April 23, 2012

Jehangir Terrace Gallery For Photography And Visual Art, Mumbai

“Don’t search for the tiger. The tiger will find you,” Kakubhai Kothari told me, and for good measure repeated it so I would remember it to be an absolute like Newton’s Laws of Motion. “Don’t search for the tiger. The tiger will find you.”

He kept his eyes on visitors to his photo exhibition on Cultural Heritage, Nature & Wildlife at the newly opened Terrace Gallery in the Jehangir Art Gallery dedicated to Photography and Visual Arts, in part owing to the generous munificence of the man himself, Kakubhai.

The Terrace Gallery dedicated to Photography & Visual Arts opened early this April, a welcome addition to Mumbai galleries increasingly recognising photography as an art form though nowhere in the number needed to do justice to its practitioners. It took a long time coming to Jehangir, likely driven in part by increasing queries by photographers for gallery space to display their photography.

“The tiger will find you, don’t search,” Kakubhai repeated, his eyes on visitors stepping into the narrow but long exhibition space located on the terrace of the Jehangir Art Gallery, eyes lighting up in recognition on spotting familiar faces as they stepped toward him to exchange pleasantries.

I nodded, reminded of all those long treks where I had to be satisfied with hundreds of tiger pug marks, signs that boded well at the time, but ended without sightings of the striped cat.

He left me in no doubt, not that I was under any illusion after having trekked in wildlife sanctuaries over the years that tiger sightings are not so much a matter of chance as they’re revelations granted by tigers to hopeful pilgrims making their way along jungle trails, holding their breath atop elephants crashing through the undergrowth, the mahout nudging them toward waterholes known to be frequented by tigers. Even so there’s little certainty the striped beast will grant the eager beavers an audience.

If they do, it’s either because they couldn’t care less, or because they’re looking for some entertainment themselves, probably joking in tiger lingo and passing comments on corporate rats come looking for jungle cats.

To picture the scene, I did not have to stretch my imagination any further than the wall adjoining the entrance to the Jehangir Art Gallery. Straining in the evening breeze across the road from the David Sassoon Library in Kala Ghoda, a life sized photograph hung from the terrace of the art gallery, showing three tigers, sheltered by a bush and cooling themselves in a shrinking waterhole, looking up at visitors perched atop an elephant, fiddling with their cameras for that 'once in a lifetime shot' to bandy about back home.

Passers-by paused by the photograph on their way past the Jehangir Art Gallery to see the tigers see the visitors see the tigers.

Others who followed the newly installed sign board outside Samovar, the gallery café, found themselves taking the stairs to the terrace and welcomed by photographs mounted along the parapet. Large photographs of Ganapati processions, sculptures, and ornamented wells among others, the Cultural Heritage part of Kakubhai's exhibits.

At first I wondered if this was it, disappointed on seeing photographs of Indian cultural landmarks mounted in the open, exposed to elements though a warm late afternoon light suffused the pictures and lent them a glow in keeping with the gentle environs of South Bombay.

I thought, surely, Jehangir Art Gallery could’ve done a better job than find a home for photography under  open skies. A roof would’ve helped secure them better, and appropriate light to accentuate their imagery would’ve done them justice.

Just as I was about to turn and take the stairs down I saw a few visitors emerge from a door at the corner of the terrace overlooking the open space behind the gallery. Curious, I stepped in and was pleasantly surprised to find myself in a sleek gallery space that ran the length of one side of the wall, large enough to allow for two rows of visitors take in photographs displayed on opposing walls. a Visitor's Book was kept at the corner by the door. 

The lights brought alive the tigers in almost every emotion imaginable.

It was there I met Kakubhai Kothari.    

“Tadoba is a better place than Jim Corbett to sight tigers at this time of the year,” he said. “But if you’re not fixated on tigers then Jim Corbett is a great place to explore other forms of wildlife. There’s much to see there.”

He also suggested Pench, and Nagzira wildlife sanctuaries for tiger sightings.

Of the tiger photographs on display, Kakubhai had shot some in the Tadoba Wildlife Sanctuary, a tiger haven I had visited many, many years ago, trekking in its jungles for five days in the company of fellow wildlife enthusiasts from Bombay, Pune, Nagpur, and Nashik among others. Each day we would start out at the break of dawn and return nearly eleven hours later, on foot all through the day.

This was neat I thought. K was grinning from ear to ear, having first noticed the opening of the Terrace Gallery for Photography on a poster displayed outside. S, and G were riveted by the tiger show on parade.

