MARKING MILESTONES : Reminiscences Aug 15 2017

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Goodbye 2016

9:15 pm New Year’s Eve 2016

 

I am finally sitting down to mull over the year that will soon be past tense.

One of the highlights of the year was discovering food-making. Cooking does not seem the appropriate word.  I have experimented with millets and made porridge, both hot and cold, salty and spicy or simply sweet. Bajre ki roti with methi (mustard leaves). Aaloo parathas, besan ka pura with coriander chutney and other favorite Punjabi dishes, just because I knew I had to be able to make what I love most. I am currently perfecting a non-Punjabi soup, my version of minestrone. So I give myself a nice pat on the back for that.

The first half of 2016 was calm, flowing past slowly as flows the Ganga in spring. Nevertheless, there was the unexpected windfall and “Bapu” came out of the closet and travelled to Visakapatnam (GITAM, Gandhi Institute for Technology and Management). My 2012 exhibition Bapu: The Craftperson’s Vision , is what I am referring to ! I love South India and I was pleased to accompany “Bapu” and pleasantly surprised by the city of Visakapatnam, on the south eastern coast of India, clean and well-maintained.

We went to the nearby beach every morning for sunrise and coffee (brew coffee here is the brand BRU. No filter coffee in those parts, I was astonished!) The sunrise each day was beautiful and I adjusted to strong Bru coffee too, to wash down the idli sambar from a roadside stand, and a banana for a good healthy choice.

 

We drove through and up the Naval area to reach the lighthouse and the drive itself was interesting, the view from the top of the hill all-encompassing and broad.

There was an old temple dedicated to Narasimha and it was another long and fascinating drive to the temple town and a visit to the sanctum sanctorum was a great way to end the trip.  I love antiquity …

In March I returned after four years to the International Yoga Festival in Rishikesh and vowed never to go again for the International Yoga Tamasha it has become. However, I did some good Iyengar yoga with Arunji from Bangalore and discovered the other Yoga Festival which takes place simultaneously had more Iyengar yoga offerings so maybe there will be another next time!

The highlight in Rishikesh was making young new friends and keeping up with them. Through them I discovered the delightful Ramana café and in return, introduced them to the profundity of the Vashista Gufa (cave).

I also vowed that I would not think of travelling for six months. Enough, I told myself for some unknown reason.

Within four months, there was talk of “Bapu” travelling once again, this time to participate in the Festival of India in Australia, and so it happened, a little over six months after Rishikesh I was once again accompanying “Bapu” , this time to Brisbane and having a solo khadi fashion show in Sydney. It was a wonderful bolt from the blue. “Bapu” was warmly received in Brisbane and it proved to be an excellent way to talk about him, his life’s work , the crafts of India and above all, khadi. Being in Brisbane gave me the opportunity to once again meet one of my young new friends from Rishikesh and also a young cousin.

 

 

I was pleased to show off Khadi in Sydney, I will happily show it anywhere in the world, talk about it and revel in it !

 

 

The day before I left Sydney, as I was having my early cup of coffee taking in the glorious sunrise, I rebuked myself for not having seen any kangaroos and I resolved to do just that. I went off to the zoo and saw them with their joeys, koalas and wallabies. What a wonderful heartwarming sight !

 

Back in Delhi, and fighting mild jet lag, I was ordered by my mother to the television on the night of Nov 8 to hear the Prime Minister announce DEMONETISATION! Oh my goodness ! I am glad we are fully demonetized as of yesterday, December 30. Enough became enough. Tired of hearing the word and living through it, seeing the long queues at banks of usually impatient Indians standing quietly, patiently, very often to be told the bank had run out of money. Anyway, it’s over. And migration to GST is done as well, today, the last day.

The last three days of 2016 have seemed longer than the rest of the year put together…so I’m not unhappy to see it end! Or happy either, come to think of it. Learning to go with the flow, am I? At last?

I was looking for worthy pix to take to post of 2016 ending. And yesterday I saw one as I emerged from the office of the telephone department. I was taking pix of vendors at the crossroads, selling multicolored balloons and then I noticed in front of me two young boys distributing food to the street kids. They were Engineering students  from Kolkata, interning for an NGO which distributes packets of food to street children in parts of Delhi daily and also includes some teaching as well.  I like being able to share these pix to end the year.

This morning driving to finish some work, I saw a group of women walking away from me on the flyover and I had to stop and take a pic of their retreating backs, just to record their colorful garments. As I took the photograph one of them turned to look back and they came toward me in the car, all smiling. I showed them the photograph and they were happy as was I, we exchanged greetings, smiles and a few chuckles before I drove off wishing them a Happy New Year.

