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  • 12/21/17--17:32: Let the party begin!
  • Girl in pink: I cant go, yaar.
    Girl in orange: Well, how many parties will you avoid? Its best not to make such a huge deal out of it and just go with the flow.
    Guy in black: I agree. Whats the worst that can happen? Youll get drunk and make a scene. At least, well have something to remember from that dull party!

    The conversation continued for the next 20 minutes, interspersed with guffaws and gags. Although my intention wasnt to eavesdrop, sitting at the adjacent table in the café, I couldnt help but empathise with the many travails of the party season. Perhaps, I should have walked up to the girl in pink (who had a breakup, I guess) and said, "Youre not alone in this struggle. This party too shall pass."
    That didnt happen. So, here I am, sharing pearls of wisdom on how not to get bogged down by the revelries, how to dodge party faux pas, and present your best social etiquette self this season. From weddings and work gatherings to family get-togethers and year-end celebrations, this annual period signifies the best of times and the worst of times. Whether you are a social butterfly, reluctant partygoer, or simply a restless soul, the secret to enduring - and enjoying - this time of year is to keep calm and be armed with a strategy to deal with the different kind of folks that make parties so very interesting. Weve identified the top eight to help you get started:

    The socially anxious

    Remember Rajesh Ramayan Koothrappali (or Raj) from the hit television sitcom The Big Bang Theory? Or his girlfriend Lucy? While the man cant speak around women, without using alcohol as a social lubricant, the lady often finds herself leaving dates abruptly. They are classic cases of social anxiety syndrome.
    The best way to deal with such folks is not to add to their discomfort with unsolicited attention; just let them be. In case, you are the one suffering from the syndrome, set yourself a time limit of, say, two hours at the party. "That way, youll feel more in control of the situation," reasons Neha Jain, a self-confessed social misfit, who makes the effort to talk to at least two new people at a party.

    The conversation hoggers

    They have an opinion on everything and believe that its their birthright to voice them. At parties, these conversation hoggers can be a real nuisance, butting into every discussion with their strong (often ill-informed and prejudiced) views.
    As a rule, it helps to keep the conversation light at parties. Even if its an office get-together, you dont want to talk shop. Leave out the professional grumbles, office gossip, and politics. Master the art of small talk. Spend 10-15 minutes with as many guests as possible. Stuck with a conversation hogger? Politely excuse yourself to answer natures call.

    The mannerless types

    Followers of Bollywood trivia would know of the recent fallout between director Farah Khan and comedian Kapil Sharma. The reason? A "janta invite" to the actors latest film screening sent via WhatsApp. "The least you can do is make a personal call," she fumed, in a tweet addressed to "dear mannerless people".
    Depending on the occasion, its acceptable to send an email invite or printed invitation to the party. A personal call from the host is, certainly, appreciated. And for guests, its a good practice to RSVP (acronym for something in French translated as Respond If You Please) within two days. Imagine hosting a party, not knowing how many people will turn up!

    The not-so-pleasant folks

    "Every party has nasty people - the nosy aunt, the sadistic associate, the bitter ex…I say a silent prayer before every dreaded encounter," quips Tushar Roy, an entrepreneur, who loves to socialise.
    What you cannot cure, you must endure, said a wise soul. So, the best strategy, according to Tushar, is to play nice. "Approach them with your warmest smile and initiate the conversation. Stick to safe topics, preferably about them. And remember to keep it short," says the fan of psychology thrillers. Now, thats a googly worth trying!

    The food fussers

    Ever been to a party where no one fusses over calories? Or, the texture and flavour of some random dish? What about those food pushers, who simply refuse to take no for an answer?
    Well, whats a party without food! And some smart navigation around touchy cuisine issues. If you are on a diet, walk around with food on your plate (you dont have to eat it all). Stuck with a wannabe gourmet expert? Encourage him to try that delicious dip tucked away in the corner of the room. And finally, its easiest to just take a bite of whatever the food pusher is offering. At a house party, perhaps, you could ask him to pack some of the goodies for home.

    The time offenders

    "You know who the most annoying guests are? The ones who turn up early to help with the preparations," says Charlotte Menezes, popular among family and friends for her lavish Christmas bash. A close second are those who refuse to leave, even as the glasses and plates are being cleared!
    As a host, allowances need to be made - for the traffic, the lethargy, and endemic unpunctuality. "Even then, its rude to be more than 15-30 minutes late, especially for a sit-down meal. Inform the host if you are running late, or unable to attend due to some unavoidable circumstances. And under no circumstances, should one overstay his welcome," opines Charlotte.

    The high society

    They are my personal favourites. The ones who have a drink too many and make complete fools of themselves. In the best case scenario, they are entertaining. Once an ex-boss overestimated his alcohol capacity and ended up puking on a colleague! Understandably, she wasnt amused.
    The rule of the thumb is to pace your drinks. Just because you arent paying for it, dont overindulge. You are likely to say or do something you will regret. Wondering what to do with the drunk guest? Get him a cab home.

    The phone addicts

    In the age of social media, we are guilty of spending way too much time with our phones. Even at parties, we struggle to disconnect from the virtual world, constantly seeking updates and updating our timelines.
    Maybe, cell phones should be banned at parties. How else do we go back to having regular conversations in the real world? Also, before you post pictures online - whether from an office party or family celebration - its always good to ask the concerned people. Because not everything is for public consumption.


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  • 12/21/17--23:00: Happily ever after!
  • Ever imagined how it would be to take vows in a picturesque resort in Italy, a luxurious palace in Jaipur or a pristine beach in the Caribbean?

    Well, with many young couples deciding to tie the knot in such exotic locations, destination weddings are the buzzword today.

    "Apart from classic picks like Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur in Rajasthan, offbeat locations within the country like Kumarakom in Kerala and international destinations like Muscat, Bali and Sri Lanka are becoming top choices," says Shreya Dutta, co-founder, Krafted Knot.

    "Thailand is fast becoming one of the favourites among couples, and the best part is this country is slowly opening up more islands too. Over the years, Thailand has understood the Indian taste in terms of hospitality and food. Today, there are many direct flights from India to Thailand which also makes it a great choice," she adds.

    Destination weddings usually have 100 to 150 guests, who are mostly close friends and family members, point out wedding planners. "Young couples are moving away from mass-produced weddings to a more bespoke and personalised one. Since most of them have lived abroad or have travelled internationally, they want their friends to understand Indian culture in the best way possible. So they opt for exotic destinations within the country," says Shreya.

    "This makes it an intimate event. This apart, people coming for these weddings are in a holiday mood and are a lot more relaxed. I personally love beach weddings. There is a certain fun element that comes with it. There is so much one can do in such settings. The most important aspect of destination weddings is guest management. Paying close attention to all their needs and comfort is of great importance," adds Shreya.

    Jyothi Ranka, an equity advisory, who has been to many destination weddings over the past three years feel that close-knit ceremonies are the best part of these kind of weddings. "The fact that the couple can concentrate on every guest present at the wedding makes it a great experience for both the parties. These weddings have fewer issues because there will be planners taking care of everything, from the arrival of the guests to food and accommodation," says Jyothi.

    Getting inspired by these, Jyothi wants to have a destination wedding herself. She says that choosing the most striking locations and bringing the best out of that place, for instance, a palace, is what she likes about such weddings. "One can see the influence of Bollywood films and celebrity weddings on those who choose to get married in exotic locations. However, it is important that one incorporates their own ideas. These weddings are an elaborate and expensive affair. Considering its the most important day in ones life, its totally worth it."

    Choosing the right wardrobe is a must for these weddings. Designer Rikita of Riraan highlights on the different kinds of outfits one should carry with them to these weddings.

    She says, "Since its a chilled occasion, people should carry more easy-to-wear clothes. One can experiment with their wardrobe style and still be appropriately dressed for the functions. Coming to the bride and groom, it depends on how they want to be dressed -- whether to go traditional or try something super chic and comfortable. Its a personal choice but I suggest that they go traditional since a wedding is a one-time affair."

    A successfully organised wedding comes with a lot of preparation, especially when it is happening outside ones city. Harsh Dhand, co-founder and owner of Rentsher says, "We have been providing wedding requirements like stage decorations, DJ services and camping facilities for outdoor weddings. Most weddings require drone photography these days and providing them with such necessities and making their weddings an event to remember is a great feeling. We also look at providing fresh flowers from a local vendor around the wedding venue and rent requirements like mattresses, wheelchair for elderly people, etc. Seeing a great wedding unfold is also an experience in itself."


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  • 12/21/17--23:02: A way with words
  • Choreographer-turned-director Bargav Yogambar always wanted his debut film to have a strong storyline, be technically sound and have a stellar cast. He has found all this in David. The film has four stories running parallel and every story belongs to a different genre. Bargav says that quality, narration style and performance is something to watch out for in this film.

    A 53 second teaser for the film will be released on December 25. Bargav says the short capsule will get the viewers imagination rolling on what the film has in store.

    He adds that he couldnt think of a better time than Christmas to launch the teaser. "We hope to release the film in February. I felt this would be an ideal time to launch the teaser. We havent compromised on the quality and have used Gimbal stabilisers which ensures the best quality. This will be evident in the teaser," explains Bargav.

    About what triggered the idea for David, Bargav says, that he always wanted to make a Kannada film that has the look and feel of a Hollywood film. And helping him get close to his dream is cinematographer Steve Rice who has come on board for David.

    "Steve and I have worked together before in an Australian film called Taxi Club. We connected on Facebook and did a lot of Skype calls for David. The new style of filmmaking that is visible in our film is a team effort and Steve has an important role in it," adds Bargav.
    Every character in this film has an important part. Young actor Shreyas Chinga, who is essaying the role of Gautham has two shades to his character.

