard. You have to go out and play live." This was how I forayed into the world of live concerts, and thanks to that priceless advice, Ive performed and continue to perform all over the world.

    Being recognised as a solo artiste also brought me other opportunities. Ive composed music for the films Arima Nambi and Kanithan, and also acted in a Bollywood movie, Masaari, just last year. Ive also acted in two Telugu films, Padamati Sandhya Ragam and Sirivennela.

    You are known to perform any genre, from Indian classical to jazz and everything in between. What genre really inspires you?

    Ive always taken inspiration from Indian classical music, which is what I was trained in. I would never miss an opportunity to speak to and take tips from the legends of classical music like Vikku Vinayakram, Umayalpuram Sivaraman, T K Murthy, Ustad Zakir Hussain, Karaikudi Mani... I like to
    experiment with genres and collaborate with other musicians.

    Could you elaborate on these collaborations ?

    From the very beginning, I have been looking to play with as many musicians as I can, and push the boundaries of traditionally defined genres. I was part of a music group called Shraddha, which comprised Shankar Mahadevan, U Srinivas (who passed away in 2014 ) and Loy Mendonsa.

    I have a fusion line-up called Asia Electrik with Niladri Kumar, who is a brilliant young sitar virtuoso with a unique ability to play pure Indian classical as well as modern world-music, and Louis Banks, who has been on the forefront of fusion music, and is one of the countrys best keyboardist. Our music is mostly raag based, but interwoven with Western orchestration and harmonies. Theres a lot of impromptu improvisations, cross-rhythmic explorations, call & response, jugalbandis etc. Im also part of Zakir jis Zakir Hussain World Drums Ensemble. Ive done a ghazal album called Kaash with singer Hariharan, teamed up with my wife ghazal, sufi & folk singer Runa Rizvi, to form a first-of-its-kind band called NEW LIFE that does a unique fusion of the three genres with world percussions and jazz. In this line-up, we have the multitalented composer Vishal Dhumal on keyboards and harmonium, and Ojas Adhiya on tabla.

    You have a special relationship with A R Rahman...

    A R and I are childhood friends. I knew him long before he became A R Rahman. He was known as A S Dilip Kumar then, and we were both in a Western music band called Roots. Way back in 1994, A R and I did an album called Golden Krithis Colours , which was a Carnatic experimental album with Zaakir Hussain, Srinivasan and Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan. Ive played for some of A R Rahmans most popular scores like Mustafa Mustafa (Kadhal Desam), Humma Humma (Bombay) and Chaiyya Chaiyya (Uyire). I was also part of his Bollywood-themed musical, Bombay Dreams. I tour the world with A R Rahman; in fact, I was with him just a few days back in Delhi for a gig.

    You have the words Rhythm is God written on your website and Facebook page, as slogans for your live performance...

    I was born with a sense of rhythm. From when I was young, my fingers were always tapping and creating beats with anything I could lay my hands on - pots, pans, empty water bottles, suitcases... In fact, I think my first click track was when I was in my mothers womb, listening to her heartbeat. I hear rhythm in everything - rain, footsteps on pavement, rat-a-tat of motorbikes, even my own heartbeat... theres a jugalbandi out there if you really listen. Thats why rhythm is religion to me.

    As I end the interview, I find myself listening to the sound of an old fan rattling its unique thalam from up above. If rhythm is really a religion, I have a sneaking suspicion that Ive just had a brief interaction with one of its patron saints.

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    Jyoti Nooran was all of five when her father heard her singing a Bulleh Shah kalam. While other kids of her age were lisping Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, Jyoti was singing, at full throttle, one of Punjabs most lauded Sufi singers without realising the significance of the song.

    Perhaps it was inevitable, because Jyoti was born in a family steeped in music. Her grandmother, Bibi Nooran, was a well-known Punjabi Sufi singer, and little Jyoti and her sister Sultana grew up listening to her songs.

    Dire poverty prevented the two girls from going to school, but the powerful singing voices in their family provided them an education of a different kind. Unaware of their inherent talent, they sang powerful Sufi songs about divine spirituality while they played hopscotch. But when their father, Gulshan Meer, chanced upon their singing, he recognised their talent immediately, and set about training their voices formally. In no time, the two girls were singing on public platforms.

    From melas and dargahs in Punjab to national TV channels, Jyoti and Sultana enthralled listeners wherever they sang, with their popularity soaring to amazing heights after their song Tung Tung, accompanied by heavy electronic music, became one of the most popular chartbusters on MTV channel. More records were broken at Coke Studio with their powerful rendering of Allah Hoo.

    It was with Allah Hoo that the annual Prithvi Festival in Mumbai, held in memory of Prithviraj Kapoor, opened this year.

    Singing solo, Jyoti mesmerised a packed auditorium of special invitees who were quite unlike those at dargahs and TV channels. Theatre lovers, film directors, stage artistes were visibly moved by Jyotis signature style of energetic singing, that had tablas, harmonium, dhol and even guitars lending her lively support. It was like nothing they had heard or seen before. Dressed in a dazzling velvet ensemble but devoid of any jewellery, Jyoti captivated the audience with powerful lyrics in search of the Almighty.

    "Our singing is like ibaadat, surrendering to Allah," Jyoti had pointed out once. And, indeed, as her deep-throated voice rose to a crescendo, and she broke into fervent clapping, she seemed to be overcome by a mystical force. Even those who may not have understood the nuances of her lyrics got carried along by the force and rhythm of her voice and frenzied body language.

    Watching Jyoti at the festival, you realise why music maestro A R Rahman decided to use her talent for Imtiaz Alis deeply disturbing film Highway. Patakha Guddi, belted out by Jyoti and supported by Sultana, was like the theme song for Alia Bhatts character in the film.

    As the latter breaks free from her familys hypocritical social chains, and hits the highway with her abductor, Jyotis voice says it all.

    Breaking free from her fathers constraints is what Jyoti, too, did in real life. Even as she rose to dizzying heights of fame and popularity with films like Highway, Mirzya, Sultan and Jab Harry Met Sejal, she fell in love and got married much against her fathers wishes. Strong as her voice, she stood her ground and even got a court order to validate her marriage to Kunal Passi.

    Meeting her backstage after the show, you find that its Kunal who does most of the talking on her behalf. "Uparwale ki rehmat hai," he replies when you ask Jyoti how she feels about her journey from Punjab to Prithvi, via films and international acclaim.

    "The journey has been fantastic!" he adds, while Jyoti smiles in agreement. "There are times when we are on the road for months on end, performing for one show after another," continues her husband, who is now her manager as well.

    "Where do you get so much energy from? What do you eat?" you ask the petit singer, half in jest.

    "Oh, she is a vegetarian, you know! And has been so from childhood. She has made me a vegetarian, too," points out Kunal.

    If Kunal turned vegetarian, Jyoti converted to Hinduism when she married Kunal. Happy compromises that give their marriage a sound footing, even as the two harmoniously, pun intended, take Jyotis career to stupendous heights. Her musical calendar is all chalked out with forthcoming shows in Dhaka and Delhi.

    Punjabis, Bengalis, Gujaratis - all flock to her shows, with language being no impediment. The syncretic soul of Sufi music mesmerises them all. Barely 23 years old, Jyoti is centre stage, passion and confidence personified.

