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  • 02/02/18--21:56: No room for skeletons
  • Last year, I faced a great personal crisis. This is the story of how I worked through it. Gentle reader, you will be moved, conflicted, confabulated, eviscerated and exalted by this story: this I guarantee you. Okay, so you will be disgusted, horror-struck and fed up. But these are just semantics. Lets get down to the nitty-gritty.

    One fine day last year, I was getting ready to go somewhere. Being my usual planned, calm self, I was panicking with five minutes to spare, and I still had to get dressed. I opened the door of my wardrobe and my world exploded. No, there was no bomb or dead body in my wardrobe. All my clothes were making a break for it.

    I stood there with colourful clothing strewn as far as my eye could see, like Scipio amidst the ruins of Carthage. I am severely myopic, so my eye couldnt see very far. Yet, I knew that the time had come. I had to downsize. In a voice constricted and constrained by the huge lump which had developed in my throat, I told my husband the bad news: "I have to let it go."

    "It is going to take time, many years," he said. Ah, the love of my life had understood the deep and abiding love I had for my possessions, I thought. When I figured out that he was talking about my losing weight, I left the place in deep disgust.

    I went back to the wardrobe and began to plan my strategy. I would first segregate clothes into wearable/fitting, and non-wearable/too big-too small. Almost immediately, I ran into problems, big ones.

    First off, the wearable pile was extremely small, while the non-wearable loomed like the entire chain of the Himalayan range. The reason was absurdly simple. Like a cyclonic cloud, I too tend to gain and lose volume. I had kept buying clothes through the various stages of my expansion, as a result of which I had clothes of four different sizes.

    Then there were some outfits that had been gifts. What if the gifter realised that I had regifted their gift to me? Those went in the keep pile. Then there were the ones that had been expensive. I kept them, too. Then came the ones which I had got in sales.

    "Of course, I wont give you guys away!" I told them, cradling one outfit like a mother cuddling a newborn seven-month preemie. "You were a steal!"

    I took a look at the piles. Huh, quelle surprise! There wasnt much in the give away pile. I still had an ace in my sorting sleeve. I was going to divide the clothes based on the memories they held for me. As it turns out, it was a bad idea.

    It appeared that every piece of clothing held an indelible memory for me! This was all the more surprising because I have horrible short-term memory problems. I have been known to stand in front of the open fridge for minutes on end, letting all the cold air out, while I try desperately to remember why I have opened the fridge in the first place.

    Came evening and nothing had moved. Except me. I was moved to despair. And then, I had an epiphany.

    For the size problem, I would give away all the clothes that didnt fit. When I lost weight, I would just buy new clothes! This itself thinned my pile considerably. As for the rest, I ruthlessly put aside sentiment and mercilessly discarded really old and tacky stuff. I had to blink away tears initially, but it paid off in the end. My wardrobe had breathing space at last. I swear, Im a reformed soul now. No more binge buying, no more hoarding, no more...

    Uh-oh, Ive got to finish up this piece. You see, Ive got a sale to go to. They have a Buy One, Get Two offer! Its going to be a steal.

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    The Mall in Shimla is a whole atmosphere. A character of its own. The whiff of the Raj era is unmistakable with the dominating Christ Church, bang on the Ridge at the crest of the Mall, as its presiding deity. And the romance of that nostalgia is accentuated by the string of delightful bakeries - a British legacy - peppered all over the Mall Road.

    It was afternoon. The snow-capped range stood benignly beyond the green hills, the same way it stood when the sahibs and their dainty wives of the Rajs summer capital came out on the Mall to have their tea, with scones. The sahibs have disappeared. The desi variety of today, from Chandigarh to Chennai, have taken their place. And they were out to snack, too. I joined them, but with the nose for the old, favourites bakeries.

    "We are into the third generation now," said the middle-aged man behind the counter at Beekays, the bakery at Scandal Point. Before I could take the conversation forward, a group of high-school girls in their uniform of checked tunic prattled in, filling the place with their happy buzz. "Uncle this." "Uncle that." "Uncle, but I dont have change."

    Though I had done my bit of online research, I still perked up my antenna to find what their favourite picks were. After all, being regulars, theyd know better. At the end, I decided, "Garlic bread and coffee please." It was indeed a hit, the garlic bread, I mean. Burger, patties and even momos where getting lapped up fast all around. Certainly a busy joint.

    Neither Krishna Bakery nor Trishool, by their desi names, would tug your mind towards the British past of Shimla. But ask any old-timer and his pupils will dilate, for sure. There is always a crowd in front of each of these modest-looking stores on the Mall Road, spilling on to the road, and the sudden waft of that enchanting aroma of fresh bake. Little wonder to see a constant flow of locals picking up their daily bread. I ventured into both, and I tell you, I had the best cream rolls of my life. The crusts are long, crunchy yet not too flaky. And end-to-end filled with fresh, optimally sweet CREAAAM. And the real cherry is the price - down to the earth for such angelic taste.

    The entire length of Mall Road, from Scandal Point to its gentle roll down eastward, is dotted with eateries - not just bakeries, but cafes and fine dining, sweet shops and street vendors. An enchanting place for sandwiches, yes, exotic sandwiches at that, is perched up on an upper floor reachable through a precariously steep flight of stairs, and you would miss it if you didnt know it exists there.

    The Mall Road veers south, past the lift which brings people up, mostly tourists, from the busy motor-road deep below and continues its journey winding through shops, eateries, more shops. And then, just before it takes a final turn at the iconic Clarkes Hotel, a cute opening to the right peeps out at the road - a pastry shop, a tiny outpost of a well-known local brand. Tiny, but will spoil you with choice. Rich brownie, apple-almond cake - a Shimla specialty with apples from the orchards around, almond fudge, cherry dates, the list goes on.

    What do you think I settled for? If you happen to be there, do have the lemon-apricot cake. You will remember me. Fondly.

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  • 02/02/18--22:10: The slow flow of history
  • We boarded a time machine. It was a cruise ship sailing down the great flow of history that is the Ganga.

    In the first morning in the saloon of the ship, our fellow voyagers faces were touched with the gold of dawn on the mist-banks rising around us. We smiled, shook hands, bowed and chatted with Brits, a French couple, a Japanese woman and an Australian. The Aussie first shifted our perspective. He was a scholar, as rugged as the outback, but surprisingly soft-spoken. Over a steaming cup of coffee, he looked out from our anchored vessel, across the river, to the ghats. People offered their libations to the rising sun, bathed, washed their clothes, and then, often in their dripping garments, they worshipped in temples to the sound of bells and the fragrance of incense.

    Even here, even at anchor, the incense threw a tenuous noose around us. Our companion took a deep breath and said, "Aah! Incense to worship but also to fumigate and sanitise!" Then, "Personal hygiene has become a religious duty, so they survived pestilences and famines," he rumbled, almost to himself. "And they offer life-giving water to the life-sustaining sun. Its a lifestyle attuned to nature. That is their strength."

    Then, ferried to the banks, we hopped onto cycle-rickshaws near a beautiful little shrine, overlooking the Ganga, and visited the incredible, towering terracotta temples of this town. In the absence of wood and stone to shape and carve, the potters of Bengal became inspired architects. They sculpted panels of river clay to capture the intricate tales of their Indic faith, baked them, installed them in their brick-red houses of worship, enthralling worshippers and visitors all through the centuries.

    "People need images to sustain their faith," said Peggy in her faint Cockney accent, and then with an unexpected flash of insight, she added, "Even the austere creed of Gautama Buddha had to adapt to the icon-rich Buddhism of Tibet."

    We picked up the thread of that idea one morning at breakfast when the chefs had produced a stunning array of dishes, but a quiet couple from Northern Ireland chose boiled eggs, which they scooped fastidiously out of egg cups. "Youre Catholic, arent you?" he asked us.

    We smiled and nodded. Wed not mentioned our faith to anyone. "We saw you making the sign of the Cross before you said grace," she explained. Then he said, "Catholicism is rich in images. We all need images to focus our devotion. We overheard what Peggy said about Buddhism."

    Buddhism at breakfast: this cruise was beginning to take on another dimension.

    Diving into faith

    This reasserted itself when we were walking around the great ruins of the Buddhist University of Nalanda. A guide explained: "His Holiness the Dalai Lama said that Tibetan Buddhism, called Vajrayana, was born here. It uses mystic images, geometric designs and chants to help the mind to break through the veil of illusion and see the reality that lies beyond. Its like a bolt of lightning: a vajra."