    "The film opens showing Gautham in the role of a common man who speaks very less. But an incident changes his character and the other shade is portrayed in the second half of the film," he says.

    Senior actor Avinash dons the role of an industrialist and has been given a stylish look in the film. "What will stand out in Avinashs role is his sense of style, mannerism and acting skill," he adds.

    The director is thrilled with the outcome of the movie. "The viewers will be able to differentiate the style of filmmaking and will get an insight into how ordinary happenings can be narrated in an engrossing format," he adds.


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    Railway Children

    Kannada (U/A)

    Cast: Manohara K, Syed Pervez, Yash Shetty, Divya M R, Karthik, Parimala

    Director: Prithvi Konanur

    Rating: Average

    After making film festival rounds and bagging a clutch of awards, Railway Children, a docudrama about the trials and tribulations of runaways, has finally arrived on Sandalwood screens.

    Inspired by Rescuing Railway Children, written by Lalitha Iyer and Malcolm Harper, the film spotlights on runaway children and the harsh realities they encounter out of their homes and how they are caught in a web of lumpen elements, exploitation and then forced into illegal activities.

    The film revolves around one such 12-year-old, who, having faced domestic violence, flees from family, but finds that life outside is not that rosy as thought to be. Incidentally, there is a reason behind the runaways parental reprobation, to reveal which would dilute the films core concern.

    Soon after landing at a city railway station, the runaway is swarmed by similar destitutes who are now under a kingpin. The child, who is first spotted by an activist, rebuffs her kind and well-meaning overtures, only to fall into the trap of the kingpin and in the company of sniffers and garbage collectors.

    While one should praise director Prithvi Konanur for his searing and poignant portrayal of runaways and the need for societal intervention, the narrative falls short on several counts, lacking taut scripting and deftness of aesthetics to make it more effective.

    The films child protagonist Manohara won the National Film Award for Best Child Artist as also the Karnataka State Film Award for Best Child Actor (Male) for his performance. The movie was also named the Second Best Film at 2016 Karnataka State Film Awards.

    S Viswanath


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    Anjaniputra

    Kannada (U/A)

    Cast: Puneeth Rajkumar, Rashmika Mandanna, Ramya Krishnan, Mukesh Tiwari, Ravishankar, Chikkanna, Sadhu Kokila, Vijaykashi

    Director: A Harsha

    Rating: Above Average

    An unabashed remake of Tamil flick Poojai, suitably spruced up to suit the local palate, Anjaniputra is director Harshas celebration of Power Star Puneeth Rajkumar.

    Harsha leaves no stone unturned to ensure that Puneeth looms larger than life, as also cash in on the legacy of Sandalwoods first family. He ensures that the Power Stars derring-do deeds and thundering dialogues send his fans on a high.

    The high-decibel fare panders to Puneeths loyal fans and they, in turn, bring the house down with cheers, whistles, and what have you, as he goes about his tailored role in familiar fashion.

    Faithful to the original, Harsha ensures that his Anjaniputra has the zip and zest of an action-surcharged family thriller as he brings to screen the tale of Viraj, estranged from doting mother Anjana Devi for no fault of his. The blameless boy abides by his stern mothers decision to keep away. He is forced to reveal his background to lady love Geetha. We also get to know why he is estranged from his equally fierce mother.

    Needless to say, after mending fences with love and kin, it is time for a united fight against the demonic villain out to usurp land meant for the local temple.

    Aided by editor Deepu S Kumar and Ravi Basrurs foot-tapping songs and background score, Anjaniputra is masala for masses, with dollops of fights, chases, family sentiments, comedy et al.

    Being Puneeth Rajkumars sole show, the others are a pale shadow. The much-hyped Kirik Party girl Rashmika Mandanna offers nothing new to her repertoire and is just a pretty prop.

    S Viswanath


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  • 12/22/17--21:56: The plum X'mas treats!
  • Winter¦ holidays ¦ birth of the Christ child ¦ presents ¦ Yes, Christmas is here again! However, there can be no festivity without the inevitable Christmas fruit cake, can there?

    Since the civilisation of man, he has felt the need to celebrate as a community from time to time. And since all of mans activities concern food in one way or the other, all his important events are inextricably linked with food. Therefore, festivals mean special food throughout the world. Honestly, when you think of festivals you celebrated as a child, you might have hazy memories of some rites and rituals. But Im sure you remember the feasts that followed pretty well.

    Who can forget the table groaning with all kinds of delicious concoctions, eating until youre bloated, napping, then eating again?

    For me, Christmas used to be all about rose cookies or acchappam. You see, Im Hindu and my best friend is Christian. When we were in school, for Deepavali, I would give her the sweet that was made at home, i.e., Mysore Rock, sorry, make that Mysore Pak. And on Christmas, she would give me their house Christmas special â€" chakkulis and rose cookies. Those days, chakkulis were available in the market, but not rose cookies, which were hard to make. My friends family would make this very hard recipe only for this occasion, so I always looked forward to Christmas.

    It is actually the same throughout the world. The food that is prepared to celebrate the birth of Christ is usually elaborate and labour-intensive. The ingredients used may be seasonal or special in some other way; they may be expensive, or part of the local culture. But the one thing common to all is tradition.

    In England, nothing says Christmas like the plum pudding which is very hard to make, too. Here, the word plum means raisin. The pudding, therefore, consists of many dried fruits held together by egg and suet, molasses or treacle, and spices. Traditionally, this pudding is made on or after a Sunday four or five weeks before Christmas. The day is called Stir-up Sunday, and everyone in the household is required to give the pudding batter a stir and make a wish. The stirring has to be done from east to west in honour of the Three Kings who visited Jesus after his birth in the manger. Small silver coins such as a silver threepence or a sixpence are also added. Once stirred, the batter is boiled in a pudding cloth or a basin, and steamed. It is then hung out to dry to enhance its flavour. Before eating, the pudding is re-steamed and dressed with brandy or whiskey, which is set alight upon serving. And those who get the silver piece (hopefully without breaking a tooth or choking on it) get to keep it. The British also enjoy mince pies, which are delicate little pies filled with a fruit and beef suet mix.

    Most commonly, a good English Christmas dinner may feature a roast turkey, goose or duck. If it is a turkey, then its wishbone is used to make a wish. Two people pull opposite sides of the wishbone. When it breaks, the person holding the larger fragment gets to make a wish.

    The British tradition of roast turkey, roast vegetables, and stuffing, with mince pies and Christmas pudding, is carried on in many of the old Commonwealth countries. However, when it comes to the lands down under, Australia and New Zealand, which celebrate Christmas in summer, it is common to barbecue meat and also eat seasonal fruit like cherries and strawberries.

    Seasonal and local foods are also a part of local tradition. If you are in South Africa, you may be given mopane, which is a dish of fried Emperor Moth caterpillars which are harvested during the season, and is the traditional Christmas delicacy. Or if you are in Madagascar, do as the Malagasy people do, and feast on chicken and coconut stew.

    And speaking of traditional, Greenlanders cherish Inuit dishes on this day, like muktuk, raw whale skin, or kiviak. The method of preparing kiviak is extremely unusual. To make this, first take 500 auks, or seabirds, and stuff them, feathers and all, into a hollowed-out seals body. Then sew it up and seal it with grease. Now let it ferment for seven months. On the big day, serve the birds straight from the seals body! Yum or what! It is also a custom in Greenland for the men to serve the women Christmas meal.

    Anchor to the past

    In the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, i.e., Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania, they have an elaborate meal of 12 meatless dishes on Christmas Eve to signify fasting, which is broken on Christmas Day. As a part of their Slavic culture, they honour their ancestors by setting a place at the table and dishing out food for them.

    While lamb or mutton is common throughout the world, in Norway, a whole sheeps head is served salted and dried, smoked and boiled or steamed, for the Christmas feast. In nearby Sweden, they have a Swedish julebord or Christmas table, with glazed ham. Janssons frestelse (Janssons temptation) is a potato gratin dish made with pickled anchovies, sprats or small herrings, which are a Christmas favourite. Meanwhile, in Iceland, they usually have laufabraud or leaf bread, which is a crisp flatbread. All these countries enjoy mulled wine called glogg.

    On Christmas, the French usually eat a lot of oysters and foie gras. In Greece, they make a soup called avgolemono, which is a blend of chicken, lemon, eggs and rice, for the first course. If you are in Poland, you can enjoy bigos or hunters stew, which is a wonderful dish made with various meats, mushrooms and cabbage. Pavo Trufado de Navidad is turkey stuffed with truffles, eaten in Spain for Christmas.

    Ceia de Natal from Brazil is a turkey feast with a marinade made from champagne and spices. Meanwhile, the Puerto Rican national dish is the roast suckling pig known as lechon. It is made by slow roasting by turning on an outdoor pit. It is accompanied by eggnog made with coconut milk, condensed milk and rum. Lechon is also a must in Philippines during the festive season. And in Guatemala, an assortment of tamales, or spiced meat wrapped in dry corn husks and steamed, is the special of the day. A similar dish called hallacas, which are stuffed with a mixture of capers, raisins, peppers and various meats and wrapped in maize and plantain leaves, is enjoyed in Venezuela.

    Sweets are the hallmarks of feasts, and so it is with Christmas, too. If England has its plum pudding and mince pies, Hungary has its beigli or poppy seed cake, and the Philippines has its bibingka or rice-coconut cheese cake and puto bumbong, which is purple rice with butter, sugar and shredded coconut. The French bake a traditional Christmas cake called La Buche de Noel, that resembles a Yule log. The Dutch and Belgians make a kind of gingerbread called speculaas with carved wooden moulds in images of characters and symbols of Sinter-klaas or Saint Nicholas. Vanillekipferl are vanilla crescents made with ground walnuts and covered with confectioners sugar, enjoyed throughout Austria and Central Europe, while basler brunsli or chocolate-almond spice cookies are the specialties of Basel in Switzerland.

