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  • 01/11/18--22:46: Holidays under the sun
  • As far as new years go, 2018 has been quite kind so far. Netizens have fewer things to be outraged about, world powers have not yet gone to war, retail sales and discounts are still going on and we have two long weekends coming up!

    Long weekends are the holy grail of travellers. Trips are planned much in advance and provide a much needed break from the city and the daily grind.

    Sanghamitra Gupta and her husband are planning to travel to Tharangambadi, formerly Tranquebar. Says the Accenture resource manager, "Even before the year begins, we mark the long weekends and plan our trips. This time we are planning to go to Tharangambadi, which is a Danish colony. I dont expect much activity there though. The places was destroyed by the tsunami and many things are still being rebuilt."

    "Only a handful of hotels remain. One of them is the Neemrana property
    The Bungalow on the Beach. We are going to stay there, walk around, explore the heritage of the place, go to the beach, read and generally relax. We might even drive to Karaikal," she says, adding that Puducherry is another preferred destination for such trips.

    IT consultant Sneha Kerkar is planning to head to Gokarna but will steer clear of the usual touristy spots. "I will be focussing on the less-explored beaches. There is two-day trek from Gokarna to Honnavar Beach that passes around 8-9 beaches. I wont be doing the trek but aim to get to one of these beaches in between. They are less commercialised and more secluded."

    When asked about other such unexplored places that make for a adventurous weekend getaway, she says, "Arambol is the one of the most serene and offbeat destinations in northern Goa. It has two beaches, one of which is only accessible by foot. Bohemian vibes, a tranquil lake and paragliding courses are some of the attractions of this place."

    Speaking of vibes, the hippie culture of Hampi has long fascinated Anish Singh and the long weekend is turning a long-cherished desire into a reality.
    "Hampi has many sides to it and I havent explored the place fully. There are the historic and archaeological aspects that have made the place famous and there is also a lesser-known hippie lifestyle. I am quite curious to explore both these sides of the place."

    "The place is only about some 380 km from here and January is one of the best seasons to visit Hampi," he says and adds, "There are quite a few other options for long weekend trips. I was in Kodaikanal a couple of weeks back and that is a good choice. A few of my friends have ridden down to Muzhappilangad Beach in Kerala, one of the few drive-in beaches in India. Chikmagalur is another ideal alternative. All these places are not more than an overnight journey making them ideal for a long weekend."

    So what are you waiting for? Dont call it a dream, call it a plan.

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  • 01/11/18--22:50: 'I strongly believe in love'
  • Its not the first time that artistes from the North have tried their luck in the South Indian film industry. Actor Farah Titina vouches that she planned to act in movies here because she was impressed by the content that she saw. The model-turned-actor, who has been a part of many commercials, will soon be seen on screen in the bilingual movie Snehave Preeti (Kannada) and 2 Friends (Telugu). In a candid chat with Tini Sara Anien, she talks about her role in the movie.

    You were into modelling before this. Did it help you in the film industry?

    I have done ad shoots and modelled before which brought me to the limelight. Soon enough I knew that I like performing for people which made me take the plunge. Modelling does help boost ones confidence.

    Was acting your first choice?

    I used to do dance performances during my school days and soon moved to acting in theatre. I was instantly pulled to acting and found it very fulfilling. I knew that I had to be an actor and what better way of doing it than taking it
    a notch higher and traversing to films.

    How did your role in Snehave Preeti happen?

    The casting director of the movie knew me well. Like most other actors, I auditioned and got the movie offer. I am so excited that I got a chance to be a part of the movie.

    Tell us about your character.

    My character is called Madhurima, a college student who is very focussed and is career-driven. She doesnt believe in love. I am Suraj Gowdas best friend in the movie.

    Are you similar to the role you portray?

    I am a very focussed person and career-driven. But, I strongly believe in love and I strongly believe that if there is someone who matches up to ones sensualities, then why not.

    Tell us about your chemistry with Suraj Gowda.

    Suraj is a fantastic co-actor. He knows how to make anyone comfortable. Whenever I would be confused about certain words, he would immediately step in and help me out.

    How was your experience of working in the movie?

    Despite acting in a different language I never felt out of place because the team made sure I was comfortable. I never knew that it would be such a heart-warming experience.

    How different is it to act on stage and in movies?

    Both are distinct in their own way. Acting on stage can be quite loud while one needs to do subtle acting when in front of the camera.

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  • 01/11/18--22:56: 'I enjoy being alone'
  • Actor Samyukta Hornad had four releases and completed the shooting of another four films last year. The new year looks good with four films ready for release and two more in the pipeline.

    The actor is thrilled that shes getting to play contrasting roles. In MMCH, she essays a very bold role. "I play one of the four characters. My role is of a very bold girl who has no inhibitions about herself. She is unlike any woman and doesnt think twice before hitting somebody. Her brash ways land her in a lot of trouble," explains Samyukta. All the four heroines in this film are accused of murder, adds Samyukta. "Its an interesting story of four women who are put behind bars. Did they really commit a crime? Or are they made scapegoats? These are some of the questions that are answered in the second half of the film," adds Samyukta.

    She says that she found it hard to relate to the character at first. "I have never played a rowdy-like role before and it wasnt easy for me to get under the skin of a woman who doesnt spare anybody and takes revenge on those who cross her path. The character was too unreal for me," she adds.

    Samyukta will also be seen playing an interesting character in Nanu Mattu Gunda which explores the relationship between a man and his dog.
    "I found the story and the character to be very different from what I regularly get offered. I enjoyed working with two dogs in the film. I love dogs and there were scenes when I had to scold the dog and some other scenes when I had to show extreme love. Since I am a dog lover, the contrast was interesting," says Samyukta.

    In another project titled, Arshadavarga, Samyukta plays one of the five characters. "The story is written around six sins and has five characters in it. Every character has a dark side to it and I have two contrasting portions to my role," she says.

    She explains that she essays the role of an actor who battles insecurities. "My character always tries to run away from problems and is caught between understanding reality and what she really wants. Every actor in this project has the liberty to improvise and make their contribution," she says.
    Samyukta has also completed a Telugu project. "I have stayed away from home for most of last year. I dont get homesick and in fact, I enjoy being alone," she adds.

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  • 01/11/18--23:02: A toast to sweet something
  • If youre craving something sweet, then Messy Eats, located in New BEL Road is the place to be. This is where youll find most of the youngsters hanging out nowadays, not only for their mouth-watering desserts but also for the chill ambience. The new dessert bar that has been creating quite a buzz in the city recently is a startup owned by two final-year students Hitesh Sampath and Vaishnavi Biyani.

    Hitesh says, "Our main inspiration for opening the place was our mutual dislike towards corporate life. Vaishnavi and I have always been interested in the food industry, so we decided to experiment with a new concept and open a cafe that serves some of the citys favourite desserts."

    Apart from the desserts, it is the cosy atmosphere and friendly staff that is making it a student hub. "I believe, our choice of location has hugely influenced the success of the cafe. With the MS Ramaiah Institutes right around the corner, it definitely helps with the customer count.", says Vaishnavi.

    The cafe that opened recently has quickly gained popularity among Bengalureans for their desserts like, Churro bowl with Ice cream, Red velvet French toast and different varieties of waffles. Another favourite of the customers is the bacon topping that the cafe provides on its desserts.

    The Churro bowl with ice cream seems to be one of the most ordered desserts in the cafe, as the crisp, deep-fried dough rolled in cinnamon sugar and served with simple vanilla ice cream is to die for. The cafe also serves a variety of ice creams and thick shakes.

    If youre looking for more savoury options, then the Loaded nachos, Loaded tater tots and stuffed onion rings would be worth a try. From Churros dipped in chocolate sauce to ice cream sandwiches, this dessert bar has a wide variety of desserts thatll fulfil all your sweet cravings.

    Also, it would be advisable to carry a bib when you visit the place, youll definitely need it to shield your clothes.

    Messy Eats is located at 107, AGS Layout, New BEL Road.

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  • 01/12/18--04:58: A sugary marmalade
  • Paddington2

    English (U)

    Director: Paul King

    Cast: Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins.

    Rating: ***

    The most amicable and well-mannered bear, Paddington, is back with another adventure and this time he will make you go aww with his wish to get a gift for Aunt Lucy on her 100th birthday.