    Back on board, over lunch, a bluff, jovial engineer from Manchester remarked, quite unexpectedly, "Were all searching for meaning in our lives, arent we? Is that why Tibetan Buddhism is the fastest-growing religion in our century?"

    Mentally, we began to reassess our fellow passengers. They may have been allured by the thought of a luxury -hassle-free discovery of an India that they had only heard and read about: the India of Kiplings Kim and Vikram Seths A Suitable Boy and Raj nostalgia. But the voyage was deepening their perceptions. Like kids in a quiz show, they were hungry for information. We were deluged with queries after we visited the magnificent Hazarduari Palace in Bengals Lalbagh, once the capital of a Mughal province. It captures all the opulent elegance of Mughal culture at its height. But this triggered a barbed response from the starchy Brit couple on board.

    Battle of the wits

    "Have the descendants of the Mughals been integrated into Indian society?" he asked. We smiled, "Have the descendants of the Saxons and the Normans been integrated into English society?"

    She gave a high-pitched laugh and touched him reassuringly on the arm. They rallied briefly after recalling their tour to the superb Patna Sahib. When they heard us speaking glowingly of our visit to the revered birthplace of Guru Gobind Singh, and the fact that there are both a Jain temple and a Hindu mandir within its grounds, and a masjid just outside, they asked, seemingly innocuously, "Do you believe that Sikhism is an offshoot, a reformist movement, of Hinduism?"

    They had told us that this was their eleventh visit to India and they worked for a multinational. Clearly, they were aware that it was a sensitive topic. But we had answered that question once in Nagaland, and we were prepared. "That depends on your point of view. Do you, as Christians, believe that Christianity is... how did you put it?... an offshoot, a reformist movement, of Judaism?"

    They were silent for a while, and then she replied, "That... depends on your point of view." They did not bother us again.

    When people of disparate backgrounds and different nationalities are thrown together on a small ship, 24/7, the edges of adjustment can be abrasive. Egos can get bruised. That happened when we stood at the obelisk marking the site of the epochal Battle of Plassey.

    There, in 1757, Robert Clive, commanding a small force of Englands East India Company troops, had defeated a local army backed by the French. It had established the supremacy of the English in India. Returning on our tender, some of our Brit shipmates openly gloated over that ancient victory, and the elderly French were morose.

    They rallied when we visited Chandannagar, once the French colony of Chandernagore. We drove on to the impressive Dupleix Palace. Once the home of a powerful French trader, it is now a museum holding artefacts and information about the former French colony. The French, Dutch, Danes, and Portuguese had colonies on this side of the Hooghly till they were ousted by the aggressive Brits who had settled in Calcutta on the other bank.

    We had now come out of the distant past and into the colonial era, and the Ganga had given way to the Hooghly.

    We crossed the Hooghly to Barrackpore, upstream from Kolkata. Here, in the first military cantonment established in India, back in 1772, is Flagstaff House built between 1863 and 1865. In its grounds stand 12 statues of Britons who once held the fate of the Indian Empire in their hands. It was a nostalgic tour for many of the Brits. But not for all. Alexandra was an elegant, well-travelled, and twice-divorced woman and, probably, a retired official of the British Foreign Service. She was also very outspoken. She said, "I see youve put them out to pasture." She gazed at George V, who was in his crown and ermine robes. There was a touch of bitterness in her smile. "Very imperious, very lonely, and very overwhelmed by history."

    Behind us, the river of time flowed around the vessel, washing historical Kolkata, spreading into the great Bay of Bengal, merging our past with the rest of the ocean-girt world.

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  • 02/02/18--22:14: Ethereal stops
  • When I returned from a blissful holiday in Bhutan, a friend asked me, "Is it exotic?" Actually, it is a pastoral paradise whose beauty has a cathartic effect. Tiny, and nestled in the Himalayas, its an abode of peace and tranquillity, far from the madding crowd, noise and pollution. The clean, crisp air and the misty mountains do wonders for the spirit.

    A small population, one major religion, an enlightened monarch (Jigme Khesar Wangchuck is called the peoples king who is known to join the locals in a game of football), make it a homogeneous society where the National Happiness Quotient is greatly valued. I learned that Bhutan is the only country in the world to have banned the import and sale of tobacco products.

    Bhutan believes in organic farming and the fruit and vegetables are fresh and flavourful. Ema datshi is the national food item made of ema (chilly), datshi (cheese) and onions. A variant is kewa datshi - made of potato (kewa), cheese, onion and chilly powder. Curd is notably absent from restaurant menus, but it can be bought from local shops. A Bhutanese speciality is butter tea, for which I acquired a taste. Being Buddhist, Bhutan doesnt kill animals. Meat, as well as milk products, are imported from India. (Amul butter packs caught my eye.) The rupee is accepted. One rupee is equal to one ngultrum (Bhutanese currency). Bhutan doesnt mint coins, only paper currency.

    In winter, the Land of the Thunder Dragon beckons visitors from Europe and the USA, who indulge in skiing on the snowy slopes, as well as climbing and trekking. In summer, when the weather is mild, tourists arrive from India, China and Japan. Tourism is the main source of income.

    Garbage is notably absent. Recycling is done in a big way. Paro, Thimpu and Punakha are well-maintained because they are tourist places. The government has decreed that all new concrete buildings have exteriors similar to the old wooden houses with their artwork. So the old world charm of the developing kingdom is unspoilt.

    Edgy roads

    After getting off at Paro International airport, we drove to Thimphu, the capital. The smooth road is carved out of a hill on one side. Below the road, and running parallel to it, is the gurgling River Paro. At Chuzom, it is joined by River Thimphu. The confluence is marked by three stupas - Tibetan, Nepalese and Bhutanese.

    The visit to Simply Bhutan Museum was memorable. A guide with a flair for narration and humour offered wine in keeping with tradition and walked us through it. We got a good idea of the Bhutanese way of life in the past, slow and leisurely, with plenty of time for handicrafts and weaving. We tried our hand at archery, without much success.

    The National Memorial Chorten or shrine is an impressive monument with its golden spire. It was built in memory of King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck by his mother in 1974. The deities here depict the peaceful and wrathful aspects of Buddhism. At the magnificent Buddha Point, the 53-metre Buddha, the largest to be built atop a hill, sits on a ridge overlooking Thimphu. The statue is made of gold and precious stones. It faces east and protects the city. Buddhists from the world over participate in developing this place.

    After seeing Changangkha Lhakhang, the most ancient temple there, we entered the enclosure where the takin, the national animal of Bhutan, grazed. According to legend, Lam Drukpa Kunley, a Tibetan, (nicknamed Divine Madman) came to Bhutan to preach. The people asked him to perform a miracle, whereupon he asked to be fed a cow and a goat. He devoured their flesh and then attached the goats head to the cows body. The animal came to life. Our day ended with a visit to the Zilukha Nunnery where the cloistered nuns lead a life of contemplation.

    We drove to Punakha through the beautiful Dochula Pass high up in the mountain. It was of strategic importance as the soldiers could see the approaching enemy. The 108 Druk Wangyal Chortens here attract tourists. Wandering through the Punakha Dzong that afternoon was a rare experience. A dzong is a fortress within whose walls is a complex of temples, administrative offices, monks homes and courtyards. On the drive back to Paro, we went to the fascinating Rinpung Dzong. The galleries lining the inner courtyard illustrate Buddhist lore. Our stay concluded with a trip to the famous Taktsang Monastery, 900 m above Paro Valley. It is believed Guru Rinpoche arrived there from Tibet on a tigresss back to meditate, so the name Tigers Nest (change of gender, not my doing!). Perched on the side of a precipitous cliff, it is an arduous climb, not meant for the faint-hearted.

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  • 02/02/18--22:38: The writing's on the wall
  • In India, a man standing near a wall means only two things. Hes either sticking a poster (despite the Stick No Bills sign) or creating public nuisance. But elsewhere, the idea of spraying on a gritty urban wall is a lot more beautiful and aesthetic.

    For the longest time, graffiti was a form of social protest and expression, done on the sly, cocking a snook at authorities. The aerosol can became the new weapon of choice as street gangs emanating from the hip-hop culture marked their territories. Street art became synonymous with dissent, as staid subways and derelict public spaces were reclaimed as hipster haunts. Today, street art has transcended into a powerful form of cultural expression that mixes socio-political commentary, folklore and mythology, vitriol and humour, personalities and quirky art. Yet, theres a fine line of illegality between graffiti and street art as the latter is often commissioned.