Photographers eyeing the prominent locale Jehangir Art Gallery occupies in Fort will be relieved enough to hope that the waiting period for gallery space that ranges anywhere between 5-7 years, with photography playing second fiddle to paintings and sculptures until now, will shorten considerably now that it has opened a dedicated space for photography.

Kakubhai’s photo exhibition ended today.


April 22, 2012

Indo-German Urban Mela, Mumbai

It was just as well we ended up at the Indo-German Urban Mela at Cross Maidan past sundown for, as we walked up to Entry Gate 2 on Vithaldas Thakersey road, near the intersection with Veer Nariman road, the night was well and truly upon us and from behind the entry gate rose multi-purpose pavilions glowing in the Mumbai night.

For a moment one could be forgiven for believing one was entering a gigantic jewellery showroom past closing time, with precious jewels the size meant for fingers of a species many times larger than an average human, glowing invitingly to explore them in the dark of the showroom.  

A flier said: The gemstone shapes for the pavilions are a reminder and celebration of the colour and vibrancy of Indian art and design.

The pavilions could as easily be gigantic fireflies in futuristic woods as they could equally be life sized specimens in an open air geometry class, the structures a suffusion of circles, hexagons, squares, decagons and straight lines.

It was perhaps fitting that the Indo-German Urban Mela, a collaborative celebration titled Germany and India 2011-2012: Infinite Opportunities marking the 60th year of diplomatic relations between India and Germany, was themed StadRaume – CitySpaces and opened in Mumbai first, for perhaps no Indian city is as consumed about City Spaces, and subsumed from the lack of it, as Bombay is.

From Mumbai the Indo-German Urban Mela will next move to Bangalore before opening in Chennai, New Delhi, and finally Pune – all major Indian cities rapidly changing from increasing urbanisation, and grappling with its implications ranging from issues concerning mobility, energy, sustainable urban development, architecture, cultural space, and education among others.

The pace of change wrought by the demands rapid urbanisation places at the city’s door is a topic no longer confined to genteel drawing rooms of the Mumbai elite who’ve ‘lived through’ the transformation of Bombay to Mumbai through the 1960s to now.

Instead it’s being played out in gory images of suburban commuters falling off overcrowded Mumbai locals at about the same time the Urban Mela (Mela is Indian for 'a Fair') opened in the rare open space, Cross Maidan, located between Churchgate, and Victoria Terminus (renamed CST), the rail heads for Western and Central Suburban train lines respectively, and symbols in recent days of much that’s gone wrong with the city as it bulges ever more delicately with rapid urbanisation.

Having cleared the security checks I headed for the info desk for sundry information booklets including the layout of various pavilions. The pretty girl at the counter cheerfully apprised visitors of the sights around, patiently answering questions put to her. To retain the enthusiasm she did after a long, hot April day, for unlike the pavilions cooled to bearable temperatures, the information kiosk could only rely on the fickle Mumbai breeze, was probably down to the due diligence the organisers exercised in selecting volunteers to help out in the Urban Mela.


I’d have imagined the 15 pavilions, variously dedicated to Planning and Architecture, Mobility and Transport, Supplies and Infrastructure, and Culture, Society and Public Life, would also draw on issues specific to Indian cities, like Mumbai for example, and enumerate solutions and contrast similar issues mitigated by careful planning and implementation in German cities.

It’d have helped to have visitors relate to issues they face in their personal capacities on account of demands put on city spaces by rapid urbanisation and be introduced to possible solutions Indo-German collaboration could bring to bear. I’d have liked to see solutions offered for immediate local contexts in addition to the Siemens pavilion featuring a range of interactive experiences to enable visitors to see how cities of the future can be built around innovative technological solutions to help “turn grey cities green”.

While Siemens did an excellent job in demonstrating with interactive experiences a plan for future cities, it was largely a learning experience for possibilities that new cities can be made to hold, not immediately apparent to Mumbai residents unsure of what their future holds as Mumbai threatens to unravel at certain levels from rapid urbanisation. The Siemen’s pavilion at the Urban Mela was more of a What might have been if only moment .

Too often, a lack of awareness of long-term solutions available and an inadequate understanding of how other cities elsewhere in the Western world are preparing for the challenges of rapid urbanisation is reason why public mobilisation in India, and Mumbai in particular, rarely ventures beyond protesting against immediate issues faced by residents in Mumbai and elsewhere.

If ordinary Indian citizens are to put pressure on the government and demand a stake in public policy beyond the mandatory once-in-five-years ballot, they’d have to build a citizen consensus on a future they’d like see for themselves and succeeding generations, and that can only come about if they’re aware of the possibilities urban planning and technology hold.

