Thursday, April 28, 2011

Visiting Memory Lanes of History

Winter was setting in Delhi as it welcomed the morning fog, the sun rays searching for a way to seep through the mist, after a two month long rigorous schedule during my internship, I finally got the chance to explore the city and this time my destination was Nizamuddin Basti and areas around that place.

After getting down at Pragati Maidan Metro station, I took a bus to Nizamuddin which is presently a cluster of Muslim dwellings but breathes a rich historical past. It is in these narrow lanes of the slums that Islamic architecture, traditions and culture flourished but lost in the humdrum of times. But thanks to a revival project being carried out by Aga Khan Trust in collaboration with Archeological Survey of India, that the history of this place is again coming to life. It is through the initiative of the trust that a heritage walk around the area covering important landmarks was organized.
I along with five others entered the basti through a low arch into a snake-like lane called the Phoolonwali Gali. This is the only gateway surviving from the original wall that once enclosed the whole settlement. Phoolonwali Gali was a flower market during the 14th century Khalji dynasty and was said to be the largest flower market in the world. Lost amidst the walls of buildings the only evidence of this once upon a time bazaar is a 10 feet tall iron gate. As we walked further, the basti had some or the other trivia to share. Coming across graves and tombs after every two steps, the fact lies behind it is that according to Islam, you don’t need a specific area to bury your loved ones. Instead the graves are dug beside their houses to keep the dead man’s soul near to themselves.

As we searched our way through the winding narrow roads, the next stop was the dargah of Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, head of the Sufi Order International who promoted Sufi as an attainment of spirituality across Europe and America. Although the dargah was situated in the middle of the bazaar, everything was quiet and it seemed time had frozen for an instant inside the shrine. I stood inside looking at the sleeping tomb and felt a certain spiritual bliss! Coming back from the short-lived trance to reality, we headed towards Kalan Mosque, also known as Black Mosque. Surrounded by high walls, from the entrance of the mosque one could see the illusioned paralleled pillars standing in a file. Once we entered the mosque, students chanting Koran verses in the madrasa inside can be heard. The mosque is said to be 600 years old and was built by Feroze Shah Tughlaq, the 14th century Sultanate ruler.

Markets inside the basti looked like they are framed according to the bazaars of Arabian Night stories. Shops selling groceries, jewellery, sandalwood, meswak sticks, itar and soorma. Hawkers shouting prices in order to sell their wares and cloth and burqa-clad women bargaining while hidden under their veils. As I pass through the busy market, it reminds me of a poem by Sarojini Naidu where she says-

What do you sell O ye merchants?
Richly your wares are displayed.

Turbans of crimson and silver,

Tunics of purple brocade,

Mirror with panels of amber,

Daggers with handle of jade.

The next destination reached inside the citadel was the Urs Mahal which houses the famous Chausanth Khamba tomb built by Mirza Aziz Koka who served under emperor Jehangir, the tombs of Bahadur Shah Zafar’s family, Ataga Khan’s tomb and the tomb of the reknowned Urdu poet, Mirza Ghalib. The open courtyard of the well is used to celebrate the Urs i.e. the birthday of the 14th century sufi saint, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. Facing the courtyard is the beautiful Mughal structure of Chausanth Khamba. Even though the pillar count comes to only it’s half, the structure is named after its sixty four pillars that support the roof which looks flat from outside but are dome-shaped from the interior. There are ten tombs inside the monument, two of which belong to Aziz Koka and his wife. The stoned jaali bring in sun rays forming beautiful reflections in the shiny marble flooring.

Next to it is Emperor Akbar’s Prime Minister Ataga Khan’s tomb which depicts a unique blend of Islamic and Indian art. The intricate Persian carvings on the walls of the tomb have been erased in due course of time leaving patches of it at some places. The tomb faces the Nizamuddin’s shrine which is situated in the direction of Mecca.

