Love and its old world charm

Love! We can talk endlessly about love. So much has been written about love. We have dedicated poems and songs to love. We are never tired of making movies on love and romance. From Pakeezah to Dilwale Duhlania Le Jayenge to Yeh Jawani Hai Diwani, from Breakfast at Tiffany’s to Pretty Woman to Titanic to Brokeback Mountain, a good love story has always won our heart.

Of course, love has changed with time. Expressions have changed, mediums have changed. Sometimes I feel love has become more complicated, or we have complicated it by incessantly swiping right and left. The digital platforms and the mobile apps that that have brought young people from across the world closer, may have also added to the confusion. The restlessness, the uncertainty, the indecisiveness, sometimes reluctance to commit. Though these emotions have always existed alongside love, the more articulate younger generation may have only brought them to the surface. They may have also given love a bold new expression.

Many of us though still miss the older times, we nostalgically look back to our simple college love stories. Anupriya Agarwal beautifully pens down the old world charm of love that she so misses.

Anupriya with Vibhor: when they just met

The charm of older times – falling in awe of someone over a cup of tea, or a glass of water is all gone. I remember in college, during college fests – admiring someone for his pink shirt – sheepishly discussing his smile with friends and then making a big deal if he came and said Hi, we will be in touch!

Your post, ‘Love me, love me not’ reminds me of good old times – the boy who only called out the colours that I was wearing during a tip tipi top game in school, or another one that I liked to go to the water cooler with for period breaks in school.

Image courtesy food.ndtv.com

This charm of falling in love over a little smile, a small conversation, a discussion with friends is forgotten these days! All we do is digitally bombard our thoughts, likes and dislikes. Love, in those days, wasn’t even anything to do with having relationships, but to just enjoy that moment of appreciation, when someone came said I love you and ran away never to meet again. It was a glass of water and a capsule that made two friends meet, a cup of chai was all that it took for two people to get married and rest well is history!

Thank you for taking me back to these lovely memories. Words will always swipe my heart away.

Culinary magic of Lovina Gujral

Recently I have come across numerous articles on food that can beat lockdown blues, how food can keep depression at bay and many more. Research claims that food immensely benefits our mind, helps lift our mood and cheer us up.  So, eating well and eating right is important not just for our health but happiness as well. But we knew that already!

No wonder, the lockdown has seen emergence of so many home chefs. My Facebook, Insta pages and WhatsApp groups are flooded with images of delicacies that people are making at home. From innovatively made Maggi or sandwiches to Indian delicacies to continental dishes, you can find them all.

One such home chef who has been tempting me with mouth-watering images is my friend and colleague, Lovina Gujral. While I struggle with household chores and work from home, Lovina makes time to treat her family with delectable dishes almost every evening. It could be anything from roast duck leg with veggies to pork belly to burgers or pizzas. And it’s not just the food, it’s the presentation too. Lovina could give any speciality chef run for his/her money!

“We are foodies,” says Lovina. “We would eat out quite often before the lockdown. Since it’s not possible now, I make something special almost every day for dinner.”

“I just love watching people enjoy the food, the happiness and the satisfaction in their faces, and that’s enough for me,” adds Lovina.

Stir fried bok choi with garlic & dried red chilli

Surprisingly, Lovina was not much into cooking in her younger days. “I was a tomboy. I would happily do outdoor work like standing in the queue for a gas connection, paying the bills etc., but never enter the kitchen. My sister, Nagina, was the experimental cook in our family. Even after I got married, we would mostly order in or eat out.”

Lovina developed an interest in cooking after moving to Bangkok. “We became friends with a lovely couple, Gavin and Neetinder, who would organize dinner parties quite often. Those were elaborate dinners starting with a palate cleanser and appetiser and ending with desserts. All kinds of dishes from continental, Italian to Asian to Thai were served in those dinners. That’s when I became curious about cooking and started experimenting.”

Her kitchen in Bangkok had all kinds of gadgets, ingredients were easily available there. Lovina would call up her friend for the recipe or try something innovative. “Even now I don’t follow a particular recipe. I google and read 3 to 4 different recipes of the same dish, even the likes of Jamie Oliver. I mull over them for a few days and then when I enter the kitchen, I just know what to do.”

When asked to share a few of her favourite recipes, Lovina pauses for a while and then smiles. “The problem is I never repeat the same recipe twice. I would never use the same sauces and condiments for roasting a duck leg or lamb or pork ribs. I sometimes don’t even remember what I do. I once made a vegetable casserole by emptying a few almost finished bottles of sauces in the veggies. My non-veg family polished the vegetables in no time. My daughter has been asking me to make the same casserole again since, but I can’t. I don’t remember the sauces that I used.”

