My 2009 coke studio blog (which I can happily and proudly say was written when my friends still looked at me in puzzlement when I put up excited status updates about CS and thought I was becoming a lunatic rave) still attracts readers from Multan to St Petersburg. I often find it intensely difficult to write about the things that I am most passionate about. But today, this has bubbled inside enough and it is like a baby whose time has come. I am blogging about Coke Studio again.  My fingers type in trepidation though.

Till very recently, Coke Studio season 1 had its own website whose profile felt like an embarrassed apology. We are in the 21st century, we better have a website.. it said. You could almost see the website's shy smile and hands turning a handkerchief over and over again in nervousness. That was the beginning of my romance. It had astounding little gems... Rahat Fateh Ali Khan giving a near-perfect tribute to the master with a jhatang version of 'Shaman Paiyan'...Nusrat would have clapped; Ali Zafar bemused by the applause for a jesty rendition of 'Channo' (yeah, it had a live audience in the first season) and Strings performing 'Duur' with a disarming, inadvertent  'shuru karey' into the microphones before they began. Then there was of course Ali Azmat and Rahat completely, totally stealing the show and the season with their 'Garaj Baras'. It indeed roared and rained so hard and so long that I suspect it gave enough confidence to Rohail Hyatt, the quiet star of Vital Signs, to dream of a second, more robust season.

And dream he did. And dreamed up a season of performances that had magic written in permanent markers all over it. What began as a  river swelled up to breach its banks and flooded minds that were willing to be overtaken. It had Ali Zafar choking with emotion and stopping midway while singing  'Dastan-e-ishq' and it had Atif's voice soaring up and down, through nooks and corners, upon rocks and below caves while singing 'Mai Ni', effectively shutting up all those who cawed he cannot sing; it had Gumby smiling in wry nostalgia when Ali Noor swallowed the stage with his energy for 'Saari Raat' (Gumby's smile said it all, the band, its break-up and their enduring friendship could all be seen in that split second); and it had 'Alif Allah'. In other words, goosebumps.

By this time, it had a presence on the internet, which went a long way in making Coke Studio what it is today. But it was still niche. We were a few excited souls who impatiently waited for the upload on the website and then hurriedly clicked 'like' and more hurriedly downloaded the songs as they came. For me, it was a time of intense joy; it was as if for two months, the world had decided to give me all the goodies I had not asked for. The BTS (behind the scenes) videos were a simple but greatly effective trick to entice us already-hooked souls; it gave a glimpse, nothing more, of that fascinating world where music is born. It lured you in but told you this is where you stop. You can stare and wonder. And you stood there with mouths open waiting to be fed.

But throughout it all, what was most endearing about the second season was its naturalness -- you could see wires running on the floor, technicians going about their work, a glimpse of a harried Rohail sometimes if you looked carefully enough, a mistake or two by the singers and an exchange of sheepish smiles, the perceptive nods of acknowledgement of greatness by the house band.... . It was also the unhurried pace, the cock-a-snook at commercialism and the sheer passion of the people involved. It made me a CS lover for life.

But the world caught on. Season 3 came in sooner than I liked. Sometimes one ought to be given time to wait; often, the anticipation is more delightful. It pained me to observe that already, there were subtle changes in CS 3. It could just be my imagination but the presentation was more.. how shall I put it, slicker, smoother. More professional perhaps but surely more clinical as well... there was alas! none of those human foibles to be found even if you looked hard enough. The soul though was still not lost; there was still magic in the air. There was Arif Lohar to gurgle at in ludicrous happiness and there was Tina Sani to marvel at in moments of spiritual bliss. 

CS though was rapidly becoming a worldwide phenomena. It made Pakistanis justifiably proud and gave a nation, in serious crisis of self-esteem and confidence, a thicker straw to clutch at but it also had a reductive effect. It became what it wasn't -- it became a television show.