    At 18, legendary British graffiti artist Banksy had a life-changing moment. While spray-painting a train with his Bristol gang, the British Transport Police landed up and everyone ran helter-skelter. His mates made it to the car but Banksy had to hide under a dumper truck. As he lay there, engine oil leaking all over him, he figured he had to shorten his painting time to beat the law or give it up completely. The stencilled plate under the fuel tank was the inspiration behind his signature style! He says, "All graffiti is low-level dissent, but stencils have an extra history. Theyve been used to start revolutions and to stop wars. This is the first time the essentially bourgeois world of art has belonged to the people."

    Banksys first prominent wall mural was The Mild Mild West in 1997 depicting a teddy bear lobbing a Molotov cocktail at three riot police. He turned the idea on its head when he showed a masked street protestor lobbing a bouquet instead of a bomb. Today, his art sells for millions and can be found everywhere from Paris, Barcelona, Vienna to the Gaza Strip. Street Art Tours are the latest city trend, a showcase of cutting-edge art and the seamy urban underbelly of offbeat and parallel subcultures. Beyond the usual haunts like Brick Lane in London, New York and Berlin, there are other exciting destinations for your graffiti tour.

    Israel has a buzzing local street art scene, which got a shot in the arm in the early 2000s, thanks to Banksys visit to Israel and Palestine. While graffiti is illegal in Israel, its everywhere in Tel Aviv. The local municipality turns a blind eye to it, especially in Florentin in the south of town. We trawled the street art hotspots of Elifelet Street, HaMehoga Street, 3361 Street and Hanagarim Street. Much of the graffiti is painted on doors and gates of various establishments, better explored in the afternoon when the shutters are down and artworks can be seen fully. Local graffiti artist Doiz offers three-hour street art tours in Florentin on Tuesdays.

    While most graffiti artists remain anonymous, their signatures or themes are recognisable. Tel Aviv artist Sened is known for kufsonim (mini-boxes) or abstract cube characters developed from ready-made stencils. Know Hopes works have a little pigeon as a visual cue, ID (Imaginary Duck) has tiny duck figures, while DEDEs art features black-and-white squirrels, cats and Band-Aids, symbolising both wounds and healing. Michal Rubin, who signs her works as MR, does colourful animal figures that look like stained glass paintings. Broken Fingaz Crew, Israels best-known graffiti collective, have taken their pop-art murals beyond the clubs of Haifa to Europe, North America and Asia. Since 2013, the walls of the seventh floor of Tel Avivs central bus station have been spray-painted by more than 160 street artists from Israel and across the globe. All over the city, you can find 035 sprayed on walls and garage doors by former soldiers of the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces), emblazoning their army unit number!

    In Singapore, the local street art scene first emerged in the old Arab quarter of Kampong Glam in the hipster Haji Lane, Victoria Street and Aliwal Street. Tourists flock to the colourful bylanes for selfies. At the Art Precinct of Bugis-Bras Basah, a low wall next to Peranakan Museum on Armenian Street is emblazoned with art commissioned by the National Heritage Board to celebrate their 20th anniversary. Nearby, an independent arts enclave, The Substation, has funky graffiti all over. Bras Basah Complex features Rainbows, part of a larger street art initiative called 50 Bridges by the Australian Commission of Singapore. It celebrated Singapores 50th year of independence with 50 pieces of street art across the island. Wherever you go - sidewalks, subways or pedestrian pathways at Clarke Quay - theres art at every footstep.

    Banned, so what?

    Though graffiti is banned in Dubai, the modern Arab nation is a little more indulgent when it comes to street art. As part of Dubai Walls, the first outdoor urban art show in the United Arab Emirates, world-famous street artists were invited in 2016 to create street art at the posh retail promenade City Walk. Theres Nick Walkers iconic I love DXB, Belgian artist ROA, known for his animal depictions, ICY and Sot, Iranian refugee stencil artists currently based in Brooklyn, and Japanese artist AIKO. The spectacular wall etching of a bedouin by Portuguese artist Alexandre Farto or Vhils is part of his series Scratching the Surface! UK-based artist Stuart Pantoll aka Slinkachu, infamous for abandoning miniatures since 2006, had set up scenes across City Walk using toy figurines as part of his Little People Project. In Under the Stars, burnt matchsticks doubled up as firewood, while a spilt glass of milkshake created Oasis. On closer inspection, Shifting Sands, a pile of sand near a mop, features a caravan of camels, while a lady in a hijab carries shopping bags with a trail of actual designer tags!

    Down Under, Melbourne teems with graffiti. After someone put up a framed artwork and stuck it to the wall in 2007 at Presgrave Street off Howery Place, the alley became a bit of an artists shrine. Walkers are bemused by the strange arrangements, curious collections of plastic dolls, installations of rats with parachutes, 3D graffiti to a miniature Mona Lisa with three plastic soldiers pointing guns at her. Melbourne has its own Banksy - except hes called Kranky! In 2008, Union Lane, a tiny alley between David Jones and the Book Building, was given to local street artists as a graffiti-mentoring project. Every alley in Melbournes Central Business District is suffused with art.

    A small bylane running off Flinders Lane between Exhibition Street and Russell Street holds another gem. The stuffy-sounding Corporation Lane was officially renamed after Australian rock band AC/DC on October 1, 2004, by a unanimous vote of the Melbourne City Council. Melbournes Lord Mayor John So launched ACDC Lane with the words, "As the song says, there is a highway to hell, but this is a laneway to heaven. Let us rock." Bagpipers played Its a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock n Roll) whose video was filmed one lane away at Swanston Street. The trademark lightning bolt or slash between AC and DC in the bands name went against the naming policy of the Office of the Registrar of Geographic Names, so the punctuation was omitted. A month later, local artist Knifeyard painted the lightning bolt above and below the street sign!

    Even in rainy and windy Copenhagen where the sky and mood may scream grey, you will find explosions of colour on street walls and homes. They even have a legal wall for graffiti artists! Districts like Nørrebro, once gloomy and gritty haunts, are now hipster areas with an eclectic multinational air, besides the bohemian art-infused district of Christiania. Celebrating Nørrebros cultural diversity is Superkilen, an award-winning urban design park. The Red Square swoops up into a skateboarding ramp, while the Black Square incorporates unusual objects - an octopus-shaped slide from Japan, benches from Brazil, litter bins from the UK and random advertising signs of Chinese beauty salons and Russian hotels. The red mural of the former president of Chile, Salvador Allende, by famous street artist Shepard Fairey, stands out.

    They say if the walls of a city could talk, Belfast would narrate the most colourful stories. Tracing the Belfast Murals could turn your visit into a guided tour of the most significant moments in Northern Irelands history and culture â€" the Potato Famine, the Industrial Revolution, and the sinking of the Titanic. During the Troubles, thousands of landless Irish who were mainly Catholic flocked in and settled here in what is called The Falls Road today and the area around The Diamond. Political paintings bore faces and flags representing the Irish Republican tradition. This area of Belfast became quite polarised with one side being nearly all-Catholic and pro-Irish, while the other more Protestant and pro-British. Crossing over to the other side, we saw pro-British depictions on Shankill Road with the Peace Lines separating the two. An International Wall depicted uprisings across the world. At the Peace Wall hundreds of messages on love and peace were splattered and scrawled â€" Together we are better, And she whispered words of wisdom from the Beatles song Let it Be, and I hope to come back when there are no walls to write on. One German visitor wrote, Where I come from in Berlin, peace walls mean division.

    Another fabulous area in Belfast for street art is the Cathedral Quarter. We walked down radical streets towards The Muddlers Club, a pub and restaurant thats virtually an institution, named after the Belfast members of society who met here in secrecy to conspire against British rule 200 years ago! Interestingly, this part of Belfast also provides a perfect contrast to the Troubles Murals and presents an alternative narrative. All along we came across stunning artworks, contemporary styles and genres, personalities ranging from musicians to sports stars and literary geniuses to cartoons and optical illusions. Take a guided two-hour Street Art Tour around this area and you will not be disappointed. However, a grand redevelopment plan of the Cathedral Quarter threatens these artworks, which has the local community up in arms.