    The Portuguese have a very special dessert called bolo-rei escangalhado or broken-king cake, which is a white, fluffy treat made with nuts, crystallised fruit, cinnamon and chilacayote jam. Greeks make a very traditional sweet bread called Christopsomo or Christs bread, which they bake on Christmas Eve with the best of ingredients. Australians and New Zealanders usually celebrate with pavlova meringues with summertime fruit. The Danes make an almond-cherry rice pudding as a holiday staple, and traditionally add a small treat such as a tiny toy or a whole almond into the mix. The person who finds the treat in their bowl is rewarded.

    Germans make a delicious version of fruitcake called stollen, made with rum, spices, and a sugary coating.
    And of course, there is the tradition of gingerbread cookies, which actually originated in Germany, and are used for decorations as well as delicacies. A gingerbread house is called Pfefferkuchenhaus in German, and is decorated with candies, sweets and icing sugar snow. Finally, there is the cracker that is a ubiquitous part of the English Christmas. It is a segmented cardboard tube with candy and a prize in the middle and wrapped in bright paper twisted to look like an oversize sweet. Two people are supposed to pull it from either end. The cracker comes apart with a small bang or snap into two uneven parts, leaving one person with the candy and a prize, usually a small hat, a toy, a joke and a riddle.

    Closer home...

    The Japanese dont actually celebrate Christmas. But they do have a tradition of dining out… in KFC! You have to take out reservations in advance because the restaurant can be booked weeks in advance. You can even have expensive packages with table service and alcohol. And in the US, American Jews have a habit of eating in Chinese restaurants, mainly because all others are usually closed.
    India too has its own Christmas traditional foods. Syrian Christian tradition is duck roast, homemade grape wine, and plum cake. Goans love to eat sorpotel, a thick curry made a few days ahead with pork and liver, and served with pulav or sannas or rice cakes. Meanwhile, Anglo-Indians love homemade ham and stew made with mutton or beef and vegetables. In all feasts, wines made at home from gooseberry, grape, ginger, lemon and even jackfruit are a must.

    As for sweets, in addition to our usuals like gulab jamoon, jalebi and kheer, Christmas cake, that is fruitcake or plum cake, is very popular. In Odisha, a sweet called chhena poda is made with cottage cheese which is slightly roasted and soaked in sugar syrup, and garnished with cashew nuts. There is also Allahabadi cake, which is a traditional Indian rum cake, and mathri, a traditional flaky biscuit.
    In Goa, Christians make consuada or sweets sent to neighbours. Goans make a rich egg-based multilayered sweet cake called bebinca, deep-fried coconut dumplings called neureos, a jelly-type pudding with jaggery and creamy coconut milk called dodol, a Portuguese cake made out of semolina with coconut milk called baath, guava cheese or jam called perad, soft coconut cookies called bolinha, a sweet made of chana dal called doce de grao, and small curls of dough deep-fried and sugar-glazed called kalkals, a variant of filhoses enroladas, a Portuguese Christmas sweet.

    Anglo-Indian families have their own recipes for Christmas cake, which are usually handed down generations. The candied fruit to be used in such cakes - plums, currants, raisins and orange peel - are cut and soaked in rum or brandy a few weeks ahead of actual use.
    There is one other Christmas tradition throughout the world when it comes to food â€" sharing! No one goes to great lengths to prepare their special, time-honoured recipes to eat by themselves. Sharing adds a taste, a spice, a piquancy that transforms a good meal into a great memory.

    Christmas is a time to share good cheer, happy times and hope for the future. May your Christmas be full of cheer and sharing! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you!

    What are the countries cooking?

    Ireland: Spiced beef

    Iceland: Hangikjot
    (smoked leg of lamb)

    Finland: Porkkanalaatiko
    (spiced carrot casserole)

    Portugal: Lampreia de ovos
    (dessert in the form of lamprey made with almond, caramel and icing sugar)

    Malta: Imbuljuta tal-Qastan
    (cocoa-chestnut soup)

    Canada: Chicken bones candy
    (cinnamon tootsie roll pops)

    Argentina: Vitel Tone
    (sliced veal covered with tuna sauce and capers)

    Ethiopia: Doro Wat on Injera (spicy meat stew)

    Russia: Zakuski (fishy appetisers to go with vodka)

    Mexico: Chiles en nogada
    (meat-stuffed, fire-roasted poblano peppers covered in a creamy walnut sauce and
    pomegranate relish)


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  • 12/22/17--22:04: A tailored intimacy
  • On October 24, 2017, Bhupen Khakhar hit the headlines when his painting De-Luxe Tailors (1972/oil on canvas/42 by 33 inch) set a new auction record. The painting, which came with a pre-sale estimate of £2,50,000-3,50,000 (Rs 2-3 crore), was sold for £1.1 million (Rs 9.5 crore) at Sothebys in London, breaking his previous record of £4,34,500 for Night (1996), auctioned in 2014.

    De-Luxe Tailors was part of the Sir Howard Hodgkins personal collection which was sold in the much-awaited auction. It was gifted by Khakhar to Hodgkin sometime after it was painted in 1972. Evidently, Hodgkin, one of the pre-eminent contemporary British artists, treasured the painting deeply. He hung it in his home in Wiltshire where Khakhar had stayed as a guest in the 1970s; later it travelled to Hodgkins flat in London.

    The two artists close friendship was legendary; Hodgkin often hosted Khakhar in the UK and helped him build relationships in the art world. Khakhar died on August 8, 2003, in Baroda, of prostate cancer, aged 69. Hodgkin passed away in London on March 9, 2017, aged 84, just months before the Sothebys auction.

    A keen observer

    Khakhar, the chartered accountant-turned-painter, developed a unique style of miniature painting aesthetic and positioning it in contemporary settings. In the 1970s, he began illustrating the world around him, focusing extensively on the everyday life of ordinary, middle-class people - hairdressers, tailors, watchmakers, among others. "I did a whole series of trade paintings or small professions. I used colours like deep pink and green, which were used in decorating the shops. But mostly I was concerned with the persons and their surrounding or the objects they were working with."

    De-Luxe Tailors, which shows the interior of an ordinary tailor shop with two men immersed in their work, is a typical example. Khakhars strategy for such works was based on a simple premise of keen observation of and deep involvement with the subject. "I do make an effort all the time to be conscious and to observe people… One paints what one sees or what one chooses to see… I see people in their day-to-day ordinary circumstances... say, a person combing his hair or wearing the shirt… these things interest me. They need not be spectacular, but these are things which draw me."

    He also believed that a close connection often of sexual nature was important and even necessary for his work. "When I see a person and like his attitude, I would like to subdue myself and see things through his eyes. I would also like to go to his place and see how he lives; how he decorates his house or shop; what are his requirements… I would like that such people become part of me. I should also get emotionally attached to them. Before I paint them, they should become a kind of obsession in my mind. Only then can I paint them."

    Double life

    Khakhar knew of his limitations as a draughtsman but did not see it as a big deal. He believed that ones own weakness should be reflected in his/her art. "An artist must be vulnerable. His paintings must reflect all his weak points." Known for his tongue-in-cheek comments on art and life, he would say that one should never become respectable in society and one should not be good if one were to be an artist. "Yes, good taste can be very killing." And he would add: "An artist should not preach, talk philosophy, try to reform society because he constantly revels in illogicality, sensuality and vulgarity."

    A largely self-taught painter whose many images quite openly featured intimate scenes revolving around sexuality, Khakhar led a double life for a large part of his life: working as an accountant during the day, and finding time to paint later. "Going to the office for two or three hours gives me the feeling that I have done my duty to society and I feel, now I can go and paint."

    Curiously, for an artist whose works hang in prestigious galleries and museums today, Khakhar could not secure admission in the Painting Department of M S University, Baroda. "He was deprived of formal training in art, but it served him well; or rather, he made a virtue of his lack of training to freely mould or distort the realism taught in art schools," says fellow-artist Ghulam Mohammed Sheikh, who mentored Khakhar initially. "Having gained such freedom, he shaped the physiognomy of the people he painted by ingenious devices - forms realised as though he had discovered them by touch."

    Khakhar was probably the first modern artist in the post-Independence era to unashamedly paint homosexual themes. They were all based on his own personal experiences and imagination of situations which he rendered with poignancy and a sense of humour, and satire. "When he was painting his trade paintings - the watchmaker, the barbershop - he portrayed spaces that a gay man would naturally be drawn to," observes Nada Raza, Assistant Curator of Tate Modern. "Because they are spaces where men can meet, come into close contact."

    Global attention

    Over the years, Khakhar came to be regarded as one of Indias foremost painters and attracted global attention. Hodgkin was, in large part, instrumental in hoisting him onto the international stage. Khakhar was the first Indian artist to be represented in the international show Documenta in 1992.

    More recently, in 2016, a major retrospective titled Bhupen Khakhar " You Cant Please All was mounted at Tate Modern, London. "Bhupen was someone that was really what they call an artists artist," said Raza, co-curator of Tate Retrospective. "In India especially, he was extremely influential for a whole generation of painters... His choice of colour, his choice of form, his source materials were very carefully considered and didnt really reflect a global or elite approach. He was basically saying: I dont care -I belong to the India of Gandhi. I am going to portray my world."