“One reason why I try making so many varied dishes at home is my daughter Rhea. She has been exposed to a variety of cuisines since she was a little girl. Three-year-old Rhea would enjoy sushi when most Indian parents wouldn’t serve such food to their kids. Somehow Rhea never developed a taste for Indian food, so I keep making continental and oriental dishes at home.”

Noodle & dimsum soup

“Frankly, even I am not very enthused about Indian cooking. Sometimes I instruct the cook at home.  I tweak the recipe a little when I do that. Instead of onion tomato gravy, I encourage the cook to use curd or mustard. Maybe it’s because of east Indian friends like you who forever mock Punjabi’s for using onion tomato base in every recipe,” laughs Lovina.

“One thing I never felt like making is anything sweet, be it Indian desserts or cakes or puddings. I have never made anything sweet in my entire life. My daughter Rhea enjoys baking cakes and muffins though.”

But cooking every day, after a fairly busy work schedule. “I enjoy it,” says Lovina. “I get into the kitchen every evening around 7 without any plan. I check out the ingredients available and then decide what to make.”

As Lovina gets into the kitchen to surprise her family with another delightful dinner, I am waiting for the lockdown to end so that I can join her dinner table!

Love me, love me not!

I was in 7th standard then, watching the finals of inter-class football tournament, when suddenly a boy from my class called me from behind a tree. He was a friend; we took the same bus to school. On approaching him, after struggling for minutes he blurted ‘I love you,’ and ran. That was the first time a boy professed his love for me, a big thing for a 12-year-old girl. I immediately sought out my best friend, gravely reported the incident to her and I was advised never to talk to the boy again.

As we grew up, there were many instances of boys’ expressing their affection, scribbling love notes, letters, lovelorn glances. Most of our lunch break would be spent discussing these overtures at length, advising our friends whether she should take it forward or not. Even when a friend was involved, she would seek our advice and opinion for every little thing, from gifts to letters to sometimes vague suggestions that her boyfriend may have made that could be interpreted any which way.

Those were the days of letters and landlines when we would meet in the bus stands and college canteens, sneak the cordless phone in our room at night to talk to our boyfriends. Our generation then moved to office canteens, theatres, McDonald’s and mobile. SMSs became a popular means of expressing our feelings – witty innuendos, flowery proclamation. Of course, discussing every little matter of heart with a friend or a cousin was still very important.

Digital revolution changed the game. Range of dating apps like Tinder, Bumble and the rest widened options for young people seeking someone special. It’s not just the boy next door or your classmate or colleague, we could connect with anyone we liked. Times have changed, so have the rules of love, dating and relationships. It’s all about swiping right when a photograph catches our fancy, prolonged chats to know whether our interests match! With a digital screen masking us, we play with words that may mean different things to different people. While someone may be looking for a casual fling, someone else may be looking for a relationship. You can want whatever you want, but it’s important to know whether your match wants the same. 

From pouring over love letters we started sharing screenshots of Tinder chats. For a second opinion always matters, it’s important to read between lines. An objective observer can see what we, blinded by emotions or carried away by the moment, may ignore. It’s better to get it right in the beginning to save us embarrassment and pain later.

For all those Tindering, you can now huddle with your friends and discuss your matches without having to share screenshots. Yes, Charmed will make it possible soon. The app will allow friends to view each other’s matches including chats and bios. Even if you are not dating you can be on Charmed to advise your friends. 

Wow, whoever thought technology could make it so easy for friends to gather and talk about their love interests! 

The app is currently in beta but you can join the waitlist (www.charmed.app).  

Wardrobe Woes

Last night I had a dream. My saris, blouses, dresses and tunics were floating around me and talking to me. ‘When are you going to wear me again?’ asked my purple kanchivaram in her silky voice. I had worn the purple beauty only once during my cousin’s wedding, I recalled. Pretty pink jamdani glared at me angrily. I had almost forgotten about her. My range of designer blouses, tunics and dresses started jostling for my attention. Golden stiletto and red sandal started accusing me of neglect. They started dancing around me as if in frenzy, pulling me in all directions. The golden stiletto suddenly kicked hard on my ankle. Startled, I woke up. ‘What a crazy dream or rather a nightmare!’

