Helping Heritage with INTACH

Did you know that beneath that luminous marble, is a core of bricks?

Seriously? The Taj Mahal? This fact about the most familiar monument to Indians, and many more such nuggets about our heritage took me by surprise. But then, I should have expected as much since I was at a workshop by INTACH or the Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage of the Nilgiris Chapter. The location – the YWCA building opposite the Race Course in Ooty – was itself imbued with historical and architectural significance as Dr. Suresh, convenor of Tamil Nadu INTACH, explained in the end.

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The newly restored Reference Section of the Nilgiri Library

Conducted over two days, 13th and 14 July,  the workshop sought to acquaint school teachers with the need of and skills for starting heritage clubs in their institutions with the ultimate goal of protecting national heritage.On the first day Ms. Purnima Dutt, the resource person conducting the workshop, used an interesting mix of talk, audio-visual media and games to give an overview on the goals, aspects and methodology of running a heritage club while the second day passed in a whirl of activities including a much-anticipated visit to Ooty’s heritage buildings like St Stephens Church, the Nilgiri Library and the Stone House built by John Sullivan, the first Englishman to arrive in Ooty and hence the founder of modern history of the famous hill station. The warmth and bonhomie evoked at the workshop venue served a cheerful counterpoint to the chilly breeze and slate grey Nilgiri sky outside.

 

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Exquisite Stained Glass Paintings at the St. Stephens Church, Ooty

 

Satiated by a hearty lunch, as we began walking out of the dining room, hitherto unnoticed details like a jade green gravy boat on the  sideboard and a piano with candle-holders on decorative hinges caught our attention, taking us back to dining and partying ways of decades ago. This new heightened awareness of heritage took a while to sink in and as we left on our own ways, I am certain many of us were already thinking of how best to pass it on to the younger generation.

 

 

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7 Football Fun Facts To Crank Up FIFA Fever

The other day, I asked my daughter about the official song of the ongoing FIFA World Cup. Turned out she was as clueless as yours truly. So in an increasingly rare instance of mother-daughter joint endeavour we looked it up together and found out that it was “Live it Up” by Nicki Jam, featuring Will Smith and Era Isterefi .

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The exercise led me to dig up other facts related to football or soccer as the known in some parts of the world. Here are seven interesting facts about some of greatest names of the Beautiful Game:

  • Though he was eventually fully exonerated, Bobby Moore – captain of the only FIFA World Cup winning English team – before landing in Mexico for the 1970 World Cup faced arrest by the Colombian police on charges of jewellery theft.
  • David Beckham is said to suffer from ornithophobia or fear of birds! Actually it gets weirder – he also has ataxophobia which is – hold on – fear of untidiness!
  • Maradona – whose antics of elation on the stands this time grabbed more footage than Rojo’s match-winning goal against Nigeria – had to exit the 1994 World Cup mid-tournament for testing positive for drug ephedrine.
  • As a child, Messi was diagnosed with a type of hormone deficiency; when treatment in Argentina proved expensive for his middle-class parents the FC Barcelona club pitched in, impressed by budding footballer’s potential.
  • In his youth, Pele started a team with boys of the neighbourhood who couldn’t afford gear and thus were known as ‘Shoeless Ones’ – eventually this game of pick-up soccer took on his name and became famous as ‘pelada’.
  • For scoring a goal in his debut league match in 1991, Zinedine Zidane was gifted a car by his club chairman, Alain Pedretti.
  • Apart from South America and Europe, no other continent has produced a World Cup winning team.

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Table For One

In a Post-Truth world, I am wary of messages on social media. But a recent one has got me thinking for some time now. And having just watched  71 – a hard-hitting independent British movie about a soldier inadvertently left behind on the riot-ridden streets of Belfast at the peak of Northern Ireland conflict, I began to realize the enormous significance of hope in the midst of fear and violence.

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A Still from ’71                                                                                   Photo Courtesy: The Guardian

At National Defence Academy, India’s premier training institution for young military cadets, the dining hall is a prime attraction for outsiders. Officially known as the Cadets’ Mess, it has a seating capacity of 2100 cadets at one time. But little do people know that just outside, stands a solitary table set just for one with its chair tilted forward. This arrangement is in remembrance of all those brave souls either Missing In Action or taken Prisoners of War.