To that end, the presentations put out by Siemens, BASF, Lanxess, Bosch, and SAP in their pavilions were revealing, instructive, and useful to an extent.

While cities like Mumbai, given the direction and the distance they’ve travelled over the decades, might have little potential to gain from solutions presented, I’d like to believe there’s still much that can be done to redeem the seemingly irredeemable in certain aspects, most notably in urban transportation, starting with the suburban rail networks.

Soon a long queue snaked past Lanxess and Cultural pavilions, in the direction of the Beergarden and the Open Air Stage where psychedelic lights played on a screen mounted on a raised stage, the venue for the opening concert by the Schal Sick Brass Band, and subsequent programmes on succeeding days following the opening of the Urban Mela on 14th April, including the Indo-German Hip Hop Week B – Boy Cypher & Hip Hop Chill Out Session, and Pecha Kucha Mumbai #8.

At first I thought the queue, largely youth, and mostly couples, were lining up for beer at the large beer garden near Gate 3 only to realise that they were queuing up for an evening of Silent Concert & Disco at the Open Air Stage. They would be dancing away to music streamed through headphones clamped on their ears while the rest, unless they happened to be by the stage, would be oblivious to the event.

In the mellow of a night aglow, with no music playing except through headphones, the bobbing heads shaking a leg would be lost to those in the distance as traffic on the adjacent road periodically claimed the silence each time the signal turned green.

Apparently Goa has led the way in popularising the Silent Disco, with each partygoer  dancing to their own music via their headphones.

The Beer Garden was slowly filling up. Expatriate Germans among other visitors held forth on tables, their sleeves rolled up. There was a hum in the air, and intermittent silences elsewhere.  

I couldn’t get enough of the pavilions. They were quite unlike any I’d seen before. Apparently their design allows them to be combined and installed in a variety of ways to form larger structures, assisting them to adapt with the local environment.

A booklet further informed that the largest pavilion is 210 square metres and is made up of three self-supporting hexagonal structures, just like a honeycomb. The pavilions take inspiration from traditional mobile structures like pagodas and incorporate this with a combination of Indian techniques, textile technology and high-tech components from Germany.

It further added: Precious gems and stones together with traditional Indian shapes and patterns have provided inspiration for the layout and colour of the pavilions with gold, copper, ruby-red and sapphire-blue all key to the aesthetics of the structures.

Designed by the award winning installation artist Markus Heinsdorff, the pavilions are among the highlights at the Indo-German Urban Mela, and I would surprised if among the well heeled who walked through the gate, an enterprising soul or two didn’t get their next bright ‘idea’ for a winning Shaadi Ka Mandap (Marriage Tent).

There’d no shortage of clients willing to pay for the Pandal (Pavilion) to see their darling daughter or son take wedding wows.


We exited the Mela by the same gate we’d entered, past the Charkha, a 30-ft high steel structure formally dedicated to the nation in 2011 by TATA Steel on the occasion on the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, October 2.

In the night sky, in the backdrop of glowing pavilions, the skyward spiral of steel perhaps seemed an appropriate and instructive context to a city simultaneously spiralling upward and down, with its populace balanced somewhere in between.

As we stepped out and walked toward Veer Nariman Road, the Eros, that faithful Bombay landmark, beckoned. Cine goers were milling about the entrance. A poster of  Housefull 2, the sequel to Housefull hung above the entrance.

If I needed any reminding so soon after seeing exhibits centred around City Spaces and the challenges rapid urbanisation places on them, the film Housefull did more than an adequate job driving home the point that Mumbai is indeed Housefull.

The Indo-German Urban Mela ends its innings in Mumbai late today, a fine beginning, and a memorable experience. 

Related Link

April 14, 2012

Allahabad, In Search Of Another’s Meaning

The moment I heard the story of a beginning from long ago, the city quickly transformed from a place of tourist interest to one deeply personal, imbuing the visit with poignancy I could only share from memories recounted by a tremulous voice and moist eyes, stories of beginnings that I’m told Allahabad once promised and delivered, of a persona it shaped long ago, of a personality it accepted as its very own, of a couple it introduced mutually, of a father’s force it helped gather strength from its early embrace of a vibrant youth who would later shelter many a dream of another and inspire a zest for life and lend their future a meaning.

Only the promise did not last, not from lack of trying or wanting but to vicissitudes of fate, of destiny, emerged today, many years ago.