    In Lima, Peru, the streets of bohemian Barranco, an art district, is a treasure trove of urban art. Birdman, a riveting piece by Jonathan Rivera Jade, was the winning entry for Las Paredes Hablan or The Walls Speak contest organised by the municipality on the theme Barranco: History, Culture, Tradition. Its home to Limas best artists, writers, photographers and musicians. Imagine their shock when in 2015, the Mayor of Lima, Castaneda Lossio, decided to cover all of Limas street art with yellow paint as it was his political colour. Sixty murals were destroyed and the angry artistic community decided to revolt. They formed a collective and organised muraliza el barrio, a street art festival claiming They erased one, we will paint a thousand. The rebellion has just begun…

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    When the unheralded Ashutosh Padhy sent the irrepressible Pankaj Advani packing in the round of 32 stage of the Senior National Snooker Championships, the likes of Manan Chandra, Sourav Kothari, Kamal Chawla and Alok Kumar - all former champions - would have sported a big smile. They knew at that instance a major thorn in their path to reclaiming national supremacy had been removed. However, in the end, at the mecca of cue sports in the country, it was pool player Sumit Talwar who sported the biggest smile after claiming the crown with an exhilarating performance in the final.

    Talwars win sent the fraternity into a tizzy as no one had tipped the self-taught Chandigarh cueist to strike gold. The thought was not lost on the champion himself too, even days after the conclusion of the meet.

    "I still cant believe I am the National snooker champion," he told DH on phone from his hometown. "Its been a week since I won a title that I least expected to and Im still to come to terms with my achievement. I came to the Karnataka State Billiards Association with the sole intention of competing. I knew I would make it past the group stage because I had done it in most of my previous appearances but I didnt expect myself a chance to go so deep. In fact, this was the first time I made it to the quarterfinal stage. After that, every match was a new experience for me.

    "I knew whatever I did, I had exceeded my target. I just played my game without hoping for anything. I didnt care if I lost because I was the underdog. It was more a question of the opponent beating me rather than me beating him. So, in a sense, I wasnt under much pressure. I played like I would normally play but a bit more aggressive. That was the only way I could win. Thankfully it all came out well," said Talwar who hammered another surprise finalist Malkeet Singh 6-1 in an extremely lop-sided final.

    Although the draw opened up kindly to Talwar after Advanis shock exit - he could have met the eight-time snooker champion in the semifinals had things gone to script - his performance is nevertheless noteworthy. He beat title contender Kothari 4-2 in the pre-quarterfinals with a daring display and then faced some anxious moments in the quarterfinals before prevailing 5-4 against S Dilip Kumar. He didnt face much trouble in the semis and final, managing to wear the crown with the highest break of just 61 points in the knock-out phase.

    Easier on the pocket

    Talwar, who will turn 35 on February 6, started his tryst with the game like any youngster growing up in the 90s - at a pool parlour. He first hung out there with his friends to kill time in the evenings. He picked up the game quite quickly and then started to compete against guys who visited the parlour. Initially, he played only pool as it was exciting and easier on the pocket before trying his hand at snooker. With no coach to tutor him, Talwar has stunningly become a three-time national champion now following the 8-ball pool title in 2010 and 9-ball crown three years later.

    "I started to play the game to pass time. After some time I realised Im a decent pool player. So I started to play a lot of pool. My friends then encouraged me to take part in the nationals. Initially, I thought they were just joking and pulling a fast one on me. But after I won the 8-ball title, I started to feel confident about myself. The 9-ball instilled more belief. Now this snooker crown. Its almost like my life is starting now," said Talwar.

    Talwar, who keeps himself afloat by running a small real estate business back home, has learnt everything on his own. At competitions, he watches Advani play to learn a few tricks and at home tries to spend some time with veteran Alok. In between, he pours over videos on YouTube and then tries to replicate them while practising.

    With the world around him having changed completely now, Talwar has allowed himself the luxury of changing his once modest ambitions. "I normally enter tournaments with just one months practice. I feel If I can dedicate some more time I can achieve consistent results. Of course, I need to be disciplined and focussed, which I will try.

    "Being the national champion, I would get tickets for the world and Asian events. This a very important year for me and I want to make the most of it."

    Most successful cueists are employed with either PSPB or Railways but Talwar is not expecting things to change drastically overnight on that front. "If it comes, well and good. If it doesnt, Im okay with it. I never expected to reach this far. Lets see how far I can go."

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  • 02/03/18--05:38: When money talks...
  • Last Tuesday, Arsenal suffered another one of those indignities that tend to pockmark their seasons. This time, the humiliation came in the driving rain of South Wales and at the hands of Swansea City: facing a team at the bottom of the Premier League table, Arsenal dominated the game, monopolised possession and then went and lost anyway, 3-1.

    For Arsenals fans, these defeats have become wearily familiar in the last decade or so, as Arsène Wengers two-decade reign at the club has drifted into a sort of managed decline. They have turned Arsenal into a place hard-wired to treat every disappointment as an existential crisis.

    The reaction, now, is so habitual that it is almost comforting, one of the few fixed points in soccers ever-changing landscape. There are the calls for Wenger to abandon - or be relieved of - his post with immediate effect. There are the videos, drawn from Arsenals compelling YouTube fan channels, of despair and rage, going viral. There are the fuming calls to phone-in programmes, the cascade of former players bemoaning a great institution on its knees.

    Tuesday should have been a classic of the genre. Losing at Swansea in any circumstance, for a club of Arsenals ambition, would be a setback. Given that Arsenal have now won only three of their last 11 Premier League games, and that they sit eight points behind Chelsea for the fourth, and final, Champions League spot for next season - the bare minimum requirement for a passable campaign, by Wengers own estimation - this defeat qualified as indicative of a deep-rooted problem.

    And yet, by Wednesday morning, none of it had materialised. There were no grumblings of mutiny, no furious videos racking up the retweets, no flood of thinkpieces about where it has all gone wrong, no rending of garments or gnashing of teeth.

    Instead, the mood around Arsenal was jubilant, even optimistic. Piers Morgan, the one-time conqueror of Gene Simmons and Stephen Baldwin in "The Celebrity Apprentice," has long since appointed himself as spokesman for the most disgruntled faction of Arsenals fan base. Last week, he presented Donald Trump with an Arsenal jersey at the end of his television interview with the US president in Davos, Switzerland, and implored him to replace Wenger. (To be clear: Morgan is not involved in Arsenals staffing decisions.) On Wednesday, though, even he seemed uncharacteristically buoyant.

    The reason for Arsenals good cheer, of course, was that at 11 am on Wednesday, the club had confirmed the $78 million signing of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Borussia Dortmund.

    Aubameyang, a 28-year-old striker, has never kicked a ball for Arsenal. His arrival does not change the gap with Chelsea. A rational analysis might suggest there are other areas of Arsenals team in more immediate need of reinforcement. And he left his previous club under something of a cloud after a number of disciplinary transgressions. None of that mattered, however. Nor did the dispiriting defeat on Tuesday night, or the distance between Arsenal and its supposed rivals for a place in the Premier Leagues top four.

    There can scarcely have been a starker example of the restorative effect of a transfer, the palliative power of cold, hard cash, than seeing one hyper-stylised introductory video - Aubameyang shot in silhouette, a little strobe lighting, a bespoke hashtag - uniting Arsenals perpetually warring fan base immediately after an embarrassing defeat.

    It is neither a profound nor an original observation to suggest that there has been, in the last 10 years or so, a seismic shift in significance away from what happens in full view on the field toward what happens in the smoke and mirrors of the transfer market. By any measure, soccers biannual transfer deadline days - currently at the end of August and January - are among its most celebrated occasions (certainly in England; elsewhere, the frenzy is not quite so pronounced). If the attraction is not quite at the level of the Champions League final, it is then at least the equal of the FA Cup.

    News outlets and cable channels excitedly keep a running total of exactly how much has been spent; the rule of thumb is that the bigger the number, the better, a leagues virility measured by the number of its zeros. Huge acres of airtime and newsprint are given over to rumours and whispers and breathless updates.

    It all functions as social conditioning: Fans have been taught that it is important for a team to sign players, that price is a guarantee of quality, and that not doing so invites failure.

    None of that was unique to this January; what made it noteworthy was that a full slate of Premier League games had been scheduled for Tuesday, the day before the market closed, and Wednesday. The matches finished an hour or so before all deals had to be completed.

    The result was a rare chance to establish whether soccer - the actual sport - still takes precedence over the soap opera that surrounds it, whether the plot of the film is more important than whose name is on the bill.

    The answer is, frankly, unclear. Tottenhams game against Manchester United was largely framed as a chance to see Alexis Sánchez, recently signed from Arsenal, make his Premier League debut for the visitor; Manchester Citys routine win against West Bromwich Albion was notable only for the debuts handed to Citys record signing, Aymeric Laporte, and West Broms new striker, Daniel Sturridge.