In my earlier blog, I had wondered why nobody was thinking of a Coke Studio in India. Now apparently they were being forced to think of one. And in a month's time, there will not only be an Indian Coke Studio but also season 4 of the Pakistani one. As somebody commented on FB, 'Hamara CS, tumhara CS, hum sab ka CS!'  I should be jumping around in joy that my two-year-old wish was being fulfilled. But strangely all I feel is dread. All I can imagine is the kind of crass, intrusive programming that I have seen on Indian television for nearly a decade now. I can imagine Christmas-tree anchors screeching into the mike, Idea sponsoring every Bollywood wannabe song (leave this particular idea alone sirji) and worse, a red interactive panel at the end of every song asking the viewers to rate it by SMSing to 5858 and win a CS logo T-shirt and CS keychains.

I feel like a kid who had a single unique toy which is now being sucked into a toy machine that  will churn out copies to be given to other children who already have many toys to play with. But I am a cynic. Of the better kind. A cynic who wants to be rapped on the knuckles for such cynicism. A cynic who wants this season of music to wash away all her doubts and misgivings.

The world is too much with us, said Wordsworth. I am sure he wasn't taking about Coke Studio. Was he?

P.S: I have to end this with 'Mai Ni' It's compulsive.

A version of this article was published in the February 2012 issue of Avantika, a magazine on the performing arts. Find the magazine's website here

I don't really know how this is going to pan out but the inspiration came out of the most cliched of sources -  a fat, perfectly shaped, thickly coloured rainbow. Not every spring of my life will be spent waking up to a blue-tinged dawn that slowly dissolves into a pink stain over contemplative indigo. Is it darkest before dawn? Yes and No. Depends on what colour passion is for you. Nor would every winter be spent being woken up by thudding whooshing sounds that take your feet to the window to see outside a white that is both screaming and silent. Snow has an element of evil in it. Apparently I have synesthesia of sorts. I just discovered today. I attribute sounds to colours and colours to smells. Vangibath smells are russet coloured; morning mouth smells are teal; the smell of brewing tea is undoubtedly cream.. well I can go on.  I have always done it as a lazy mental hobby but apparently it is one of the several abnormalities I seem to have :P

So taking advantage of this newest discovery and the growing knowledge that nothing lasts forever, I decided to write a photo poem.
P.S: A friend who hates to be named in blogs would recognise where the nickname pink and brown came from. :D

P.P.S: All photographs are views from my window, mostly in Amsterdam, a few in Aarhus. Photos are mostly taken by me except where mentioned. For me, every two lines of the poem corresponds  to a particular picture (and they are in the same order). But of course, you are welcome to read it however you like.

A line of verse for every image
A spring like this every year
Who can predict what will make you gaze

Look, how serenely trickles in love. Fear
for its transience; it will break your heart

Like how this tree, lingering and bare
And me, will always be far apart

Colours of kindness, pink blue and grey
That stop me from hurrying to somewhere else

I've looked out of the window
and I have learnt to float

Darkness before dawn too is a half-pretence
It preens likewise even before dusk, note.

There is always a rainbow
Only if you care enough

But that too will fade into the night
Just hold nothing too tight.

pic by Judy Wanderi
Time is ticking and soon, I will be saying goodbye to this little town for ever. I have no desire to return. I usually don't get any overwhelming desire to return to a place. The only exception is London. Aarhus has provided me the most precious of things -- time. I have had enough time to not only gaze at sunrises, sunsets and mull over how weeks can pass without a single glimpse of the sun but it has also given me time and energy to wrestle my way inside myself. No, I am not launching into a boring I, Me, Myself monologue, be assured. It has also provided me something else. This blog's all about this 'something else'.

Real life conversations about India, my Indianness (whatever that is) and the growing fascination with all things Indian provided me with much bemusement and hilarity. Everybody it seems has either already visited India, is in the process of going, or really wants to go. A triumph for the Indian tourism campaign if you ask me.

Like my lecturer keeps telling, show not tell. See, I am studying and studying well; I even remember what the lecturer says :)
So, I just present some conversations. I am not making any judgements. What you make of it, is not my business. No, it is. I want to hear what you make of it. :)

Scene I:
Me, groggy. In the common kitchen waiting for kettle to boil for my morning tea.
Dash, my Danish flatmate trying to make conversation.