The tomb of Mirza Ghalib built in marble and recently revived by Aga Khan Trust lies alone at the centre of a marble courtyard. The poet’s tomb gives life to one of his own couplets which says-

Unke dekhe se jo aati hai muh par raunak
Woh samajhtey hai ki beemar ka haal achha hai

The Nizamuddin journey wouldn’t have reached a better finality with a visit to Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya Dargah. Even after 700 years since the death of the Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, people believe all their wishes would be fulfilled by the great saint. Hundreds of people from all religious backgrounds come here to pray, tie the wishing threads and to seek his blessings. There was a certain mystic energy around the place which forced me to sit there and meditate. Even after leaving the place, I came back to the shrine in the evening to experience qawwalis sung by sufi musicians. Nizamuddin believed in the power of music and poetry to be able to attain God. Continuing this tradition, every Thursday at 7pm, sufi musicians in and around the city gather and sing qawwalis. During the function, some eyes were getting wet, a few started dancing in trance and others like me were just lost in the performance.

With so many sights experienced at one go, Nizamuddin was like a kaleidoscope of different events happening at a same time. Being a part of the capital city, which is constantly trying to be the next Paris and New York, it was surprising to see one such place that was unaffected by this constant change. Entering the archway was like entering a time machine moving backwards. After the two hour journey, I felt an irresistible urge to go back to the time of Nizamuddin Auliya and be a part of that beautiful world.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Delhi as I see

My internship in Delhi has led me to travel 3 hrs in public transport and not in the luxurious confines of my car. It’s been 3 years that I have left Kolkata; the place where I have breathed the most wonderful times of my life but these 3 hrs has brought me closer to the city as ever. As in the morning bus no.717 covers the Qutub Minar which stands tall as the statue of liberty to the huge education centre Jawaharlal Nehru University. At times I take another route that leaves me to IIT, the dream college of millions of Indians. That’s a treat for the eyes early in the morning despite getting stuck in the traffic jams at office hours. Coming to the point of traffic jams, Delhi traffic jams are very different from the usual ones. The car doesn’t stop at a point but keeps on moving and it is interesting to see how the vehicles move through the winding roads in spite of the diversions due to the construction work going on since time immemorial. Delhi-ites are used to it. I wonder what will happen when all these diversions will not be there anymore. Roads would seem like runways as the eyes are so used to the usual narrow lanes. In the evening while coming back home I experience the other side of Delhi, the beauty of Delhi which tells the story of the growing city’s past, present and future. Siri Fort Auditorium, Lodhi Gardens, Dilli Haat, Indian Heritage Centre, Humayun Tomb, India Gate, Rashtrapati Bhavan , Akashvani Bhavan till the point I reach Janpath where my Delhi darshan ends. What a sight it is! I marvel the wonderful city which I previously hated and think how wrong I was.
One fine day after coming back from office I went to Old Delhi and explored its magnificence. Delhi 6, contrary to the modern and developed avenues of New Delhi breaks all the stereotypes of Delhi being hep and happening. The ancient buildings, the narrow lanes, wires spreading here and there as if scars made on the surface of the sky, markets bustling with people, the pandemonium of sounds of vehicle horns and the loudspeakers crying the verses chanted by the Jama Masjid priest and the Red fort only spell of Delhi in historical times . No wonder despite so many malls and other commercial areas coming up and the government’s continuous efforts of changing Delhi into New York or Paris, filmmakers and authors capture this part of Delhi where development is only seen in the McDonalds outlet in Chandni Chowk (it does look very out of place). Old Delhi is the preserver of the heritage and the homogenous culture that is long lost in the web of changing times. Delhi is like a kaleidoscope, it may seem to be just a piece of glass but more you look deeper you can see its different colours and how they change from one part to another. Someone needs time to understand the complexities of this place although people are the easiest reflections that can be recognized in mirrors of time. Punjabis with their tales of show offs, Idli dosa and the chain of Annapurna hotels of the south Indians, Bengalis and their huge conversations in Bengali even if the third person cannot understand a word, UPites and their inclination towards hindi culture and literature, Northeasterns carrying all the latest fashion on the streets; Delhi has it all.