I was only as aware of Allahabad’s significance as anyone who hasn’t seen or heard him would be, but in time I was drawn into it as another’s memories intertwined into mine to a point where Allahabad became my own pilgrimage as well, of a shared destiny, of shared loss.

Memories count not from the frequency of their telling but from the strength one draws from them to compensate for the loss of a loved one, more so today than other days though other days are not very different from today in some ways, for some reasons, for somebody, for everybody.

Memories are anchors left behind long after fate disengages the ship’s tenuous hold on the shore and steers it reluctantly away, away from the shore, away from those it anchored, away to the deep sea, to the great beyond from whence there’s no return.

This was my first time. This was the other’s first time. I could sense the silence, the pause, the apprehension of feelings that would inevitably surface as names from the past would finally materialise into tangible realities. Eyes would behold them finally even if as concrete signposts.

Even so as the streets emerged on our journeys through the old city, revealing buildings I had never seen before, it was as if I had always known them for, I had heard of them, of their association with the one whom fate led away, the role they once played in his life, and the potential his presence nurtured and promised.

As the wheels turned, and the rickshawallah pedalled away, the crisp morning air revealed familiar milestones from retellings of those times, his times. Chatham Lines.

As we turned off the road in Chatham Lines and walked through the gate of the Faculty of Law, Allahabad University, adjoining MONIRBA, Motilal Nehru Institute of Research and Business Administration, the shade of a tree beckoned.

On a raised platform that ran around the tree, students of Law had left their belongings behind while they answered their exams inside the brick and mortar building.

Many students milled around, some leaned against the platform. We sat in the shade. The head turned, the eyes took in the surroundings and trailed along the outlines of the building. I could only imagine the emotions building up, of the reality sinking in anew as the past, one the other hadn’t seen, only heard, came up face to face.

He will have walked these very corridors, sat under this very tree, mingled with friends and sipped chai.

I listened. I nodded. I followed the gaze, the face, the emotions, and sensed the reluctance to leave, drawn as the other was to the association the place had with the father.

And then we made our way to the Allahabad University, its majesty derived as much from the presence it commanded with its edifice as with the lives it shaped, the aspirations it nurtured, the ambitions it gave wing to, his among others.

We walked its grounds, lingered in its shade, glanced along its corridors, meandered along paths leading to its various blocks, made way to student agitators chanting slogans as they marched down a pathway, and paused by its gardens.

He cut his teeth here. Acquired the Allahabadi style and speak, and joie de vivre

I listened. I nodded. I imagined. I felt. I shared. I lived.

Students walked through the gates, laughing away, sharing banter, carefree. It would’ve been the same back then.

Only faces change.

The afternoon was slipping away. Feet dragged. Pauses abounded. Silence hastened time, past and present.


A life lived. A time gone. An association renewed. A memory strengthened. A loss fathomed. A feeling plumbed.

He used to say 'Ae Shehar Ae Allahabad, Royega Tu Zaar Zaar Mere Jaane Ke Baad ...'


April 09, 2012

Pilgrims' Progress

Tirupati, 2009

Brahmin pilgrims on pilgrimage to Tirupati account for their daily expenses in the temple complex.

April 07, 2012

Cashews And ‘Nuts’

As we swept past a turn on the NH66 heading South, a lush green rice field emerged by the roadside.

Sandwiched between the highway and a hill and bounded on the west by a smattering of banana plants along an outer embankment of mud and laterite breached by an opening to channel water into the field, the dollop of green was like fresh lemonade to the eyes in a deciduous landscape and red earth.

Canacona lay 15 kms away.

We had driven through Balli on the NH66 on our way to Cotigao, dodging shadows while they sought to embrace us in the early March morning light filtering through trees, a sight that kept us company all the way through.

Leaves danced on the road, swallowing us up like a blanket moving up and over the head, except this blanket stretched kilometres on end and I was more than happy to let it slide over, and over. To be ‘netted’ without being constrained is to be embraced without being held. It’s a different feeling.

The caress of the road is experienced in myriad ways.

It was a fine morning for the road and I was relieved to be in Goa and about the place. A day of hiking in the Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary beckoned us both. Philip’s binoculars and camera lay in a bag between the seats while my own was hidden away in a canvas bag drawn around my neck.

While early March is not the best time to go cashew hopping in the hills about Goa, for the cashew season is only just about beginning, I was nevertheless struck by the visible absence of the distinctive cashew fruits in trees along the way, not even in the cashew plantation the Government of Goa has undertaken within or along the limits of the Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary that we passed by later that morning. (See photo below).