He: Teach me a swear word in Indian! (half-bemused, half-appraisal glance)
Me: In Indian? What's that?
He: Isn't that the language you speak?
Me: Er.. no. Indian is well, me, not my language. (That sounded incomprehensible even to me.)
He: But, but, you are from India!
Me: Yes, most assuredly I am.
Pregnant accusing silence. And then glum reply.
He: So what do you speak?
Me: There is no language called 'Indian'. I speak a language called Kannada.
He: Canada?
Me: No, Kannada.
(Resigned, Indians-are-crazy look)
He: Teach me then.
Me: Nimmajji tale
He: Nimaaaji teeel
End of attempt at small talk.

Scene II
Second attempt by Dash to make small talk after a few days. This time, I am preparing breakfast, he is eating his.

He: So, you are married eh?
Me: Yes
He: Is your husband rich or poor?
Me: Eh? Neither.
He: (Going into Indians-are-crazy mode again) But I know India has lots of rich and poor people.
Me: Yes, yes. It has lots of people who are neither as well. (I go into I-don't-know-how-to-explain-India mode)
He: So, umm, err.. your marriage was arranged yes?
Me: Actually, I fell in love. (I decide to answer him in single sentences.)
He: Really, you were not forced into marriage then?
Me: (Evil grin) Yes I was.. that's why I have run away and am now in Denmark.
He: (Has stopped eating that miserable brown-black rogbread)
Me: No, just kidding.
(short history lesson about forced marriages ensues.. unnecessary here. Suffice to say, bored Dash enough to change topic.)
He: So how is the weather in your city?
Me: Much like here (at the time of this conversation Aarhus was a pleasant 28 degrees C with lots of sunshine..something like how Bangalore would be in September)
He: So, how come you are so brown?
Me: What has that got to do with weather?
He: If the weather is like here, you should also be white!
Me: (stunned into stupid grin) But it is a matter of genes and race
He: Uh oh.
Second attempt at small talk ends.

Scene III
Me, groggy morning tea routine again. Dash, groggy rogbread routine.
He: Do you listen to music?
Me: Of course
He: Indian music?
Me: Yes, and Pakistani.
He: Can you play the sitar?
Me: I wish!
He: I know Raveee shuunkar plays.
Me: He does.
He: I went to the Indian restaurant yesterday. (smirks) Indian music was playing.. aw-aw-aw... was that Raveee?
Me: (I have had it). No that was not. Dash, Indian music is not just about Ravi Shankar... and what you heard is called 'alaap'.. the beginning of a classical song. (My tea is ready and I realise how inadequate I feel when I have to explain Indian music to somebody from scratch. So I do not attempt to.)
End of final attempt at small talk from both of us.

Scene IV
Me, exhausted and shivering in the cold at an abandoned bus terminal in Copenhagen. Only other waiting passenger, a handsome Hungarian gym instructor who began learning English (or so he told me) two months ago.
Hungarian: So you are from Indeeeaaaa
Me: Yes, (wide smile)
Hungarian: Me want to go India once.
Me: (Wider smile): You shoooullldd
Hungarian: But India so far away and huge, huge yes?
Me: Yes, huge, huge.
Hungarian: Food with lots of kuuuurrriiiii yes?
Me: (Flummoxed) pardon?
Hungarian: Kurriiiii, Kurriiiiii. I eat Kurrriiiii once in Budapest.
Me: Sorry, I cannot get you at all. (The image of a lamb gets firmly implanted on my totally fatigued mind and refuses to budge)
Hungarian: (actually wrings his hand) Oh my Engleeesh! I know Hungarian. But nobody speaks yes? I speak German. But my umm.. clients want Engleeesh. That's why I learn. You know kurrriiiiii.. kurrriiii Indian food?
Me: (Lamb moves, bulb switches on): Oh you mean curry?
Hungarian: (Beautiful smile) Yes!
Me: (Relieved sigh at getting past this kurious hurdle)
Hungarian: Indians have stuuuthis yes?
Me: (oh no) Pardon?
Hungarian: umm....sthuuthis? you know word stuuuthis? many levels of stuuuthis in India yes?
Me (aiyooooo): No, am so sorry.. I just don't know the word.
Hungarian (hurt child look): rich stuuuuthis, poor stuuuthis yes?
Me: status?
Hungarian: Yes yes (child with chocolate look)
Me: (Back to I-don't-know-how-to-explain-India mode). (Short history lecture. Hungarian listens with apparent interest. And then offers me chocolate.)
The chocolate was worth it all, yes?