P.S. Had written in my other blog in 2009, check

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Monday, March 21, 2011

The Unforgettable Night of Music and Culture

Pune witnessed its longest musical overnight concert with SPIC MACAY along with College of Engineering, Pune inaugurating Heritage 2010, Pune chapter, SPIC MACAY’s annual cultural festival. It was one of the biggest cultural events in the country with six performing arts connoisseurs coming together at the same platform.

The evening began with Pandit Birju Maharaj and his disciple Saswati Sen setting the mood with their awe-inspiring performance. The jugalbandi between Panditji‘s ghungroos and the Pakhawaj was a delightful sight for the audience who were tapping their fingers on the rhythm of the taal. Kathak primarily being a dance form that is associated with women courtesans of the eighteenth century and the grace it is performed, Pt. Birju Maharaj performed with the same ardour and finesse that a woman of those times could have ever performed. Saswati Sen’s narrated the mythological story of Ahilya through her moves and mudras.

After Panditji’s performance, vocalists Uday Bhawalkar and Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande lend their voices to the ambience of the auditorium with the soulful ragas and dhrupads that they recited. The chantings were soulful and it captivated the audience. Nayan Ghosh, eminent Sitar artists mastered its oeuvre by playing some of the most beautiful recitals, mostly Thumri ragas and Khayals.

The event also witnessed Sarwar Hussain, the youngest Sarangi player at the age of 30 maintained the rich legacy of his family, who are part of the Hindustan Gharana clan for the past five generations. At the beginning of his performance, he said- “I will try my best to reflect the skills that I acquired from my gurus. If you like it, it is my gurus’ blessings that he has bestowed upon me and if I make a mistake, it is my inability to take the best from them.”

The event could not have concluded in its utmost grandeur when 102 year old, world reknowned vocalist, Ustad Rashid Khan mastered the ragas and paltas. Having stopped practice for the past twenty years, Ustad Saab represented the Gwalior Gayaki with much ease and strength which cannot be matched by his younger counterparts. Ustad Khan has composed more than 2000 bandishes and still continuing, he indeed is the lone pioneer of the rich Indian musical heritage of his generation.

SPIC MACAY, true to its reputation, has been successful in carrying forward the movement to promote the rich cultural heritage of India. This concert saw a turnout of a major portion of the large student population of Pune who were hooked to their seats till the end. From Pt.Birju Maharaj’s beats to the chantings of Ustad Rashid Khan till break of dawn, the Heritage Night was indeed an event that would be resonate in the minds of its spectators for a very long time.

P.S. The event happened in February 2010.

Poona Wonders

The second largest city in Maharashtra and the education capital of India, Pune has always welcomed communities, students, job aspirants and pensioners. It is a hub of the vast students’ population not only within the country but also abroad. With the maximum number of schools and colleges anywhere in the world, it is a city that witnesses an influx of thousands of students every year. With this migration, Pune has seen a metamorphosis of its culture- a culture that is cosmopolitan yet integrating with the distinct Marathi society of the city.

Coming from different backgrounds of the society and bringing in their own customs, traditions, ethics and values, education is the only string that has put together all these social and cultural systems brought in by the students to Pune. The serendipity of this phenomenon is seen in every corner of the city. Be it the tapri in front of the college or a Café Coffee Day outlet, the broad-based discussions ranging from the politics, movies, music, the latest gadgets in town, over a cup of tea or coffee is a common site. Although there is an existence of such a homogenous environment, like-minded people find their set of friends having the same interests and believing in similar ideologies.

The question that arises is what are the consequences of this to the development of Pune? The answers can be seen everywhere. The emergence of malls, multiplexes, night clubs and coffee shops have chalked the contemporary map of the city. These developments have its own pros and cons. The coming up of these institutions of modernity has added a metropolitan dimension to the city. Youth is such a powerful target audience that big brands cannot miss a chance to grab the markets and attract them. The major newspapers of the country exist here. Intelligentsia is welcomed as educationists reside or come here as visiting faculties in the educational institutions.