I switched on the light and opened the wardrobe. All my clothes were in the right place. Saris stacked up neatly on top of each other, blouses stuffed in the drawer, dresses and tunics hanging close to each other. I opened my shoe closet next. At least 30 pairs of shoes snuggling close to each other, at least 10 pairs that I haven’t slipped my feet into in months. I took another look at my prized sari collection. Many of those, especially the expensive ones haven’t been worn in years. I went back to bed but couldn’t sleep. The images of my overstuffed wardrobe and shoe rack suddenly started mocking me. Locked up at home, with social distancing the new norm, I was quite clueless about when I would get to wear all these clothes and shoes again.

The image of me prancing around as girl in a flowery frock flashed before my eyes. I had about 8 to 10 ‘good clothes’ then that I wore for birthday parties, weddings, for visiting friends and neighbours etc. – frocks, skirts and tops mostly stitched by mom, a few pairs of jeans, and two pairs of shoes, besides the school going shoes. With what sounds like a limited wardrobe now, I was considered to be a well-dressed girl back then. I was very happy accepting hand me downs from my older cousins as well. It was a done thing then.

My mom, who loves saris, owned about 4 to 5 expensive saris then (besides her regular cotton, organza, and silks) that she should wear for weddings and special functions. It was absolutely fine to repeat those saris. She had a beautiful rani pink tanchoi silk sari that she would wear for such functions quite often.  Later, when the sari started coming apart, she cut it and made a beautiful kurta for me that I cherished for many years. She would also wear a beautiful peacock blue kanjivaram with broad red border every now and then.

I started becoming more ‘fashion conscious’ during my college days. Mom stitched clothes were not enough, I wanted branded clothes. When I started working, I would spend a lot of time in Sarojini Nagar hunting for fashionable clothes, knock-offs that would fit my budget. From street fashion, I soon moved to the branded stores and then to the glittering malls that offered great deals on international brands. E-commerce sites that offered everything from lingerie to footwear at an enviable price further added to the allure. My wardrobe was spilling, my shoe rack was full, I had more purses than I could carry, but I just couldn’t stop buying.

Sari day at work

With years I became a little more discerning, chose style over fashion, or so I thought. I developed a fondness for saris like mom and started buying saris from all over India. Be it Bengal cotton, south cotton, chanderi, baluchori, ikkat, bomkai or kachivaram, I have them all. The cotton and the silk ones I would wear often to work. The more expensive ones were worn for weddings etc. I have also built a collection of exclusive dresses and tunics, thanks to my designer friends.   Though I have been spending money on saris and other expensive clothes it didn’t feel like a waste. ‘These are classics that would never go out of fashion’, I would tell myself.

My wardrobe made me feel good. I was ready for all occasions. But every occasion demanded something new because repeating an outfit is an absolute no-no. How could you wear the same outfit or sari before the same crowd? Posting a picture on social media in the same dress twice? Thus, I ended up with so many saris, clothes, and shoes that I love and that look great on me. Ironically enough, I have worn these beautiful things only once or twice, just because I can’t repeat myself. Seriously, when did I become such a hoarder or a show-off, or both!

“This has to stop. I am going to wear all my clothes over and over. I am going to repeat my saris because I feel beautiful in them.” Maybe I am a bit delusional with the extended lockdown or maybe I have more time to self-reflect or maybe it’s both!

A showgirl sans audience

Locked in all alone in my apartment, no one’s coming, no one’s watching me, I can do pretty much as I please. I can don my finest clothes and walk around, or I can choose to wear nothing. I can be on bed the whole day and laze around. I can read or watch TV through the night and get up at noon. I can sing, I can dance, I can scream (as long it doesn’t reach my neighbours), I can be a mess, or I can be perfect. Who cares? No one’s here to judge and comment on my choices. What freedom!

A regular day at work before COVID

Yes, that was my initial feeling of glee (in these gloomy times) when the lockdown was first announced. But alas, it was short-lived. I blamed it first at having to work from home. “If I didn’t have to open the laptop at 9:30 every morning life would be so much better,” I grumbled to myself. Then I realized my weekends were no better. So obsessed I was with cleaning every nook and corner of my apartment, cooking a perfect meal that I managed to have lunch only at 4 on weekends. After that, I would be too exhausted to do anything, usually not in such a great mood.

Lockdown, which in some ways has been a break for many, has been utterly exhausting for me. I go to bed planning the next day’s chores “I have to be up by 7 and clean the balconies, chop the veggies and then close a proposal before the 10 a.m. call,” I would mutter to myself at night like a prayer. I would jump up in the morning and chide myself for waking up late for there’s so much to do. I pushed myself almost to the brink – the house had to be perfect, meals cooked, all the tasks done well ahead of time. I even dress up every morning for office (my living room now) or a call, that’s something I actually enjoy.