    A pop-up book describing Londons iconic structures - which doubles as a clue book for a treasure, which the bear has no idea about - is what he narrows down to.

    In a twist of events, when the book is taken away by a mysterious person, he is accused of and later imprisoned for stealing it.

    We know who did it and the end is predictable but what makes you glued to the seat (even during the scenes at closing credits) is the narrative, music and the character Paddington.

    The screenplay is fantastic with little details that invoke laughter like the newspaper in the prison called The hard times.

    The toy-land-like sets and props - like Paddingtons ladder and the steam engine train - are beautiful. The actors are flawless. The diversity Hugh Grant shows is amazing.

    We would have loved to see all the clues being decoded, but only two are shown.

    The transitions - from Paddington showing London to Aunt Lucy to the flashbacks - are smooth and creative.

    Overall, its a good watch for all ages.

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  • 01/12/18--04:58: Dark humour in small doses
  • Kaalakaandi

    Hindi (A)

    Director: Akshat Verma

    Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Akshay Oberoi, Vijay Raaz, Deepak Dobriyal.

    Rating : **

    If only the film was as good as its trailer! Kaalakaandi is a weak story held up by good acting.

    A parallel of three remotely connected storylines to deliver dark humour, the film does no justice to it.

    Vijay Raaz and Deepak Dobriyal do a fantastic job playing underworld messengers. Saif, too, is great playing a first-time LSD taker - a teetotaller trying out all vices before he loses life to cancer.

    The film doesnt get bogged down with song sequences, the narrative among the three parallels changes just at the time when the ongoing storyline starts seeming to drag, adding to the plus points.

    The graphics where Saif sees the world through his trippy eyes is a neat work but more was expected here.

    Talking about humour, the film turns a miser.

    Akshat verma did a great job with Delhi Belly but Kaalakaandi is nowhere close to it.

    Saifs encounter with a transsexual and what follows is one of the highlights and of course the bullet targets - a head, coin and testicle.

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  • 01/11/18--16:06: When in Bhutan...
  • The best thing about Bhutan, unarguably, is its natural beauty. Blessed with spectacular views of the Himalayas, lush forests, untamed rivers and expansive valleys, the Buddhist kingdom is a treat to the urban eye and balm to the weary soul. Dotted with ancient chortens, stupas, fortresses, monasteries and temples, it doesn't take a traveller long to realise why the country is called the 'happiest place on earth'.

    There's so much to fall in love with — timeless architecture, vibrant culture, innate spirituality, content people — that Bhutanese food is, often, underrated. In fact, on my first brief visit to the landlocked country, I was rather disappointed with the bland local fare. The mattar paneers and schezwan noodles were my saviours. It was only on my second trip to Bhutan, that I truly discovered their little-known traditional gastronomic treasures. Peppered with red, green and dried chillies. And lots and lots of cheese!

    You see, the local food of 'the land of the Thunder Dragon' is supposed to be so hot that most touristy restaurants tend to err on the side of caution to appease the Western palate. So, before you pass your verdict on Bhutanese cuisine, be sure that you have tasted the authentic stuff. Speak to the chef, eat at a homestay or ask the locals. Because if there's anything the Bhutanese love more than their food, it's the people who are eager to try their food.

    Star ingredients

    In all likelihood, the first words you'll learn in Dzongkha — the native language of Bhutan — will be ema (chilli) and datshi (cheese). Whether you dine at an upmarket restaurant in Thimpu or a modest cottage in Phobjikha, there's simply no escaping ema datshi, the culinary pride of The Kingdom of Bhutan. Just in case you don't quite fancy the dish in the first attempt, try it again at another place. Because there are multiple Bhutanese variations of chilli peppers in cheesy sauce. It's just a matter of finding what works for you!

    And then, there's kewa datshi (potatoes and cheese) and shamu datshi (mushroom and cheese). Basically, you'll be eating quite a bit of cheese. Not the kind you are, perhaps, used to, but of a chewier variety, made of cow milk or yak milk. A must in every household in Bhutan.

    As much as the Bhutanese love their chicken, yak meat, pork and lamb, every meal must have generous portions of stir-fried veggies. From beans and turnips to radish and mushrooms, there's enough reason for vegetarians and vegans to rejoice.

    If you are not a rice eater, a vacation in Bhutan will turn you into one. You'll find nutritious red rice (much like the brown rice, only stickier) for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and every meal in between. Buckwheat and maize are good traditional substitutes for days when your body demands a break from rice.

    On the side

    For those wondering how the Bhutanese manage to look so lean and strong, despite all that cheese and rice, the secret lies in the high altitude and physically active lifestyle. And the dearth of desserts helps, too. The first time I was offered a bowl of cut fruits after a meal, I smiled and obliged. On the second occasion, I politely asked, "Nothing else in sweets?" It took a while for the gulab jamuns to make a grand entry!

    In retrospect, I see the silver lining. There was always enough space in the tummy to try that cheese momo or zaow (like puffed rice, only less puffed and crunchier) with suja (butter tea). Not to forget, arra, the local brew distilled from rice, barley or wheat, served in beautiful wooden bowls.

    If you were to ask me 'What is your favourite Bhutanese food?' I wouldn't have to think twice before replying, 'ezay'. It's a traditional sauce, made of onions, cheese and hot chillies, that pairs well with every single dish in Bhutan — from thukpa (soupy noodles) to rice and momos. And the beauty of it is that no two kitchens make it alike.

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  • 01/12/18--19:14: From a child's mouth
  • Muhammad Ali once said, "Children make you want to start life over." This simple yet profound statement resonates within the walls of my home almost every day as I interact with my daughters. Often, I try to give them precepts on life, however, it is they who inadvertently teach me what life and living is all about. The unvarnished truth, lessons on humility, the tenacity of purpose and objectivity are only some of the life lessons that my children have imparted to me. Listening to them gives me a fresh perspective, and washes away any angst that might have accumulated over time.

    For the Annual Day in school, my younger daughter had been given a part in the play based on the novel Matilda by Roald Dahl. She was extremely excited as it also happened to be one of her favourite books. To ensure that one student did not have too many lines to learn, each character was played by two or more students depending on the length of the role. One of her classmates and my daughter were given the role of Miss Trunchbull, the mean headmistress in the novel. My daughter got two scenes and her classmate got two. Things progressed well. However, just a week before the enactment of the play, my daughter came back home looking hurt and sad. When questioned, she told me that one of her scenes had been given to the other Miss Trunchbull, so now her classmate had three scenes and my daughter had only one.

    As is the prerogative of a mother, my hurt and sadness were more acute than that of my daughter. Not only did it seem unfair but this change in the eleventh hour, I rationalised, would put a dent in my daughters morale. I decided to contact the teacher and ask her for the rationale behind her decision. My daughter, however, discouraged me. "Please dont ask my teacher anything," she said. "Why?" I questioned. "Arent you upset about this? Dont you want to resolve this?" "I am upset, mama, however, there is nothing to resolve." Her response baffled me and we got into a conversation that resulted in astounding results. "It is simple," she said. The other girl was doing a better job than me. She is a better actor than me. Yes, I do feel a little sad, but what ultimately matters is that our play does well. If I get my part back but the play does not go well, I will be even more disappointed."

    All I could do was hug her tightly as in the face of her wisdom my words seemed juvenile. Her big-picture thinking completely demolished my detail-oriented perception. Often in our personal agendas and pursuits, we forget what we really need to focus on. It is the simple mind of a child that has the potential to look beyond the unproductive and concentrate on the truly relevant things in life. As adults, we become more and more self-seeking in our thought process and a child can take us back to the basics to reveal the joys of shared responsibility and collective success.

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  • 01/12/18--19:18: By all other names...
  • Quirky but true! Nicknames are interestingly inventive, though the intent of transcending the boundaries to ridicule someone is common. In our family, Gunda never gained his weight past 45 kilos on any weighing scale, but his mother had a juvenile rationale - he looked frail when he was born but we wanted him to be a rotund structure one day. Future-proofed nickname in challenging times.

    Lefty or lodde for a left-handed person, blondie for sporting a certain colour of hair, baldy for the hair-challenged, lumbu and beanpole for the structurally tall people are in vogue for generations.