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  • 12/01/17--19:04: Book Rack
  • The Assassinations

    Vikram Kapur

    Speaking Tiger, 2017, Rs 299, pp 211

    This book has the backdrop of the anti-Sikh riots of 1984. Prem is a Sikh and Deepa, a Hindu. The couple, just engaged, is planning a honeymoon. With the assassination of the prime minister, riots break out and Prem is caught in the vortex of hate and violence.

    From Lehman to Demonetization

    Tamal Bandyopadhyay

    Penguin, 2017, Rs 599, pp 348

    This book is a collection of essays on banking in India. It features interviews with experts like Raghuram Rajan, Arundhati Bhattacharya, and others. It covers the tumultuous period between 2007 and 2017.

    The Indigo Sun

    Rupa Bhullar

    Rupa, 2017, Rs 295, pp 284

    This book is an enchanting tale set in the deserts of Rajasthan. Maya, a young NRI, is on a transformative journey along with a young boy, Ananda, gypsy Leela, and Veer, an entrepreneur from London. Her past, present and future come together along with her mind, body and soul.

    Conflicts of Interest

    Sunita Narain

    Penguin, 2017, Rs 599, pp 227

    Indias foremost environmentalist gives a personal account of her battles as part of the countrys green movement. She recounts the widely reported controversies triggered by her research, and talks about the pollution in Delhi and global climate change.

    Lost In Time

    Namita Gokhale

    Penguin, 2017, Rs 250, pp 175

    Young Chintamani Dev Gupta is sent packing to the birding camp near Lake Sat Tal. Along with a gentle giant, who is a master of illusions and mind-boggling rakshahsha technology, he finds himself in the middle of the countrys most enduring epic, the Mahabharata.

    India Social

    Ankit Lal

    Hachette, 2017, Rs 299, pp 257

    The author analyses the changes that have taken place in politics, culture and language through the influence of social media. He also focuses on famous movements such as #IndiaAgainstCorruption and #NetNeutrality campaigns.

    The Arrangement

    Sonya Lalli

    Orion Books, 2017, Rs 399, pp 344

    When youre 30, its totally normal for your family to ask you when you plan to settle down. Raina has a whole community waiting for her. Her grandmother is helping her pick the right husband. Raina, eager not to disappoint her family, decides to go with the plan.

    The Second Anglo-Sikh War

    Amarpal Singh

    Harper Collins, 2017, Rs 899, pp 513

    This book chronicles the second Anglo-Sikh war that culminated with the annexation of Punjab by the East India Company. The author captures the augments of the battlefield and uses eyewitness accounts to recreate the narrative.

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  • 12/01/17--19:26: The other brother
  • Unputdownable for the most part. Perfect choice for a train or airplane trip. Yes, thats what Dont Let Go by Harlan Coben is! Coben is an experienced whizz at the thriller genre, and he shows his chops here too. For the most part.

    The author has had 10 consecutive novels on the New York Times bestseller list. Phew! He has also won the big three awards given in the field of mystery writing: the Shamus, the Anthony, and the Edgar. With a pedigree like that, Dont Let Go has all chances of being another entertainer. And it does. For the most part.

    Napoleon Nap Dumas is a cop in a seemingly serene, quintessential New Jersey town with the stereotypical soccer parents, two-cars-plus-two-kids-plus-one-dog families, where kids run amok together and grow up together, and where practically everyone knows one another. He has been battling with emotional issues ever since he lost his twin brother Leo Dumas in a supposed suicide mission on the railroad tracks along with his girlfriend Diana Styles.

    This was 15 years ago, when they were in high school. Nap does not buy the accident/suicide theory and, over the years, has lived with tremendous guilt of not being there for his twin when he needed him.

    Mysteriously, his own girlfriend Maura Wells also disappeared the same night and has not been found since. In his guilt-ridden state, Nap converses with the dead Leo to make sense of the tragedy and find answers to the unresolved deaths. His latent anger also makes him somewhat of a rogue cop who is not averse to taking non-legal ways of dealing with criminals.

    On a homicide call one night, he finds Maura Wellss fingerprints in the murder vehicle. To make matters more confusing, the dead man is Sgt Rex Canton, a classmate of his and Leos from school days. Canton was also a member of a secret society, Conspiracy Club, at Westbrook High, their school.

    This secret fraternity was populated by teens with raging anti-establishment hormones, and had Leo, Maura, Diana, besides some others, as members. Fifteen years of trying to make sense of his brothers death and looking for his missing girlfriend has led to dead ends for Nap.

    So, when Mauras prints are found in connection with Cantons death followed by murders/suspicious deaths of other members of the now-defunct Conspiracy Club, Nap knows he is on to the missing links that include a Nike missile control centre with suspected nuclear payload in the secluded part of the suburban town.

    Enlisting the help of Ellie, his friend who is family to him now, and Augie Styles, Dianas cop dad, who is his mentor, Nap uses his policeman instincts and infrastructure (sometimes illegally) to get to the bottom of the mystery and connect the missing dots. Layers of the mystery are unpeeled, leading to more confusion, and finally the denouement.

    Cobens mastery is evident through most of the narrative, and the reader is intrigued, wanting to turn the next page to know whodunit. In parts it reaches a stage where everyone is a suspect. Even the protagonist: is he involved in the whole mystery in a subconscious, mind-altered manner? Vigilante justice? The narration of torment, vivid as hell, makes one feel claustrophobic and wanting to make an exit from the pages with the heart keeping pace with its thudding.

    However, the characters in Dont Let Go sometimes feel two-dimensional and do not leave a mark as real people. Nap, the hero, gives out the vibes of a middle-aged, world-weary cop, whereas he is in his early 30s. Other secondary characters dont seem as well etched out as one would have expected.

    Nevertheless, the story paces along with nary a dull moment. Everyone has a plausible reason for their deeds. Then who is the bad person/persons? Underneath the calm of the town lurks eeriness, evil, unease and human frailty.

    "The past does not simply die away. Whatever happened here still haunts these grounds. You can feel that sometimes - when you visit ancient ruins or old estates, or when you are alone in the woods like this. The echoes quiet, fade away, but they never go completely silent."

    Visions of nuclear warfare and secrecy, suspense and spy-vs-spy with international ramifications run through the mind. Not so, not so. Not about to give away the ending, but it feels halfway between a crisp nerves-on-edge and a damp squib. Ends a bit abruptly after all the tension-filled twists and turns the story takes... Leaves one expecting and wanting something more, something that is lacking, but one cannot put a finger on it.

    But go get this popcorn read for your next holiday trip. It wont let you down. For the most part.

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  • 12/01/17--19:34: Hopeful in the US
  • Young Camaroonian Jende Jonga has landed in the US with dreams in his eyes and a fire in his belly. Dreams of making a better life for himself, his wife Neni, and their six-year-old son Liomi, and the determination to work hard for it. As far as hes concerned, America is the land of dreamers, of achievers. "America has something for everyone" is his belief. His joy knows no bounds when he lands a job as a personal chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. A job that is almost like a passport to his success with its good pay packet. He makes grand plans for his sons future in the land of opportunities.

    Driving the Edwardses - Clark, his wife Cindy, and their two sons Vince and Mighty - around New York, Jende gets a peek into the enchanting lives of the creamy layer of The Big Apple. His resolve to stay on in America only gets stronger. To build a strong case for himself to seek asylum in the land of his dreams, he concocts a story wherein his father-in-law is waiting to kill him as soon as he heads back home. Even as he waits for the result of his asylum application, he dreams on, fuelled by the hopes given by his smooth-talking immigration lawyer.