The problem that the city is facing is that modernization is only concentrated to the part of the city where the students and the IT hubs are based. The ‘city’ area which preserves the historical heritage of Pune has been untouched by these modernistic tools. The congested, narrow lanes, old buildings and the bumpy roads have not seen the dawn of these materialistic development indices. Though, some may criticize that it has preserved the distinct culture of Pune, which is the land rich in history and has kept their linguistic bases intact.

The art and culture scenario has also seen a paradigm shift with the existence of the students’ population. There is a mélange of existing cultures and new cultures with both existing parallel to each other. At one part, there are takers for Indian classical music and Jazz and on the other hand, Indie- rock bands and metal also find audience. Another interesting aspect is the acceptance of fusion music. A sitar- piano concert see a lot of youth turn up in the city. In terms of theatre, experimental theatre has come up in a big way and the local theatre groups are trying out new ways to blend Marathi folk theatre with contemporary genres.

Pune art scene has a distinctive facet to it. It has brought art to the public. It is not something only the elite enjoy. Thematically, Pune’s art scenario has a dominance of depicting everyday life and the simplicity of it attracts people from all walks of life. Enter an art exhibiton and there are artistes, teachers, students and even housewives discussing and sharing their views.

Be it ‘Oxford of the East’, ‘Pensioner’s Paradise’ or ‘Land of the Peshwas’, Pune is ever- changing. Through ages Pune has adopted whatever has come on its way without losing its true essence. It is this spirit of the city that keeps it alive giving space to everyone irrespective of all differences.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bong Connection

Typical as it seems, we often overlook the community we belong to and have views of other communities existing around us. This thought struck me recently when I was travelling in a train from Delhi to Mumbai. It was a sheer co-incidence that I was travelling with an assemblage of Bengali families who were going for a week long holiday to Mumbai and Goa. For me this 26 hour journey was the best way to observe and scan the community I belong to.

Bengalis are often seen travelling in a big group consisting of people of all ages and all the year round. A very common statement often heard in Bengali families-“Next week 3 din chhuti aachey,cholo bondhu bandhob miley kothaye bediye aashi”. They are found enjoying hot tea in hill stations to camel riding in desertlands to bathing in seas. Nevertheless, we are said to be the most prolific travelers in India constituting 60% of India’s 400 million annual domestic tourists.

Talking about Bengalis and not talking about food is something like discussing about the present Commonwealth Games without Kalmadi. We love to eat and have no issues showing off the various delicacies we can come up with by mix and match of spices, vegetables, fish, chicken etc. Fish is a part and parcel of our meal and I feel Bengalis are blessed with this certain kind of power that despite the fact that a fish market has such strong smells, with one sniff a Bengali knows if a fish is all right or not. That also reminds me of Ileesh maach, although having 10,000 bones we have it with great pleasure. I am sure Dhokar dalna, shorshey maach, malai chingri, cholar daal and many other mouth watering cuisines can make Haldirams or the Punjabi Dhabas a run for their money.

Another very aspect of us that really makes us different from others is the amount of nicknames we can come up with. Stand amongst a group of Bengali kids and each and every child will have a nickname and no two kids have the same one. Jhumpa, Tumpa, Dola, Laltu, Chotu, Bubul, Bulbul,Montu , Bablu- all this names also bring out the creativity of ours.

From sports to politics, culture to literature, no doubt we are the wealthiest society in the world. Football madness is evident when there is a Mohunbagan vs. East Bengal match and thousands of Bengalis are glued to DD Bangla channel. Even during FIFA World Cup, I think there are more supporters of Argentina and Brazil among the Bengalis than in the respective countries. Also reminds me of Ganguly-Chappell scuffle which shook the hearts of each and every Bangali in India. Korbo, lorbo, jeetbo is the spirit we have in the field of sports. Communism, Mamata, Jyoti Basu are hot topics discussed in all Bengali get-togethers and not to mention Kolkata coffee houses. Politics runs in the veins of khati bangali person.