    In cricket, the players names are riddled with nicknames. Englands famous all-rounder Ian Botham became Beefy, Sri Lankan Malinga was rechristened as Slinga due to his bowling action, and Ricky The Punter Ponting supposedly due to his over-indulgence to place bets on greyhound racing.

    Mecca is now in India, if you will, in the cricketing world! Sourav Ganguly acted as the catalyst for Indias northwardly climb when he displayed his aggression - wearing it on his sleeve - to the extent he took off his shirt when India won the Natwest final under trying conditions. He will always be the Prince of Calcutta, also dada given his roots.

    Our current Under-19 coach Rahul Dravid, with his rock-solid technique, was The Wall due to opponents inability to get the ball past his bat.

    Sensational batsman Shikhar Dhawan became Gabbar, not for his audacious strokeplay or the twirled moustache, but it was his Ranji teammates who labelled him thus since he frequently energised them with the most famous line from the movie Sholay - Suar ke baccho, albeit with a slightly derogatory connotation but nonetheless loaded in his good intent to motivate the team!

    Moniker is another flavour of nickname - the Roberts became Rob or Bob, the Richards Dick, the Williams Bill, the Thomas Tom, the Daniels Dan, the Michaels Mike - common names in Western societies.

    Closer home, many, particularly in the IT industry, morphed their names so it was easy to pronounce for their US and European clients - Narayana became Nan, Srikantan became Tan, Kiran became Kevin. Was the ultimate goal to ease the movement of software business climate where services crossed international borders?

    Now to names with prefix add-ons - the likes of Silk Smitha and Nylex Nalini from the South Indian cinema world during the 1980s... They carried a certain oomph factor due to their characterisation of roles, and the fabric Silk and Nylex got a new meaning and were glorified to send the TRP and star ratings upwards.

    It was during the 1980s that I was going out with three girlfriends - all in their 70s - my grandmas. It was my duty to escort them around for their weekly temple visits, religious discourses etc.

    In tune with the times, it was only apt that I modernised their names as Violet Venka (Venkamma, my fathers mother), Silk Shari (Sharadamma, my mothers mother), and Satin Sanni (Sannamma was Venkas sister). They enjoyed the banter as long as it was not made public and kept within the family circles. As a 20-someone, my three girlfriends blessed me with tips!

    An apt one from history who played a role in British agricultural revolution - Townshends belief in the growing of turnips gained him the nickname of Turnip Townshend.

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  • 01/12/18--19:28: Fiction for a map
  • I was a teenager when I first read Anna Karenina. Apart from feeling deeply influenced by the characters and empathising with Annas hopelessness, the book also resonated with me because of the cities it was set in. I formed vivid images of Moscow and Saint Petersburg, the theatre and the races, the balls and operas, among others. Cities in fiction help you map them before you even dream of stepping into those destinations in real life. Or you may never visit them, but they are with you forever, transcending the scope of a certain piece of fiction. So, theres the Cairo of your imagination, and a sense of Lahore or Istanbul, all thanks to the fiction you choose to read.

    Settings as characters

    Talking of Russian literature, if you have been smitten by Doctor Zhivago like me, you can close your eyes and visualise the landscapes of Russia vividly. The family of Zhivago (aka Yura) makes a train journey from Moscow towards the Urals. This provides ample scope for Boris Pasternak, the author, to depict the landscape - the snow on rail tracks, the towns et al. But, there is one device in the book, that of a candle burning on a table in a room on Kamerger Street, that shows how the setting can play a huge role in fiction. "As they drove through Kamerger Street, Yura noticed that a candle had melted a patch in the icy crust on one of the windows. The light seemed to look into the street almost consciously, as if it were watching the passing carriages and waiting for someone." This is the room where Lara decides to get married to Pasha, another character in the novel. Towards the end, Lara walks into the same room and sees the coffin of Zhivago. Did Lara know that Zhivago had seen that the candle that left an icy crust on one of the windows? Did Zhivago know that Lara too had seen the candle melting and leaving a crust? That room in Kamerger Street, thus, is almost like a character, a silent witness to the comings and goings and the converging and diverging of various people and their destinies. That room, that street, become as important to the reader as those who peopled that place.

    A hundred footsteps in Soho, London

    Much as stories, moral arcs, conflicts and the style of writing themselves make an impression, the setting does indeed leave a strong footprint. When Lucie Manette (A Tale of Two Cities) sits in her Soho home in London and hears a hundred footsteps, we know its a metaphor for whats to come, but we also think of a hundred people stomping their way through Sohos streets.

    Soho comes alive in the readers imagination as much as the plot or the characters.

    Istanbul of my imagination

    The city becomes a strong visual backdrop against which plots and conflicts unfold, yes, but on another level, the city could be shaping the destinies of characters and their dilemmas. The city in which a certain work of fiction is set in dictates the way that work shapes up. The city, then, becomes a character. Like how Istanbul becomes in Pamuks works, for instance, in A Strangeness in My Mind. Mevlut, the central character, is a young, unschooled boy who comes to Istanbul from his village, and sells boza, a fermented drink, for a living. The novel maps his life in the city, while also showing you how Istanbul itself has changed over the decades. The changing landscape of the city changes Mevlut, too, over the years. Without stepping foot into Istanbul, the city has a clear place in my imagination, all thanks to Pamuk. So, theres Taksim Square, theres Tarlabasi in Beyoglu district, there are Duttepe and Kultepe, the two neighbourhoods that are getting into skirmishes all the time.

    I know of Oxford Bar. Do you?

    If you are a fan of Ian Rankin or Alexander McCall Smith, you are sure to know a thing or two about Edinburgh as well. You know of the legendary Oxford Bar, the Royal Oak, Princess Street, The University of Edinburgh, the Scottish Gallery, the Old Town, the New Town, Scotland Street before you have landed in Edinburgh.

    Discoveries, of cities & ourselves

    Walking the streets of a city, like Pamuks Mevlut, gives you an opportunity not just to discover the many sides to the city, but also yourself. "Walking around the city at night made him feel as if he was wandering around inside his own head. That was why whenever he spoke to the walls, advertisements, shadows, and strange and mysterious shapes he couldnt see in the night, he always felt as if he were talking to himself."

    Just as the cities of fiction lead you to discovery once you actually get there, cities of real life lead you to discovery as well. You envelop the city, and the city envelopes you. Pamuk pays the finest ode to the city in A Strangeness in My Mind. "In a city, you can be alone in a crowd, and in fact what makes the city a city is that it lets you hide the strangeness in your mind inside its teeming multitudes."

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  • 01/12/18--19:30: Going past the canals
  • Amsterdam is a bit concerned that beyond its windmills, cycles, canals and (Vincent) van Gogh, no one associates the city with anything else. No doubt these are all parts of Amsterdams charm, but theres more to the Dutch capital than these apparent associations.

    Like the expression going Dutch whenever we imply that everyone would pay for themselves! I have heard people use this phrase for aeons without realising this must have originated somewhere in Amsterdam.

    Where do you begin to write about a city with a population of 8 lakh, which plays host to 2 crore visitors and day-trippers - about 25 times the number of locals? Whats more, the 8 lakh population has 10 lakh bicycles, while Amsterdams global image is entwined with water as a Canal Ring with 165 canals developed through drainage and reclamation of land, and is today on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

    I chose to stay in Leidseplein, a busy square at the end of Amsterdams central canal ring that serves as a transport hub in the city, with a number of intersecting tram lines. The entire area is taken up by large terraces of bars teeming with tourists and locals relaxing with a drink while taking a break from shopping.

    But it was when I set out on an exploratory walk that I learnt the hard way that Amsterdam is the most bicycle-friendly city in the world. I had avoided all four-wheelers on the road when I ran into the traffic, only to be sworn at by a bicyclist - I had unknowingly strayed on to a bicycle path much as I was occupied watching Dutch Baroque architecture-styled buildings lining the canal rings.

    Amsterdam has the highest number of museums in the world - 51 in all. The celebrated Museumplein, a public square, has three major museums - the Rijksmuseum, called the Louvre of the Netherlands; the Van Gogh Museum; and the Stedelijk Museum. But I was not going to spend my time gaping at the paintings (even if it was Rembrandts The Night Watch).

    However, the Anne Frank Museum was different - here I was, prepared to join the queues of tourists waiting to enter Anne Frank House! (Anne Frank Huis, as the Amsterdammers call it). People love the Anne Frank House and form long lines to see the attic where this famous diary-writer lived for two years before being found out, a part of a fairly large canal-side complex.