    The Edwardses, with all their quirks, are generous employers. While Clark is amused by Jendes tales of his homeland, Cindy offers Neni a part-time job in the familys vacation house in the Hamptons, and the boys grow fond of both Jende and Neni. But, it doesnt take long for the Jongas to realise that alls not well in the Edwardses seemingly perfect world. They have their own set of problems, and their own ways of dealing with them. Substance abuse, escapism, depression, spiritual quest... It leaves the Jongas wondering how people with such wealth could "have so much happiness and unhappiness skillfully wrapped up together."

    Moreover, its 2008. The year that sees the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Jende doesnt understand the implications of this financial crisis till it hits him hard. And he loses his job. His asylum application too gets rejected. His dreams come crashing down, making him bitter. All his talks of America being the land of immense possibilities - "Look at Obama, sir. Who is his mother? Who is his father? They are not big people in the government. ...The man is a black man with no father or mother, trying to be president over a country!" - sound increasingly hollow to himself. The Jongas are forced to make an impossible choice now, before their marriage falls apart...

    Behold the Dreamers, Imbolo Mbues debut novel, captures the plight of African immigrants in America skillfully. Especially at a time when the country is about to elect its first black president, and facing the worst financial crisis ever. Jende embodies the dreams and aspirations of millions of immigrants who land in America with the hope of a better life, better prospects. So does Neni, who is in the US on a student visa, with dreams of enrolling herself in a pharmacy college soon, and for whom America is "a magnificent land of uninhibited dreamers."

    Their love for consumerism and all-things-American reflect the attraction the American dream holds for immigrants. After all, Mbue herself landed in the US as an immigrant in 1998, ended up losing her job during the 2008 financial crisis, and was jobless for almost a year-and-a-half. A captivating storyteller that she is, she has managed to relate her experiences, and that of her fellow African-Americans, through the many characters of her book.

    There is a sense of calmness in the book, a calmness thats all-pervasive, waiting to burst out of the pages. The narrative too begins slowly, but quickly picks up steam, enticing the reader to thumb through the pages at a frenetic pace. Proof enough of the authors flair for writing. Simplicity of language and remarkable characterisation further add to the allure of the book. Her characters are quite complex, who cannot easily be labelled as black or white. The prose reveals, on the one hand, a curious, observant mind and a subtle sense of humour, and on the other, hope, that forms the leitmotif around which the myriad stories in this book are woven. In short, its a book you wouldnt mind reading, over and over again, for the sheer joy of enjoying a story well told.

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  • 12/01/17--20:02: Recall a glossier time
  • In the introductory chapter of The Vanity Fair Diaries: 1983-1992, todays Tina Brown weighs in on young Tina Brown, and her verdict is clear: from day one, she was hot, hot, hot. Her work for The New Statesman right after university? "Frisky." Her 1977 affair with the "fearless, crusading" Harold Evans, whom shed one day marry? "A scandal."

    Her old college flame Martin Amis? A "literary lothario" who was "small and Jaggeresque."

    After all these years, she still writes in Vanity Fair display type.

    Im not sure who green-lighted these opening pages, which blunder so frequently into self-parody. At times, Brown seems capable of writing in only two registers: brag and humblebrag. I prefer the straightforward brag - at least all the brass horns are playing in the same key - though I do admire how she twice manages to reveal, by Page 10, that she was quite shapely in her youth, both times under the guise of a complaint.

    But! After this fusillade of boom-boom and hype, Browns book - an edited version of the diaries she kept while presiding over Vanity Fair - begins in earnest, looping back to the early 80s, when she was still her younger, less-assured self. Watching her settle into the confident, industry-conquering editor shed become is a revelation. So is the glimpse she offers into her own habits and appetites. Brown is a woman of wondrous drive and ambition, arcing through the world as if fired from a cannon. One might think that people of such vectored determination dont stop much to think about it. But Browns diaries reveal surprising ambivalence.

    "I want more time to contemplate," she writes in 1989, "but I cant seem to live any other way. I feel panic when I stop."

    Most unexpected may be Browns many entries about the hazards and psychological challenges of editing while being female. Media reporters and male competitors routinely trivialise her accomplishments. Never once during her tenure does she work up the nerve to ask for a proper raise, even after Vanity Fair becomes profitable and Harpers Bazaar starts to court her. (She eventually enlists the help of a superagent.) Even she suffers from a self-esteem gap.

    When Brown was first offered the job to rescue the recently revived (and incompetently revived) Vanity Fair, in 1983, she was just 29 years old. The magazine was an outpost of confusion in those days, and Condé Nast was a castle of paranoia, its towers filled with schemers hoping to avoid defenestration.

    It took a while for Brown to master the politics of this byzantine kingdom, and it took a while for her to arrive at the formula that would ultimately be responsible for the magazines success: a mix of celebrity chronicles, foreign reportage, true-crime stories, profiles of power brokers and extravagant photo spreads - all sitting side by side in the back of the same limo.

    For legacy-media freaks, The Vanity Fair Diaries is a bound volume of crack. Browns moment wasnt just predicated on the excesses of Wall Street. It was predicated on the excesses of the magazine business, of a time when editors still had time and money to burn.

    A crisis in Browns world was being seated at the wrong table at the Four Seasons, or being forced to coordinate coverage of Andy Warhols death by speakerphone because the person best suited to do it was off in Gstaad, Switzerland.

    Yet after reading these diaries, I still wonder how much of an audience exists for them. Pages upon pages are filled with stories about dinners with doyennes who, even in their day, were only a big deal in one or two ZIP codes. Many of its barons are long forgotten, dead or disgraced. The dish about Condé Nasts kings and queens regnant will be tasty to those who know them, but will anyone beyond their own (dwindling) clan even care?

    Tolstoy can ask you to remember hundreds of characters. I dont think Brown can.

    To me, Browns truest and most heartfelt confessions are about her maternal guilt and ambivalence. Shes beset by fears that her jet-engine work drive will never be compatible with a sane family life. "The weekend was hard, with G" - her toddler son, George - "being very difficult and Harry chained to his computer as bloody always," she writes in 1989. "Two workaholics dont make a rightaholic, particularly when it comes to raising kids."

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  • 12/01/17--20:08: Stains of a kitchen disaster
  • There is something to be said about the utter humiliation of making a disaster in the kitchen. The feeling of inadequacy, the helplessness at why everything has gone wrong, and the gnawing worry of how to fix it. Twenty years ago, this was my reality most of the time I ventured into the kitchen.

    Thats why I love the technology that we have today. I know its making zombies out of us, into people who cannot react without the comfort of a screen, but how much easier it is to tap that very screen and get what you want.

    For instance, chances are you wont make that many disasters in the kitchen, thanks to apps like Tasty or Tastemade where you can see how the dish is supposed to look at every stage, right on your phone. Or, if things dont work out, one can always simply tap on Swiggy or Zomato and order something. Technology has made life so much easier for everyone, and humiliating memories like some of the ones I have wouldnt exist at all.

    The one memory that is seared into my brain is the time I made tomato soup for my aunt without the help of Knorr or Maggi instant-soup packets. I did everything wrong. The soup looked horrid, a dull and unbecoming red with chunky pieces of tomato in it that didnt seem to magically become smooth. I didnt know that we had to puree it. I didnt know how much I ought to season it. And I certainly didnt know that I shouldnt pour a beaten egg into it.

    Adding the egg just compounded the disaster, and now I had bits of floating egg in the soup while my aunt wanted to know when the soup would be ready. I was nervous and upset, and knew that while I could tell her the soup wasnt good, she would still want to see what it looked like.