If I have energy left over, more conversations in the next blog. Adios Amigos. :)

Last week, I attended a classical guitar concert. Why am I blogging about it? You will know soon enough. Or perhaps you won't. I don't.

Staying in Aarhus, which is in its heart and soul a European village, is  being bombarded in my head several times about how urban Bangalore is. If R K Narayan lived in Denmark, this would be his Malgudi. I look outside the window every morning at 7 am and ACTUALLY see the sun rise. The world begins in the morning slowly, gradually, like how it is meant to be...not in the frenzied, go-away-morning way I am used to. The newspaper 'comes' at only around 10 am. And there is no scramble for it.

I live with 13 other Danes, my housemates. I notice their little fights, their little jealousies, and also their forgetting all that is petty and coming together to cook elaborate community lunches and dinners. And do you believe it? They actually sit around in the evening, play chinese whispers, trivial pursuit and monopoly. Yes, just like that. With lots of giggles for accompaniment. And invariably there is some un-loud music playing faintly in the background. The television, with its two-and-a-half channels remains switched off.They also bake bread.

Here, being provincial is not a crime, it perhaps might be a virtue. I still don't understand the Danes enough to take a stand on this. And so, in banks, you see people stroll in with bunches of parsley and fat broccoli sprouting out of their eco-friendly shopping bags. Wearing pink slip-ons. Supermarket aisles have toddlers  with running noses happily let loose. People cycle to work, to the pub, to a formal reception, to everywhere. I have met several strangers while walking to the college who I keep seeing here and there. And smile at. Everybody it seems really can know everybody. A few hundred yards from the place I live, there are woods just like Frost described famously. They are lovely, dark and deep. And many times, two roads or more too diverge.

But I wanted to write about the guitar concert! How did I find out about it? I was walking back from the supermarket, when a little notice stuck on a pole caught my eye. It did not scream; it just plainly informed that an 'international' guitar festival is on at Aarhus and the Prague Quartet will play. Now I know nothing about the Prague Quartet but something about those words reminded me of 'Equal Music' and such free associations in my mind are times when serendipity is waiting to knock. So I let it inside. The only urbane thing about this whole business was that I bought the ticket online.

So on the evening of the concert, which was to be held in a centuries' old theatre in the old town of Aarhus, I set out. I actually love my propensity to get lost. It has shown me things I would otherwise have never seen. But I digress (like always).

That day I didn't like it all. I had got lost again and it was getting dark and foreboding. (All this lovely European village business ceases to be so lovely when night sets in. Then, it is just a dark, lonely stretch of road lined with trees with no one to turn to, to ask for directions.) I kept on walking gingerly when I spotted two men strolling along. I ran up to them and asked them about the theatre. "Oh! We are going the same way..come with us". So they escorted me to the old theatre. We were guitar buddies you see.

Inside, no one was younger than 50. Or so it seemed to me. And no one had heard of the 21st century. I was in jeans and T-shirt. The rest of the thirty-odd people were in their best evening wear bought in 1760. One was even wearing a top hat and his coat had tails. There were only discreet murmurs to be heard and this was in the lobby where one would imagine, you could speak to your heart's content. (Just to put this in context, imagine standing outside Inox before you are let inside Theatre no. 4)

The concert was to begin at 8 pm and so we were courteously let inside by a fully-dressed usher. It was a theatre that could seat around 200. We were thirty. It was 7.45 pm. The stage was around 6 feet by 6 feet. There were four chairs and four stands to keep the music notes. And absolute silence. At sharp 8 pm, the quartet, four genial looking men from Czech, strided in, bowed elaborately and spoke nothing. Began playing.