    Voice from the attic

    Annes writing has come to typify a tragic part of history and become a sobering voice of world literature. Her story details the turbulent conditions of a Jewish family living in hiding during the time Holland was occupied by the Nazis. Anne was only a child when she first took up writing her journal, but the book has grown to signify the sheer joy of life. The diary is the most translated Dutch book. It has been translated into 70 different languages and is published in over 60 countries.

    At one time, this house, on 263, Prinsengracht, was the office of Otto Frank, Annes father. While standing out in the queue, I tried to imagine how this street must have appeared 65 years ago. The gabled canal houses are the same, as is the canal flowing by, and the bicycles are still the major means of transportation.

    On entering, Im struck by the subdued atmosphere. The voices are low; the mood is solemn. Poignant excerpts from Annes diary are splattered all over the walls, while an overwhelming sense of sadness hangs over this place. The long column with packed tourists make you feel like you are on a conveyor belt as everybody silently tiptoes through all the rooms, including the bathroom where Anne couldnt have running water, nor flush the toilet, because no noise whatsoever could be made.

    Picture this...

    It had just stopped drizzling, the sun still playing hide-and-seek with the clouds. This was the time to see the windmill at Riekermolen, a windmill located in a really beautiful setting along River Amstel and still in use to keep the area dry. This windmill is often called Rembrandts Windmill and is the only one actually remaining in the Amsterdam area. The farmland, replete with prosperous-looking cows munching away, the river flowing by, and the opportunity to genuflect to a statue of Rembrandt in front of the windmill made me feel at peace with myself.

    Later, while wandering around the canals beneath a brilliant spring-green canopy, admiring the old houses, and this time to ensure I crossed the cycle paths with care, I found an Indonesian restaurant, a relic of former colonial imperialism. It was in the 20th century that the Dutch ruled over Indonesia, only to be interrupted by the Japanese occupation during World War II. Similarly, Surinameplein, a square in Amsterdam, is named after the now- independent Dutch colony Suriname, on the northern coast of South America.

    Mauritius, too, was another colony where the Dutch colonists had decided to settle down. They destroyed forests and made the fauna & flora of the island, including the dodo, to deteriorate beyond recognition. The dodo, which features in the novel Alices Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, has become an archetype for extinct creatures.

    I have had my fill of windmills, cycles and canals. And, as for going Dutch - Im no wiser in knowing what this expression has to do with Amsterdam and the Netherlands.

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  • 01/12/18--19:36: Goa's got more...
  • It is probably easy to steer away from the beaten track if you have the steering in your hands or someone at the steering wheel. So, this is the case on a family holiday when we land at Dabolim airport and opt for a self-drive option. The car is handed over to the traveller at the airport, with an identification retained and conditions applied.

    It does seem important to mention that a 10-minute drive from the Dabolim airport brings one to a grand hotel in Vasco, where the lobby restaurant offers excellent fare to tickle all palates, including our vegetarian ones. Whilst Goa is a non-vegetarians paradise, other areas where I enjoy interesting vegetarian food are the Farmhouse Bar and Bistro (located in Benaulim), with its old-world decor, vintage music and stuffed mushrooms to die for.

    Nostalgia in Margao is exciting, because its heritage artefacts contribute to a superb ambience, and more importantly, because it serves the most authentic Goan- Portuguese food, again with some tasty vegetarian options. I also get to sample a spicy lip-smacking digestive drink made of kokum and coconut milk. When leaving, I ring the bell outside because it says, Ring, if you have liked the food.

    From the soil

    Besides the sun, sea and sand that tourists throng to, there is much else that the state has to offer. The drive through the rainforest regions of the Western Ghats brings us to the charming Netravali village in Sanguern Taluk, where we are booked to stay at a spice farm. Running it, along with wife Gauri, is Chinmay Tanshikar, who has decided to continue in the family tradition of traditional organic farming and reaped encomiums for his efforts. The mud cottages have a rustic look with basic amenities and it is nice to see that everything is ecological, including the recycling of grey water. Our rooms look out on a courtyard, equipped with swings, giving us a sense of connection that is not always the case with hotels. Our package includes all meals and the food is tasty with a home-cooked feel. Walking from my cottage to the dining area gives the sense of walking through a forest.

    Chinmay turns out to be a storehouse of knowledge, as he takes us for a guided walk through the spice farm, which is a not-to-be-missed part of the package. A kitchen gardener by interest, I come out much the wiser ­ - about the maintaining of sustainable practices as well as the growing of vanilla, pepper, turmeric and cocoa. Chinmay also takes us to see a bubbling lake located in front of a Krishna temple, used by the villagers. The icing on the cake is a visit to the 250-year-old house, which the Tanshikar family still inhabits. I excitedly buy up the spices, which I realise, later, are available across Goa, with the Tanshikar branding.

    Our next stop is a resort thats located in picture-perfect surroundings, 700 metres above sea level in the Chorla Ghats. On a clear day, the log verandah of my cottage affords a ringside view of the Vazra Sakla, the majestic 143-metre waterfall, with two smaller ones opening up after a bout of rain. Besides the tasty food and the sylvan surroundings, it is the infinity pool that adds value to this place. One can revel in the breathtaking view of the waterfalls, enjoy the music of the wind in the trees and birdsong, even whilst floating on the clear, cold waters of the pool.

    On the ride back to the airport, factoring in a visit to the Goa Chitra Museum is worth every rupee of the entrance ticket. Victor Hugo Gomes is the restorer and brain behind turning his private collection of 200 items into 4,000 objects that are now on display. With a well-informed guide, the place is an ethnographers delight, as the history of Goa from ancient times unfolds in front of our eyes, with precise labels provided for each piece on show.

    Dating the past

    Life before the advent of electricity, ancient agricultural, cooking and storing implements are just some of the wondrous items displayed. The non-mechanised modes of transportation, like carts, carriages and palanquins, besides being quaint, also reveal the prevalence of class differences, even from ancient times.

    A piece on Goa would be incomplete without the mention of Emma Dumadag and Roberta DCosta, two nature lovers and intrepid trekkers who have teamed up to show travellers the lesser-known sights of Goa, some of which are not in the guidebooks.

    To them, I owe thanks for the visit to the Rachol Seminary, located in a village by the same name, which is a part of the Salcette Taluka in South Goa. This seminary is among the best examples of Indo-Portuguese monastic Christian architecture in Goa. With its 400-year-old history, among the unusual things that grab my attention are the paintings on the wall that reveal the Nativity, Ascension and other scenes from the life of Christ, all painted in Indian garb. Sadly, the paint is chipping away, and the colours fading.

    To Angelo Fonseca goes the credit of promoting this Indianised art form, which led to him being honoured with the position of the Dean of Indian Christian Art. Tragically, he later faced ignominy for painting the Virgin Mary in a kunbi (Goan sari) and was forced to leave Goa.

    It is interesting to learn that the seminary has preserved sets of stories from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, said to be the first works of prose in Konkani. Another fascinating discovery that I make here is that Jesuits Diego Ribeiro, Antonio de Saldanha and Miguel de Almeida contributed to compiling a list of Portuguese-Konkani words in the 16th and 17th centuries, which eventually led to the creation of a dictionary. These vocabularies also acted as a record for the use of Konkani in that era.

    Time stands still with the notion of susegad (just chill) permeating everywhere. So when it comes to Goa, best to do as the Goans do!

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  • 01/12/18--19:40: Muse from Mumbai
  • Nothing demonstrates the flavour and, perhaps, the arrangement of this collection more than the second story, of a prospective elopement that goes right, but without an expected resolution. There are many like it - we prepare for a coming together, an awaited resolution, only to stare at a sliding apart at the end. Its as if the author is saying: look here, Im sorry if you had your expectations, I just followed these characters in these places, and see what theyve done!

    The first one, too, in a more interior way, launches the readers overriding realisation that the resolution of a story (or even its craft and creation) should engage him less than its progress, its flavours, its very being. Jayant Kaikini is not just writing about places or people in Bombay, hes watching life, boarding it, feeling and telling it, smiling and moping about it. Above all, hes celebrating it by simply describing it.