Many moods: work from home

In the evening when I would finally relax with a cup of coffee, I would look around me with some pride and satisfaction. I would look at myself in the mirror and smile. But then, the feeling of being let down and being under-appreciated would come gushing back. My friends who sometimes are not able to call me every day, my colleagues and acquaintances who don’t seem to appreciate me adequately would be frowned upon. For, strangely enough, I would feel like a martyr. “I am doing so much from morning till night (all for myself, on my own accord), and no one cares.”

Many moods: work from home

But why should anyone care? Why should I care whether anybody cares about what I do within my four walls? But unfortunately, I do. I guess we all do, whether we like to admit it or not. We have a bit of a narcissist strain running in us, we are all bit of show-offs. We love to be acknowledged, we love to be appreciated, we love all the attention we get. My life is my show, my performance and I am the protagonist or the showgirl. Not having an audience for our show has perhaps been one dilemma for people like me, who are locked in alone. Though I was a little ashamed when the realization first dawned on me, it’s not such a bad thing, I guess. My urge to show myself off is something that is driving me along as I wait eagerly to catch up with my friends and family once this is over.

Now that I have accepted the fact that there’s a showgirl in me who’s missing not having an audience around, I am much more at peace with myself, I am much happier. I have stopped blaming others for not being there, I stopped being hard on myself. The showgirl does as she pleases, she smiles at herself often, she ponders, she relaxes. And most of all, she takes good care of herself, for when she steps out again, she would like to put her best foot forward!

Hampi – My Story by Saptarshi Saha

A beatifully penned story of Hampi by Saptarshi, an IT professional and a traveller who loves to write.

Who discovered me? Who let me into the history books? It was Colonel Colin Mackenzie (1754-1821) a Scottish army officer who loved travelling and anything which was orient. He was in the British East India Company and later became the first Surveyor General of India. He was ordered to survey the Mysore region shortly after the British victory over Tipu Sultan in 1799. He produced my first maps along with illustrations of the landscape and notes on archaeological landmarks. However, what the history books do not mention, that it was only by sheer accident that he stumbled upon my many ruinous minarets. It all started on a stormy night when the colonel’s boat on the raging Tundra was thrown against the granite rocks. The colonel and his orderly barely managed to hold on to the timber and save themselves. They managed to swim ashore. Tired and beaten by the rain, both drifted away to sleep. And then… the rain stopped. The birds and the deers came out. The morning with its sun, revealed all my wonderful vistas to the boat wrecked colonel and his orderly. He could hardly take it all in, with his eyes. As the morning sun shone away the rain of yesterday, I presented my ethereal beauty in all its splendour. The liquid gold of the sun, the shine on the minarets made the colonel… my lover for life. 

Hampi – Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Let me not bore you anymore with the colonel. Hampi is my name now, but I was always known as Pampa-kshetra, Kishkindha-kshetra or Bhaskara-kshetra — derived from Pampa, which is the old name of the Tungabhadra River. The name “Hampi” is an anglicized version of the Kannada Hampe (derived from Pampa). Over the years, I have also been referred to as Vijayanagara and Virupakshapura (from Virupaksha, the patron deity of the Vijayanagara rulers). I was chosen because of my strategic location, bounded by the torrential Tungabhadra river on one side and surrounded by granite ridges on the other three sides. My story starts with this popular folklore, which I want you to believe. Two local chieftains, Hakka & Bukka, large in girth and big in courage reports to their guru an unusual sight they saw during a hunting expedition. A hare chased by their hound suddenly turns courageous and start chasing back the hound. Vidyaranya, the guru, tells them that the place is so special and asks them to establish their capital at this place. The seed of my first empire was sown. And over the next 200 plus years (1336 AD – 1565 AD) four dynasties started their rule on me. 

Hampi – Melody in rocks
Photo courtesy New Indian Express

My glory years have been a saga of resistance against the northern Sultanates as well as building of some of my most spectacular monuments. Domingo Paes, a Portuguese horse trader, who visited me during my heydays wrote in a letter, “The size of this city I do not write here, because it cannot all be seen from any one spot, but I climbed a hill whence I could see a great part of it. I could not see it all because it lies between several ranges of hills. What I saw from thence seemed to me as large as Rome, and very beautiful to the sight; there are many groves of trees within it, in the gardens of the houses, and many conduits of water which flow into the midst of it, and in places there are lakes and the king has close to his palace a palm-grove and other rich-bearing fruit-trees…and so on.” Does not matter, I still did not like Domingo as he had many skeletons to hide in his cupboard. The books do not tell you that. But I could see everything and remember. 