(I call this pic “6 Deviyan”, the first of all Devis in the foreground, Mata Vaishno Devi who is omnipresent, yes, but is also resident in my car from which I took this shot!)

 

 

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Tang Dynasty Welcome

I was hugely entertained to see on TV the “Tang Dynasty Welcome” for our PM in China ! Especially in context of the book I am currently reading, Valerie Hansen’s The Silk Road.  Coincidentally, the portion I had just finished was on the Tang dynasty .  Looking at the elaborate dances, numbers of dancers and their very colourful, voluminous garments set me off on a fun roller coaster ride of thoughts.

Firstly, what struck me was the quantity of fabric each one of those swaying, swishing, twirling dresses require ! The book does inform us that currency in the Tang dynasty consisted of grain, coins and silk cloth so we know that the technology to hand spin and weave the yarn into cloth (silk) was known at the time . (Had the wheel already been invented or was the fiber rolled on the thigh or on an overturned terracotta pot to produce the yarn?) But whether it was being produced in such large quantities as to fashion garments for dancers is an unknown .

At the same time, the author quotes a document that lists goods placed in a grave from an earlier period: “100,109,000 cubits of “climbing-to-heaven silk” “ but we are also told these exaggerated quantities are indicative that not actual goods but ‘facsimile textiles” were placed.

However, were the garments we saw pure handspun handwoven silk or synthetic duplicates !

And then the beautiful colors of the light floating silks.  We are informed that the silk fabric was ‘degummed’ to better absorb the dye and ammonium chloride was one of the many ingredients of the dye bath. So the dyeing technology existed already but such brilliant colors as we saw on our TV screens !

A photograph in the book of the  “Tang Barbie” gives us an idea of the high-fashion of that era, but the skirt no where as voluminous as worn by the dancers, the colors much more earthy!

As for those dance moves, I wonder how those have stood the test of time. We know for a fact no videography or photography existed at the time. However, we do have a photograph (much more recent !) of a painted stone panel  of men, one of whom is dancing, (the ‘swirl dance’) their clothes more form fitted than what they wear to depict the Tang Dynasty these days!.

The book includes other photographs of fascinating textiles discovered in excavations headed by the legendary Aurel Stein. Many are from the Sasanian Empire of Western Iran.

Today i went to Delhi’s national museum for an unrelated exhibition and later drifted into a gallery i have never visited, Coins and Central Asia.  What a revelation that right in my home town, in the heart of Delhi, close to home, i should see similar textiles, “wood slips” with the Kharoshti script and read of their provenance, towns and cities on The Silk Road, Niya, Loulan, Turfan…all written about in this very same book.

And finally, the last but not the least, in April, I managed to see before it closed, a show on Aurel Stein’s work, excavations and findings in Central Asia at the Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts.

All of these,  the book, today’s visit to the Museum, the Aurel Stein exhibition were separate happenings but closely and coincidentally linked one to another, and came together because of the Tang Dynasty Welcome !

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Emergency , India, 1975

The current buzz in the media is 40 years since the Emergency in India ! Once again, I don’t want to be left out of the  buzz going around. Instead, I feel I must share a private citizen’s experience, mine, of the time. Apolitical as I was, I still had a few experiences to reminisce over.

In fact, I was not in India when it was declared and the clamp down started. I was away in the USA, having left immediately after graduating from the American Embassy School  so the few reports I got were from newspapers there and I have to admit, I was not much of a newspaper reader in those days, despite my mother coaxing me since my childhood to at least read the editorials .

What brought about this desire to share some thoughts was Karan Thapar’s interview with R K Dhawan on CNN-IBN and the question he  asked was if it were true that Sanjay Gandhi had slapped his mother, Indira Gandhi, at a party. Mr Dhawan denied this ever happened but this report was covered apparently in the Washington Post.  It made it into the paper we got at my Uncle Zeke’s home in New Jersey and I cut it up and mailed it to my parents, in those days of censorship, in Delhi.  When I sent it, I had no idea that censorship had been imposed else I may not have.

In those days, Sonia Gandhi used to come to my mother’s boutique, Raj Creations in Yashwant Place (which is now in its 48th year, folks, still goin’ strong).  The next time she came, my mother just happened to have that article in her bag and handed it over to Sonia, saying “Read what the American press is saying about your mother-in-law”. She took it with her and my mother came home and narrated this happening to my father and some other family members who were visiting that evening.  Oh! How they berated her for having handed over that article ! She shouldn’t have done it, didn’t she know there was censorhip, watch out! They really put fear in my poor Mom’s heart.  But nothing happened.