    And after the stories are done, the publisher springs a delightful surprise - a note from the translator, Tejaswini Niranjana, on her journey of discovery with her co-traveller and tour guide, the author. Shes relieved the writing isnt "coloured by ethnic or regional origin." Nor by philosophical or political bent. Theres also a discussion between her and a couple of interested parties about the book and its author.

    One of the stories tells of an old woman living with a family of four. Coming in as a maid, Durgi outgrows her usefulness due to illness and age. Shes now an unavoidable nuisance; to dismiss her would show the family in a bad light. Fighting suggestions like stop giving her food and water, and send her away, they keep her until a closure is inevitable. The narrative shows how a faithful detailing of life can be more effective than dramatisations. The slow, chilling movement towards a never-shown denouement places your finger on raw bone, the core of tragedy.

    Everything happens within, and yet the placements and locations of each story are so vital to it. It could be any other city, and yet the spirit of Bombay shapes it like nothing else can.

    Take a simple story like Gateway where interior complications, comprehension, guilt and perceptions of retribution are spurred and bewildered by ordinary events happening in almost dreamlike simplicity. Like some of the other stories, the ending here simply glides away like a boat entering high sea; youre given a world, and theres so much you know, but so much you can conjure up beyond what youre told.

    The laugh-aloud humour and running vein of sensitivity in the story of a runaway bus thats soon drenched in moonlit romance, cheered by an entire village of happy conspirators. The runaway horse that transports a bridegroom to a better wedding, worlds entering worlds as though moved by an amused chess player. The amazing story of a framed portrait that fulfils a need in a heartless society, of kindness-as-usual in a realm of bitterness and conflict. An interlude in the midst of a devastating Bombay flood, families torn apart, traffic frozen, life uncertain, and there you have two men and a driver, their own drama so much a part, and yet deeper and more poignant, than what we see around them!

    This isnt an author thinking up impossible situations to garnish his stories with. Pick up any newspaper, youll see that. This is an author wading through life, holding your hand and letting you feel, with as few comments as possible. His sparseness is like a series of glimpses into loaded larders. This is an author whose wisdom shows through the gentle unfolding of simple narratives. And a translator who can read the fine lines of the Kannada original and present them to us with the temperate tread of a confident tightrope walker. The city doesnt belong to the author, nor does he to it; he lived and worked there for 20 years. His characters, too, are of a different diaspora, outsiders with an intense relationship with Bombay. The city isnt another character in the stories, but many characters, expressions of characters; somehow, they coalesce to form the impression of a unique city. Only those whove lived as intense outsiders in Bombay can fully understand this.

    The authors unique blending of realism and hope can be seen in this last sentence of a story: "The pre-dawn glow from the east shone on the thousands of vehicles backed up on the road, giving the illusion that they might start moving anytime." Theres always this robust romance, this tussle, this sly manoeuvring between turgid truth and miraculous metaphor.

    I generally check out new authors before agreeing to review their books. At this stage, I must confess I hadnt heard of Jayant Kaikini, nor did I check him out before I agreed to this review. Its a pity I hadnt; its fortunate that I did. For Kaikini is one of those writers who, with the right exposure, can have the world at his pages.

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  • 01/12/18--20:56: Birth of a discussion
  • A House for Happy Mothers is sure to attract the imagination of everyone who wants to see lifelike, relatable and thought-provoking issues being addressed through the journey of characters who quite convincingly echo our own everyday dilemmas.

    It would be no exaggeration to suggest that when an author gathers the courage to weave a story on a theme as complex as surrogacy, and what it means for the people involved, it contains within its womb the potential for being a catalyst for the slow but steady revolution in societal conscience.

    Surrogacy is fast gaining momentum in the country, but it continues to be a less-explored and even tabooed theme in social discussions. A House for Happy Mothers breaks the ice and brings out in the open the emotions and apprehensions of the parties involved. It is a provocative and engaging read.

    The story is about the trials and tribulations of a married-prosperous Indian couple living in Silicon Valley, Priya and Madhu, whose only woe in life is the fact that Priya cannot become pregnant, and thus the couple decides to have a baby through a surrogate named Asha in India. Ashas husband is a house painter, and despite their poverty, they desire to give their intellectually gifted son quality schooling.

    Despite initial family disapproval, Asha decides to become a surrogate as she sees this as the only opportunity to fulfil her familys dreams. Malladi weaves the story intricately with the many realistic dilemmas that both her central characters Priya and Asha face, and how the world around them responds.

    Priyas friends deliberate whether or not they should keep working when they have children, or what the best ways are to rear them, and, while this ambience engulfs Priya, all she wants to do is to join their league and experience motherhood. Priyas relationship with her mother gets affected in the process, where she displays cynicism and suggests the possibility that Priya may not be meant for motherhood at all. Despite her daughters extreme positivity, she says, "Have you thought about that instead of running around impregnating some strange woman with your child?"

    What has added to the reading experience is the way Malladi builds the supporting characters, whether we talk about Priyas friends, her quarrelling mother and mother-in-law, Ashas sister-in-law, who happens to be a veteran surrogate, or the other women in Ashas surrogate home. In fact, the importance that the author has attached to these voices enables us to hear the diversity of opinions that people have about surrogacy, womanhood and motherhood.

    A co-surrogate in the home tries to convince Asha in her weaker moments that she should only think of the entire process as a profitable business and not feel emotionally tied to the child growing inside. Another woman suggests (about her other child), "Youre doing this so that your daughter can study and be a lanja munda like Dr Swati. Strong. Independent."

    What is interesting to note is that the contexts that the two women find themselves in are responsible for the perspectives on the issue that they introduce. It provides an opportune moment to discuss surrogacy from the class angle, and its implications for the women involved.

    The most engaging parts of the novel unfold in India, where Asha lives under medical supervision with women like herself in a special home until they deliver the babies they are being paid for, having left behind their own families. The house looks unkempt and the women are taken care of by a housemother who is strict yet kind.

    Interesting dynamics unfold amongst the women, where one acclaims, "Were giving a gift to someone - something they cant get themselves - and they give me the resources to build a better life."

    For Asha, this means the chance of educating Manoj, who has been promoted by two grades in the village school. Asha and her husband have their bitter moments, but a zeal for the son motivates them.

    An important part of the narrative are posts from an online message board, which Priya posts on and reads in moments of doubt. Notes that mothers leave for each other here describe the realm of the unknown surrounding surrogacy.

    Priya and Asha are women located in completely contrasting social realities and we hardly see anything common between them, but as the story unfolds, we discover how their love for their own children - the one that is to enter the world and those who already have - is the force that binds them with an invisible thread of interconnectedness.

    Malladis book is thought-provoking as it stirs up in the mind glimpses from the worlds of two women juxtaposed by destiny.

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  • 01/12/18--21:04: A lock-room mystery
  • The rocket fuel propelling The Woman in the Window, the first stratosphere-ready mystery of 2018, is expertise. Its author is billed as A J Finn, perhaps to leave open the possibility in readers minds that this entry in the Gone Girl/The Girl on the Train sweepstakes was written by a woman, as most have been.

    But its author is Dan Mallory, a long-time editor of mystery fiction. He is well versed in the tricks of the trade; he credits James Patterson as a helpful influence, particularly when it comes to short chapters. Mallory has edited recent Agatha Christie novels, but Christie never wrote an action scene packed with special effects just right for the movie version.

    Mallory also clearly knows a lot about the more diabolical elements in Hitchcock movies. And he hasnt been shy, as Finn, about plugging them into his plot.

    The Woman in the Window starts out with a Rear Window setup: Anna Fox spies on her neighbours, looking from her gentrified Harlem townhouse into theirs. She is housebound (agoraphobia) but thinks she witnesses a crime. And now for a dose of The Girl on the Train: Anna is a whopping drunk who also takes many prescription drugs, none of which should be mixed with alcohol. Dear other books with unreliable narrators: this one will see you and raise you.

    All of this is very familiar, to the point where The Woman in the Window starts off feeling ordinary. It reads too much like another knockoff while the author sets up his very basic story elements. We need a rundown of who the neighbours are, especially the Russells, the family Anna spies on most avidly. We need to know about Annas past life as a child psychiatrist, and about the husband and daughter who have abandoned her in the house. We need to raise eyebrows about the terse, hunky tenant in the basement.