 So what, if I am aged! But I am still charismatic enough to attract tens of thousands of visitors through the year, especially during the annual festival held in December. Since my discovery in the new world and after my UNESCO heritage branding in 1986, I have been a delight for backpackers and pilgrims alike. The temples, palaces, aquatic structures, markets and many such ancient remains are the ways I have ingrained myself into your mind and pages of history. The wonderful kings of Vijayanagara dynasty were popular for their encouragement to the fine arts and creation of temples. No wonder that you find parts of temples like that of Virupaksha dating back to the 11th century, a time even before the kingdom was established. In fact, I also feature in the tale of Ramayana as Kishkinda – a fact that is recorded in the carvings at the Ramaswami temple.

Sureal Hampi – Photo courtesy Malayala Manorama

As happy as I always try to be, sometimes I too feely lonely. Just like you, human beings crave for lost time, I too get lost in the years that I have left behind. I am someone to whom time has not been always kind. But there are places scattered across me, given up by man which have still stood their ground. Forsaken and abandoned though I feel during a typical hot May summer day, I quench my thirst by clinging on to my past and draw in newcomers to lose themselves in my beauty, mystery and charm. The Vithala Temple Complex images the true story behind the empire’s encouragement for art and music. This splendid structure, though ruined by the later Mughal invaders, has 56 musical pillars, a stone chariot with revolving stone wheels and several monolith pillars. The House of Victory, built after King Krishnadevaraya won the battle at Orissa, is popular for the elegant carvings on plinth mouldings. The Lotus Mahal with the geometrical accuracy to ensure a perfect climate inside the queens’ quarters all year round, elephant stables, Pushkarini, the Mahanavami Dibba and Nobleman’s Palace are just a few of the hundreds of structures that I adorn history with.

Most of the structures lie along the route between Kamalapura and me. One such place is the Dravidian-styled Malyavanta Raghunathaswamy temple that has marine monsters carved on its outer walls. The 6.7-meter tall monolith of Ugra Narasimha depicts King Krishnadevaraya’s love for architectural splendours. In fact, the Bazaar that been photographed and reproduced in zillion features reflects truly my eclectic mixture of the ancient and the modern. In my heydays, you could actually buy diamonds and rubies as big as your fist in this very place. And on and on I can go talking about all my attractions. Lord Rama and his brother had visited me, while looking for Rama’s wife, Sita. It was Vali and Sugriv, the brave monkey kings who helped him to raise his army. I get all misty eyed to think about such memories. The Hazra Rama Temple complex known for its frescoes from the Hindu religion. It has over a thousand carvings and inscriptions depicting the story of Ramayana. Did you also know that Vijayanagara’s main coin mint was located here? The coinage was astonishing with gold, silver and copper coins with pictures of Gods, animals, birds, etc. The ruins of the mint can be seen inside the walled enclosure at the west of the royal enclosure. These are only a few interesting facts about me. There’s much more and beyond about me and my monuments. And you ought to visit me to learn and see.  

Without sounding vain, I am possibly one of the most beautiful places on earth. Even if you are cynical and experienced, you will admit as much. Your camera and words will fail. I am surreal beyond the realms of what you can dream. The fields so green and the sky so azure with stones in burnt amber. I will forgive you if you would come back again dumbstruck and cry aloud… ‘Yes, this is where the trinity played lego with the granite stones. This is where the Apsaras had their Disneyland’. I will encourage you to strike a conversation with the locals to know me well! 

I with all my ruins and monuments am spread over an area of 26 square kilometres, and can easily be reached by road, rail and air through Hospet. You can also come by regular buses plying towards me from all nearby towns and cities. Hospet, which is 13 km away, has a railway station and several road transport facilities that can help you reach me easily.

The Eternal Traveller

I am a traveller. I travel forward and backwards, to the future and the past, while I try to grapple the present. Yes, I live in the present too, very much so, embracing it, trying to make sense of it at times. From my present, I take nostalgic trips to my past, for my past made my present. My present wanders into the future, at times dreamily, at times with trepidations, for one day the present will melt into the future. And what will that future be? What will that future hold?

The eternal traveller in me, living in the present, is sometimes torn between the past and the future. Don’t get me wrong, I am as excited about the future as anyone else, a future where technology has merged all boundaries, a future that promises trips to the outer space. Exhilarated times we live in that is marching forward so fast, with the so much conviction. Looking ahead with my head held high, as I stride into the glorious possibilities, my past somehow slipped away. The journeys to the days gone by became rarer and rarer, a distant memory that seemed to have been lived by another me, a different me!