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  • 12/22/17--22:16: From carriages to carols...
  • Its Christmas time, folks! Time to be merry when melodious carols ring in the spirit of the season. And, no carol-singing is complete without the accompanying musical instruments. While guitar, piano and drums are an inseparable part of carol-singing, there are a few other instruments that add to the melody but are not popularly known. One such instrument is sleigh bells.

    Played by almost all carolling groups, both professional and amateur, sleigh bells produce the sound of a jingle and are hence known as jingle bells, too. Used widely as an auxiliary percussion instrument, sleigh bells are quite popular among carol singers as one needs no formal training in playing it. On the other hand, anyone with a keen sense of music can play it alongside the singing of carols. It is played by holding the instrument with one hand by the handle and shaking it, or by hitting it against the palm of the other hand.

    This shake-rattle idiophone owes its origin to Europe, while its history dates back to the medieval times when automobiles were unheard of and horse-drawn carriages and sleighs were the norms.

    These bells, in large numbers, were fastened to harnesses used on horses to alert passersby to make way for the vehicle.

    They were extremely useful, especially when used in sleighs that made absolutely no noise while moving on the snow.

    The transition from their use in horse-drawn carriages and sleighs to a musical instrument happened gradually, especially after Mozart is believed to have used them in one of his works in the late-18th century.

    The melodious jingle is produced by loose metal pellets in small round metal balls that are attached to a leather strap, which is in turn fixed to a piece of wood shaped like a hairbrush. It is both easy to carry and easy to play, becoming the most favourite carol-singing accompaniment.

    Another interesting instrument is the chime, which is nothing but a carillon-like instrument with less than 23 bells. To understand this instrument, we need to familiarise ourselves with carillons, a set of bells thats cast and tuned to extreme accuracy.

    Generally fixed to the towers of a church or municipal buildings, a carillon has a minimum of 23 bells and weighs in tons. They are played by striking hand and pedal keyboards whose keys activate levers and wires attached to the metal clappers inside the bells.

    In the middle ages, chimes were used in church musical performances as a substitute for carillons, and to this day, they enjoy their place in not just musical performances, but in carol-singing, too.

    Merry Christmas!


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  • 12/22/17--22:28: Dreams come true
  • Going beyond her dream-girl persona to reveal the woman behind the glamour in this authorised biography of actor Hema Malini, Ram Kamal Mukherjee has achieved what his title says. But since the biography is an authorised one, how did he write a balanced story about a life that is as controversial as it is gilded, without offending the subject of his book?

    To his credit, Mukherjee does not skirt the numerous controversies that the actor has courted. He presents them as they happened and lets the actor give her point of view as well, which she does in a frank, forthright, and sometimes naive manner.

    But more than the controversies, it is the de-glamorised aspects of her life that hold the readers attention. For instance, looking at her highly successful career of over five decades, who would say that Hema Malini was reluctant to face the camera when producer C V Sridhar offered to launch her as a heroine? "I was very shy and petrified of exploring new avenues," she reveals.

    Her father, VSR Chakravarti, was also dead against her stepping into the world of films, proud as he was of her reputation as a classical dancer. However, her mother, Jaya Chakravarti, was keen to see her teenage daughter expand her horizon. A cold war ensued between her parents, with her father even going on a hunger strike; but her strong-willed mother eventually had her way. "Now when I look back on those incidents, they seem like a nightmare," recalls the actor.

    As destiny would have it, that first film did not happen. After a much-publicised launch and a few days of filming, Sridhar abruptly dropped Hema from the project. The young girls first reaction was one of immense relief. But then the humiliated look on her mothers face made her determined to be an actor!

    The reluctant actor went on to reign over the silver screen for more than 50 years, first as a leading lady who was on par with her heroes, then as a senior actor holding her own against newcomers. From Raj Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor, Dev Anand, Raj Kumar to Jeetendra, Dharmendra, Rajesh Khanna, Sanjeev Kumar, Vinod Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan and even Rishi Kapoor, Hema acted with a whole gamut of actors. Seeing her unbridled performances in films like Seeta Aur Geeta and Sholay, no one would imagine she was once shy or reluctant to don the greasepaint.

    But other more-exciting things also happened on her sets. During the shooting of Seeta Aur Geeta, both her heroes fell helplessly in love with her. Bachelor Sanjeev Kumar is said to have first expressed his feelings. But Hema turned him down. "Dont ask me about these things now," Hema says firmly when asked about this phase. "I am a mother of two daughters, and a grandmother; it is embarrassing."

    By the time Sholay was made, Dharmendra was sure of his feelings and decided to play Veeru instead of Gabbar to prevent Sanjeev Kumar from playing Veeru, the romantic lead opposite Hema. The entire crew knew he was besotted, and they played along. From light boys who were bribed to mess up the lighting so that romantic scenes would have many retakes, to director Ramesh Sippy, in whom he confided, everyone was witness to their blossoming affair.

    Talking about her feelings for the married actor, Hema confesses, "I liked him - I couldnt deny that he was attractive and strong… I tried turning away from him. But I couldnt."

    She was at the peak of her career when, in the face of severe opposition, the conservatively brought up Hema married Dharmendra. But the marriage didnt put a break to her career. She continued doing leads in films, even playing a rifle-toting dacoit. She signed many a film indiscriminately because she suddenly discovered she had huge tax arrears to clear. Despite her fathers advice, her mother had neglected this aspect of Hemas profession. "They would often have arguments about it," relates the dutiful daughter who balanced her personal life with her professional to clear her dues, taking 10 long years to do this.

    When she finally decided to stop facing the camera to spend more time with her daughters, the actor went through the dilemma most career women go through when family triumphs over profession. "I didnt like it initially," she states with typical candour. "After Esha was born, I would accompany Dharam-ji on his shoots. I would see Rekha, Jaya Prada, Sridevi, Anita Raaj… playing the female lead. It used to hurt me because, till a few months ago, I enjoyed that position opposite Dharam-ji."

    But Hema bounced back when her daughters were older. From acting in, producing and directing films to dancing ballets, singing, politics... Hema made up for lost time with gusto.

    Nominated to the Rajya Sabha, she diligently learned the ropes of governance and faced the rigours of election to win from Mathura, a constituency she is personally attached to, being an ardent devotee of Krishna.

    Building bridges and schools, providing electricity and water supply, Mukherjee is witness to her being a hands-on politician.

    It has been a full life, with the actor playing all her roles with aplomb - daughter, actor, wife, mother, grandmother, politician. It has not always been easy, but she has taken the highs and lows in her stride, maintaining an amazingly serene exterior. "Many things happen around me, but I dont let myself getaffected. Maybe my guru guides me…" is her explanation.

    While Mukherjee has narrated this amazing womans amazing story in an engrossing manner, photographer Vickky Idnaani has captured her inner glow in a cover picture that says it all.


    Radiant, confident, and 70 years young!


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  • 12/22/17--22:38: The greatest gift of all...
  • Holly, reindeer, mistletoe, Christmas tree and snow may be the universal symbols of Christmas, but growing up in the tropical city of Chennai, Christmas to me, as a little girl, symbolised anything but cold and chill. It meant warm hugs from loved ones that would greet me on Christmas morning. It was about the steamy and hot spread that the dining table was filled with through all the meals of the day. It centred around the glow of gifts and the radiance of all things material.

    Yet, looking back, amidst these visible and external gifts come the invisible and true gifts of peace and goodwill that are at the core of Christmas. The joy from these gifts lasts longer.

    They open our eyes to the true meaning behind the celebration of Christmas. Once our eyes are opened, they transform us, leaving us as better people, sensitising us and drawing us close to those less fortunate than us. One such memory that became the defining moment in bringing out the true gifts of peace and goodwill of the season is etched in my mind after all these years since it happened.

    We were more or less of the same age group, with the common curiosity and imagination that characterise little girls. Yet, the similarity ended there. For, she was the daughter, youngest among many children, of my mothers maid. Thus on occasions - and they occurred in regular frequency - when she accompanied her mother to my home, she would, much to my annoyance, snoop around my toys and books.

    Though I should have offered her my hand of friendship and of peace and goodwill, something would always hold me back. Perhaps, it was her incessant running nose or uncombed hair or the crumpled clothes she wore? Or perhaps, it was because I had friends who appeared neater and smarter than the poor girl who made me relegate her to a worthless position?

    Whatever the reason for my indifference, little did I realise that inside this simple girl resided a heart large enough to bring me the seasons true gifts.

    As I woke up to the Christmas morning with jaunty thoughts of the day ahead, the cheer was already palpable in the household. Carols from the music player kicked in the festivity; the aroma of the seasons best delicacies wafted from the kitchen; people in the household were moving around chattering and laughing; mirth was in the air.

    Feeling the magic of Christmas, I jumped out of my bed. Running into the parlour excitedly, I got a glimpse of my maids daughter peeping through the aperture of the drapery. Though I wasnt eager to meet her, the Christmas spirit nudged me gently. Reluctantly I drew the curtain to greet her.

    I was pleasantly surprised to see her in new clothes and with neatly combed hair. Pointing to her new dress, with a toothy grin and an upbeat spirit, she asked, "Do you like the colour?" "Its alright," I said coldly. "My mother bought this from the bonus your mother gave her for Christmas," she continued, with a twinkle in her eyes. "Oh," I replied with continued snobbishness. "And here is something for you in return for Christmas."

    She handed me a pack and gesticulated at me to open it. With a hesitation that came from sheer conceit, I opened the box casually, anticipating something cheap and insignificant. But I was aghast to find nothing in the box. She must have sensed the bewilderment on my face, for she shyly whispered, "Ive packed my hugs and kisses, and these are my gifts for you for Christmas." So saying, she scrambled with a sense of great satisfaction to the backyard where her mother was busy with her work.