    We dont need a lot of flaunting of the authors cineaste credentials, but we get it anyway. This will work better later, when the book intercuts movie dialogue from the DVDs Anna watches with what is actually happening in her real world. There are shades of Hitchcocks Shadow of a Doubt, Vertigo, Spellbound, Suspicion and, of course, George Cukors Gaslight, which has an enormous influence on the whole book (and has influenced many of its predecessors). But despite the value of show, dont tell for any writer, this author loves using examples to a fault. At one point, after Anna has dutifully invoked Gaslight, the book also throws in: "Because it was no dream. ("This is no dream! This is really happening!" - Mia Farrow, Rosemarys Baby.)

    Once the book gets going, it excels at planting misconceptions everywhere. You cannot trust anything you read. Even Anna can be made to doubt her own actions and memories, and she has absolutely no allies. Everyone on the street thinks she is peculiar, and thats the best-case scenario. When she deals with the police - an inevitable interaction in this genre - they happen to notice that she has stockpiled enough wine and prescription drugs to sedate an army. Theres no chance they will ever believe anything she says as the danger level rises.

    A book thats as devious as this novel will delight anyone whos been disappointed too often. And The Woman in the Window sneaks in its zenith of trickery into an effortless early scene. Anna makes a disastrous effort to go beyond her front door and meets someone shes eager to know. The two of them spend a wonderful, confessional evening back in the house, playing chess and getting loaded. This all goes down so smoothly that its consequences come as a complete shock. And theres a superb snowbound horror story buried deep inside this novels many layers.

    For hardcore aficionados of classic logical mysteries, this book includes some special delights. Its nods to contemporary tastes are offset by things like a reference to The Thinking Machine, the nickname of Professor Augustus SFX Van Dusen, a fictional amateur detective created by Jacques Futrelle. Van Dusen was beloved in his time, but that time was so long ago that Futrelle died on the Titanic. Finn knows commerce but he also knows the classics, old and new. He truly aspires to write in their tradition.

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  • 01/12/18--21:10: Why pop stars want Starrah
  • Heres a quick piece of pop trivia: what do Drake, Katy Perry, the Weeknd, Rihanna, Calvin Harris, Nicki Minaj, Big Sean, Halsey, Maroon 5, Travis Scott and Camila Cabello have in common?

    The answer, in addition to big market share: melodies written by Starrah, perhaps the most ubiquitous force in music who also happens to be completely obscure. An A-list studio presence for just two years, Starrah, 27, has tallied more than 6 billion streams on Spotify and YouTube alone - to say nothing of her innumerable radio plays - bridging genres and genders as a songwriter on Fake Love by Drake, Needed Me by Rihanna and Havana, Cabellos breakout single, which peaked at No 2 on the Billboard chart. Yet anyone would be forgiven for not recognising her name, let alone her face, which in images and videos is frequently animated and always obfuscated by a carefully placed hand, a K-pop-inspired panda mask or, if she happens to slip up and let a photographer capture her whole visage, an oversize emoji added after the fact.

    The meeting

    "I like my privacy," Starrah said with a believably shy grin at a recording studio in the San Fernando Valley earlier this month, at her first extensive interview. "The people I know who have fame would rather just take the money and leave the fame," she said. "I still live my regular life." Even in an industry known for its shadowy influences, the vocalist, born Brittany Hazzard, stands out for her anonymity and the improbability of her rise.

    Raised in a tiny Delaware beach town, the youngest of nine siblings, Starrah cut her path through urban radio, crafting indelible, rap-sung hooks for strivers like Kid Ink and Dej Loaf (Be Real), Kevin Gates (2 Phones) and Travis Scott and Young Thug (Pick Up the Phone) before making the all-but-unheard-of crossover to the overwhelmingly white echelons of Top 40.

    For Starrah, who is gay and can sing as well as she can rap, code-switching while remaining authentic to herself has always come easily. "I grew up in the ghetto," she said. "But around me, it was like a gilded curtain - everyone else was hella wealthy."

    She attended Delaware State University, and became the first in her family to graduate. But on one early track, she sings of "PTSD from my childhood," a SWAT team kicking down the door. "Ive seen both sides of the coin," she said.

    Initially inspired by street literature like Sister Souljahs The Coldest Winter Ever and female rappers like Eve and Nicki Minaj, Starrah also developed the omnivorous taste of the playlist generation. For some of her earliest compositions, she found acoustic covers of songs like Yellow by Coldplay and improvised on top of them.

    It was one such track titled Drank Up,which sampled the electronic song About You by XXYYXX, that first caught the ear of Jarjour online. "I didnt know if she was a girl or a boy, 11 years old or 27 years old," he said, recalling the distinctiveness of her cadences. "She was the most ambiguous person Id ever heard."

    Starrah had moved to Los Angeles after college and was working at Urban Outfitters and Public Storage while pursuing music, posting now-deleted songs to SoundCloud and selling hook demos for $150 on Instagram. Jarjour was impressed by her work ethic, both out of the studio and in it: "From the beginning, Starrah sent more music than anyone else," he said, and she was very organised, a rarity for prolific songwriters. Gregarious, wide-eyed and relentlessly positive, Jarjour, 31, was also a complement for Starrahs sheepish humility, and he quickly became her protector and champion. Though her reticence toward fame has lent her career a marketable mystique, "Its not a gimmick," Jarjour said. "Shes not thirsty."

    Starrahs style

    While social anxiety may keep her from award shows and meetings with label execs, her modesty and introverts knack for listening have made her a favourite of todays superstars. "Starrah is the secret Dr Phil of the music industry," Jarjour said.

    Starrah said she now looks at many of the artistes she writes for "like theyre my family," but shes also a student of their sounds and personas. "As a fan, I know where I want their music to go," she said.

    "I definitely creep" on social media, Starrah added, and said she reads gossip blogs for fodder. "Even though a lot of people say blogs arent true, whats said on the blogs still affects that person - period."

    She recalled Rihanna gushing over the steely breakup jam Needed Me - with its Instagrammable one-liners like "Didnt they tell you that I was a savage?" - which peaked at No 7 last year and went on to become the singers longest-charting hit.

    This year, having proven her Billboard viability, Starrah focused on expansion. Though she had previously specialised in the cross-section of club and critical favourites that became unexpectedly durable hits (Pass Dat by Jeremih, Body by Dreezy), her work on tracks like Katy Perrys Swish Swish, Halseys Now or Never and Calvin Harriss Feels were more naked appeals to pop dominance. And while not quite critically adored smashes, such songs may prove effective in Starrahs effort to stay unpredictable.

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  • 01/12/18--21:16: Old tales retouched
  • As you enter the large hall at the famous and iconic Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai, what strikes you is the size, the vibrant colours, and the images in the traditional Kerala temple mural arts hanging on the pristine white walls. As you pass from one work of art to the other, you can see many important chapters and figures from the stories of Indian puranas.

    There is the famous Kamadhenu, Parijatham, Garuda, Amrita Kalasha, Samudra Manthana and many other stories that one has heard as a child while growing up in India.

    Its rare to see traditional works of art at Jehangirs, which has been known over the years as a place where modern, contemporary, abstract arts are on display.

    "They told me that this is probably the first time that the traditional temple-style mural art is displayed here," says the soft-spoken artist Arpitha Reddy.

    So, on the wall along with the large canvas measuring 144" by 60" depicting the story of Samudra Manthana, she also has 18 X 18 painting of different celestial animals like Airavata, Uchchaihshravas, Nandi and Hamsa.

    Art & places of worship

    Except for the silk sari she is clad in, there is nothing traditional or conservative about the tall artist.

    So the first question one is tempted to ask is why she has opted for temple art, and that too, Kerala temple murals, which by any novice in the world of art are easily confused with another traditional and more-popular style: the Tanjore or the Thanjavur style of paintings.

    "We dont use any gold foils; the main difference with Thanjavur style. And of course, the body structures of our figures are certainly different," explains Arpitha. "And my interest in temple art stems from the fact that I am a South Indian, born and brought up in Hyderabad, and from a young age was exposed to traditional art forms on our visits to temples and places of worship in South India."

    What started as a hobby has become her passion and full-time creative pursuit, but presently, Arpitha, based in Delhi, has a little free-time from her duties as a mother.

    So, for more than a decade now, she has been creating work of art, some of which belong in the homes of the likes of Indra Nooyi and other private collectors in and out of India.