    I had to stop her from seeing it at any cost!

    I couldnt exit the kitchen without bumping into her, sitting in the hall outside. I couldnt dump it into the dustbin either, because what would I tell her if she decided to check it?

    And of course, I would be berated about the waste of money on ingredients, which seemed to be the primary concern of most women, including my own.

    I was unhelpfully reminded of my several forays into the kitchen earlier where I had tried baking cakes in the newly minted microwave. I had no idea that baking cakes in the microwave took mere minutes, not half an hour as was usually the case with OTGs. In my defence, I was only 11.

    I would bake sponge cakes for 30 minutes and then wonder why they had become rock-hard, resulting in my family members bringing out hammers and pretending toothaches whenever I baked.

    Of course, there was also the lecture I had to listen to on the waste of butter and sugar.

    But the question of how I could get rid of the tomato soup remained. How I wished I had a wand so I could whirl it and make the mess disappear. My cousin who was lingering around came up with absurd ideas, such as trying to flush everything down the toilet. I was tempted, but how would we walk past my aunt without her knowing what we were doing?

    My cousin offered to hold up her kameez and asked me to pour the soup into the cradle that formed and suggested running to the toilet and flushing it immediately. I didnt know whether to laugh or cry, and thankfully, I did no such thing.

    I admitted defeat and went outside and told my aunt that the soup was not good and so I wouldnt be serving it to her. She muttered something about girls who didnt know how to make something as basic as soup, and I slunk away from there.

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  • 12/01/17--20:16: Bloody scene in an act
  • They are streaming out from your bedroom, ma - almost like an exodus! I killed about eight or nine and left them for you to see. Amused on seeing the WhatsApp message, I visualised in my mental landscape loads of them, uprooted from their homes, moving out lock, stock, and barrel to safer destinations. Chuckling to myself, I was soon immersed in my work, the message forgotten.

    It was on the way back that it flashed in my mind again, and I stopped at the nearest outlet to pick up an aerosol of insect spray. Alighting from the car, I pushed open the gate. Even before I could turn the key in the door, I saw some lying dead near the doorstep.

    Sidestepping them, I made my way inside. Nothing in the drawing room. The few in the bedroom were apparently dead by the looks of them, more as I spotted an aerosol of insect spray close by. The bathroom door was ajar. I pushed it open. Horror of horrors! They were everywhere, dead or wriggling as they held on to the last wisp of life. Bloodstains smeared on the floor stood out in stark contrast against the cream tiles. It couldnt have been a more dreadful scene. Nothing short of a bloodshed! Only the weapons were missing! It had to be cleaned up, and quickly at that! I rushed to the back of the house to get the broom and a dustpan.

    But what met me outside was worse - hundreds of them, dead or crawling about in a stupor as they made one last effort to escape the jaws of imminent death. The scene on the other side of the house was equally terrifying. "Hell is empty and all the devils are here," I murmured to myself. A peep over the neighbours wall and it was no different there.

    Not to be outwitted, I got cracking. Swish, swash, the sound of water rang out loud as I tried to obliterate all traces of the bloodbath, inside and outside the house. At the end of an hour, I stretched out my sore back, but not before ensuring that the plastic bag was securely fastened with a twine, lest they should come alive in the night, and kept it aside to be cleared by the garbage truck…

    Big, fat, ugly rodents pushing their way out of waterholes, gully traps and dirty drains making a beeline towards homes… Dead rats everywhere! As in Camuss city of Oran. An epidemic! The bubonic plague! I screamed, only to wake up, drowned in a sweat bath. Thank god! It was only a dream.

    "Did you spray any insecticide, amma?" the maid asked the next morning. "No, why?" "There was a strong smell and traces of oil around the house when I came in the afternoon." But of course! How foolish of me! The pest control. I muttered, as the mystery of the dead cockroaches was cracked.

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  • 12/01/17--20:30: A fairy-tale life
  • Nyhavn in the maritime city of Copenhagen sits like a fairy tale with its gorgeous coloured houses leaning against each other like old friends. Many of these old sailors quarters have been reimagined into trendy cafes, hotels and restaurants offering superb views of sailboats in the waters below. I was on a floating picnic in a solar-powered GoBoat.

    As we glided along the canals, our host, Guiseppe Liverino, pointed to a lovely, tall white house wedged between a brown building and a cream one. "This is the home of Hans Christian Andersen, who lived in Nyhavn between 1845 and 1864." I couldnt believe I was staring at the house of Denmarks gift to world literature. Marked No. 67 with a plaque honouring him, I almost expected words and fairy tales to waft out of its tall windows.

    Apparently, he lived in House No. 20 earlier, where he wrote Tinderbox and Little Claus and Big Claus.

    Ironically, the legendary fairy tale writer and poet who populated our childhood dream-scape with unforgettable characters led a life of penury. So poor was he that he was kicked out of the home I was staring at, because he couldnt pay his rent. He then moved a few hundred metres across to the other side, to live in a red house, No 18, where he met the same fate after two years! Without a penny to his name, Andersen allegedly sought out moneyed folks by pretending to be rich. Eventually, when the wheels of fortune turned, he was too old! There was something tragically beautiful about his story, and I wished I could step into his The Galoshes of Fortune to discover his Copenhagen. I had the perfect opportunity the following day.

    If there is one guided city walk you need to do in Copenhagen, it should be the Hans Christian Andersen Tour. Run by guide Richard Karpen, who literally transforms as he dons a top hat, a tailcoat and an old-world umbrella, and insists you call him Hans! American-born Richard may be from The NY Bronx, but is a Dane at heart who stays in character as he gives insights into the life of Copenhagens most famous writer of childrens books.

    The author was born in 1805 and died at the age of 70, leaving a body of work that continues to inspire generations.

    Andersen was born to a poor family in the Odense countryside and raised by his shoemaker father and washerwoman mother. His early life in Odense and subsequent travels around Funen Island (Fyn), where he lived in various manors and castles like Broholm Castle, Hindsgavl Castle and Valdemars Castle, inspired him to ink several of his stories. By 30, he had four fairy tales under his belt, and the rest is history.

    His books have been translated into every major language in the world. So when Richard said, "Each year, the only books in more publication are the Bible, Shakespeare and the IKEA catalogue," we believed him. The very name H C Andersen evokes a wave of nostalgia. As the author of bedtime stories like Thumbelina, Tinderbox, The Ugly Duckling, The Princess and the Pea, The Emperors New Clothes, and The Little Mermaid (which inspired Copenhagens most recognised and famous landmark on a rock at Langelinie promenade), he created characters and tales that left many enchanted.

    So the journey begins

    Having penned many long travelogues and the most unforgettable quotes on travel, it wasnt odd that in his autobiography, The Fairytale of My Life, he wrote, "To travel is to live," which became his motto for life.

    Andersen travelled 29 times outside Denmark spanning 10 years of his adult life - to Italy, Greece, Turkey, Spain and Portugal and the West, up to Norway, by horse carriage, and the Far East by ship! Though he never married, he fell in and out of love, often with ladies way out of his league. Living in a classist society, women wouldnt marry him because he was too poor. But a broken heart is often the rock bed of a successful poet or writer.

    By the end of his life, Andersen was rich, famous, and welcomed into the homes and feted by royalty. However, he was too old to marry. Having been denied a mature, physical or lasting relationship, people say he never really grew up. He wrote 1,000 poems, six novels, 40 plays and 175 fairy tales. "My whole life was the greatest fairy tale," he had once remarked, and it seemed true.