    Little as I was, I could not fully comprehend the show of peace and goodwill behind the little girls gesture at that time. Yet, as years passed and the wonder behind the first Christmas in Bethlehem when God gave himself to the world as a little babe wrapping the whole of humanity in peace and goodwill could be fully comprehended by me, the memory of the gifts by a poor girl would open my eyes to the truth that there is nothing more precious than the giving away of ourselves in peace and goodwill to others.


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    Black pepper (Piper nigrum) is one of the widely used spices across the world. In Karnataka, it is one of the major agricultural crops. Black pepper is used as a spice as well as medicine.

    There are two types of pepper - black and white. The black type is the one with the outer cover. The outer layer is removed when it is ripe to make it look white. Recently, progressive farmer Shridhar Bhat of Chavati Hosmane in Yellapur taluk of Uttara Kannada district made beautiful garlands using black and white pepper.

    In fact, cardamom, another popular spice crop, is widely used for making garlands. Artisans in Haveri are experts in making attractive cardamom garlands. Some areca nut growers have also tried their hands at preparing areca garlands. Shridhar tried making pepper garlands along these lines.

    The idea is well-received by people, and some of the garlands made by him and his team have been bought to be used on special occasions. "Making these garlands is a work of art and requires attention to detail. As a result, it becomes elaborate and time-consuming. It generally takes three days to make a garland. Black pepper is expensive as well. Hence, a garland costs around Rs 2,000 at present and may seem to be a bit costly," says Shridhar.


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  • 12/22/17--22:44: Packed with energy and grace
  • The students at Nisarga Grama, a residential rehabilitation centre for children who are deprived of education, located near Hesaraghatta in Bengaluru, have found creative ways to express themselves. Of them, a few girl students have become experts in Dollu Kunitha, a folk art form generally dominated by men. It is an experience in itself to watch the team of eight artistes dancing seamlessly to the beat of drums. While six of these budding artistes are from various parts of Karnataka, two are from Tamil Nadu.

    Sparsha, a non-profit organisation, which is running Nisarga Grama, has been supporting these kids to excel in the art. Dollu Kunitha requires tremendous physical stamina as the artistes have to dance alongside beating the drums. The folk art form was male-dominated for a long time, until a few groups of women broke the trend and started performing over a decade ago. The trend has continued and now we can see many such groups in the State.

    It is not just physical stamina, but also these young artistes mental strength that has made them excellent performers. Their performance is symbolic of their personal struggles and the willpower to sail through difficult times, with an aim to achieve their goals. Kavitha, who is studying in PUC and residing here for the last seven years, says, "I like dance and sports as much as I love academics. This prompted me to learn Dollu Kunitha." She had to drop out of school due to poverty and work as a domestic help. But her innate desire to study made her join school again and juggle between job and learning at a tender age. Later, she moved from her native, Kalaburagi, to Nisarga Grama, and her dream of becoming a fashion designer got a boost when she got good marks in Class 10.

    Kanaka, another artiste, was a member of the team that represented Karnataka at The United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) to speak about child rights and the living conditions of children in slum areas, on the occasion of childrens day. She was not keen on learning this art form initially. Now she has picked up the skill with ease. Nagaratna from Raichur feels that this art has given them a special identity. "We can perform on par with, if not better than, men," she says.

    All the girls reflect their difficult past and look at the changed situation with a hopeful smile. Their faces beam with confidence as they beat the drums rhythmically, dance deftly to the beats and make complicated formations, exhibiting elegance and exuding energy throughout their performance.

    Many of these artistes were introduced to the art form in 2013, when Sparsha included Dollu Kunitha training in its summer camp. Their dance guru, Hidayat, trained girls along with the boys. Vijayalakshmi, Krishnaveni, Narasamma, Goutami and Aruna are the other members of the troupe. They feel that such folk art forms help them shape their personality and progress confidently towards achieving their goals. With proper training, the team can now manage the shows independently.

    Hidayat remembers the support rendered by Gopinath of Sparsha Trust. "My teacher used to train women in Dollu Kunitha. I am happy to continue the tradition. The girls steal the show wherever they perform," the proud guru says. He also admires their enthusiasm to learn and experiment with new steps and formations.


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  • 12/22/17--22:46: On the move
  • With the vast band of Sahyadri running between the lofty land, bountiful strip of Karavali in the West, the Bayaluseeme in the North and eastern regions, Karnataka promises to be an ideal tourist destination around the year. An adventure seeker, a nature lover, a heritage explorer or a weekend voyager, the State doesnt fail to satisfy the wanderlust of travel enthusiasts.

    With the State Tourism Department and other travel initiatives catering to the diverse needs of travellers, 2017 has seen an increased flow of tourists into the State. An easy destination, the State has appeased the varied requisites of travellers who have set a voyage trend.

    The State has seen four basic themes emerging this year. They are heritage, adventure, ecotourism and water sports. Long gone are the days when travel meant just seeing places. Today, travel is a holistic package combining sightseeing, photography, adventure, learning, etc. And the State has numerous places of interest to fulfil these stipulations.

    Exploring heritage

    Hampi, the magnificent ruins of Vijayanagar Empire, tops the list of heritage travel in the State. The architectural marvel, it attracts a lot of tourists (mostly during the winters when the weather is pleasant), who explore the cultural remains. The place has a huge inflow of foreign tourists and the villages, Sanapur and Anegundi, separated from Hampi by River Tungabhadra, see backpackers from around the globe trotting the site - on bicycles, scooters, bikes and rickshaws. "The locals are so friendly that they even give us a ride on their trucks and tractors," explains Ankita, a traveller.

    An ever-developing tourist spot, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has seen several efforts to ensure that the place is eco-friendly and tourist-friendly. For instance, toilets here are aesthetically designed in the form of chariots. The new water plant installed here also has won appreciation from the tourists. The coracles sailing on River Tungabhadra has tourists thronging for a ride. The Hampi by Sky initiative, organised by a private firm during Hampi Utsav this year, enthused tourists. The grand annual carnival sees coming together of renowned artistes and cultural enthusiasts who collect fond memories of Karnatakas culture.

    Mysuru, one of the well-maintained tourist spots in the State, is another destination that is explored for its culture and heritage. The app-based Trin Trin public bicycle sharing facility, the self-drive rental cars, and the tongas have promised to provide the best rides in this heritage city. Srirangapattana, adjoining Mysuru, is also a cultural destination. Vijayapura, with its magnificent forts and the celebrated Gol Gumbaz, has been an ideal heritage site for tourists and travellers from around the world. There were also efforts to revive the heritage structures in Vijayapura and Bidar this year. Heritage walks and trails, which help explore the cities in detail, have also become popular among local people as well as tourists. Belur and Halebidu; Badami, Pattadakallu and Aihole - always explored together - are also some of the top heritage tourist sites in the State. And most of these heritage sites are living up to the heritage tag with well-maintained infrastructure and eco-friendly transport facilities.

    In tandem with nature

    Bandipur, Kabini, Nagarahole, Malnad region and other forest areas have always been the hotspot destinations for wildlife tourism. However, it is ecotourism that has changed the purpose of travel. And promoting this sustainable tourism across the State is Karnataka Eco Tourism Development Board supported by the Forest Department. The State has seen many volunteer programmes in this area this year.

    Eco-trails, recently recognised by the Forest Department, in Bengaluru, Chikkamagaluru and Kodagu, are promoting responsible, day-long treks. Additionally, the department is promoting guided treks across Bengaluru city and issuing green passports to trekkers, which is sure an add-on to the eco-adventure travellers. These treks are extensively booked from their official website, www.ecotrip.com. Aditya, an associate at Ecotrip.com, explains, "While there are eight functional eco-trails, more trails will be updated on the website soon." This year, there has been an increase in the number of eco-tourists who are exploring the lesser-known terrains like wildlife safari, jungle stay, eco-trail and birdwatching responsibly.

    Ecotourism, which is catching up in the State, has strived to create awareness on sustainable tourism. The Tourism Department is also looking towards fostering local community through ecotourism. Local youths and tribal people have been appointed by the Forest Department in various eco-trails to promote eco and responsible tourism. This initiative creates livelihood opportunities for local communities as well.

    While the government is swinging at full speed promoting ecotourism, private firms at many hill stations are appeasing the tourists for being nature-friendly. "It is the estate stays and homestays, more than resorts and five-star hotels, which are attracting more tourists in the State for being located in scenic eco-spots. Rammed earth cottages and tents pitched amidst greenery have more takers than cemented, luxurious stays," explains Prakash, a travel executive. The State government has also come up with some stringent rules and regulations to ensure that the homestays stay true to the principles of eco and responsible tourism.

    Adventure is worthwhile

    With a vast stretch of Malnad, the State offers adventure seekers with a lot of opportunities. Many youngsters within the city limits take off during the weekends on an adventure trail and indulge in trekking, rappelling, bouldering, zip-lining, etc. Among the popular treks in the State, Kumara Parvatha-Pushpagiri trek has remained an all-time favourite. Apart from this, there are numerous trails that are explored by avid trekkers, which include the expat crowd.

    What is now trending is the adventurous paragliding sport, which is conducted at scenic spots. "Adventure tourism is catching up in the State and Karnataka Tourism Department is planning to promote adventure tourism extensively," says Narendra Raman, founder of a paragliding club. Ramanagara, Chikkamagaluru, Magadi and Kanakapura areas have emerged as popular paragliding spots.