    Though a first-generation artist from her family, it was her interest in the field of arts that led her to graduate from the JNTU College of Fine Arts, Hyderabad. After marriage to a bureaucrat, and travelling with him on his transferable job, the artist made it a point to attend every art workshop that was being held at any of those places.

    Hence, she is trained in other traditional art forms like miniature, thangka, kalamkari, pattachitra, phad, Tanjore and of course, the murals of Kerala.

    It was at one such workshop on Kerala-style mural paintings by K U Krishnakumar, the present principal at the Institute of Mural Painting Guruvayur, Kerala that her interest in that art form manifested into a passion. "At the end of the workshop, he invited us to their institute saying that if we wanted to seriously pursue the art form, we should train at the institute. I took up his invitation," recalls the artist.

    And then, as they say, there was no looking back. She trained, practised her art and kept in touch with her teachers to get their opinions on her works, and sought their help if she encountered any problem. She also did a lot of research, read books on our mythology, went through their depiction in different art forms, and then came up with her own interpretation of this art form.

    Though adhering to the tradition, Arpitha has brought in small changes in her work. For instance, at the institute, the wall murals are painted in natural colours, but she has replaced these with acrylic paints.

    "While transporting, the folding on the canvases spoil the work and leave crack marks if I use the traditional paints used on wall murals. With acrylic, I can avoid this," explains Arpitha.

    Changing hues

    And, whenever she feels the need, she contemporises her work. Keeping to the puranic subjects, she gives them a touch of modernity, like she did while depicting Goddess Ganga when Save the environment and clean River Ganga project was announced.

    Her painting doesnt show the usual River Ganga descending from the hair of Lord Shiva. Instead, she has Devi Ganga riding her vahana, the crocodile, with the background of the Kalpavriksha tree, and one hand holding the kalasha with water pouring out.

    "River Ganga is revered in India. So through this, I wanted to tell people that there is enough water and greenery in the form of River Ganga and Kalpavriksha tree. All we have to do is take care of our natural resources," explains the artist.

    The uniqueness of Arpithas work is that though there is a slight modernity, she doesnt take a detour from showcasing the traditional celestial atmosphere prevalent in our traditional culture.

    Take her work of Samudra Manthana, where the story goes that both the devas (gods) and the asuras (demons) churn the ocean to get the nectar of immortality.

    On her canvas, she has painted every emotion of human beings in different forms of gods/goddesses, representing separate passion. And the backdrop is her favourite tree, the Kalpavriksha.

    She says, "Even today in our society, every individual is churning life and competing to get the better of the other. And I want to tell people that their desire will be fulfilled by the Holy Tree if they approach life with positivity."

    While listening to her, one starts wondering if the youth of today will like or understand her obsession with mythology and tradition.

    She reveals that her works of Lord Ganesha are always in demand. The corporate world and youngsters setting up their new homes prefer her works. Even the small panels of celestial animals are liked by many.

    "Previously, both my children, who are now in their early 20s, would ask me, Mamma, why only images of God? Paint something else." But now they understand and have selected two of my works, and have requested me to keep them aside as part of their inheritance. If our tradition and culture are presented properly, even youth will be interested," says Arpitha.

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  • 01/12/18--22:02: Book Rack January 14
  • The Aryabhata Clan
    Sudipto Das
    Niyogi, 2018, pp 472, Rs 595
    The Islamic State has spread its tentacles in India,
    penetrating into academia, media, and politics. The mastermind is Shamsar Ali, a physicist. To destabilise India, he wants to create an apocalypse. The secrets to this big conspiracy are hidden in a carpet with
    mysterious motifs.

    BVR Subbu
    Hachette, 2018, pp 252, Rs 599
    In the late 90s, Santro emerged. Over a period of 16 years, it became the quickest small-car brand to move from zero to one million units. The author spearheaded much of the success. He puts forth the story using anecdotes and details the challenges of introducing a new product in the market.

    The Last Mrs. Parrish
    Liv Constantine
    Harper Collins, 2018, pp 400, Rs 299
    Amber Patterson is tired of being a nobody: a plain woman who melts into the background. And Daphne Parrish is the golden girl of the exclusive town of Bishops Harbor, who has everything that Amber wants.
    An envious Amber hatches a plan to seek Jacksons attention and what she has.

    Old Demons, New Deities
    Edited by Tenzin Dickie
    Navayana, 2018, pp 290, Rs 450
    Split between political occupation and exile, scattered across continents, languages, new professions and lifestyles, what sense of self can a Tibetian muster today? This book comprises a collection of stories from Tibetan writers.

    The Sting of Peppercorns
    Antonio Gomes
    Manjul, 2017, pp240, Rs 325
    The unexpected revelations in his mothers diary prompt Roberto to return home, to Goa, from
    New York. Also, with the help of Carmina, he unravels the mystery surrounding the tragedy that befell his siblings nearly 21 years ago.

    Mothering a Muslim
    Nazia Erum
    Juggernaut, 2018, pp 220, Rs 599
    The author talks about the struggles of a Muslim parent with regard to bullying in school and answers the
    questions of their children who struggle in the education spaces. It also touches upon discrimination and conservatism within the community and outside.

    Love Curry
    Pankaj Dubey
    Penguin, 2017, pp 202, Rs 250
    Three flatmates in London fall in love with the same girl. Soon, the friends turn arch-rivals and life is all topsy-turvy for them. They have no one but each other and realise that love is more about letting go than it is about possessing.

    Building Alternatives
    Thomas Issac & Michelle Williams
    Left Word, 2017, pp 320, Rs 495
    This is an honest appraisal of a venture of a cooperative enterprise. It demonstrates that cooperatives are able to survive as a small niche and develop into substantial organisations. The pros and cons of the matter are also presented here.

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  • 01/12/18--22:12: Tokens of thanks
  • Makara Sankranti. January 14 morning. Thick curd lay settled in the clay pot, its mouth covered with a sal leaf. A big bowl of soaked poha (flattened rice). Gleaming sesame laddoos. A mound of jaggery. The scrumptious delights blocked out by the grandmothers booming instruction -"Do not touch this without bathing. On Makara Sankranti, you bathe first, say a prayer, and only then will you be blessed with a husband like Lord Shiva." On Makara Sankranti, my granny was ready to marry off every bathed-girl with a Shiva lookalike. That cold January morning, tucking the white shirt into the blue skirt school uniform, Id giggle and argue with granny about not wanting a Shiva, or his lookalike. The sun is worshipped on this day, not Shiva. Id try to correct her mythology. But granny was argumentative about Shiva-like husband, and her word was diktat. Thus, the ritual continued. One January into another. Then, another. Bathe. Pray. Hope for a Shiva lookalike husband. Devour the curd-poha with an added ladle of jaggery. Pick a til (sesame) laddoo and run to school.

    Makara Sankranti was the only harvest festival celebrated in my home in Jharkhand. Harvest festivals date back to an age when agriculture was the main/sole source of income and wealth. Many of the rituals have changed with time, but the tradition of harvest festivals continues around the country. The dates and celebrations are varied, but what remains unchanged is the idea of thanking Nature for a bountiful harvest. Here are a few of harvest festivals of India...

    Makara Sankranti

    Said to be mentioned in the Mahabharata, this harvest festival takes its name from the sun entering the Capricorn (makara). The word Sankranti signifies the movement of the sun from one zodiac sign to another. Thus, the name of the festival literally means the movement of the sun into Capricorn. One of the few ancient Hindu festivals observed according to the solar cycle, the festival is marked with worship of the sun, kite-flying, and traditional dishes like sesame laddoo and a khicdhi dinner. Not surprisingly, the festival is also known as Khichdi in the Mithila region of Bihar.

    Though it is held on January 14 every year, after every 80 years, Makara Sankranti is celebrated on January 15 due to the movement of the sun.

    Makara Sankarnti is also celebrated as Lohri in Punjab and northern India. People gather around bonfires and celebrate with music and dance. The traditional dishes include gajjak, chikki, peanuts and popcorn, sarson ka saag and makki ki roti, accompanied by white butter and jaggery. The feast concludes with raskheer, a pudding made with sugarcane juice and rice.