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On the table is a vase with a single rose indicating the love of the families who still hope for their return.  Tied around the vase is also a red ribbon to show solidarity with all who demand a proper accounting of the missing. The candle on the table is never lit, symbolizing lack of light and happiness in their absence.  A slice of lemon placed on the bread plate stands for their bitter fate while the salt is reminiscent  of the tears shed by their loved ones. Finally the glass is upturned indicating that they cannot dine with us tonight.

What a remarkable symbol of the sacrifice of all those who left to do their duty by their country but never came back!

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“Let the chair remain tilted

Let the lonesome table still be set

The candle keeps its dark vigil

lest we forget, lest we forget !”

Kohima Chronicles

No, I didn’t spot a hornbill – nevertheless there was much to marvel in this Land of the Brave and the Beautiful.

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The brave…

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Sprawled across the slopes of Japfu range is the capital city of the state of Nagaland – Kohima. The city and its people walk with a calm balance – here sunny mornings can give way to sharp, gusty showers later in the day. gorgeous blooms of roses, geraniums and hibiscus grow in dusty pots, if not plain poly bags.

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And the Beautiful.

Though the tinned roofs of the cityscape are an eyesore, the predominance of bamboo walls could be a lesson in organic growth to other Indian hill stations. There are no opulent bungalows and sprawling hotels but neither there are reeking poverty-stricken shanties. Apart from KFC, I didn’t notice many big brands but was elated to find so many shops selling musical instruments and plump succulents. Here is an attractive example of inspirational graffiti art:

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I was warned that the Naga market with its raw display of meats was not for the faint-hearted yet I was found so many types of organic grown greens on sale. Then again despite the messy tangle of corruption, extortion and politics, people appear satisfied and self-contained. In fact my whining about the bone-jarring drive from Dimapur to Kohima was met with mischief-marked smiles – leading me to believe that they don’t mind the torturous access so much if it keeps crowds away. And yet over the first week of December, Kohima throws open its arms to the world for the Hornbill Festival.

Not surprisingly I returned with more questions about this land than answers…I would love to hear more from anyone who has lived and breathed its moist, mist-scented air!

New Market Matters…

Paisleys, stripes and waves dancing on royal purples, jade greens, ruby reds – a myriad colours, patterns and textures shimmering before my eyes. I lapped up the sensory feast though fabrics were clearly not on my shopping list.

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But then, this was how one of Kolkata’s most popular markets made a lifelong follower out of you. Typical of the city’s paradoxical attractions, New Market continues to be called so, despite the fact that it is more than a century old. Built on the express initiative of Sir Stuart Hogg, then Chairman of Calcutta Corporation, it was inaugurated on 1 January 1874 as the first municipal market of the city and a much-needed destination where the colonial settlers could shop for their stationary from R.W. Newman or Thacker Spink or buy their dresses from Ranken and Company. Later the market was named Hogg Market but eventually came to be known as just New Market.

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New Market in 1945

Today, I was interested in a bewildering spectrum of stuff – leather hand-bags, baking accessories, summer shorts, wine-glasses and finally biscuits from Nahoum and Sons, the only confectioners in India that I have come across who sell the Turkish dessert baklava on a regular, no-frills basis. Smoky Bandel Cheese is again one of the cherished offerings of New Market and might well be among the remaining traces of Portuguese cuisine in India outside Goa; just like delicious pork sausages that my friend tells me cannot be matched elsewhere in price and flavour.

Dripping in the humid heat, nevertheless we plodded on – she rolling her eyes at my “under-developed bargaining skills” and I guiding her through the semi-lit, steaming, maze-like lanes. Eventually when our arms could no longer bear anymore weight, we hailed a cab. Truth be told, I a little reluctantly, since my brain was still ticking off the items I could have still bought to take back to the Nilgiris.

Maybe a slice of hot, smoky cosmopolitan Calcutta to carry to my cool, hill-side home. Yes, I would have liked that !!