I am no western classical expert but their expertise, their joy at playing the instrument and the way they made love to the guitar was transporting. They could squeeze a village bonfire dance out of those strings, they could just as easily turn maudlin and make you think of long lacy curtains and a woman in a bonnet looking out of a window, waiting for her lover to come home. They played so well that thirty clapping hands echoed long enough for them to do two encores.

And how did they do the encores? They bowed and bowed and they sprinted to the green room, sprinted back, bowed and bowed again and sprinted to the green room and sprinted back and then sat and played!!

And when it was over and I was going back in the bus, there was the perfect ending. The bus driver turned round and said, 'so, did you enjoy your concert'? (While going, I had asked a bus driver for directions. Turns out, it is the same bus driver who drops me back home as well.) My face split open with glee. I nodded my head vigorously and looked out at the dark, sprinkly sky, a sky that has reaffirmed my faith that more than 100 stars exist in the galaxy.


Before they came
While they were there...
When Shantanu Datta, then resident editor of Indian Express asked me in his staccato, point blank way what I saw in Deccan Herald  that I wanted to quit Indian Express (he meant THE Indian Express, THE upholder of truth, THE national daily), I had no answer. (I was 21 and I didn't have answers for many things. That's well, another story.)

I haven't yet figured out what I really saw in Deccan Herald that September (when I got the offer letter after a typical Deccanesque two-month wait) and what I kept on 'seeing' for the past nearly nine years. I only had vague notions to go by. DH was then actually 'Karnataka's leading daily' and this I knew. I had always been an Indian Express fan more so  because it used to carry full page movie advertisements on Fridays and I used to sneak to the sound studio on the third floor of our house to grab a copy and scan them feverishly for Aamir Khan's pictures. But my father always insisted on making me read DH. DH was even then boring :P but it was reliable. If anybody wanted to confirm whether day after was a government holiday, nah they didn't reach out for Express. DH it was. Exam timings have changed? DH again. Though in a house of more than 45 people, it was hard to find the paper by the end of the day.

But I digress. I had had a fun 24 odd days of internship in DH and that had kinda familiarised me with the place. But that did not prepare me for my first day, which happened to be ahem Karnataka Rajyotsava. I, with a 21-year-old's naivete, expected gaiety.What I got instead was the strangest welcome where the big boss (let's just not take names ok..those who know will know :)) warned me in conspiratorial tones that DH is full of schemers and people who indulge in politics and I should guard my back. And then I was put on the 'State Desk' where there were on that day only two people, one of whom took one look at me, deciphered that  I could understand Kannada, fumbled with some 'computer sheets' and thrust a barely visible printout of a Honnali datelined story on an Ambedkar statue installation at me.  

My last day happened to be bang in the middle of the week, a Wednesday. I, with my 30-year-old's naivete, expected sobriety. What I got instead was well, gaiety, first at a lunch with chairs fit for kings :), and then a half-mad photo session when I was desperately trying to talk on the phone to a royal-sounding 'Chandralekha', figuring out tax exemption and smiling at the camera. I still haven't seen the photos. And then of course, a proper escort right to the edge of M G Road by two dear friends. (Now you two, stop thinking I am being mawkish.I am not. And I do think chocolates are overrated.)  

In between these two days, there have been several bright, lighted, dimmed and dulled ones. What I did see, rather felt in these many days was a butterbeer kind of comfort -- DH was boring, solid, not-so-reliable; it was also like a comforting duvet, an escapist, indulgent cave, an un-guilty addiction. Yeah, I know,  it does not sound like an office. But that was how it was for me. All good things come to an end and am so glad they actually do and that's not just a proverb. I am no Snape to squeeze out memory as a white film and fill it in a vial. I can only list out what's floating on top of the muck that is my head.  

* DH before the so-called 'modern front office' had a playgroundish feel. With a lever kind of thing that you had to push to enter. Will never forget this one.

* The 'first' editor was the biggest enigma in the office. He was, if you will, DH's very own Aditya Chopra.