    Dandeli, attracting mostly college-goers, has reached new heights in adventure tourism and offers kayaking and rafting packages. This year saw the first kayaking festival in River Kali. This festival saw participation from enthusiasts across the globe. "It is also being promoted as part of school trips and there are many city schools that organise such treks combined with birdwatching," says Hemant Soreng, proprietor of a travel firm.

    With 300 km of coastline, the State has many beaches between Mangaluru and Karwar. Gokarna in Uttara Kannada district tops the list in coastland tourism and has a lot of young voyagers and foreign tourists taking over its beaches. Udupis St Marys Island, Kaup beach and Murudeshwar are other popular coastal destinations in the State.

    While these may be the popular travel themes in Karnataka this year, there are pilgrim centres that see a lot of tourist inflow. The huge inflow to these destinations has resulted in Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation designing packages under Puneeta Yatra to further promote spiritual tourism in the State.

    Overall, with the tagline One State, Many Worlds, Karnataka tourism is looming up with diverse trends and is sure to improve further in 2018.


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    I remember spending Christmas in Stockholm last December. A squeaky white cloak of fresh snow blanketed the capital of Sweden. The smell of cinnamon, nutmeg and coffee wafted in the crisp air that easily turned into fog breath. It was my first sight of the snow, too.

    But most clearly, I remember the moose installations decorated with lights. They were everywhere.

    My encounter remains a special one. Youll know as we move ahead in the narration.

    The story begins with a scrumptious Christmas dinner at Villa Gotham with my host Lotta Anderson, where we relished a smorgasbord of 17 different varieties of herring, warm meatballs made of potatoes and anchovies, salmon, elk sausage, a favourite of the oldest king, Gustav. We washed this down with a special Christmas beer made of dark stout and Julmust, a local version of Coca Cola.

    We leave the venue in a festive mood, refusing to let the night end and taking a cab to Fotografiska, which we never reached, again the details will be revealed, all in good time.
    I lean on my seat and look out of the window. The sight of four moose installations come into a distant view, looking magical in the backdrop of the snow. We stop the car to take a picture and I walk to it in a happy gait, which turned into a fall on ice-skate slippery ground in the city centre that leads to a broken wrist.

    The true spirit of Christmas comes alive at the hospital where a doctor and two nurses put me at ease. It is the first time in a crisis away from home, but the company of many other patients with snowfall injuries gives me strength. "The Swede doctors are great bonesetters, for snowfall injuries are very common here," Lotta tells me, making me smile in my trauma.

    A couple of hours at the hospital and a plaster later, the spirit of the festival is not doused.

    Next morning, with a cast on my right hand and a high dose of painkillers, my guide Elisabeth Daude and I trudge across the snow-covered city to make the most of my time in the Nordic country.

    Fika culture

    Our first stop fell in line with the Swedish culture of Fika, which means to have coffee with a pastry, most often a cinnamon bun. It is more about socialising than sipping coffee. Locals dont like to translate the word because its more of a social phenomenon. When in Sweden, do what the Swedes do.

    First subway

    The train subway stations, apart from commuting, are a sight to visit. The T-Centralen station, where we take our train to The Kings Garden, is a cave spray-painted in blue and white. Art takes centre stage down below, to put commuters at ease and avoid claustrophobia.

    The history of subways in Stockholm has an interesting story. After World War II, officials realised that the city was only going to get larger and it faced the geographical obstacle of rock.

    Cars needed bridges and they made it difficult to pass. The first subway opened in 1950. It was decorated with tiles so that people didnt feel the dampness and that they were down under. These first lines of subways came to be called bathroom stations. The 60s saw them change to ceramic tiles and art. When we alight at our station, the theme is green to depict the garden above.

    Garden of snow

    From the station, we take a tram to Kungsgården. I have never seen so many shades of white. A sign reads: This is a corner of a larger field. The story of the garden dates back to 170 years ago... a Swedish queen Yosifina saw the miserable life workers who came to town led. They had to leave their farmstead. She offered them an access to the land where they could put their green thumbs to work. They started growing flowers and vegetables, and today, there exists a restaurant. This garden dies every winter. That is what nature does to this part of the country, but people still walk in the cold, allowing the air to nourish.

    Museum visits

    Enough of outdoor in this sub-zero temperature. Elisabeth adds a fun element to the day by taking me to the ABBA Museum where I even get to play the fifth band member and croon the classic hits from Chiquitita to Dancing Queen.

    Lucia

    By evening, its time to find a spot in the amphitheatre at Skansen to witness Lucia, a Catholic Christian tradition since the 18th century. Lucia is a Swedish figure who brings light in the darkest hour. Young boys and girls take a procession through Old Town and gather at the Skansen where the lead singer, Lucia, along with the group, sings carols and songs.

    After attending the Lucia, we walk to the exit, passing the depiction of old Sweden homes. We meet Karen Hammar, a third-generation owner of NAME OF SHOP, a glass-blowing shop that started in 1936. We get to watch the process, as workers use the syrupy-consistency glass mixture of sand, soda and lime stock. It is fired in a furnace that has a temperature of 1001 C.

    The mixture is blown in glass-blowing pipes, rolled, and the hot mixture is mixed in colour that melts into the glass, which can be moulded into shape while it is still hot. There are red and green Christmas ornaments, angels and decorations that then go into a cooling-down system.

    Vasa the warship

    Next day, to save ourselves from a snowy day, we begin with a visit to Vasa Museum where the largest preserved warship from the 17th century is on display. The massive structure has intricate carvings and the dark wood wears a mysterious air around it. It sunk 20 minutes into its maiden voyage and was brought to land 333 years after it sunk.

    Old Town

    We continue the history tour of City Hall followed by a visit to the old town known as Gamla Stan, which transports me to a medieval city-centre. We buy a cup of warm glögg (mulled wine) and some heart-shaped gingerbread cookies. As a tradition, one must knock the cookie. If it breaks into three pieces, your wish will come true. With so much culture to soak in, I have almost forgotten the pain in my right hand.

    On the night before my departure, Elisabeth asks me to close my eyes and put my hand forward. She places a tomte or a little gnome on my palm. A tapering red cap, and a white beard and chubby nose, he is a mythological creature from a Nordic folklore who protects your home. "He needs to be fed porridge," Elisabeth tells me, hugging me before leaving me with memories of a lifetime.

    Stockholm, a cold region to visit in the winter, has the warmest people, and I cant wait to be back. Probably during summer.


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    Extreme weather left its mark across the planet in 2016, the hottest year in recorded history. Record heat baked Asia and the Arctic. Droughts gripped Brazil and southern Africa. The Great Barrier Reef suffered its worst bleaching event in memory, killing large swaths of coral. Now climate scientists are starting to tease out which of last years calamities can, and cant, be linked to global warming.

    In a new collection of papers published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, researchers around the world analysed 27 extreme weather events from 2016 and found that human-caused climate change was a significant driver for 21 of them. The effort is part of the growing field of climate change attribution, which explores connections between warming and weather events that have already
    happened.

    To judge whether global warming made a particular extreme weather event more likely to occur, scientists typically compare data from the real world, where rising greenhouse gases have heated the planet over the past century, against a modelled counterfactual world without those rising emissions. This technique has gained broader acceptance among climate scientists in the last decade. Here are five extreme weather events from 2016 that scientists now think were made more likely by global warming:

    Record temperatures around the world: Last year, earth reached its highest temperature on record, beating marks set in 2015 and 2014. While that partly reflected the influence of El Nino, a new study led by Thomas R Knutson of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) concluded that the record warmth worldwide "was only possible due to substantial centennial-scale human-caused warming."

    Two separate studies also found that unusually high temperatures across Asia and the Arctic in 2016 "would not have been possible without human-caused climate change." Such forceful assertions are rare: typically, scientists will only go so far as to say that global warming made an extreme weather event more likely to occur. In these cases, they went further, finding that such extreme warmth could not have happened in a world without
    rising emissions.

    Coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef: Over the past two years, unusually warm waters in the Pacific have caused bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, a phenomenon in which coral expel vital algae from their tissue and take on a ghastly white appearance. If the warm water temperatures persist, many corals can die off, with dire consequences for the marine ecosystems that depend on them.

    Here, scientists were more measured in putting all the blame on global warming, in part because the impact of El Nino was tough to disentangle. A study led by Sophie C Lewis of Australian National University concluded that human greenhouse gas emissions "likely increased the risk of the extreme Great Barrier Reef event" by increasing thermal stress in the ocean.

    Drought in Africa: In the first few months of 2016, severe droughts and heat waves spread across much of southern Africa, triggering local food and water shortages that affected millions. While such flash droughts are often associated with El Nino, scientists now say climate change plays an important role, too.

    A study led by Xing Yuan of the Chinese Academy of Sciences found that flash droughts had tripled in the region over the past 60 years, with global warming mainly responsible for the trend. Climate change cant be blamed for all recent dry spells, however. In a separate study, researchers looked at a five-year drought in northeast Brazil, but "could not find sufficient evidence that human-caused climate change increased drought risk."

    Wildfires in North America: In 2016, wildfires burnt around 8.9 million acres of western Canada and the United States. Here, climate change most likely played a supporting role. Researchers at the
    University of Edinburgh, UK found that global warming had made "extreme vapour pressure deficits" five times more likely across the region during the summer months - a measure of changes in atmospheric moisture that is associated with the drying of vegetation and wildfire risk.

    The warm blob in the Pacific Ocean: Over the past few years, a large patch of unusually warm water has appeared off the coast of Alaska, popularly known as the blob. These warm waters have allowed toxic algae blooms to spread across the region, killing seabirds by the thousands and forcing local fisheries to close.