    Bachelors bust

    Inside City Hall stands a wonderful marble bust of storyteller extraordinaire Hans Christian Andersen. Though a life-long bachelor, the latters bust was placed near the civil marriage ceremony room, perhaps to bless relationships to turn into fairy tales! Newly married couples often pose or clink champagne flutes against City Halls alluring backdrop after signing their marriage contracts inside.

    We walked around the old city, along its cobbled paths and ancient landmarks. We found neoclassical architecture around the Bridge of Sighs and the Old Fountain of Charity at Gammeltorv (the citys oldest market square), visited the lovely Cathedral of Our Lady nearby, and marvelled at the brick wonder of the University Library and the Law Facultys vibrant 1850 wall frescoes before halting at The Round Tower or Rundetaarn, whose library hall became Andersens favourite spot for inspiration. For 20 years, Richard had kept the citys visitors rapt with these stories. Indians love him as he shares a great love for our culture. And, he doffed his top hat with a familiar, "Achcha ji, namaste. Bhagwan ki marji, phir milenge. Uparwale ki daya?!" and left me agape.

    Copenhagen was full of surprises! There was so much more to experience. But I stood by his large bronze statue on H C Andersen Boulevard that sat gazing at Tivoli Gardens. He had a book in one hand and a cane in the other, and his knees shone from people repeatedly sitting on his lap for an archetypal selfie at Copenhagen.

    I didnt need another prompt to enter the ornate gateway of Tivoli Gardens and its fairy-tale setting to experience Den Flyvende Kuffert or The Flying Trunk, a classic Hans Christian Andersen ride.

    The ride is named after the 1839 fairy tale of a young man who squanders all his money. Left with only a few belongings, he gets a magical trunk that transports him to Turkey, where he meets the Sultans doomed princess locked in a tower. After impressing the Sultan and his queen with his stories, they agree to let him marry the princess despite a curse of unhappiness. The excited lad buys fireworks, flies around the countryside, setting them off in celebration. One spark tragically falls on his trunk, burns it to ashes, and he can never fly to meet the princess in the tower again. So he wanders the world on foot, telling stories.

    And telling stories was all that Andersen did right up till his final resting place at Assistens Cemetery in Copenhagen, where I paid homage. As a writer and poet, H C Andersen was definitely Denmarks national treasure who has inspired movies, plays, ballets, books, and will continue to delight people for generations to come.

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  • 12/01/17--20:52: In the divine ravines
  • As we meandered past a sea of crowd (mainly auto and cab drivers) at Ajmer Railway Station, I wondered what Pushkar would be like - hot, cold, crowded, rainy? I hadnt read much about it, and while going up the hills of the Aravalli Range somewhere between Ajmer and Pushkar, I wondered if we were going to a hill station, but much to my amusement, we werent.

    A short drive of around 16 km from the city of Ajmer, famous for its Dargah Sharif, Pushkar is an unassuming lakeside town tucked in the centre of the biggest state of our country, Rajasthan. A sleepy settlement wrapped around the holy Pushkar Lake, it reverberates with divinity and is reminiscent of its more-crowded counterparts of Banaras, Rishikesh and Haridwar. But that being said, it can get pretty crowded here during the season, with the famous Pushkar Camel Fair.

    However, we were lucky as we visited the place during the monsoons, an off season.

    We reached the hotel after a long journey, and voila, the entire lake lay still right in front of us, ready to embrace us and recharge our batteries instantly.

    Home to one of the few Brahma temples in the world, people from far and wide come here to pray, especially for their ancestors. There are 52 bathing ghats around the lake where you can sit and meditate, sip a cup of tea at the innumerable cafes around, or just gaze at the sun going down.

    A filmy touch

    With a large number of hippies and Western tourists flocking in, Pushkar is like a scene from the Bollywood films of the 70s. The main attractions here are Pushkar Lake, Brahma and Savitri temples, and camel safaris. Those looking for a relaxing holiday thats easy on the pocket are in for a treat here as the entire city can be covered by foot. All you need to do is stroll around the lake and you will see bustling bazaars, overcrowded guest houses, busy street vendors, and tourists on rented two-wheelers.

    However, the one place you need transportation to reach is Savitri Temple, dedicated to the wife of Lord Brahma. A short distance from the centre of the town, taxis and autos take you to the base of the temple, which is atop a mountain. From here, you need to take a cable car to reach the peak. Many trekkers go up the mountains, especially to catch the sunrise.

    We chose the former, and though it was hot inside the car, the views around were breathtaking: the sprawling lush green Aravalli Range, the lake - a tiny blob of water - and goats grazing in the ravines of the mountains around watchful shepherds. Once we came down, we decided to visit the famous Brahma Temple of Pushkar, the only one of its kind in the world. Over 2,000 years old, legend has it that Lake Pushkar was created out of a petal that fell out of Brahmas lotus. Another story goes that Brahmas wife Savitri, furious on seeing Gayatri Devi take her spot during a yajna, had cursed him that he would never be worshipped. She later reduced the severity of the curse by allowing his worship only at Pushkar.

    On the camels...

    A visit to Pushkar is incomplete without the famed camel safari that takes you into the mesmerising Thar Desert. As we moved slowly away from the heart of the town into the arid lands, we took in the sights of the yellow fields around us. There was a quick stop in the desert for touristy things like posing for photographs wearing traditional Rajasthani garb and enjoying a chilled kulhad of lassi at the Diya Aur Baati Hum (yes, the serial) stall. The locals take pride in the fact that many popular serials and hit films have been shot here. We even saw the magnificent thakurs haveli from Karan Arjun on our way back.

    Though the safaris can be undertaken at any time of the day, sunrise and sunset are the ideal times to go for them. The golden rays of the sun, cool air, silence of the sands - the setting is straight out of a dream. There are also packages available for night safaris.

    It was still bright when we returned from the safari post sunset. We decided to sit down at one of the ghats and gaze at the twinkling lights going down the pristine lake waters. As hundreds of pigeons flew around us and we soaked in the sights and sounds of the divine, I had the song When the Lights Go Down in the City playing in my head.

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  • 12/01/17--20:58: Stories from the past
  • When I first told my folks that Id be going to Jerusalem, their reactions ranged from mild concern to complete disbelief. Enshrined in the Bible as the site of Jesuss resurrection, but also uncomfortably close to the disputed territory of Palestine, Jerusalem is not the obvious choice, even for an intrepid traveller. Yet, setting aside all political and religious proclivities, it is a magical city that reverberates with stories from the past.

    We drove to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv Airport encountering beautiful groves of coniferous trees along the way. They used to be more plentiful, our gentle and knowledgeable guide Shelly Eshkoli told us. Little patches of flowers surrounded by circular fences, and houses with graceful, curved balconies welcomed us to the main city. Some of the balconies had portly Jewish women in them, while others were only populated with empty chairs. The women wore skirts, youngsters strolled around in shorts, and the city did not seem all that conservative.

    We were put up at a lovely little hotel with psychedelic videos playing at every level and a wonderful white-washed terrace on the third floor. That night, we dined at Eucalyptus, an al fresco restaurant renowned for its recipes inspired by the Bible.

    The chef descended upon our table with myriad fragrant herbs that he grows in his own garden. Under his guidance, I performed the maklouba ritual, which involved moving my hands seven times over the tureen containing the biryani-like dish, with a wish in my heart, and upturning it at the seventh incantation to create a perfect mound on the table.