“Late March and April is when you’ll see the trees awash with cashew fruits,” Philip said. While I was aware of it, I’d hoped to be enlivened by colourful cashew fruits hanging from branches roadside.

In some parts, cashew harvesting is over by mid-April, in other parts it marks the beginning when fruits are harvested for Feni, the local alcoholic drink, and cashew nuts for processing at cashew factories.

A Goan summer sojourn is incomplete without cashews, and mine was saved, however fleetingly, by a local villager a few kilometres out of Balli.

She was walking along the road carrying on her head a large plastic tub heaped with cashew fruits. The fruits still retained cashew nuts. Atop the heap of cashews a small plastic bucket lay face-down, likely for use in collecting cashew nuts once separated from the fruits.

In the day to follow we would be buffeted by the overpoweringly deep and heavy smell (fragrance to some) of cashew distillation roadside, on two occasions each, enroute to Cotigao and back.

One was at Shisheval not far from where we stopped for cold drinks at a local shop across the road from a temple to quench our thirst from hiking in the wildlife sanctuary all day.

In another instance a small makeshift distillery in the open space between houses with sloping roofs was being readied to host a rudimentary distillery. The thatched shelter rose from four wooden supports in the open. The floor was levelled out and probably awaited a coat of cow dung. Early for the season I thought back then though maybe not quite.

Approaching May, the Goan countryside is dotted with local cashew distilleries housed in the open in cashew plantations. They’re mostly constructed from no more than four wooden supports driven into the earth and roofed with coconut fronds to shade the earthen or copper pots used to distil cashew juice obtained from crushing cashew fruits in a basin carved out of laterite rock or in cemented enclosures on raised platforms.

Then it’s time for distilling Goa’s best known alcoholic drink, the Feni.

Urrack, an early by-product of the same distillation process, is only marginally lesser known than Feni, atleast in Goa, and equally in demand among locals if not more than its more illustrious sibling. And so it is for Neero.

Villagers will carry their cashew produce to the local distillery, their own or that belonging to another, to sell the produce for a price. If the cashew distiller will buy cashew nuts they’ll likely offload them too, the price for raw cashew nuts ranging between Rs. 70 – 90 per kilo depending upon the demand for processed cashew nuts in the market. Processed cashew nuts produced by cashew factories sell between Rs. 450/- and Rs. 600/- per kilo subject to market demand.

Manohar Parrikar, after taking office as Goa’s Chief Minister last month, has indicated introducing a minimum support price for Goa’s cashew cultivators, a benefit only enjoyed by areca nut and coconut cultivators. The BJP manifesto prior to its election victory was reported to have promised a support price of Rs. 90/- per kilo of raw cashew nuts.

Watching the middle-aged woman walk with the load on her head, probably eking out sustenance from a few cashew trees in a small plot of land, an income that’s as seasonal as it gets, a minimum support price for cashews would go some minimal way in alleviating finances.

Cashew nuts are currency, a reality that escapes no one in Goa, not even children plotting capers to meet their objectives like the bunch of us ‘Nuts’ did growing up.

Back from school one year the lot of us had financed the purchase of our cricket kit from selling raw cashew nuts at a neighbourhood shop for Rs. 10/- per kilo. If any of our parents had learnt how we’d sourced our cashew nuts, from raiding cashew trees in the countryside, there’d be hell to pay, including a tight slap or two administered to each ‘Nut’ complicit in the childhood caper.

The cricket kit barely lasted beyond two seasons, with the bat we’d purchased second-hand for Rs. 37/- from Tufaan Sports Club, a grouping of local Muslim boys from families with a relative or two working in the Gulf, giving away even sooner, barely two matches into the summer. It splintered along the side quickly enough to stir disappointment and anger amongst us.

At the time of its purchase it hadn’t occurred to us, aged no more than 11-13 years each, that the innocuous tape firmly binding the bottom of the bat was less of a protection for the bat from future blows than from the need to hide the deep crack along its length from past blows.

Much recrimination resulted between us and them. But there’s only so much and only so long 11 year-olds will hold a grudge. Four kilos of cashew nuts went down the drain, not to speak of ‘loss of face’ for having being taken for a ride. Maybe it even served us right, for while I agree in principle with ‘Two wrongs do not make a right’, I’d however make an exception in our case back then.

Soon the woman passed us, walking rhythmically and wiping sweat from her brow periodically.

The road stretched long before her, and us.

Soon we passed her.

Related Link

Read my account of meeting A Feni Consultant In The Jungle.