    A new study, led by John E Walsh of the University of Alaska, USA, called the blob "unprecedented" and argued that it "cannot be explained without anthropogenic climate warming," although natural factors such as El Nino and atmospheric variability also played an important role. The study also concluded that more such blobs were likely to occur with further warming.

    "A few events from this past year were judged to have been of such a magnitude that they would not have been possible in the climate of a few hundred years ago," said Martin P Hoerling, a meteorologist at NOAA who edited the collection. But, he added, "not everything is being made demonstrably more severe because of climate change."


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  • 12/22/17--23:06: A year back into nature
  • The extinction of wildlife would likely be caused not just by the greed of poachers, but equally by the rapacity of developers," writes Prerna Singh Bindra in her book The Vanishing: Indias Wildlife Crisis. The year 2017 has given ample proof of both - the remorseless operations of the merchants of wildlife who will sell anything that is alive and the ambiguous plans of the proponents of development who want us to believe that the cost-benefit calculation of environmental devastation is correct and the need of the hour.

    The year 2017 began with Indias largest-ever wildlife haul - the seizure of 6,000 turtles from poachers who planned to smuggle them to Southeast Asia. The rescued reptiles weighed 4.4 tonnes in all and were found stuffed in 140 jute bags at a smugglers residence in Gauriganj town of Amethi. The success could have very well set the pace for more such vigilance in the field. Unfortunately, it only turned to be an illustration of the increasingly organised and sophisticated operations of criminal syndicates involved in the trade.

    From tigers to pangolins and bears to tiny lizards, Indias biodiversity over the past one year continued to be ransacked by men who are responsible for putting illegal wildlife trade as the fourth largest transnational crime in the world. Still, the recent recognition by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) conferred to India for this very seizure tagged Operation Save Kurma indicates that given the right planning, training and mentality, bottlenecks in the system can be cleared to preserve the rapidly diminishing flora and fauna.

    A worrisome year

    The equally worrying development this year has not been the actions of poachers but the nations development visionaries who fail to see that the future they are chalking today without the critical ecological balance in mind may ricochet very soon to spread even bigger troubles than the ones they are trying to solve.

    In a hugely debated move by the government, the Ken-Betwa river linking project was cleared by the standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) in August 2016, and given environmental clearance towards the end of that year. The Rs 10,000-crore project requires the diversion of 5,258 hectares of forest land, including 4,141 hectares of the Panna National Park, a national park that has battled with poachers to save its tigers in the past and is now again at war with development to save the tigers, vultures, and endangered gharials from the watery graveyard being dug for them. If policymakers are taking heed, it is time to pause, reflect and tread on a much carefully planned development path.

    On January 28 this year, oil leaked into the Bay of Bengal after two tankers collided near Chennai. The scale of the oil spill was initially estimated to be around 200 litres. The number was later updated to two tonnes and then three tonnes. It was revised again to 20 tonnes and later, 40 tonnes. The changing estimations and unsynchronised statements by officials not only raise questions on our understanding of the disaster but more importantly, on our preparedness and ability to respond to it. As an immediate aftermath, over half a dozen turtles were found dead due to the spill, but the greater ecological implications are still understudied even though the knowledge that an oil spill can create havoc to the marine species for months is common.

    While the seas of the southern coast were tainted black with this oil spill, the annual floods of Kaziranga yet again brought with it destruction and death. With nearly 80% of the wildlife park submerged, this is the worst flood the state witnessed in three decades. The park lost as many as 334 animals in two successive waves of floods, with the casualty list including 22 rhinos, one tiger, several elephants and buffalos and over 250 various species of deer.

    Threat to floral diversity

    In July this year, a team of researchers from the Botanical Survey of India (BSI) found evidence of at least 250 rare and threatened species in the southern Western Ghats. The assessment of some of these last happened in 1998 showing severe neglect when it comes to documentation and preservation of our countrys floral diversity. What this has also led to, as observed by the scientists, is heavy exploitation and habitat deprivation for the species.

    One plant species that has been a victim of this neglect and is progressing towards systematic extinction is the Red sanders, a rare kind of sandalwood that grows only in the Palakonda and Seshachalam hills, with sporadic growth in a few places in Andhra Pradesh. With markets in Southeast Asia and Gulf countries, Chennai is serving as the centre of a well-organised smuggling network keen to make quick bucks while the plant perishes.

    As R Raghavendra Rao, honorary scientist at Indian National Science Academy, warns, "About 90% of the forest area in Western Ghats has disappeared. Nearly 28% of plants in India are endemic to the country. If they are not protected and preserved by our efforts, they will go permanently out of existence from the world."

    On a positive note

    What enamoured the world yet again to Indias charming biodiversity in 2017 were the bit sized amphibians discovered in the Western Ghats. Seven new species of night frogs, in the Nyctibatrachus genus, including four species that are among the tiniest frogs ever found, were discovered following a five-year survey by Indias renowned frogman, S D Biju and his team. Though the frogs were abundant in the survey area, their minuscule size and chirping calls - which resemble the sounds of insects - enabled them to remain undetected until now.

    Also joining the list of spectacular discoveries was an aquatic Rhabdops snake endemic to India, geckos, fish, jellyfish and even a tree-inhabiting crab. In the floral world, Indias much loved former president and missile man Dr APJ Abdul Kalam got a special spot as scientists named a new medicinal plant species from West Bengal after him. Needless to say, this list will continue to grow as the hidden jewels of the Indian jungles are revealed in the years to come.

    Importing skins of reptiles, mink, fox and chinchillas was banned by the Directorate General of Foreign Trade this year, making a strong worldwide statement and saving thousands of animal lives in the process. The country also unveiled the third National Wildlife Action Plan for 2017-2031, spelling out the future road map for wildlife conservation. Through this plan, it is the first time climate change impact on wildlife has been recognised. Only time will tell though how much of the plan is put into practice to act for climate change mitigation and wildlife management planning processes.

    For the national prides of India - the tiger, elephant and peafowl, the year brought yet another wave of conservation highs and lows as the nation strained to check poaching, curtail wildlife trades, be bullish about development and yet protect and preserve. India joined hands with Nepal and Bhutan for a joint tiger census this year, results of which are awaited.

    Number games

    According to National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), a total of 71 tigers died between January 1 to September 30, 2017, in India, of which 17, maximum among states, died in Madhya Pradesh. The population of Indias national heritage animal too dipped in the country with the Elephant Census 2017 pegging the elephant population at 27,312 across 23 states: a 10% decrease since the last census done in 2012.

    A study undertaken by TRAFFIC India stated peacock feather ash were sold in many drug stores in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Gujarat and Rajasthan, in the belief that it cures hiccups, vomiting and morning sickness. It is not hard to surmise that the growing demand is meted not by picking the feathers that are naturally shed, but plucking them directly with dire consequences for the national bird.

    There are disturbing sites that come to mind when reflecting back on the year gone by: an elephant fleeing across a forest road in Bankura, West Bengal with her calf on fire running after her and mob chasing them in the background. A leopard trapped in a Maruti plant in Gurugram barely making it alive. A tiger bulldozed accidentally in a national park because hasty decisions made in a panic mode say kill the beast rather than give it the space it needs to exist.

    "A great silence is spreading over the natural world, even as the sound of man is becoming deafening," noted Bernie Krause who has spent 40 years recording natures sounds. Such is the rate of species and habitat loss the world is witnessing at present, that his tapes might be the only proof of the original diversity of life.

    Indias future on a global stage has been defined clearly by the people in power but somehow environment and wildlife do not seem to fit in. In 2018, may the nation prosper by working in tandem with nature, using ecological virtues as tools, and not mistakenly rampaged as roadblocks to development.


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  • 12/23/17--02:46: Kohli's demolition men
  • It was an eventful year for both Indian mens and womens cricket. While the men continued from where they had left the previous year, especially in Tests, womens cricket received a great fillip when the Mithali Raj-led team came close to lifting the eves World Cup (50 overs) only to miss it by a whisker, losing a closely-fought final against England. That briefly stole the thunder from mens cricket which in itself was a great accomplishment. The likes of Virat Kohlis, Rohit Sharmas and R Ashwins momentarily had to cede the spotlight to Mithalis, Jhulan Goswamis, Harmanpreet Kaurs, Smriti Mandanas and Veda Krishnamurthys.

    While womens cricket hit headlines for all the right reasons, mens cricket was in news as much for its on-field success as for its off-field controversies. The cold war between the then head coach Anil Kumble and skipper Kohli, eventually leading to the formers unfortunate resignation from the post, briefly overshadowed the teams achievements but Indian cricket has moved on. In fact, it has sauntered along, without being challenged on equal footing by all comers.

    The year began with MS Dhoni relinquishing captaincy in limited-overs cricket and thus facilitating the elevation of Kohli as the leader in all three formats. Having enjoyed an 18-Test unbeaten run till 2016, Kohli tasted immediate success as the full-time captain in the shorter version too, beating England by an identical margin of 2-1 in both ODIs and T20Is. This was followed by one of the bitterest of series (against Australia) ever fought on Indian soil when not a single day appeared to pass without a controversy. From the Indian camp accusing Aussie skipper Steve Smith of seeking dressing-room advice to take a review after his dismissal in Bengaluru to Aussies mocking Kohlis shoulder injury to Smith calling M Vijay a cheat for claiming a catch off the turf in Dharamsala, the series grabbed as much attention for controversies as for the riveting cricket the two teams dished out.

    Aussies are the only side to visit India in the last two years and challenge their hegemony in these conditions. Till Australia stunned them in Pune on a rank turner, India had gone 19 Tests without losing any of them since their 3-0 triumph in Sri Lanka in 2015. They finally met their match and that the series was decided in the final Test bore testimony to the competitive nature of the series.