Probably, in all of us, there’s an eternal traveller like me. A traveller who has been so blinded by the prospects that the future may hold, that the limitations were completely forgotten and overlooked. The cost that we have been paying seemed but a small price as we willingly, happily let our present melt into the future, away from the past. So engrossed were we with the marvels of AI that we forgot the charm of a good conversation. The virtual world seemed so enticing that we took the real world for granted.

Most of all, we forgot those songs that we sang under the mango tree, as we swayed on a makeshift swing made out an old tyre, on her enduring branches.  We forgot the Bakul tree with her fragrant flowers next to the gate that was mercilessly chopped to make room for the new house. We moved away from nature, cleared forests and endangered the wild, our factories pollute the air with harmful gases. For we want fancy cars, hi-tech phones and flashy clothes more than clean air to breathe in. Our concrete jungle feels safer than the cool shadow of the forest. We arrogantly believed that the world has been created just for us and we could do what we please, kill and chop, make and break to clear the way for our march to the future.

Of course, we talked about climate change. So much money has been spent on those climate change conferences, world leaders deliberated upon the grave issue but did little. Nature hit back in her fury to put the puny humans in their place. There were tsunamis, forests fires, volcanos and earthquakes that killed many, damaged and ravaged our properties, our land. Yet, we refused to learn.

Then came a tiny virus that brought our lives to a standstill. The march to the future came to a sudden halt. We were kept locked up in our homes like wild animals we keep in the zoo. There’s uncertainty and confusion all around as we try to figure ways to counter this virus. Of course, technology has come to our aid. Social media and the virtual world have us helped stay connected in these unusual times. Limitations of the technology also glare at us now, as we long for the human touch.

As we stay locked in, nature has heals. The air is clean, the grass is green, the sky is blue and the rivers flow merrily into the sea. When I look up at the starlit sky at night, I remember the girl sitting on her terrace trying to catch the falling stars.

All it took was for a virus to endanger humans, for the world and all the other life forms in it to flourish!

As we halt, with nowhere to go, it’s time for us to ponder, to look back, to introspect, learn lessons from our past before we rush ahead. Will this virus change us for good? Will we finally learn to care for our planet and nurture the environment in which we thrive? Only time will tell.

Mandi House Complex by Chandana Dutta

The resounding clash of the cymbals competes powerfully with the chaotic flutter of flaming orange across the stage. The darkened hall does not betray its audience, mesmerised and silent. This is the Kamani Auditorium in New Delhi, one of the city’s most popular proscenium spaces. The ongoing dance-drama in Manipuri, directed by the renowned Ratan Thiyam, is about to conclude.

Doordarshan Bhawan. Photo courtesy Amar Ujala

This is just another day in the environs of what is popularly known as the Mandi House Circle. It takes its name from the building that houses what was once India’s only television network, the state-owned Doordarshan. Easily one of the busiest traffic roundabouts in the heart of New Delhi, its hustle and bustle comes not only from the continuous flow of traffic and humanity that passes through its seven radials but also from the intense enriching activity that the several pioneering cultural institutions housed along its wide tree-lined avenues engage in. In fact, it derives its unique character from the masses of hungry readers, writers, artists, students, connoisseurs and the like who participate in and contribute to this very vibrant artistic and cultural macrocosm of India.

The Mandi House area was specifically earmarked as a socio-cultural space when the initial master plan was being designed for a new capital of India. It has lived up to the expectations of its planners by promoting our unique national essence in the constant research, dialogue and exchange that take place between our languages, literatures, art forms and practitioners.

Sahitya Akademi.
Photo courtesy LBB

The three national akademies – the Sahitya, the Sangeet Natak and the Lalit Kala – each actively engaged in the preservation and promotion of our letters and literatures, the visual arts, and dance, drama and music, are housed in the Rabindra Bhawan complex that flanks Mandi House on one side. The architecture of the building was undertaken under the personal attention of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who engaged Habib Rahman with a detailed brief of what the complex should look like in order to reflect what it intended to do, that is to be a premier symbol of the culture of new India. Today, the Rabindra Bhawan is considered by many as one of the finest examples of Indian Modernism while the Akademies have established a model reputation with their archives, audio-visual libraries, publishing programmes, exhibition spaces, auditoria, bookshops, and the much talked about Awards which do sterling work in recognizing and felicitating work being done as much in genres and languages which are established and popular, as in those which need recognition and support.