    That wish is yet to be fulfilled, but I believe the Universe has set the ball rolling. After dinner, we strolled around the Teddy Kollek Park area, with the Tower of David glimmering in the distance.


    Jerusalems Old City is full of meandering cobble-stoned paths that will sometimes take you up long flights of stairs to reveal stunning views of the Dome of the Rock shrine and other times, compel you to enter beguiling shops filled with Armenian ceramics, oxidised bracelets and pretty handwoven bags.

    At the Western Wall, which is connected to Temple Mount, I was a little taken aback to see Jewish men and women (in separate areas) murmuring lines from a prayer book and wiping away tears periodically while they touched their heads to the holy wall. We would learn later that they were mourning for the mistreatment Jews have borne over the ages.

    During my first summer job in Mumbai, I had a Jewish boss who would often tell me how much he suffered knowing that his ancestors went through such horrors. So it wasnt hard for me to believe that the people at the temple truly felt so deeply about the darkness in their history.

    The mood was positively sombre, but a little while later, awe replaced our despondency as a new guide, David, took us to the newly restored underground portions of the Old City. Here, we laid our eyes upon marvels such as a ginormous section of wall that was manually transposed, and perfectly preserved bathing chambers that smelt of times gone by. We exited this strange amber-lit world to be confronted by the sounds and the colours of the Arabian Quarter.

    A basket outside a shop held an array of shofars and ibex horns used in Jewish celebrations and prayers. At the food market, I asked excitedly for some Israeli halwa, only to be told sternly that they only stocked Palestinian halwa. The Jewish Quarter was quiet in the afternoon but for a bunch of young boys playing football in the grounds of a school close to the Defenders Monument.

    We roamed through the restored Christian Quarter with its ancient structures and squares that seemed frozen in time. A couple of adorable Jewish boys selling balloons screamed, "No photos!", and we almost dropped our cameras.

    The sun was strong and we found respite in intermittent patches of shade, often joined by other thirsty walkers. But the most spiritual experience of the Old City for me was the Church of Holy Sepulchre, a vast complex full of sacred shrines and Jesuss burial tomb.

    The night before, I had dreamt of a Catholic friend and I felt a deep impulse to bless a Cross for him at the tomb. Id purchased one carved from the olive tree at one of the shops outside the church and placed it upon the tomb like everyone else, closing my eyes and holding my hands together in prayer. For a Christian, it would be a great fortune to be able to pray at that tomb, we were told. I considered myself quite lucky too.

    Life goes on...

    After a quick lunch of shawarma and fruits, we continued our exploration of the ramparts and the treasures of the Old City. At one point, we encountered a troop of Indian soldiers. We learnt that they were there to train from the Israeli military force. Evidence of Jerusalems political turmoil can be found in the military personnel stationed outside many major landmarks.

    But as Shely said, life in the city goes on. And the ancient doors inscribed with Biblical motifs remain as beautiful, whether gunfire has pierced the air that day or not.

    That night, we feasted on authentic Mediterranean fare at Medita, followed by a mesmerising sound-and-light show at the Tower of David. We couldnt make out much from the Hebrew commentary interspersed with meagre English translations, but we understood enough to know that Jerusalem had been through a lot. No city this beautiful ought to be so beleaguered and we wished fervently that the plea for peace at the end of the show would find resonance across all the neighbouring territories.

    A little away from the main city but still part of Jerusalem District is the achingly beautiful village of Ein Karem, an important pilgrimage site, as it was the birthplace of St John the Baptist and the place of the Visitation.

    At the Church of Saint John the Baptist, we saw the Biblical passage beginning with Blessed be the Lord God of Israel written in a dozen different languages. From there, we walked across fairy-tale paths embraced by gardens and picture-postcard views of mountains and orchards to reach the tiny Marys Spring. Shely was right - Ein Karem was a much sweeter goodbye to Jerusalem than the grave Holocaust Museum.

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    Exploring the unfamiliar always fascinated Guyroy Ndelle, an expatriate from Cameroon. After a holiday for a couple of months in Mumbai in 2010, he was so fascinated by the country that he knew he had to come back. This urge brought the young musician to Bengaluru in 2014.

    "I was trying to discover myself and India was one of the places where I did not have family. I wanted to be somewhere where I had no relatives and Bengaluru fit the bill," says Guyroy, who goes by the stage name Roy SoulChild. He still remembers telling his mother that he was moving to India. "She was not pleased. It took a few months for her to warm up to the whole idea, even after I had moved. She is proud of my identity and my work now though," he says.

    In 2014, Guyroy flew to Mumbai but he had researched about Bengaluru and was advised by a friend that the city would be a perfect mix of arts and culture.

    "The climate is to die for. But more than that, there were many other things I loved here. The city is an IT hub which meant that there were going to be people from across the world here. That itself brings in a variety of thoughts and interests; this gave me hope about the diverse music I could experiment with here," said Guyroy.

    When he moved to the city he found out that Bengalureans enjoyed music, varying from rock to pop.

    "I instantly knew that Bengaluru would work for me. I felt really encouraged to stay on. I wanted to make special music. I was looking to explore things that I hadnt already done," he says.

    Prod him about his stay here and he says, "Its been one hell of a ride. Coming from Cameroon, not everyone knew the place I was from. I would try and connect to anyone who looked like me, even if they werent from my place. It wasnt easy. I was staying with a South Indian family and they were very loving. I instantly felt at home but I knew that I had to be on my own so I moved to another place," he says.

    Guyroy faced initial roadblocks as people werent ready to rent him their house but he slowly found his own space.

    "Every place has its own good, bad and ugly. I met great people too and found a house. I used to address the landlady as Amma. I stayed for a while after which I was house-hunting again. Then I started staying with Robert, who is from Romania. Now, we host fun house parties and karaoke nights at home. Its all fun!" he says.

    He has learnt a lot about the culture and the city through his work experiences. "Bengalureans accepted me with open arms. I found that my music fit in and I had an audience which connected to my music. There were times when people were surprised that the instruments I used were familiar to them, like the guitar or the keyboard. Music here has triggered many interesting conversations," he says.

    Guyroy feels that he has gelled in well now. "Staying here is a learning process. I dont feel like a stranger. As the saying goes, When in Rome, do as the Romans do and I have learnt to respect the laws, the nuances of the city and go with the flow. Bengaluru is Bengaluru and there is no comparison to it," he says.

    While Guyroy can be seen grooving to music at different spaces or working on productions through the week, when he is not at a gig, he enjoys chilling at The Humming Tree and BFlat.

    "On Sundays, I dont step out of my house," he adds.

    When it comes to the local cuisine, Guyroy enjoys an occasional dosa, idly and sambhar. "The food experience is very diverse. It was almost similar to how it would be for a vegetarian who was becoming a non-vegetarian. I love spices but not a lot of them together. It was tough in the beginning but I have got used to it now. I soon realised that I couldnt live on burgers forever so I slowly adjusted my palate," he says.

    "Theres a lot of life in the city," he says.

    While Guyroy enjoys the vibrancy here, he also loves being at the parks here. "I love how one can just step away from the humdrum, right in the midst of crazy city life. I have adjusted well here. I call myself an Afro-Indian now," he says.

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  • 12/02/17--21:22: An eclectic mixture
  • Social X Slick is presenting Fort Romeau and TechNomads at Koramangala Social on December 8, 8 pm onwards

    Fort Romeaus sophomoric 2015 LP Insides, released by Ghostly International, was inspired by an eclectic mixture of house, kraut, ambient and techno, and showed a further development of his unique take on dance floor music.