Coming to culture and literature, nothing can be soothing to our ears than Rabindrasangeet, book shelves are not completed without Sarat Chandra and Bimal Mitra, still movies for us is Satyajit Ray’s Panther Panchali and Gopi Gayin Baga Bayin. Durga Puja is a perfect example of our cultural prowess. I can boast as a Bengali that no one else has taken a religious function of Puja up to this level. The folk culture and various songs written by our poets of the land on yearly home coming of Uma which has given a separate entity to the whole aspect and these songs are named as "AAGAMONI". I wonder, the untimely worshipping of Maa Durga by Ramchandraji in the period of unknown history, today has achieved a status of celebration not only as a simple puja but also enriched the bangla language with all those songs and poems, with an approach to establish a direct connection between human and God. Only we the Bengalis can do this sort of soul searching as we are blessed one.

Finally, the train was one stop away from Bombay Central Station where my journey ended. It was fun thinking of the eccentricities and idiosyncracies of my very own Bangla community. As Rabindranath wrote,- “My golden Bengal, I love You”, I am fortunate to be a part of this civilization which has its own charm yet well integrated with other societies of the world.

P.S. Written for a Bengali magazine a year back.

Photo courtesy:

Friday, February 4, 2011

Gandhi all the way

India has been majorly a leader-driven country. Since time immemorial, the country has seen one powerful force driving a huge mass. But the scenario is changing today. People have become more individualistic and self-oriented. But one personality that still influences the country is none other than our own Bapu.

When in November last year, I went for an art exhibition in Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, I realized how Gandhi still inspires the creative rush of the Indians. The exhibition named 'Freedom to March- Rediscovering Gandhi through Dandi' had some of the best artistes of the country — A. Ramachandran, Atul Dodiya, Hindol Bhrambhatt, KG Subramanyan, Sudhir Patwardhan to name a few; who tried to understand Gandhi by taking the salt march as the inspiration and how he can be put into contemporary art practices.

Bapu has been portrayed in the present context, that is, once a great leader has now become a brand of anything Indian. Also a very interesting observation is the print work by Manjunath Kamath where he has turned the followers of the Mahatma the other way round in the famous gyarah murti to show how Gandhi and his followers today have part ways. Being a college student and having my own reservations about Gandhian idealogies, it is something I totally relate to, as my generation does not connect to him. Having discussed in length about his model of development during college lectures, his theories seem hypothetical and in the bid for becoming the next super power, his principles don't fit in the current circumstances. Therefore, there has been parting of ways and Gandhi's wisdom has become a mass of utopian dialogue as depicted in Sukesan Kanka's painting, Pinch of Salty Dream.

After independence, there has been a mass commercialisation of Gandhiji. Manjunath Kamath's painting on a packaging designed for Dandi salt named Gandhigiri is one of the metaphor of the phenomenon. Atul Dodiya's canvas print and the ten unique photographs of families and tourists visiting Dandi, under the name 'Picnic at Dandi' overshadows the Great march to Dandi and it's message. Probir Gupta's installation, 'The National Product and Many More' shows Gandhi lost amidst the 'Hari' jans(symbolised by a sexologist in a red light area and a pest control shop called Hari Pest in Delhi) of today. Khadi, exclusively mass produced by Khadi Gramodyog is a fashion statement for the "intellectuals" and with famous designers like Rohit Bal, Ritu Kumar and
Manish Malhotra trying to re-invent Khadi as a major fashion trend, what is left behind is the charkha as an object symbol and spinning as an action symbol. Hence, if Khadi becomes an elite show-off, where is the original concept of rural development gone?

Finally, one installation that defines Bapu the best is Arunkumar HG's 'His Shoes', where Gandhiji's shoes has been stitched by putting together thousands of slippers. It explains Gandhi of today that he has not shaped by his own personality in our minds but it is the people who have made him what he is today in front of our eyes. His dynamic aura is what makes him a brand all over the world. We try to recognise our identity as an Indian through him and it has been our perception about him that has made Bapu what he is today.

No matter what, the Mahatma is here to live till the end of the world and his erosion in the hands of generation is what makes him a superstar; a leader.

Photo courtesy:www.