    At various clubs, considerable amounts of energy during the day had gone into filming the increasingly elaborate introductory videos that are the hallmark of a new signing.

    Several were paraded on the field before games or at halftime, wheeled out as the spoils of conquest: Lucas Moura at Tottenham, Olivier Giroud at Chelsea, Badou Ndiaye at Stoke City.

    Increasingly, the season is read as a way of establishing which players each team needs to buy. Increasingly, it is not the soccer itself that is of interest; increasingly, what matters is not who wins on the field, but who is perceived to win off it. Arsenal are still eight points out of fourth place, behind all of their main rivals and locked in turgid form. Who minds about losing soccer games, though, when you can win without even playing?

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    Pole vault must evolve if it is to remain relevant as individual sports look for new ways to attract fans but any changes introduced should not be at the expense of athlete safety, feels former great Sergey Bubka.

    Athletics has been hit hard over the past few years due to corruption and doping scandals and International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) President Seb Coe has said the sports governing body was prepared to embrace radical changes to appeal to the next generation.

    The 54-year-old Bubka, who won pole vault gold at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and is a member of the executive board of the International Olympic Committee, said change is essential for track and field events to remain attractive.

    "Its very important today to be progressive," said Bubka, who is also a senior vice president of the IAAF.

    "But its most important that the crowd love it and enjoy it.

    "Competition between different sports is so big, for that we look for some changes, some innovations, for some improvements and some new ideas in our sport," he added.

    Strong competition needed

    Bubka, who was in India last month as the ambassador for the Tata Mumbai Marathon, said strong competition was vital for drawing crowds to the stadiums.

    The IAAF approved technical changes last year including a reduction in the amount of time given to each athlete for an attempt from 60 seconds to 30 in a bid to make the sport more television friendly.

    The changes have not gone down well with some athletes, with London Olympic gold medallist Renaud Lavillenie, who broke Bubkas long-standing world record (indoors), a strong critic.

    "I am actually fighting against them, because it is one of the worst ideas I have ever seen," Lavillenie said last year. "The thing is, just one minute is actually just enough... its just not safe. Pole vault is a dangerous event."

    Bubka agreed with the need to proceed with caution.

    "I think we should be careful with this," said the Ukrainian, who won six consecutive world athletics titles and four world indoor titles and set a total of 35 world records.

    Tough for athletes

    "This is where we put athletes in danger, put athletes in trouble.

    Thirty seconds for preparation, specially for outdoor competitions when there can be wind, there can rain, there can be cold, ... this will create some difficulties for the athletes.

    "I can understand that officials are trying to reduce the length of competition but we can try to find other solutions. Referees and judges can be possibly quicker. For the athletes we have to ensure to give them excellent conditions."

    Athletics has been left to ponder an uncertain future following the retirement of sprint king Usain Bolt of Jamaica last year but Bubka said the sport had always faced the same problem over the years.

    "Usain Bolt was an outstanding athlete," Bubka added. "But in our history we have always had some great, great champions.

    "Its nice to see what Usain achieved but he retired and thats life. I am confident with all the work, all the programmes over the world it will bring new stars, new champions.

    "There will be another generation. Its really pleasing to see that Usain is involved in giving back to the sport and in promoting it.

    "I am very confident about the future of athletics."

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  • 02/03/18--05:44: Prize for perseverance
  • One by one, former Grand Slam champions welcomed Caroline Wozniacki to the club last Saturday night at Melbourne Park after her victory over Simona Halep. Billie Jean King was first. She handed the beaming Wozniacki the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup, which is awarded to the womens singles champion at the Australian Open.

    Chris Evert and Mats Wilander were next. Rod Laver chimed in on Twitter. So did Serena Williams, Wozniackis friend and tennis role model, after watching her breakthrough match on television in the United States.

    It took Wozniacki more than a decade to join the club by winning her first major singles title, and it required two final weeks of struggle in Melbourne. She had to save two match points in the second round and shrug off a mental lapse while serving for the match in the semifinals. She then had to summon the guts, the energy and the accuracy on the run to prevail against Halep, weary but still dangerous, in the 2-hour-49-minute final played on a sweltering Australian summer evening.

    "I think I had everything else on my résumé," Wozniacki said later, the trophy glittering by her side. "No. 1, year-end championships, big tournaments, 27 titles. I basically have beaten any player that has been playing that is on tour right now. This was the only thing missing, and it means something extra even that it took a little longer, but I still made it here."

    Halep knows all too well about delayed gratification. She is now 0-3 in major single finals and has lost all of them in three sets.

    "Its fine," she said later. "I cried, but now Im smiling. Is just a tennis match in the end. But yeah, Im really sad I couldnt win it. It was close again, but the gas was over in the end. She was better. She was fresher. She had actually more energy in the end."

    Such a happy ending for Wozniacki looked highly unlikely in the second round of the tournament when she faced two match points and a 1-5 deficit in the final set against unseeded Jana Fett of Croatia. Wozniacki escaped and went on to win six consecutive games.

    "I think that match really helped Caroline with the feeling that she was playing a little bit with house money - thats how we kept putting it," said her fiancé, David Lee, a retired NBA player who was courtside for all of her matches in Melbourne. "I was sitting there planning what I was going to say to her after the match to help cheer her up, and next thing you know you are moving - so it was really, really special."

    Wozniacki and Lee became engaged in Bora Bora in November. Both she and her father and coach, Piotr Wozniacki, have said that feeling happy and settled in her personal life has helped her on the court.

    "Obviously sport and life are all connected," Lee said. "When youre happy off the court, I think that makes a difference, and shes got that stability. She knows that whatever happens in tennis, shes got a great support system, and Im happy to be a part of that."

    Wozniackis win was, perhaps above all, a father-daughter moment. High-profile coaches have come and gone in the Wozniacki camp, but Piotr has been a constant in her tennis career.

    "I think we both deserve this," she said. "Its just special that when I started playing tennis at 7 years old, he was there. It was training at 11 pm or 10 pm when I was 10 years old. My dad was there. When it was raining. When it was hot. He was always there by my side, and I think this means a lot to both of us."

    This was the first Grand Slam final in the Open era between women who had both faced match points in the tournament. Wozniacki and Halep had also both lost their previous two major finals. But Wozniacki is now the first player from Denmark to win a major singles title.

    She lost the 2009 US Open final to Kim Clijsters and the 2014 US Open final to Williams. Both opponents were aggressive baseliners, with power in abundance, and they took the initiative against the more defensive-minded Wozniacki.

    She said she briefly considered retirement in 2016 when recurring physical problems, particularly a severe ankle injury, contributed to her drop in the rankings. Wozniacki was at No 74 before the 2016 US Open, but reached the semifinals and has now made it all the way back to the top.

    She has changed her game in recent seasons and improved her serve and forehand. Wozniacki still relies on her outstanding coverage and consistency from the baseline, but she has added a dose of risk to the mix. It helped her win the WTA Finals - the elite, eight-women, season-ending championship - last year. That was her most significant title until the Australian Open.

    It has been quite a process. Though Wozniacki is just 27, this was her 43rd appearance in a Grand Slam singles tournament. Flavia Pennetta, Marion Bartoli and Jana Novotna are the only women to have played in more before winning a first major trophy.

    The first time Wozniacki played the Australian Open, as a 17-year-old in 2008, she reached the fourth round. She rose to No 1 in October 2010 and - with the exception of one week - held the top spot until January 2012. She faced questions all through that run about her inability to win a Grand Slam title.

    "Im No 1 in the world. Im 20 years old, so I think Im doing fine," she said in an interview in May 2011. "Obviously, of course, Id like to win a Grand Slam, but I dont put pressure on myself. Next year. This year. In three years."

    It took nearly seven, and it was sweet. No one else will ask her whether she will ever be able to win a Grand Slam singles title - a question she joked Saturday night that she had heard "a hundred thousand times."

    (Or maybe she wasnt joking).

    "I think thats one of the most positive things about all this: Im never going to get that question again," she said. "Im just waiting for the question, When are you going to win the second one?"

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    You cracked the CAT fairly easily. You also felt you did quite well on the interviews but for some reason you didnt make it into any top rung management institute. Bad luck, you console yourself. You spend the next year preparing for the UPSC as you now aspire to join the civil services. This time, you miss the cut-off mark by one point. Just one point! Youre dejected again. Friends and family try to cheer you up by saying youll have better luck next time. Even though you are sceptical by now, you try your hand at applying to foreign universities. Your GRE scores and college grades are impressive, and the consultant assures you that you stand a good chance. To your utter dismay, seven universities send polite refusals.