I went on to study at Jesus & Mary College (till I dropped out 6 months later, yes, I was a drop out) and I recall how in the all-girl college suddenly the rumors were raging that girls in all colleges would have to wear salwar-kameez only.  I hadn’t worn a uniform since my days at Convent of Jesus & Mary , aged 6, so I was apprehensive but so were all the other students, who were so relieved to be out of their uniforms and attempting to evolve a personal sartorial style and traditional attire was far removed!  Fortunately, the rumors remained just that.

Again, at the boutique, I used to help my mother in case she couldn’t go for some reason and if the sales staff was absent.  News  went around that all stores in all commercial centers had to ensure every item on sale was price-tagged.   Apart from garments and textiles, we used to stock a lot of small items like bags and playing card cases, and many etceteras. One day at the boutique I took it upon myself to patiently price every single item(I also used to find it annoying not to know the prices  so that had something to do with it too).

Efforts like these are never wasted.  One day the cops arrived. At the threshold of the boutique, they took an aggressive and menacing stand before entering.  The head of the group said, “Keep the handcuffs ready”. (This is true.) Depending on where one entered Yashwant Place, ours was the first store. As soon as the news went around, the other stores started downing their shutters.  I was in the store that day with Dolly. The cops came in and checked the prices of many many items, including the small ones we kept in a cabinet.  Every garment, every bolt of fabric, the smallest of item was tagged. Disappointed, I suppose, one of them turned to the table fan and asked, “Why doesn’t this have a tag?” I was courageous enough by then to betray genuine annoyance when I replied, “It’s not for sale”. He wanted the last word. “Then tag it not for sale”.  I remember the cops coming twice in my presence, this once and a second time too.

I remember my mother being in a state of disbelief that I had tagged everything without her knowledge. There were so many things in the fairly large space we had then (I wish I had that kind of space today).

My cousin had invited me over for a party at his house in Golf Links and in those days, our parties didn’t end late and he was supposed to drop me home.  So when it ended he, accompanied with a friend of his, and myself, we walked to Khan Market to get an autorickshaw.  Again some cops hanging around, waiting to harass. “Who is she she?” My cousin: “My sister”. “Where are you going?” Cousin: “To drop her home”. “If she’s your sister, why do you have to drop her home?” I finally found my voice and spoke up: “Cousin bhi to ho sakti hai”. (I’m a cousin). Cop: “Okay, go”.  How could one feel safe?

Once we were sitting at the Taj Mansingh’s popular coffee shop Machaan, and a discussion started over politics, but I remember we quickly shut up, the walls had ears.

Later studying at Jawaharlal Nehru University, hub of political activism, our professors never let us out early. “Emergency”, they would reason.  For some reason, despite being at JNU, I didn’t get involved with the politics of the time. We were School of Languages students, the under-grads no one paid attention to, very young, probably, and uninformed. Looking back I wish I had but there are lots of programs on TV and articles in the print media as well have books released to coincide with this anniversary. It’s time to refresh my memory !

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International Yoga Day

International Yoga Day has come and gone and there are 363 days till the next one, but the ‘controversy’ continues to rage thanks to the media, the real news makers.

Despite the naysayers, the nationalists, the politicians the communists, the religionists, conscientious objectors , and so on and so forth, the event went off wonderfully well not just at Rajpath (we shall call it “Yogpath” henceforth!), the Guiness-Book-Record-setting venue (+35000 people!), but pan-India, Yoga Day was celebrated with an asana practice by large numbers.  What a great show it was.  If the message of Yoga has gone across to the huge numbers of our population, it will have been well worth the effort. I’m sure many amongst them will be curious to learn more and start to practice.  So what could be better. I hope there are some positive after effects which halts the naysayers in their tracks. Enough is enough. Leave Yoga out of politics and religion please.  Just do it, as is said.

Now we all know what it means, yoga from the Sanskrit ‘yukt’ means to yoke, to unite, a union of the mind, body and soul. If it can unite us all in India,(I’m thinking “Unity in Diversity”, those famous words) we will have added another dimension to the force of yoga.  Unity in Oneness.

The on-the-spot energy at Rajpath must have been tremendous and a good job that the PM strode across to find his mat placed squarely in the front to lead the nation in its first mass Yoga ‘class’.  It could not have been otherwise with the whole world looking on. Like a journalist has written, it was  quite cool to see, a rare sight, the PM of India, wriggling his toes –all ten of ‘em – on live television, bending , twisting and lying down in the series of asanas named the Common Yoga Protocol !

We Indians love celebrating festivals and to me it looks like we just got another one to add to our already long list.

Instead of focusing on reclaiming Yoga from the West or spreading it in all four directions globally, (it’s so well established all over the world in any case) let’s concentrate instead on us Indians practicing it , within our country, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from Gujarat to the North-East and everywhere in between.  All we need is a mat and sometimes not even that. “Press down firmly the middle finger and the thumb to avoid slipping” said Guruji, BKS Iyengar through his granddaughter in Pune during a class I was observing.  There were so many practitioners in the hall, the mats had to be removed to make space for all. Oh yes, indeed. Guruji must be delighted and smiling down at what was happening countrywide and worldwide on Sunday June 21.  I’m sure that was his hand raised in salutation and blessing to all of us !