Kamani Auditorium. Photo courtesy so.city

Adjacent to the Rabindra Bhawan are three other cultural institutions – the Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra, the Kamani Auditorium and the Little Theatre Group Auditorium. The Kendra, which began as an exclusive sponsoring body soon became an established college of dance and music with a permanent dance-drama group and a repertoire which focuses on the best representation of Indian religion, mythology and folklore. The Kendra’s imperative is to not only prevent these forms from extinction but to reinvent and rejuvenate them constantly. The Ramlila, a Kendra staple presentation which excites the young and old alike year after year, is an example of the success of this college. The Kendra Trust also manages the Kamani Auditorium which has hosted continuous theatrical and other performances from across the world since its inception.  

On the other side of the Mandi House building is the National School of Drama. Set up in 1959 as a constituent unit of the SNA, it became an autonomous body in 1975 and has today the status of one of the finest theatre training institutions in the world. Nestled in the beautiful sprawling bungalow that is the Bahawalpur House, its enviable list of eminent theatre personalities who form the faculty, train students in every aspect of theatre, its theory, nuances and performance. The NSD has kept the spirit of India alive by actively encouraging its students – who come from even its remotest corners – to adopt as their own the several tongues that India speaks. Its little theatre spaces and practice halls reverberate with a mix of languages and silences, with history and topicality, where debate on social subjects competes with individual and political concerns. In fact, this continuous engagement with causes and effects, that takes place within its boundaries, spills over outside onto the pavements and chai stalls that dot its outside boundary walls. The Bahawalpur house also hosts the venerable Kathak Kendra, a national dance institute of international repute dedicated solely to the preservation and spread of Kathak, a classical dance form which has its roots grounded in Indian history and indeed epitomises the growth of its culture.

Across the circle from the National School of Drama is the Shri Ram Centre for Performing Arts, another of New Delhi’s coveted auditorium spaces as well as a Centre conceived to dedicate itself to the enjoyment and celebration of the artistic experience of the performing arts. Over the decades the Centre has opened its spaces not only to experimental theatre practices but to a consistent course development to expose young children to several ways of understanding theatre in India.

On a parallel road from the Shri Ram Centre is the Triveni Kala Sangam, equally well known for its architecture by Joseph Stein that allows for easy access between its numerous halls and niches as for its courses in painting, dance, music, pottery and photography. The Triveni Kala Sangam has at least six different gallery spaces with one dedicated to works in glass, ceramics and terracotta and another that brings the garden into the spirit of the works on display. Equally popular, perhaps more so, is the lovely terrace cafeteria which sees a constant flow of artists and like-minded folks, a space that symbolises the name Triveni, the dynamic confluence between the arts and its practitioners.

The Sangeet Bharati, the FICCI Auditorium and the National Museum of Natural History, housed further along the circle bring the design and work of this premier cultural space of New Delhi to a beautiful close.

So when you are done dipping into those fascinating books and feasting on the bold canvases, your eyes still dancing to the puppeteer’s tunes, you will hear the tinkle of anklets fade at the Kathak Kendra, bringing to an end another strenuous practice session. Now, the lawns of the National School of Drama will awake to the twitter of eager participants waiting to savour the newest offering on signs and silences presented by its Repertoire Company. You can surely return home proud and reassured that the nascent conversations will continue in the times to come.

Maulana Azad perhaps best summed up the need and nature of this cultural radius in his inaugural speech for the Sangeet Natak Akademi in 1953: “India’s precious heritage of music, drama and dance is one which we must cherish and develop. We must do so not only for our own sake but also as our contribution to the cultural heritage of mankind.”

This indeed epitomises the glory that is the Mandi House Complex.

Chandana Dutta holds a PhD in English Literature from Jawaharlal Nehru University and has been Editor of Indian Horizons, a quarterly journal on art and culture published by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, New Delhi. She set up the publishing outfit Indialog of which she was the Chief Editor and has worked as Assistant Director for the publishing wing of Katha, a pioneering non-profit venture in the field of translations. She has translated various works from Bengali and Hindi into English.

A novel twist to the desi New Years

It’s New Year time, I mean time for desi New Year Celebrations. Be it Baisakhi in Punjab, Bihu in Assam, Noboborsho in Bengal or Vishu in Kerala, most regions in India usher in New Year mid-April, sometime between 13th to 15th April. These days are significant for each community marked with new purchases, feasting and cultural celebrations. People visit their places of worship, layout traditional feasts, visit each other, there are so many social dos.