* What a draw the canteen was for us poor starved souls from Express...I had even smuggled in two friends once. And you had to buy coupons for 10 p 15 p etc from the 'front office'.

* The 5 'o' clock break was one of DH's best traditions, which is sadly sadly not really so exciting anymore thanks to change in shift timings. The factory siren, and then the 'collecting' of state desk people to troop out in unity, the old canteen's school benches and that mad evening when everybody tried to squeeze into a single bench and in a particularly boisterous moment, a particularly sensitive girl was pushed and pushed to the edge and then went thud!

* The solving of the mystery of our then Bhadravathi correspondent's great insistence in excruciating tones of servility to take a poor quality photo of a blood donation camp -- it was his photo! He was lying on the bed donating blood! * The many excellent imitations of Gundu Rao, practiced to perfection by several. * The story of Pothan Joseph's ghost

* The great trio of Seetharam Kesari, Narayan Swamy and Gayathri Nivas (sorry guys, without taking names, this was no fun) shouting at each other and the rest of the world every evening, unfailingly, all three in three different pitches (gayathri's exasperated high pitch, narain's booming low pitch, and seetharam's quivering nowhere pitch). All tense, harassed and overworked but enjoying it nevertheless. That was very obvious.

* The big fascination for the internet desk (this was before all desks had their own internet..) I routinely used up all the charm I had to send one mail a day to Siddharth.

* The 3 to 10 van driver who saw ghosts near Konankunte and enjoyed regaling us poor souls with tales of women in white stopping his gaadi.

* The  night when the same driver drove with such energy that the aforementioned particularly sensitive girl was thrown from the seat facing the road to the one opposite...a full arch.

* The midnight feasts -- once from Pizza Hut, several times trips to the seedy Savera, the chaiwala...

* The mystery of the spiralling staircase. Why is it there? Who has climbed the entire length till now?

* The shoe and sweater allowances. Loved them.    

Actually there are several more but one should stop somewhere, shouldn't one? As always, would love to hear what memories of DH float in your heads.          

Actually nobody around me is quite able to understand exactly why I am so excited about Coke Studio. Harumph. It is NOT a rave party destination. And yes, it could have been worded better.
Anyway, Coke studio translation: In a studio setting in Pakistan, musicians from various backgrounds (pop, soft rock, eastern classical) jam together live. This is then telecast. The entire exercise is sponsored by Coca Cola and hence the name. Brainchild of Rohail Hyatt, a former band member of Vital Signs, Coke studio was a big hit in its first season. It saw folksy strains, western rhythms, eastern alaaps (as the website mentions in solemn political correctness) all meshing together with mind-blowing results. You have to hear it to believe it. ( Now it’s back for a much-anticipated second season and yes, I am getting back to explaining why I am so excited.
Apart from the obvious reason of Atif Aslam jamming with classical musician Riaz Ali Khan this season (I CANNOT wait to see Atif in the studio) the other big reason is I just love to see my favourite singers sing.
And if you have ever seen great artistes performing in the studio (their very hearth so to speak), I don’t have to tell you what kind of an immensely sensual experience it is. I have very grainy memories of flautist Vijay Raghav Rao composing in our studio way back and all I remember today is a lot of people crowding around him admiringly after a recording, masala dosa packets lying around and a strangely serene smile leaking out of his rippled face. Come to think of it, I don’t even remember if this memory is true or garbled.
What I do remember clearly is watching a recording of Rafi singing in a studio. I even remember when it was telecast — just before ‘Filmfare Awards Live’ in 1992. Rafi has one of the most endearing smiles for a musician and astonishingly, this smile was constant throughout the 10 or so minutes of the recording they showed. Try and smile that genuine smile, (while singing a half-alaap perhaps) in Rafi’s vocal range!
Then there is or rather was the young Ravi Shankar. His mischievous eyes dart here and there, just like those magical hands and he has the grin of a filmstar who knows he is terribly good looking and audiences are lapping up his charm :) I am sure he felt like that as well. Balamurali Krishna was what you would call the Dravidian version of Ravi Shankar. He too darted around, not just with his eyes but with his entire well-dressed, well-fed self; looking up and down, left and right and everywhere else for inspiration/admiration.
Now that Coke studio is set to air, I am left wondering what today’s star singers/musicians would look like in the throes of performing pleasure. Does Yesudas do those fluttery quick hand movements in the studio as well?  Does Amjad Ali Khan squeeze his entire face while playing, as always? Does Sonu Nigam close his eyes while singing those excruciatingly emotional lines? (Aside: For onlookers’ sake, let’s hope Kumar Sanu does close his when he ‘sings’.) 
Why the hell is Coca Cola not thinking of a Coke studio in India?? How would it be if SPB jammed with, say, Amjad Ali Khan’s sons? Or Rakesh Chaurasia is paired with Kailash Kher? Mohit Chauhan with Yesudas? Brighter ideas anyone?