    Known as Baisakhi, Vaishakhi or Vasakhi, and held on April 13/14 every year, it marks the beginning of the Sikh new year. Religiously, Baisakhi commemorates the formation of the Khalsa panth of warriors under Guru Gobind Singh in 1699, but it is also a celebration of spring harvest when the rabi crop ripens. Aawat pauni is a tradition associated with harvesting in which people get together to harvest wheat. Drums are played and poems recited to the beat while people work in the fields. Fairs and nagar kirtan (literally, town hymn singing) are held, and festivities include bhangra.

    For Hindus, Baisakhi marks the beginning of the solar new year. It is celebrated as Pohela Boishakh in West Bengal and Bahag Bihu in Assam, but typically a day or two after Baisakhi.


    Celebrated in Gujarat on January 14, Uttarayana stems from two Sanskrit words, uttara (north) and ayana (movement), which indicate the northward movement of the Earth on the celestial sphere that lasts for nearly six months. For the tourist, this harvest festival has become synonymous with kite-flying (International Kite Festival) in which thousands of colourful kites dot the blue sky and people compete with each other. Festivities include partaking in local delicacies such as undhiyu (a mixed vegetable including yam and beans), sesame seed brittle and jalebi.

    For the best kite-flying views, people crowd to the Sabarmati riverfront and the Ahmedabad Police Stadium.


    Falling in the Chingam month of the Malayalam calendar, Onam is the state festival of Kerala. Commemorating the Vamana avatar of Lord Vishnu, Onam celebrates the rice harvest. Held in August/September, it is marked by festivities including vallam kali (boat races), pulikali (tiger dances), pookkalam (flower arrangement), onathappan (worship), thumbi thullal (womens dance), kummattikali (mask dance), onathallu (martial arts), kazhchakkula (plantain offerings), and other celebrations.

    Onam sadya (feast) is an indispensable part of the festival. Traditionally made with seasonal vegetables such as yam, cucumber and ash gourd, sadya is served on plantain leaves, consists of nine courses, and ends with payasam.


    A four-day harvest festival held mainly in Tamil Nadu, Pongal is thanksgiving to Nature for rice, sugarcane, other grains and turmeric, which are harvested in the month of Thai (January-February). Literally translating into to boil, Pongal begins with Bhogi festival in honour of Lord Indra; on the second day, rice is boiled in milk outdoors in an earthenware pot and symbolically offered to the Sun god; the third day is known as Mattu Pongal, the day of Pongal for cows, while on the fourth day (Kanu or Kannum Pongal day), a turmeric leaf is washed on which are placed the leftovers of sweet pongal and venn pongal, ordinary rice as well as rice coloured red and yellow, betel leaves, betel nuts, two pieces of sugarcane, turmeric leaves, and plantains.


    Held at the end of the Hindi month of Phalgun (March), Holi is a spring festival for Hindus, a national holiday in India, a regional holiday in Nepal and other countries. Holi has become synonymous with colours and the beginning of Spring. In 17th-century literature, it was identified as a festival that celebrated agriculture, commemorated good spring harvests and the fertile land.


    It is the New Years Day for the Hindus of Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, and typically falls in March/April of the Gregorian calendar. Known as Gudi Padwa in Goa, Yugadi in Karnataka, Cheti Chand by the Sindhi community, Sajibu Nongma Panba in Manipur, Ugadi is observed by drawing colourful patterns on the floor and hanging mango-leaf decorations at the door.
    Bevu-bella, a mixture of jaggery and neem leaves, and pachadi, a dish replete with sweet, sour, salty, bitter flavours, is not only a must-eat, but also a symbolic reminder that one must expect all flavours of experiences.


    Also known as Basoa, this harvest festival of Himachal Pradesh is celebrated by the aboriginals and the farming folk on the first day of the month of Baisakh. Three days before Bishu, people make little cakes with kodra (a coarse grain) flour and wrap them in leaves.
    On the day of the festival, they invite their married daughters and other relatives, break the cakes, and eat them with honey and sweet water flavoured with jaggery. In Manipur, Bishu is identical with the Cheiraoba festival of Manipuri Meiteis, which is celebrated on the first day of the Manipuri month of Sajibu (March/April) to herald a new year.


    Borrowing from the Hindi word hariyali (greenery), Hareli is celebrated by the Gond tribes of Chattisgarh/Madhya Pradesh in July-August. During this festival, the goddess of crop, Kutki Dai, is worshipped to ensure better harvest, and is marked by playing gedi, a game where small children mount on bamboo sticks and walk around the fields.


    Held a day after Ganesh Chaturthi, Nuakhai is held in Odisha to mark the arrival of the new rice harvest. Nua (new) Khai (food) is also known as Nuakhai Porab or Nuakhai Bhetghat.


    Bihu denotes three harvest festivals celebrated in Assam, Maagh in January, Bohag in April, and Kaati in October. Of the three, Rongali Bihu or Bohag Bihu, celebrated in mid-April, is the most important. The seven-day festival is marked with dance, music, and local delicacies.

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  • 01/13/18--03:24: Young gun on the rise
  • Shubhankar Sharma was not surprised by his win at the recent Joburg Open, a feat which made the Indian golf fraternity swell with pride. The 21-year-old, who had turned pro before his 17th birthday, however, always held the faith of scripting something special early in his career.

    The win in only his 10th European Tour start made Shubhankar the youngest Indian to win on the European Tour. Importantly, Shubhankar also assured himself a start in his first Major at the British Open at Carnoustie in July 2018. The youngster was recently felicitated by DLF, which also supports him.

    When talking about golf, Shubhankar radiates the maturity which helped him grab success at such a young age. There is clarity and conviction in his decisions. "I turned pro very early into my career. It helped as I matured early. A lot of people told me not to turn pro at that time but I thought I was ready and I wanted to set the bar higher for myself. Even when I was 15 or 16, I won the amateur championship and was the youngest to do so. I have always pushed myself. I thought I would learn more turning professional at a younger age and getting a head start then just staying amateur," says Shubhankar, who was encouraged by his father, Col ML Sharma, to take the jump into the pro circuit.

    "That was the plan, to win as soon as possible but you never know in golf. In golf anything is possible, you can have a great week, you may be playing very well and then you falter at the last stage. So I always expected. Because I turned pro very early it was not like it came as a shock to me. Obviously, it was a great victory. I knew if I play my best I can beat anyone at any given stage. That week happened but not that I was surprised. I always thought I had it in me to play well."

    Reflecting on the Joburg Open, which he had initially planned to skip, Shubhankar says: "The best thing was that I was very calm and composed throughout. This is the first time probably when I never went ahead of myself. Even when I was leading by five shots. Thats why it was one of my best performances.

    "It was not that I was hitting fantastic, I have hit the ball better. But I was able to recover from everywhere. My putting was fantastic that week, I did the right thing at the right time."

    The 21-year-old had made a slow start to 2017 before gaining form in the later half where he clinched the TAKE Open Golf Championship in October and Mcleod Russel Tour Championships in December on the PGTI tour before closing the year with Joburg Open.

    "I have matured over the years as a player, I am just finding small faults and trying to fix them," says Shubhankar who will be focusing more on the European Tour this season.

    "The best thing was my short game-chipping and putting became really good last year. I was really struggling with it, my chipping was my worst part in the game. But especially in last three months, my chipping became really good. I worked a lot with coach Jesse Grewal and last year my good friend Gurbaaz Mann, who is like a technical advisor to me, helped me with my clubs and caddied for me. He told me what I was doing wrong. It really helped me."

    Dream event

    The Indian was excited to play in British Open, where he has always dreamed to play. "British Open was my favourite major since kid. I feel it is the toughest major. This is where the game started. The course is next to ocean, its very tough, windy. You need an all-round game. It is very skill based. I have watched so many great players there. I remember all of them, bordering high intensity. Tiger (Woods) winning after his dad passed away, Rory (Mcllroy), Jordan Speith. I will be playing in Scottish and Irish Open which I hope will prepare me. Its my first major, I dont want to get bogged down by pressure. I want to enjoy my game," he said.

    Before that, Shubhankar, pursuing his Political Science degree, has another battle to win.

    "I have to appear for my final year exams in May and I have to figure out how to do it! I love history. I cant afford to miss them. I did the hard work last year and cleared the second year. Actually I dont study at all, I take my books a month before the exams!," he laughed.

    Now for someone who has been steadily decoding the golfing puzzles, that should not be problem!

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