My only disappointment was over the fact that I didn’t receive an invite to practice at Rajpath but I won’t cavil too much over it!  Next year let’s keep Rajpath open for one and all to come with their mats and do some Yoga together. Till then, keep practicing, folks. It’s the best daily vitamin shot you can give yourself ! Happy Yoga to one and all !

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Hauz Khas Village, once again !

Hauz Khas Village is now a fashion observer’s delight.  Given the multitude of visitors it attracts on Saturday, today was an apt day to be on the lookout.

There was no  visible trend , instead a variety of tops n bottoms, casual, let’s-keep-our-cool kind of clothes to combat the May heat.

Smart, printed cotton top in cool blues paired with fashionably-torn-at-one-knee jeans, ill-fitting mini skirt with printed shirt tucked in to reveal a not-so-pretty paunch and dangerously high-heeled footwear in Indian pink.

Turquoise nail paint embellishes toe nails peeping through open high platform sandals, ankle-length bias cut kurta – the churidar barely peeping out below it, the dupatta trails behind sweeping the street behind it. Chunky jewelry and inexpensive plastic sandals in fluorescent colors, kulfi-eaters and nitrogen ice cream, music filters down from a restaurant, a gaggle of jeans-clad teenagers excitedly share their news and gossip.

Most interesting of all, a young woman is helped out of the car, blindfolded! Obviously she’s in for surprise, as we can make out from her smile. Her friend holds her to prevent a fall, balancing precariously on her stilettos braving the uneven road ahead, holding a long-stemmed rose in her hand. Ahead of her, another friend with what must be the cake box. I do hope the birthday girl was happily surprised!  This was a first for most of us who saw her.

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Amusing musings

I was hugely entertained to see on TV the “Tang Dynasty Welcome” for our PM in China ! Especially in context of the book I am currently reading, Valerie Hansen’s The Silk Road.  Coincidentally, the portion I had just finished was on the Tang dynasty .  Looking at the elaborate dances, numbers of dancers and their very colourful, voluminous garments set me off on a fun roller coaster ride of thoughts.

Firstly, what struck me was the quantity of fabric each one of those swaying, swishing, twirling dresses require ! The book does inform us that currency in the Tang dynasty consisted of grain, coins and silk cloth so we know that the technology to hand spin and weave the yarn into cloth (silk) was known at the time . (Had the wheel already been invented or was the fiber rolled on the thigh or on an overturned terracotta pot to produce the yarn?) But whether it was being produced in such large quantities as to fashion garments for dancers is an unknown .

At the same time, the author quotes a document that lists goods placed in a grave from an earlier period: “100,109,000 cubits of “climbing-to-heaven silk” “ but we are also told these exaggerated quantities are indicative that not actual goods but ‘facsimile textiles” were placed.

However, were the garments we saw pure handspun handwoven silk or synthetic duplicates !

And then the beautiful colors of the light floating silks.  We are informed that the silk fabric was ‘degummed’ to better absorb the dye and ammonium chloride was one of the many ingredients of the dye bath. So the dyeing technology existed already but such brilliant colors as we saw on our TV screens !

A photograph in the book of the  “Tang Barbie” gives us an idea of the high-fashion of that era, but the skirt no where as voluminous as worn by the dancers, the colors much more earthy!

As for those dance moves, I wonder how those have stood the test of time. We know for a fact no videography or photography existed at the time. However, we do have a photograph (much more recent !) of a painted stone panel  of men, one of whom is dancing, (the ‘swirl dance’) their clothes more form fitted than what they wear to depict the Tang Dynasty these days!.

The book includes other photographs of fascinating textiles discovered in excavations headed by the legendary Aurel Stein. Many are from the Sasanian Empire of Western Iran.

Today i went to Delhi’s national museum for an unrelated exhibition and later drifted into a gallery i have never visited, Coins and Central Asia.  What a revelation that right in my home town, in the heart of Delhi, close to home, i should see similar textiles, “wood slips” with the Kharoshti script and read of their provenance, towns and cities on The Silk Road, Niya, Loulan, Turfan…all written about in this very same book.

And finally, the last but not the least, in April, I managed to see before it closed, a show on Aurel Stein’s work, excavations and findings in Central Asia at the Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts.

All of these,  the book, today’s visit to the Museum, the Aurel Stein exhibition were separate happenings but closely and coincidentally linked one to another, and came together because of the Tang Dynasty Welcome !

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