Have you ever found the right music for the right book? The two or three times I have, it has felt as if the notes crawled into the book and the words stretched out into music. After a while, I cannot think of one without thinking of the other. It's happening nowadays with this book I am reading -- Aatish Taseer's 'Stranger to history'...a journey through Islamic lands. And a journey I am holding hands and going along, thanks to Yamini who decided it was "my kind of book".  And so every night, at 10.00 or so, I put on a combination of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Rahat, Kailash Kher, Fateh Ali Khan (of the Gwalior gharana), Ali Zafar, Ali Azmat and Atif Aslam, slowly, quietly, switch off most of the lights in the home, lean back on my blue cushions and go on this journey. I have stilled all my speed-reader instincts for this one. This is one journey that encompasses humanity, universalism, or the lack of it, empathy or the want of it and places that have swallowed yearning whole. Speeding along will not work here, will it?

Right now, we have crossed over to Iran from Mecca and a "sun-bleached Tehran" fell over me the whole of yesterday night in waves -- racy dreams of winding my way through my imagined streets of Iran (or was that Syria) calling out to my mom who was just, just a few feet in front of me but never was able to hear me.

I will remember these nights.  

P.S: 'Equal Music' went very well with Beethoven symphonies; and snatches of 'A Suitable Boy' merged seamlessly with 'Zubeidaa'. And those are the ones I remember. I would love to hear about others.


You either love Delhi or hate it. Whatever I have seen of it till now is mostly unlovely but fascinating so I am yet undecided. My this time's visit was spectacularly unlovely despite being surrounded and smothered by certified beauty. There were only two patches of sunshine as I call them. Actually three patches. The first was the twinkling, long-lashed beautiful eyes of my little cousin. The second was her quiet brother's quieter love for music, only apparent if you care to glance at his mostly downturned eyes. The third was serendipity of the best kind. Sitting alone in Karnataka Bhavan and twiddling with the remote was getting to me when my hands automatically stopped at DD Bharti. There was, on the screen, Kishore Kumar in his element. Doordarshan was re-telecasting his concert, recorded oh, perhaps three decades ago. Kalyanji-Anandji were conducting the music and there was Kishore playing to the non-existent gallery -- before singing Kora Kagaz, he fished out a blank paper from somewhere; after singing Roop Tera Mastana, he stumbled, as if drunk on his own voice...

His thick spectacles and thicker smile; Kalyanji's obvious enjoyment and embarassment at his antics; the green-red-gray plasticky set; the we-are-happy-to-be-on-tv sincere orchestra...oh it was worth coming all the way. After the concert was over, I switched channels and was promptly back to 'Marjaani Marjaani'. Urgh.

As for the fashion show which actually took me there, well, read the next post! :)


Well, this is in Living but I thought it deserves to be here as well. So here we go.