    In contrast, your best friend who has a more easygoing attitude, doesnt bother attempting the CAT. As he is unsure about what to do next, he decides to volunteer with an NGO that educates street children for at least a year while dabbling in other pursuits like trekking and sculpture on weekends. When he sees you assiduously applying to universities abroad, he shoots of an application to two colleges. When he gets accepted to both programmes, you simply cant help envy his good fortune.

    The chance factor doesnt seem to work in your favour. What can you do if Lady Luck repeatedly singles you out for rejections and disappointments while she smiles down upon your friend who doesnt seem to sweat it out like you? Well, according to Professor Richard Wiseman, luck isnt as chancy as we tend to believe. In fact, he has been researching what differentiates the lucky from the less fortunate.

    Noticing chance opportunities

    For The Luck Project, which he describes in an article published in the Skeptical Inquirer, he recruited 400 participants who felt they were exceptionally lucky or unlucky. His volunteers ranged from 18 to 84 years and represented an array of professions. In addition to interviews and reading diary entries, he also gave them personality and intelligence tests, and
    conducted experiments on them.

    He writes, "The findings have revealed that luck is not a magical ability or the result of random chance." Rather, he found systemic principles that differentiate the fortunate from their star-crossed peers. The first is that lucky people are more attuned to "noticing chance opportunities" that other people may miss.

    In one experiment, he gave people, who had identified themselves as either lucky or unlucky, newspapers and asked them to count the number of photographs inside. While the unlucky group took an average of about two minutes to complete this exercise, the lucky ones finished it in a few seconds. Were they more adept at counting? Turns out that the lucky group noticed a message that was printed in prominent font on the second page, which said, "Stop counting - there are 43 photographs in this newspaper." The unlucky group was so focused on counting that they failed to see information that would have aided them on the task.

    Wiseman also found that lucky people were generally more relaxed and open to experience, and, as a result, spotted more opportunities. The unlucky group were more anxious and narrowly focused on a particular goal that they missed what was out there, often in plain sight. Furthermore, many of the lucky ones also tried to inject variety into their lives, thereby
    increasing their chances of coming across unexpected windfalls.

    Adding a new dimension

    Another difference that separated the two groups was how they responded to misfortune in their lives. When presented with an imaginary scenario of being shot in the arm during a bank robbery, unlucky people interpreted this as proof of their bad luck. In contrast, the lucky ones were thankful that they were not shot in the head. By thinking of how things could actually be worse, the lucky ones were more resilient to lifes challenges.

    Interestingly, Wiseman also found that unlucky people dont have to despair that they dont have the personality traits that lucky people are endowed with. By recruiting unlucky people and putting them through a training programme, Wiseman found that this group could increase not only their luck but their happiness as well. The training focused on how people could create chance opportunities by trying out novel experiences and adding a new dimension to well-established routines.

    His results were quite dramatic. Eighty percent of the unlucky group were better off after the intervention in terms of their happiness and yes, luck. As Wiseman sagely puts it, "Much of the good and bad fortune we encounter is a result of our thoughts and behaviour." Good luck adopting a more lucky mindset!

    (The author
    is director, PRAYATNA, Bengaluru)

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  • 02/03/18--21:50: Deal with stress
  • A few weeks back, twelfth grade ISC student Arunima Vasanth broke into a cold sweat and fainted when she heard that the ISC exam dates were announced. Her parents took her to a physician who informed them that their daughter was suffering from an increased level of stress. This had resulted in sleep deprivation and loss of appetite.

    "I calmed down after I spoke to a counsellor. She helped with some games to relax and sharpen my mind. She made me see that this exam wasnt the end of the world," says Arunima.

    With ISC exams set to begin on February 7, ICSE on February 26 and CBSE on March 5, students are trying to combat stress in their own way. Roshan Sharma, a tenth grade CBSE student of Kairalee Nilayam Central School, plays football and listens to motivational speeches when stressed out. "I know that if Im prepared, I can easily pass the examinations and come out in flying colours. I have open discussions with my parents and teachers about my fears, about how to prepare and face the exam," he says.

    Sneha R Nair, a tenth grade CBSE student of Dev-In National School is worried because she is appearing for the board examination for the first time. "The format seems to be different this year and I have to make the right preparation. I am under a lot of pressure and I am not sure what books to refer to," says Sneha.

    Apart from approaching her father and teachers for motivation, she also listens to music and takes naps when she feels anxious. "The new format can be challenging. I am just going with the pace and trying to utilise my time accordingly," Sneha adds.

    Structured timetables and a planned approach while revising is the best way to prepare for the upcoming examinations, says Sharanya M, a tenth grade ICSE student from School Vivekananda. "The more you revise, the lesser will be the stress. Though I am tensed, I
    have been concentrating on my pre-board examinations which help in preparing for the real day," she adds.

    She meditates and goes for a swim whenever she feels anxious. "I have realised that I am not able to concentrate when I am stressed," Sharanya points out.

    Life counsellor and child mental health specialist Agastya Chakravarthy says that it is important to stay focussed yet relaxed. "I have received 32 calls in the last three weeks. These include parents of fidgety wards and children who are anxious," says the father of tenth grade student Aaditya. In 2017, Agastya handled 78 stress-related cases between January and April.

    "While some of the students need more detailed counselling sessions, most of them feel better when they are given basic tips like making a timetable. Games, meditation and music helps combat stress. Parents can do a lot to make their children relax," adds Agastya. Tasneem Nakhoda, counsellor with Tattva, says that she has received four distress calls since the end of December.

    "In the last seven years, the number of students experiencing stress has increased by almost 30 percent. This is triggered because of lack of sleep, improper eating patterns and inactivity," she states. "The good part is that parents are more understanding and supportive now. Its children who get stressed by competition and peer pressure," she adds.

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  • 02/03/18--21:52: The shot cut to action
  • Malayalam movies have always had a deep love for namma Bengaluru. While quite a few have showcased the vibrant and youthful side of the city, some others have protagonists who are influenced by their experiences here. The connection has gone from reel to real with some of the young flock choosing to make their base in Bengaluru while continuing to act in Malayalam movies.

    The new movie Queen too has one of the actors, Elizabeth Thadikaran, based in the city. When the cast and crew came down to Bengaluru for promotions recently, the male lead Dhruvan too revealed a past association with this city - a stint at the airport.

    The movie in question itself has been drawing applause in theatres across the globe. With a newbie director and a cast composed almost entirely of fresh faces, Queen is winning hearts for the way it transitions from a usual college comic flick to a sombre take on one of the most pressing issues of the society today.

    Says Saniya Iyappan, the female lead, "People have a certain misconception when it comes to a college-based movie. But here, we go beyond the usual fun and laughter and ask some pertinent questions - like why is there a morality code and deadline for girls even in this age and time?"

    She adds, "Some prestigious colleges in Bengaluru refused to let us screen the movie, saying that such films will show romance and vulgarity. They were not ready to watch it, even when we told them that it was a completely different concept."

    The director Dijo Jose Antony says, "It is a result of my passion for cinema and hard work. I finally got a chance to work on a movie and even though it was with a bunch of newcomers, I grabbed the chance. But the reactions have surpassed my expectations."

    The trailer of the movie grabbed quite a few eyeballs because of its resemblance to a real-life incident that had taken social media by storm some time back.

    "The inspiration for this came from a picture that went viral some time back. It showed an all-male class of Sri Buddha College of Engineering in Pattoor in Kerala in a procession, with their sole female classmate leading the way. The caption read one sister for 131 brothers and that caught my eye. Accordingly, my film too showcases pure friendship between the students," explains Dijo.

    It was a fun experience for Elizabeth who says that an all fresh face cast ensured that no one was intimidated by the other.

    "I did have a few anxious moments though. Like when I had to shoot for a scene that showed me ragging the female lead. As a person who was part of the anti-ragging committee in college, I had zero experience there."

    Her perception of cinema being an easy field has also changed. "Its a lot of hard work. There is a lot of waiting and patience and being in the hot sun trying to look glamorous and not sweat," she laughs.

    Dhruvan chips in, "Its been a few years since I left college and it was fun to revisit those years. People have started recognising me wherever I go and thats something I am just getting used to."

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    Cases of online matrimonial fraud are on the rise. And the cyber police in Bengaluru see a pattern: the cheats are meticulous and know how to snare people looking online for love.