    His love for music and record collecting goes back much further. As a child he would join his father, an avid vinyl collector on journeys to record fairs and jumble sales, digging every weekend from the age of eight. And so it was quite natural that the collector became the DJ and the listener became the musician.

    The past few years have seen him play all over the world, from Mexicos beaches to Tokyo and regularly at some of Europes most revered club spaces. 2015 saw him set up his own label Cin Cin releasing split EPs from established names and newcomers alike, with a diverse musical policy that reflects the DJ/producers open minded and inquisitive approach.

    TechNomads music is all about cold mid-tempo cuts meeting minimalist bass lines, deep house grooves meeting dark melodies. Their sonic schemes are non-intrusive yet deeply immersive. Their choices are simple, yet intelligent. The members first met at The Big Mushroom Cloud Festival in 2010, and hit it off straight away. Having learnt their ropes at the prestigious I Love Music Academy, Bengaluru, they wasted no time in getting their act together.

    Their exploits have not gone unnoticed either. Theyve been featured along-side some power international acts like Dubfire, James Zabiela, Daso, Pawas, Franklin De Costa, Jerome Isma Ae, Guy J, Jim Rivers and Henry Saiz.

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  • 12/02/17--21:24: Figure the tags
  • Kids are always fascinated with new things and parents often see them lose interest in it after a few days. But Avani Tripathis affection of collecting clothing tags has been consistent for three years. The nine-year-old now just wants to continue growing her collection.

    "It all started when we went shopping for socks and found that it had the tag shaped like Doraemon. My husband and I found it very interesting and gave it to Avani," explains Prachi, Avanis mother.

    "I really liked how colourful and attractive it was; it depicted that it is for kids. Since then, Im always on the lookout for more cute cloth tags to add to my collection," says Avani.

    The enthusiastic collector has over 60 unique clothing tags as part of her collection. She has a blue box where she stores all of them. "I need to upgrade to a bigger box," exclaims Avani.

    "We didnt think this interest of hers will last this long. We didnt even take it too seriously; we assumed that she forgot about it. One day, we noticed that she had collected about 12 of them and was taking very good care of them. Since then my husband and I soon started collecting whatever unique tags we could find. It was mostly within whatever we purchased for ourselves though," explains Prachi.

    One of the ways Avani finds these unique tags is purchasing from the kids section. Some brands have interesting facts and jokes printed on their tags, while some other brands have cartoon characters. Some may also have Indian embroidery designs on them and some are created on a certain theme which the brand is promoting at that time.

    "I got a 3D tag when I purchased a dress. I love it so much because when you open it, I can see the entire outfit. Many others from the same brand also do that which is quite awesome," says Avani.

    Her collection also includes tags from whatever her parents have purchased. She adds, "My mom had purchased something for herself, an outfit, and the tag was made out of three types of silk. Its very pretty and elegant."

    Prachi says that the high-end brands usually make their tags one of their USPs. She explains, "Product labels are as important as the product itself, which is why many brands manufacture custom tags and labels that help them to establish their brands identity and make their products stand out from the rest. And now with online stores, many retailers are also using this to their advantage and giving Avani the chance increase her collection."

    Having said that, Prachi is happy that Avani understands her limits and doesnt want to purchase things only because of the tag.

    She explains, "Were thankful that she understands the limitations. She knows why we are telling her no and we cant buy a particular product. But we have many friends in the airline industry and my husband travels abroad quite often. We keep an eye out for interesting things for her."

    Avani wants to become a tennis player when she grows up. So will she want to continue her hobby then?

    "Of course. Becoming a tennis player will allow me to travel and that means I can purchase various things from around the world, especially the ones that have unique tags on them," says Avani.

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    British singer-songwriter Steven Kapur, better known as Apache Indian, believes that collaborations help share thoughts, emotions and of course, music.

    Having worked with some of the biggest names in the Bollywood industry, he says that the best part of being a musician is to inspire and be inspired.

    Apache Indian, who was touring the country and performing at several venues, talks to Nina C George about his musical journey so far.

    How does it feel to perform in India again?

    This was my second tour in India this year and it is always great! The fans and the stories make it a very special experience for me.

    Where did you enjoy performing the most here?

    I had an amazing time performing at IndiEarth XChange in Chennai. The event supports independent artists and musicians and we need more of that. I met many artistes and also managed to get into a studio and work with the Mandolin Sisters.

    Apart from performing what other aspect of India did you love exploring?

    I love exploring the culture, religion, different languages and places across India. Every time, I come here there is always more to do and learn. I have picked up a passion for cooking, so I am always in search of herbs and spices.

    You have sung in several languages. Which one is your favourite?

    Its great to be able to learn languages by singing them. My favourite is Punjabi but I am still trying to learn more words and phrases to be able to use them whenever I am writing my songs.

    You have also sung for several Indian films. Which has been the most memorable one?

    My most memorable experience was working with A R Rahman in his home studio for a song called No Problem
    for a movie called Love Birds. I was also in the movie dancing with Prabhu Deva which again was an experience in itself.

    Of all the musicians that you have collaborated with, whose work do you admire the most?

    I admire the work of many musicians that Ive worked, especially the Jamaican legends Sly and Robbie.

    If you werent a singer, then what would you have been?

    I always wanted to be a teacher of English and sports. My music academy is based in a college, so it is never too late to taking a step towards chasing your dreams.

    What do you do when you hit a writers block?

    I just leave whatever I am doing for another day.

    And what do you do when you run out of ideas?

    Life itself inspires my writing and work, so I never run out of ideas.

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  • 12/02/17--21:28: Their best foot forward
  • This photograph was taken in 2010 at a park near food street in Sajjan Rao Circle.

    It has, along with me, Mridula Rao, Priyanka Chandrashekar, Neha Nath, Rohini Prabhath and Divya Ravi. We are a part of the Abhinava Dance Company and this picture was taken just before a performance.

    Most of us were still in college when this picture was taken. I was doing my first year BCom at Christ College.

    While on stage, we are all performers and disciplined, off stage, we make sure that we have a lot of fun.

    All my friends in the picture are passionate about dance and have performed as a group at several venues across the country and abroad. We still do.

    We are also big foodies and look forward to travelling together. We make it a point to relish the food speciality of the city that we are performing in.

    Our trips are also never complete without shopping.

    I share a special bond with every single person in this picture. Mridula is the senior most dancer of the troupe. She taught me and now we perform together.

    Priyanka is a college mate and we bond a lot over dance. Neha is also another college mate. All my gossip sessions are with her.

    Rohini is the youngest of the lot and a good decision-maker.

    Divya is a talented solo artist who beautifully balances her career and dance. All of us get along very well not only because we perform together, but also because our wavelengths match.

    We learn a lot from each other and continue to contribute to each others growth as dancers.

    I began dancing when I was barely four and have performed with several established dance troupes, before I joined Abhinava Dance Company.

    I did my schooling at Innisfree House School and went on to do my Pre University course in Jain College, V V Puram. I later joined Christ College to complete my degree.

    Back in college, I had a few favourite hangouts. My friends and I continue to go there even to this day.

    I used to frequent the places in and around Lalbagh and VV Puram. I greatly enjoyed hanging
    out at the food street near Sajjan Rao Circle. I was also a regular at Kadlekai Parishe and continue to go there even to this day.

    Getting back to this picture, it is a perfect reminder of all the fun we have off stage and of our special bonding.