    After two months of IPL following the series against Australia, India had a stirring run to the final at the Champions Trophy in England. Favourites to win the title, India were humbled by arch-rivals Pakistan in the final in what was the only major setback for India in an otherwise highly successful year. Soon after the final, Kumble quit as the head coach citing untenable differences with the skipper. It was a bitter end to a successful coach-captain combination. After a selection process that triggered plenty of heat, Ravi Shastri, the former team director, was back as the head coach.

    India did consolidate their position at the top of the Test rankings but they could have done with some tougher tests against better quality sides than a listless Lanka against whom they played six Tests in the space of five months both away and home. India, for the first time in their cricketing history, clean-swept a team in all three formats when they vanquished the Islanders 9-0 (three Tests, five ODIs and one T20I) in their own den.

    The tour of Lanka also witnessed an interesting turn of events insofar as limited-overs combination is concerned. What started as a "rest" and "rotation" policy which kept Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin out of the shorter version part of the Lankan tour was extended to the whole year. Now, its more or less confirmed that as far as this team management is concerned, the spin duo, which is still an integral part of Test squad, is out of limited-overs scheme of things. And with their replacements â€" Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav and Axar Patel â€" doing exceedingly well, Ashwin and Jadeja donning blue colours again appears a distant possibility at the moment.

    Talking of ODI cricket, India once again won all the bilateral series this year. They beat England, Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka (both home and away) that clearly established them as the top-ranked side in ODIs too. The rising Indian fortunes coincided with the phenomenal climb of Kohli both as captain and batsman. The only player to average 50-plus in all three formats, Kohli is perhaps the best batsman in the world at the moment when you take all the formats. While he and the Indian team have had a great run in the last two years in familiar conditions, bigger challenges await them as they embark on the tour of South Africa, England and Australia in the next one year or so. While they deserve all the accolades for their consistent good shows in the last two years, their true greatness will be judged based on their success in these countries.


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    From Pakistan winning the Champions Trophy against all expectations to West Indies pulling off an upset Test win against England to Australia regaining the Ashes, international cricket had its moments in the year 2017 but by and large, it remained subdued.

    Apart from the series between India and Australia, the only two other big-ticket bilateral series were the one involving England and South Africa and the other being the ongoing Ashes. And barring the India vs Australia clash, where off-field drama was only matched by the intense cricket on the field, the other two series failed to evoke same passions and interest. While England whipped South Africa 3-1 to win the Basil DOliveira Trophy, Australia have already clinched the Ashes with two more Tests to go.

    This is the first Ashes triumph for Australia under Steve Smith whose emergence as one of the premier batsmen in the world has been nothing less than phenomenal. From being an aspiring leg-spinner in the mould of Shane Warne to becoming arguably the finest Test batsman at the moment, Smiths career has seen an incredible turnaround. While he came nowhere near Warne as a wrist spinner, his batting exploits are earning him comparisons with Sir Don Bradman. With an average of over 62 after close to 60 Tests, Smith is some distance away from Bradmans iconic average of 99.94 after 52 Tests, but in these times, when anything above 50 is considered great, the Aussie skipper has been exceptional in maintaining such high average.

    Amidst these one-sided affairs, the few bright spots were Pakistans victorious run at the Champions Trophy. Pakistan are no longer the same force, but their famous unpredictability is still intact and that saw them dethrone India who were the reigning champions and overwhelming favourites to retain the trophy. But Pakistan upset Indias applecart to bring cheer to scores of their fans who had last witnessed a big win from their side at the 2009 World T20 in England.

    Doubling Pakistans joy was the return of international cricket to their country where no foreign team had travelled to since the 2009 terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore. While Zimbabwe set the precedent by playing a limited-overs series in 2016, the tour by a World XI to the trouble-torn country under the leadership of Faf du Plessis was looked at as a big boost to Pakistans effort to get international teams visit the country for bilateral series. Pakistans old cricketing ally, Sri Lanka, further strengthened their cause by sending their team, albeit a depleted one, for a T20I.

    While Pakistan had these encouraging moments to cherish, their neighbours Afghanistan became the fifth Asian nation to get the Test status. The war-hit country is slated to play their first Test against India sometime next year. Along with Afghanistan, the other team to attain Test status was Ireland thus taking the number of Test-playing nations to 12.

    England eves triumph

    England women, meanwhile, lived up to their billing by winning the womens 50-over World Cup but not before enduring some anxious moments as India came within sniffing distance of win but imploded under pressure.


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  • 12/23/17--17:42: Happily ever after!
  • Ever imagined how it would be to take vows in a picturesque resort in Italy, a luxurious palace in Jaipur or a pristine beach in the Caribbean?

    Well, with many young couples deciding to tie the knot in such exotic locations, destination weddings are the buzzword today.

    "Apart from classic picks like Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur in Rajasthan, offbeat locations within the country like Kumarakom in Kerala and international destinations like Muscat, Bali and Sri Lanka are becoming top choices," says Shreya Dutta, co-founder, Krafted Knot.

    "Thailand is fast becoming one of the favourites among couples, and the best part is this country is slowly opening up more islands too. Over the years, Thailand has understood the Indian taste in terms of hospitality and food. Today, there are many direct flights from India to Thailand which also makes it a great choice," she adds.

    Destination weddings usually have 100 to 150 guests, who are mostly close friends and family members, point out wedding planners. "Young couples are moving away from mass-produced weddings to a more bespoke and personalised one. Since most of them have lived abroad or have travelled internationally, they want their friends to understand Indian culture in the best way possible. So they opt for exotic destinations within the country," says Shreya.

    "This makes it an intimate event. This apart, people coming for these weddings are in a holiday mood and are a lot more relaxed. I personally love beach weddings. There is a certain fun element that comes with it. There is so much one can do in such settings. The most important aspect of destination weddings is guest management. Paying close attention to all their needs and comfort is of great importance," adds Shreya.

    Jyothi Ranka, an equity advisory, who has been to many destination weddings over the past three years feel that close-knit ceremonies are the best part of these kind of weddings. "The fact that the couple can concentrate on every guest present at the wedding makes it a great experience for both the parties. These weddings have fewer issues because there will be planners taking care of everything, from the arrival of the guests to food and accommodation," says Jyothi.

    Getting inspired by these, Jyothi wants to have a destination wedding herself. She says that choosing the most striking locations and bringing the best out of that place, for instance, a palace, is what she likes about such weddings. "One can see the influence of Bollywood films and celebrity weddings on those who choose to get married in exotic locations. However, it is important that one incorporates their own ideas. These weddings are an elaborate and expensive affair. Considering its the most important day in ones life, its totally worth it."

    Choosing the right wardrobe is a must for these weddings. Designer Rikita of Riraan highlights on the different kinds of outfits one should carry with them to these weddings.

    She says, "Since its a chilled occasion, people should carry more easy-to-wear clothes. One can experiment with their wardrobe style and still be appropriately dressed for the functions. Coming to the bride and groom, it depends on how they want to be dressed -- whether to go traditional or try something super chic and comfortable. Its a personal choice but I suggest that they go traditional since a wedding is a one-time affair."

    A successfully organised wedding comes with a lot of preparation, especially when it is happening outside ones city. Harsh Dhand, co-founder and owner of Rentsher says, "We have been providing wedding requirements like stage decorations, DJ services and camping facilities for outdoor weddings. Most weddings require drone photography these days and providing them with such necessities and making their weddings an event to remember is a great feeling. We also look at providing fresh flowers from a local vendor around the wedding venue and rent requirements like mattresses, wheelchair for elderly people, etc. Seeing a great wedding unfold is also an experience in itself."


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  • 12/23/17--20:44: Ringing in the festive cheer
  • Excitement is in the air with star-spangled skies and decked up Christmas trees heralding the festive season. Most families in the city have made time in their busy schedules to spend Christmas with their loved ones.

    Homemade goodies, gifts and elaborate meals are what make Christmas truly meaningful for many these days. For Rashmi and Roshan Cherian P, Christmas means decorating the house, decking up the tree and helping their mother make delicious goodies. They say that the warmth and sense of togetherness hasnt changed over the years. Rashmi starts baking cakes and cookies a week before Christmas. These are then distributed among close friends.

    "Christmas is the only time when the whole family comes together. I bake marble and sponge cakes as well as make jam and cream cookies. We bake the fruit cake much in advance. We have friends and family visiting us
    on Christmas," says Rashmi. "Each member of our household is assigned a particular task for Christmas and this also makes the occasion special for us all. My brother Roshan helps in decorating the house and it is his responsibility to make the house look attractive," she adds.

    The celebrations in Suja Georges house begin well before Christmas and a hearty meal is prepared on Christmas day. Sujas husband George Koshy, who works overseas, makes it a point to be home for Christmas. Their children, Rhea and Rohan, and pet Oreo wait eagerly for Christmas to arrive.
    "Our celebrations begin a day or two before Christmas with every member of the family getting to be a part of the Secret Santa game. We buy special gifts for each other which are exchanged a day before Christmas," says Suja. She adds that cooking is a big part of Christmas. "I make doughnuts, chaklis, kalkals, rose cookies and the fruit cake. The main menu on Christmas day comprises traditional Christmas dishes made with chicken, mutton and fish," says Suja.

    Angelin Grashes makes sure she spreads the Christmas cheer by inviting her friends home to partake in the excitement. "Our Christmas celebrations begin with a visit to the orphanages where we distribute clothes and cakes," she says. She adds that she assists her mother in making many Christmas delicacies. "We make chakli, rose cookies and cake. The Christmas lunch is a lavish affair with biryani and the choicest of dishes in chicken and fish," she
    signs off.


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