    Jinendra Khanagavi, deputy commissioner of police, says, "They thoroughly scan matrimonial sites and social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, to understand their potential victims."

    The cheats first post messages online before they begin chatting. "They lure their victims with pictures," Khanagavi says. The pictures arent usually theirs.

    Typically, victims are usually between 15 and 40 and the cheats between 18 and 35. Both men and women fall prey to matrimonial and dating fraud.

    Pictures play a big role. "The cheats have a stock of pictures. If their prey ever asks them to send them a picture in which they are lying down or having a shower, they quickly send it to them. Such pictures quickly instil faith in the victims," says Jinendra.

    In some cases, the scamsters say they are sending gifts and goodies. "These are watches, jewellery, gold and diamond for women, and watches and shirts for men. The victims then get a call, supposedly from the customs department," he explains.

    The caller asks for money for the release of parcels. "This usually runs into a couple of lakhs," Jinendra says. Once the payment is made, all lines of communication snap.

    Embarrassed at being cheated by a potential partner, most men and women hesitate to complain to the police. "They fear their marriage prospects will be affected. We are encouraging people to come forward and register complaints," says Jinendra.

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  • 02/03/18--21:54: Notes from musical past
  • This photo was taken around 1956-57. The occasion was the anniversary celebrations of the Vijaya College of Music. This programme was held at National High School, Basavanagudi.
    In the 1950s, along with Malleswaram, Basavanagudi was culturally very active, especially in the field of Carnatic music. The Vijaya College of Music (VCM) was started in the early 50s (not to be confused with Vijaya College which had academic courses).

    It was located on Kanakanahalli Road (now Kanakapura Road) in a spacious residence in Basavanagudi. The classes were held in the three rooms on the first floor of the house. I would park my bicycle behind the house and climb the stairs and waited in the verandah until the class started. I came from a family of music lovers. I studied violin under Vidwan A Veerabhadriah, son of the famous harmonium player Vidwan A Arunuachalappa, for about six years at Vijaya College. I remember Veerabhadriah as a quiet and a patient teacher. Even when I played apaswara, he would never get upset but patiently corrected me.

    When Sri Veerabhadriah was busy with his store Aruna Musicals, in Balepet, Vidwan H V Krishnamurthy (HVK) taught us. HVK was working as a teacher in the Corporation High School and would come after school to teach violin at Vijaya College. Even now I treasure the lessons that he and Veerabhadriah wrote in my improvised music notebook.

    My family lived in Shankarapurum and I bicycled or walked to class in the evenings. Traffic was sparse then and the footpaths were wide and unencroached upon unlike now. It was a pleasant journey under the canopy of trees along KR Road and Vani Vilas Road. Most of the students came from nearby localities. Every year the college celebrated the Ganesha festival in which the students performed. One year, I remember them erecting a pandal for two to three days partially blocking the traffic on Kanakapura Road. I cannot imagine that happening today!

    Vidwan L S Narayanaswamy Bhagavatar (founder) was the principal of the college and my wife, Malini, who lived close by learnt vocal music lessons from him. No, I never knew my wife then! She along with her mother, Sushila Parthasarathy, also learnt violin from HVK. M Janaki was a student of Narayanaswamy Bhagavatar who went on to become a teacher herself.

    Other well-known vocal teachers were Vidwan K R Venkatadasappa and Vidwan Venkataramana Shastry. At that time, we were encouraged to attend live concerts. Two of the venues nearby were the Gayana Samaja on KR Road and the Rama Navami celebrations in the City Institute which invited top musicians to perform.

    The only way for us to hear these musicians in those days were either at live concerts or on the radio. I worked as a biostatistician in the biopharma industry and am currently retired. My wife channelled her love for performing arts by becoming a bharathanatyam dancer and teacher.

    The encouragement of the teachers at Vijaya College helped us develop a love of music which has lasted to this day.

    I have a large collection of Carnatic music, love listening to it and sharing it with others, particularly my daughter and my son. My children, who are physicians in the US, have also extensively learnt Carnatic music and bharathanatyam. At present, the Vijaya College of Music is actively continuing to train students in Carnatic music under the able leadership of HVKs son violin Vidwan H K Venkataram. The college is now located in Jayanagar.

    I hope this photograph brings back some memories to those that were in the Vijaya College of Music at that time.

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  • 02/03/18--21:56: An exchange of cultures
  • The 14th edition of Indo-Japan festival took place recently at JN Tata Auditorium, IISc. It started as a cultural festival of the Department of Japanese Language at Bangalore University and has been growing ever since.

    Japan Habba is conducted every year in Bengaluru since 2005, with the aim of promoting and strengthening Indo-Japan bi-lateral ties by creating an opportunity for people to experience Japanese culture, language and food. It is now an independent event organised by The Japan Habba Trust and have had more than 3,000 visitors last year.

    Takayuki Kitagawa, Consul General, Consulate-General of Japan in Bengaluru inaugurated the event. The theme of Japan Habba 2018 was Aomori prefecture. Hence, the organisers got shamisen (A three-string Japanese instrument) artistes from Aomori Prefecture - Yoshiyuki Kasai and his disciple Hiroto Aizawa.

    This time visitors experienced Japanese culture by being part of the Japanese tea ceremony demonstration, tried on Yukata (Japanese traditional attire), wrote Japanese calligraphy, and made Ikebana (flower arrangement).

    The stage performances included Japanese nationals singing Kannada songs (Bombe helutaithe from the film Raajakumara) and dancing to Bollywood numbers. The participants felt that the Habba deepened the bond between Indian and Japanese cultures.

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  • 02/03/18--21:58: Art spot
  • It is no wonder that Shabana Patel choose to pursue her Bachelors and Masters in the field of fine arts; the prolific artist says that she had an inclination for arts and crafts since childhood. Years after that initial step into the world of creativity, Shabana now dabbles in more than 70-80 types of arts and crafts like Tanjore paintings, watercolour paintings, acrylic paintings, clay modelling, decoupage, knife painting and paper quilling.

    "I bring my own touch to these established techniques though. For example, when it comes to knife painting, I try to incorporate a little bit of papier-mâché into it which adds more dimension to my works," she says.

    With so many different skills, does it become hard to choose a favourite? "It changes with time. My current favourites are Thai clay flowers and decoupaged artworks. Thai clay allows you to give a very realistic look to your flowers. My mentor is a person who comes from Thailand; she comes to the city once a year to take a workshop. Decoupage is a laymans craft - even a person who has never held a brush in their life can create a decoupaged item. Here too, I dont just stick to the conventional rules and experiment in as well as teach new techniques like crackle effect, doily effect and so on. I know almost 18-20 different variations in decoupage itself," she says.

    Floral motifs are a recurring theme in her artworks ("I feel they are universal and everybody likes flowers of course") while the internet is a constant source of inspiration ("It has made our lives so much easier").

    "The variety of materials and mediums I work with interests and impresses a lot of people. And I do a lot of mixed art. I can combine two mediums on one product which gives it a unique feel."

    Shabana now runs an art and craft centre in RT Nagar where she has her own studio. She also takes classes and organises workshops where artistes can come and showcase their talent.

    When asked about her future plans, Shabana strikes an altruistic note by saying that it is not just her own growth that she wants to see.

    "I want to continue working with lot more artistes and provide them with a platform to display their creativity. I especially want to work with traditional craftsmen and indigenous artistes so that they can promote Indian arts like Madhubani, Pattachitra, leather puppetry etc. These artforms are dying out now because most of them dont know how to market their skills."

    "For me personally, my future plan is to keep expanding my knowledge. Learning is a continuous process. Arts and crafts is a very vast subject and I make it a point to learn from each and every artist who comes to my studio," she adds.

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  • 02/03/18--22:00: Bend it like Becky
  • I adopted Becky some years ago when he seemed to be too vulnerable and fragile to be
    left on the streets in the cold winter months to fend for himself. First he had made quiet, tentative forays into our apartment premises, Garden Homes, perhaps thinking to himself he could roam in this territory vicinity. I decided to take him in against all odds for at that time, he was a furry ball looking traumatised and having nowhere to go.

    Pets come into our lives and they usually make a big impact and a major difference to us. This was although this pet came with a sordid story. While roaming on the roads, he was hit by a car.

    Luckily, a CUPA representative took him for treatment. One of his legs had to be amputated. What a blow to an energetic, quick-as-mercury dog! I decided to put him in my apartment
    balcony and leave him with the security guard when I am off to work. Becky had walked out of a life on the streets and into my apartment, clearing the way for a place in my heart!