    Ragini Chandran

    (The author can be contacted on

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  • 12/02/17--21:32: Time to wear your attitude
  • The brand houses outfits that intend to satisfy every young womans need, be it through the colour palette or the style.

    Monali Ranka, the owner of Fulki, likes to offer Bengalureans the best of everything.

    "We have jumpsuits and beautiful tops with exaggerated or bell sleeves that make a statement by themselves," she says.

    A range of fabrics, from textured georgette to crepes and knits to silks, have been experimented with in this collection.

    "Our designs are an amalgamation of all these fabrics, skillfully crafted to provide innovative designs. These outfits can be worn to work as well as to an event later on," she adds.

    The brand aims to provide fashion options that need not be set aside for special occasions but can be worn to work as well.

    "A warm long-sleeved shimmer knitted top can be worn with leggings or skinny jeans. It will work for the day as well as the night," says Monali.

    From long to midi dresses, sequinned tops to classy jumpsuits, the collection has it all.

    "The very fact that one shouldnt have to wait to wear something really nice is the gist behind this collection," she says.

    "Be it a private party or a romantic date, our latest collection intends to provide Friday wear, which will make one shine without much effort," she adds.

    Sequinned gowns, frills, exaggerated sleeved tops, off and cold-shouldered outfits rule the latest collection.

    "My recent holiday to Europe has inspired many of the drapes in the latest collection. Nature inspires me. I am also inspired by the trends of today," she says.

    "The colours that are experimented with in this collection range from black and white to neon hues, wine red, mustard, blues and greens. This line gives a nice twist to ones conventional choices while providing just the right look for any given day."

    Fulki studio is located at no 55, 5th Cross Road, 6th Block, Koramangala.

    Shubhra Murali, a student of St Josephs College (Autonomous), wore a blue long gown and was ready with her outdoor look.
    Punchline: "The colours of the gown can jazz up any day. I love the print and the way the gown flows."
    Price: Blue gown (Rs 5,990)

    Srishti Butta, a student of Vogue Institute of Fashion Technology, wore a copper dress.
    Punchline: "Glamour meets functionality in this outfit. I love the colour and texture of the dress."
    Price: Copper dress (Rs 3,999)

    Payal Mishra, a student of Vogue Institute of Fashion Technology, wore a mustard top.
    Punchline: "I found the work on the top amazing. What is unique is that the top can be dressed up or down."
    Price: Mustard top (Rs 2,599)

    Merissa Bose, a student of St Josephs College (Autonomous), sported a brown jumpsuit.
    Punchline: "I love the fitting of this jumpsuit. It is flattering and can be teamed with a jacket or a blazer for a work look."
    Price: Brown jumpsuit (Rs 4,990).

    Riya Jain, a student of St Josephs College (Autonomous), slipped into a wine-sequinned gown.
    Punchline: "The colour is appealing. It can be worn for both special and formal occasions."
    Price: Wine gown (Rs 6,990)

    Karishma Shah, a student of Vogue Institute of Fashion Technology, wore a neon gown.
    Punchline. "This is just the outfit one needs to pep up ones mood this season. The pop-up colour works well with me."
    Price: Neon gown (Rs 5,690)

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  • 12/02/17--21:36: Destined to wait
  • The worst side of Bengaluru comes to the fore when it rains and the traffic goes kaput.

    Past few days, the city has been receiving sporadic rains and predictably, normal life was thrown out of gear.

    As usual, commuters found it extremely difficult to find cabs, especially Ola and Uber. Many of them even reporting late to work with no means of transport.

    Blogger Ann Geo says, "Cab aggregators are at its worst when its raining. Even though on the app, you can see the availability of cabs and autos in your vicinity, none of them accepts your request. I end up waiting quite a long time to get a cab. Thankfully, I have the option to work from home, so it was alright although I was late."

    Rain or no rain, getting a cab during peak hours is also something many commuters struggle with. Working in Electronic City, customer care executive Nishant Srinivas often has to wait for long to find a cab to return home. He says, "I dont have a vehicle of my own, so I rely on public transport. I havent had terrible experiences but sharing a cab with someone else is a nightmare. The other persons drop location might not be on the way to my area which adds to the travel time."

    He also says that many cab drivers end up cancelling your ride while they are on the way to pick you up, resulting in one having to pay the cancellation charges.

    Last weekend, instructional designer Rhea Gopal, had to stay back at office for a long time as she couldnt find a cab. She says, "My friend and I had to walk down in the rain, find an autorickshaw and paid twice as much as we would have otherwise."

    She says the behaviour of the cab and auto drivers are sometimes unacceptable.

    There are a few new cab aggregators that have been trying to make their way with commuters but without much headway.

    Rhea says, "I downloaded the Namma TYGR app but I didnt understand why they needed my PAN card and Aadhaar details. I wasnt comfortable sharing those details, so I opted out of it."

    Surcharges during bad weather and peak hours is also a problem that many commuters face.

    Naveen Suresh, a food blogger, says, "The cab drivers know that they are well in demand during these times, so they increase their rates. Im not a fan of this but I guess desperate times calls for desperate measures!"

    Thats why he doesnt mind looking out for other cab aggregators. "Ive also used Utoo Cabs but their service isnt available everywhere. Having said that, I dont really mind which cab service I use, as long as it takes me to my destination," says Naveen.

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  • 12/02/17--21:38: Picture 'paw'fect moments!
  • The bright sunny Sunday morning couldnt have been more perfect. The Pet-a-Thon held at Domlur Dog Park saw enthusiastic pet parents and their furry companions.

    The event, which was based on the theme Be Fit With Your Pet, was organised by the Rotary Bangalore IT Corridor, as an awareness and fund-raiser event and attracted more than 80 dogs.

    The venue saw furry friends like Rottweilers, Shih Tzus, Huskies, Beagles and German Shepherds. It also had informative stalls on BBMP pet licensing drive and rabies vaccination drive.

    Trishna Bhattacharjee, a marketing professional, who came with her pet Scoobie was delighted by the number of participants. "For me, weekends are all about spending time with Scoobie and this event came right in time. Such events also help release energy and socialise," she said.

    Satyanarayan Swamy, a software professional, who walked around with his golden retriever Don, said that such events broke myths about pet-parenting. "One always gets to learn new things at such events. A lot of misconceptions about pets are broken and one also gets to know tips to keep ones pet healthy," he said.

    For those who werent aware about the process of licensing for their pet, this event came as a blessing. Jayanth S, a businessman and his son Milan came with their Shih Tzu Pepsi. "Such events help one become more aware about the need for open interactions. They also help to make the licence process transparent and easy," said Jayanth.

    Neeraj Verma who came with his English Cocker Spaniels Juba and Yogi said that while it was a good day out with his favourite companions, he also loved the fact that the event supported causes for dogs. "I grew up with dogs and I am aware of how to go about pet-parenting. Such events also help spread the message that one needs to be more humane to dogs," he said.

    Divya Bajaj, co-founder of House of Paws who brought her pet Shrek, said that the money collected from the event would be used for rescuing dogs and dog adoption. "There is a big need to promote dog adoption and spread the word. Events like these are the only way to do so," she said.

    Organiser of the event and sports consultant, Hema Srinivas detailed, "The Pet-A-Thon is held as a run-up to the Bengaluru Midnight Marathon. It is held to raise money for dogs and wishes to communicate the need of healthy routines among dogs too." The event also had an enthusiastic walk with the pets.

    "After all, why should humans have all the fun?" Hema asked.

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