Perfume attack
The air was drugged and there was no escaping it. Chanel No. 5 collided mightily with Elizabeth Ardens and more potently with Bruts and Hugo Bosses. Not to mention the odour assault of the mint-fresh and just-bought-in-Khan Market Gucci clutches and Bottega Veneta totes. The title sponsors’ generosity also further helped turn noses up (literally and otherwise). There were goody bags of shampoos, bath gels and soaps for everybody at every big ticket show. (Incidentally, some snooty socialites did not want to be seen carrying away such freebies and so they left them back at their seats much to the delight of back-benchers and the huge media contingent who grabbed it all.) Ah. How sweet smells the word free.
Page 3 surge
The build-up to ‘fashion’s rockstar’ Manish Arora’s show was terrific or terrible, depending on where you were standing. The Page 3 surge for the show was unbelievable…the show was as usual fashionably late, pardon the pun and so, PYTs with passes, TYMs (tall young men) with pierced noses and ears, alligator shoes and crotch-clutch pants, firangis (were they the elusive buyers?) clutching brochures and their designer stoles, journalists who had come out decked even better than the wannabe models and designers, skin show, high heels et al – were all breathlessly waiting to be let in by security guards who could not stop grinning eerily.
I was, incredibly, reminded of the last time I was stuck in a near-stampede in Tirupati. The stampede feel was similar except that I was surrounded by a nonchalant display of wealth and more nonchalant show of affectation. A well known designer with a six-inch needle in his ear who was standing on my right refused to let go of his partner’s hand (who incidentally, was standing on my left, so I leave my position to your imagination). He gave me one nasty why-are-you-coming-between-us look and whined ‘jaan, mere haath mat chodo’ to his six-foot high strapping, heavily-bearded partner whose reply unfortunately I could not hear.
Jungle out there
The biggest section of the audience comprised the media, which is saying something considering that fashion weeks are supposed to be serious affairs, held to garner business rather than eyeballs. The front rows of course were always reserved for the big media houses whose representatives hobnobbed with the glitterati, giggled and gossiped more than catching what was happening on the ramp. The photographers were like a pack of wolves, hungrily jostling each other, shouting at the models and pushing and shoving hapless “print media types” to be the first ones to enter the venue. The backbenchers barely knew what was happening. Sample this conversation between a newbie journo in a black cocktai dress and a PR halfway through designer Zubair Kirmani’s show:
Frazzled journo: Hey, who is this? Who is this?
Equally frazzled PR: What? What? What?
More frazzled journo: Whose show is this? Hey please, please don’t forget to give me the press release. I will get the press release right?
Somewhat relieved PR: Oh. The release will come only after two hours. Collect it from the media centre.
Now desperate journo: But darling, I have nothing to write! And I have to cover this designer. Who is it? Just tell me what colours and cuts have been used.
Bored PR: (Looks in the general direction of the ramp) Umm… I think he is using a lot of bright colours. And umm…the cuts are sharp.
Well, if you read this description of Zubair Kirmani’s collection in any fashion magazine, you know where and how the gyaan came from!
Goss from the big man
Sunil Sethi, the handsome and mustachioed FDCI head breezed in for Rohit Gandhi-Rahul Khanna show on Friday night and immediately went on a muah muah spree. Later, he was heard declaring to some highly blinged out friends that he will be organizing, for the first time in India, an all-men fashion week in July. Did somebody say the R-word? It seems for the fashion frat, recession is just another word that can be milked and converted into autumn-winter collections!


Wasted perhaps this very vigil is
A tale that makes me whisper, please!
Scorches the soul; this pomogranate burst
Taliban, tyranny, tragedy and blind trust
Endless its nights; its days a kind of curse
Dauntlessly but sanity claws, its nerves terse

Vigil it keeps over people who calmly accept
Insanity shrouded in verses, wives stoned for being suspect
Grief over books nailed to the skies
Irreverent here are a little fidayeen’s cries
Live, it tells me, your life’s far far nice

This btw, is an ode in appreciation of a book that am reading right now called Wasted Vigil (if you didn’t realise it already — the first letters of the peom make up the title..a favourite trick of mine :). This is by a London-based Pakistani writer Nadeem Aslam about everyday life in Afghanistan from the time of the Soviet invasion to the defeat of the Talibans. Perhaps because of its topicality or perhaps because it is a subject that I get passionate about or perhaps because it is indeed a heartrending story..I don’t know the reason but this book has seeped into my dreams and is snaking along my skin. I want it to get over quickly and I don’t want it to get over at all. And unlikely I will get over it ever.