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New Market now

Follow the harvest trail…

Today amidst the flurry of New Year wishes, one particular post on social media caught my attention.

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The fact that we Bengalis – as a linguistic and cultural community undivided by international boundaries –  share our New Year with festivals in other parts of India invariably gladdens my heart every time April comes around. As we get ready to feast on kosha mangsho and payesh – must-haves on the traditional Bengali spread – Tamil Nadu is celebrating Puthandu, Kerala is enjoying Vishu Kani, Assam is swaying to Bihu, Punjab is rocking to Vaisakhi and Orissa is marking Pana Sankranti.

Interestingly, many parts of South and South-eastern Asia also usher in their traditional New Year around this time. Thailand, Laos and Burma are awash in the colours of Songkran, Pi Mai Lao and Thingyan respectively.  The Cambodian Choul Chnam Thmey literally means “Enter New Year” in the Khmer language and the Sinhalese New Year is known as Aluth Avurudda. The official calendar of Nepal, Bikram Sambath too is unfurled around this time. Indeed Bangladesh celebrates Pahela Baishakh  in a most spectacular manner with the Mangal Shobhajatra in Dhaka now being declared by UNESCO as a cultural heritage of humanity.

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Photo courtesy: The Asian Age

There are many ways of explaining this concurrence of festivities. Astronomically, this time marks the beginning of the Aries zodiac known as Mesh in Sanskrit – thus countries which had been influenced Sanskrit/Hindu astronomy historically, for example as a result of invasion by the Chola dynasty, still follow its cultural observations.

What I like to think though is that all these communities are bound by ancient rhythms of seasons and agriculture. Not so long ago and still so in some places, harvests would be gathered in at this time, larders filled and prayers of thanks offered for Nature’s bounty. What else could explain so many rituals associated with rice, water and earth?

Today, with increasing urbanization, many of these harvest rituals are fading away. And yet, the spirit of cultural belonging remains strong. If music, food, art and nature help Bengalis push religious and national identities in the background to come together on Poila Boishakh, young Khmer girls dress up in all their traditional finery half-way across the world in Georgia, US.

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What an amazing place is this world of ours !

The Elephant in the Quilt

A quilt shaking as though it has a life of its own, like an elephant in there – a pair of young female eyes  is struck into silence by what she sees…

This is how the 1942 short story, Lihaaf translated as The Quilt ends which was eventually hailed as a trailblazer in women’s writing about class, gender and sexuality in the Indian subcontinent. The author was a bold, irreverent 27 year old woman named Ismat Chugtai whose liberal upbringing and a keen awareness of patriarchal politics made her take up the pen. Later in life, her non-fiction work, Yahan se Wahan Tak would read, “The pen is my livelihood and my friend, my confidante…Whenever I want I can send for anyone via the pen’s flying carpet, and when these people arrive, I can say anything, make them cry, laugh or reduce them to ashes with my harsh words.”

Ismat-Chughtai

It is this fire from her pen that charted a new kind of writing where women could use the form of the short story in Urdu to talk about not just female sexuality but about other kinds of discrimination, oppressions they faced on a daily basis. This however did not go unopposed by patriarchal institutions as stories like Lihaaf faced court cases and others like Angaarey were banned at various times in the subcontinent.

 

Apart from Lihaaf, Chugtai is today best known for her story collections like  Chhui Mui, Thori si Pagal, Aik Baat, Do Haath, novellas like Ziddi which was made into a hit Hindi move of the same title but most of all for the novel, Tehri Lakeer or The Crooked Line which was considered her magnum opus. Later her non-fiction work like essays and memoirs especially Kaghazi hai Pehraan too received much appreciation and renown. Official recognition came in the form of a slew of media awards including the Filmfare Award for best Story for the Partition classic Garam Hawa on which she worked with noted Urdu poet Kaifi Azmi as well as state awards, including the Padma Shri in 1976.

Chugtai died in 1991 in then Bombay but not before she had been successful in ‘Lifting The Veil’ – incidentally the title given to an anthology of her stories – from the reality of gender and class politics in the subcontinent and offered women writers to come, new avenues in literary form and style.