    Even before I get up in the morning, Becky is up and ready, prancing on the driveway. He doesnt allow himself to indulge in indiscriminate self-pity, but instead is very empathetic and sensitive and can relate to others suffering in a very understanding way.

    "God helps those who help themselves," goes the saying. True to it, Becky takes good care of himself, and therefore I dont need to take him to the vet too often. His immunity and resistance is good, and he weathers all sickness storms.

    Also, as a pet, he doesnt mess up the place and has taken his toilet training seriously. He waits to be taken for walks around the locality so that he can relieve himself.

    As a pet, Becky is a good watchdog first and companion next. He never allows any unknown, unsavoury character to cross the line and if so, lets out menacing growls and grimaces.
    But once the coast is clear, there are no miscreants, and only Becky and me are at home, he lowers his guard and is his usual enthusiastic, energetic self!

    Becky loves playing Frisbee. He enjoys seeing the Frisbee slice the air as it streams past, ready to be caught by him.

    Becky is a dog who has a lot of well-wishers and sycophants. Everyone likes to cuddle and pet him as selfies flash all around. Becky attracts children due to his soulful deep eyes even though he is not a therapy dog! There is something about his quiet suffering and struggling that makes him attract other vulnerable beings. It is not only children that Becky cheers up but also upset adults and grumpy senior citizens.

    As my pet, I know he is good to me when times are favourable and unlike fair weather friends, he is kinder when things turn awry. At such times, until my spirit is uplifted, he puts his head on my lap and keeps it that way until I feel better.

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  • 02/03/18--22:02: Courting the unconventional
  • The enterprising duo Megha Poddar and Shradha Ponappa from Spring Diaries always keep in mind the best, woven clothing blends to present an envious range of ensembles for todays woman.

    The brands latest collection includes striking tops in cold shoulders, off-shoulder, bell-sleeves and frills; short, knee-length, three-fourth and floor-length dresses and bottoms like palazzos and skirts.

    The brand also has unique crop top-long skirt sets which work well for a day out or for an evening out. Outfits in high quality fabrics like cotton, crepe and knits are used to create a fine array of fashion solutions. Working professionals can opt for solid coloured, printed and checked shirts, while youngsters can check the racks for elegant designs in tops and kurti and kurti dresses.

    Aishwarya, a student from St Josephs College of Commerce wore a polka dot crop top with skirt.

    Punchline: "The polka dots make the outfit look fun yet sophisticated. The set works great for a day out."

    Price: Crop top and skirt (Rs 2,500)

    Honey Jaiswal from Vogue Institute of Fashion Technology slipped into a floral dress.

    Punchline:"Floral prints are a classic go-to option when you dont know what to wear. The dress gives one a cool yet simple look."

    Price: Floral dress (Rs 2,500)

    Payal Mishra, a student of Vogue Institute of Fashion Technology teamed a strip floral top with a black palazzo.

    Punchline: "One can wear the top and palazzo combination anywhere."

    Price: Top (Rs 950) and palazzo (Rs 950).

    Nithya, a student of CMS Jain University, wore a cold-shoulder dress.

    Punchline: "The dress with its unique shoulders has a classy and cool look."

    Price: Dress (Rs 2,100)

    Leah Iychettira from CMR Law School wore a yellow polka dotted top with frills.

    Punchline: "The bright coloured top can brighten up any day."

    Price: Top with frills (Rs 950)

    Piyali Chaudhary from Vogue Institute of Fashion Technology slipped into a floral short dress.

    Punchline: "Sophistication converges with simplicity in this look. I was impressed by the colours and
    patterns on the dress."

    Price: Floral short dress with frills (Rs 1,700)

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  • 02/03/18--22:06: 'I am living my dream'
  • Bengaluru-based actor Gulshan Devaiah is remembered for his impactful performances in his earlier projects such as Hunterrr, Hate Story, Shaitaan and Goliyon Ki Rasleela: Ram Leela. The actor has managed to ignite that spirit yet again in his latest release, Kuldip Patwal: I Didnt Do It!, where he plays a lawyer. Gulshan points out that the film draws its inspiration from real life happenings.

    In an interview with Nina C George, Gulshan shares his experience of working in the film.

    How was it to step into the shoes of Parduman Shahpuri?

    The director was very particular that I play the role because he thought that my mannerisms and body language perfectly matched that of the character. The biggest challenge, however, was to speak in a typical Punjabi accent.

    What was the best part about essaying the role?

    I enjoyed playing someone I am not. I could relate to my character because the situations shown in the film have a lot of reality attached to it. It can happen to anybody. I had to create a kind of illusion in my head to connect to the character. I was also given the freedom to interpret the character the way I wanted to.

    You worked as a fashion designer before becoming an actor. Was the transition easy?

    I was always comfortable on stage. The many plays that I acted in school and later in college helped me get a grip of acting and strengthened my desire to become an actor. In that sense the transition was easy.

    How did you develop an interest in acting?

    My parents were interested in the Bollywood movies of the 50s and 60s. They spotted my talent for acting and theatre when I was barely five years old and put me on stage. I also grew up listening to plenty of Bollywood music. All this has contributed to my interest.

    Then what took you so long to take the plunge?

    My career in the fashion industry brought me a lot of awards and recognition. I did pretty well during my stint as a teacher as well but somehow I didnt have the courage to take a to acting. I made my debut only when I was 30 years. But looking back, I am glad I took it slow.

    Any regrets?

    I have nothing to complain about because I am living my dream. I have some really good projects in hand and I have had to good fortune to work with some good actors.

    What keeps you grounded?

    It is a combination of a sound upbringing and strong value system.

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    Often called a modern-day princess, actor Soha Ali Khan breaks into pleasant laughter when she is quizzed about her famous family. Born to celebrity parents and having a famous sibling made her realise that she had big shoes to fill.

    The actor, who was in the city on Sunday, interacted with Tini Sara Anien about turning an author, motherhood and more.

    How often do you come to Bengaluru?

    Im here often, be it for a fashion week or to endorse brands. Mumbai is home and going out of the city is exciting. I love many things about Bengaluru like the chill in the air even when it is sunny.

    What inspired you to turn an author?

    I never wanted to be an author. It was the publication house, Penguin which approached me and convinced me that I read and write a lot and should try writing a book. I was not sure. I wrote a chapter, sent it to some friends and got some good feedback, which is when I decided to sign the contract.

    Tell us a bit about The Perils of Being Moderately Famous.

    The books title came to me as I was wondering about what readers would be most interested in knowing about me. I realised that it might be the fact that I come from a known family and belong to an industry which has a lot of people who are constantly trying to make it big. I thought this would be a great way to correct peoples misconceptions and impressions about me. The book takes a peek into my childhood, family, love and career and everything routes back to being moderately famous.

    Did you feel any pressure when you entered the industry?

    Of course. People like making comparisons. I expected that from people outside. From within the family, there was no pressure to join the industry but once I did, there was no pressure to excel. My parents always told me that it was important to contribute to the industry and be happy.

    Who did you turn to when you needed advice?

    Different family members serve different functions in my life. I can talk to my brother about films. His information is more contemporary.

    When I am struggling with a film scene, I turn to my mother. If there is a question about marriage-work balance, she knows exactly how to guide me. If it was about how to address a media question, I would turn to my father who was diplomatic with his words.

    Tell us about some precious moments with Inaaya.

    Every day is a new day with her around. The first few weeks were incredibly challenging and difficult. Kunal and I had to manage everything. Now that she is four-months old, I understand her better. I know why she is crying now. She plays and interacts more. It keeps getting easier as the days pass.

    How has motherhood changed you?

    Your priorities change. Its not just about what you want and what makes you happy anymore. Your whole perspective changes. I watch a diaper commercial and get emotional now.

    How is Kunal as a father?

    Kunal is a lovely parent. There are moments when I wonder why Inaaya is crying and he calmly tells me that crying is the way babies interact. I have become calm now but he was calm from the beginning.

    Are there any films in the pipeline?

    I am a part of Tigmanshu Dhulias Saheb, Biwi Aur Gangster 3. In 2018, Kunal and I will be step into production. A lot of biopics are being made nowadays. We are working on a biopic on Ram Jethmalani.

    What excites you apart from work?

    I am not an adventure sports fan. I do not want to do bungee jumping or deep-sea diving. I find mundane life exciting. I like travelling and would like to explore new parts of the world with Inaaya.

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