This year, however, it was different. Locked in to tackle a novel virus we did not have much to celebrate for. With social distancing becoming the new norm, any kind of function or social visits were out of the question. Some of us did manage to dish out feasts at home with whatever ingredients one could manage. Picture of homecooked delicacies on social media and WhatsApp groups did bring me some cheer. We wished each other in our virtual world while the real world wore a deserted look. We prayed in the solace of our home wishing for our old world to be back soon.

Photo courtesy Abhishek Rana

Nature, on the other hand, had a different story to tell. There were celebrations all around. As I went to my balcony at night in my good noboborsho pyjamas, after a plateful of special Maggi for dinner, a glowing Venus greeted me in all her glory followed by her friends twinkling with joy in a clear night sky. The plants in my small balcony garden have never looked greener, blooming periwinkles are such delight to my eyes. Ganga water has become fit for drinking and Yamuna has never been this clean before. Dolphins have been seen on Mumbai beach, peacocks and deer are out in the road. The most polluted cities of India are filled with Oxygen. The story is the same world over. Nature is revelling as we humans are locked in!

My blooming garden

We vain humans. For all our successes, our march to progress, we forgot that we are but a small cog in the grand scheme of things. We forgot that we once worshipped and celebrated nature, and not destroyed her mindlessly. Indian New Years, that usually fall in the fag-end of spring, mark the beginning of harvest season, celebrates Mother nature before sowing new seeds. Nature has been an inherent part of our culture. Epitomized as Prakriti, a fertile woman or a mother, who conjoins with Purusha, the man, to create and nurture the world – the world that consists of all things living, not just humans. 

Spring Sky. Courtesy Riti Chakraborty

Other civilizations across the globe, have their own lore’s of nature, of man’s oneness with nature. Gods and Goddesses in both Hindu and Greek mythology symbolize many forces of nature. Noah’s ark that saved his family from the great Biblical flood also sheltered thousands of species of animals. In fact, God commanded him to do so.

But for us, the educated urbane lot, these are just mythological tales, mere lore that the novel virus has thrown back on our face, rather mercilessly. Yes, a rude jolt was what we needed, but it remains to be seen how long we stay awake!

The Human Touch

Routine, I so miss my routine. I never thought I would say this about my dull boring routine. Pulling myself out of bed every morning, rushing through the morning chores – glancing through the newspaper over a cup of tea, watering plants, hurriedly deciding what to wear, gulping down some breakfast and then scurrying off to work. Hurrying back home after a tiring day, hoping to catch up with reading or do some writing but ending up watching TV or Netflix, going to bed with a guilty feeling of not having done enough, and then blaming the dull routine for sapping my creative juices. I have so often wished I could break free of this routine to focus on more creative pursuits or things that I considered more productive intellectually and emotionally.

Just loitering with Poonam & Joy

But now with the routine missing I am like a fish out of water, gasping for breath at times. I realize for the first time how much of my routine I have taken for granted – friendly faces of my colleagues greeting me every morning, chit chats over a cup of coffee, catching up with a friend in the evening, if I wished to. I have never been very social; you can call me selectively social at best. I have often chosen my company over a crowd. I have stayed at home over the weekend watching TV, reading a book or doing nothing. Though, over the years, I have made some good friends, developed deep bonds.

Selfie time with Sanchita

So, when the lockdown was announced, I didn’t think I would miss not having people around. A few weeks on my own, would give me time to do so much more, I optimistically thought. I am locked out alone, my family is in different cities, friends all over NCR. And yes, we are working from home, so I am connected with colleagues over Microsoft Teams, regular calls. I chat with family and friends every day over the phone or over a WhatsApp video call. That would suffice for a while, I had thought, but alas it’s so woefully lacking!

The social media that we have been so hooked to is getting on my nerves now. The endless posts on the virus, the lockdown, the efficacy of our political leaders. The social media pundits are pasting the walls with their advice or opinions, so keen to run the world from their laptops or handsets. The silly challenges that FB comes up with seem refreshing in comparison. The only good thing are the occasional humourous posts that make me laugh.

Hanging out with Chandana & Ray

The routine or choosing to follow the routine.  This lockdown has made it clear how much of that choice we have taken for granted. The human touch that came with the choice, be it a friendly nod or a deep conversation over a cup of coffee. For this lockdown has shown us nothing can replace the joy of being with another human being. No social media, or virtual platforms can replace the warmth of physical proximity. Social distancing, unavoidable though it is, comes with a heavy prize.

I do hope we remember this once this crisis is over, put our phones away when we are talking to somebody, take our minds of social media while we are having dinner with our family. For, being with the ones’ we love and care, is priceless!!