Snowversary !

The flight that got me to London for a year-long stay there in September 2008 from Mumbai was a historic flight. It was one of the first 10 flights to land in the (then) new Terminal 5 of London’s Heathrow International Airport. Once we had cleared immigration, we found a welcoming committee who were there to well, welcome the passengers, and answer any questions that we may have. So when one of the committee members beamed at me and asked if he could help me with any questions that I may have, I asked him very earnestly:

Do you think it will snow in London this season?

I don’t think the poor guy expected to be asked this question. He gaped at me and stammered out something about the fickle English weather, climate change and global warming in one confusing reply and sent me on my way.

I wasn’t about to give up so easily and in the first few weeks after my arrival, I badgered everyone with this question—from the cab driver who drove me to my hostel from the airport to the cleaning crew in my hostel to the canteen staff to the scholarships advisor to my teachers to the supermarket employees to my classmates to my flatmates to… You get the picture, na?

The reason I was so keen on getting an answer to my question was because I had never experienced snow before and my stay in London offered the best possible opportunity to experience it or so I thought. Since was I impatient to get a definite answer to fulfilling my experience, I didn’t spare anybody. What I didn’t know or understand then was the vagaries of the famous English weather, and that it was quite impossible to give an answer to my “simple” question.

Frost-covered grounds of the Regent's Park on Diwali Day in 2008

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Museum Treasure: The Jade Bull

The bull stares at me and I eye him warily. Gathering my courage, I step a little closer to admire his shiny coat and curved horns, which makes for a magnificent sight. Still keeping an eye on him, and without making any sudden movements, I take out my camera and take a picture without a flash. I don’t want disturb the bull, you see. Though the picture is not great (I think my hands shook), but it is still a good capture.

The Jade Bull

I met this bull in December 2008 during one of my many visits to the British Museum London. I can’t remember the details now, but I think he was part of a visiting exhibition from a museum in China, and not part of the British Museum’s collection (they don’t have any information on this bull on their website).

Yes, this is not a real bull, but believe me staring out of his cabinet at the British Museum he looked real enough. He was no bigger than my palm, and yet every feature of his was clearly visible, right down to slightly flared nostrils. Carved out of very dark green jade, he looked very much alive and full of barely suppressed energy. It was almost as if he was just waiting for an opportunity to break free from his confinement. He could have been the proverbial bull in a museum china shop !

So, what do you think?

The Museum Treasure Series is all about artifacts found in museums with an interesting history and story attached to them. You can read more from this series here.

My “now” song: Kangna in Raga Malkauns

Do you ever have a song, an idea, a storyline, or an image stuck in your head? And it just refuses to go away? For some time at least? I have this with music—it could be a song, an instrumental piece, a jingle, etc. This becomes my ‘now’ song, and the “nowness”  (pardon my English here) could be for any length of time.

My now song is “Kangna” by Fareed Ayaz and Abu Mohammad. Do watch the video and listen to the song before you read the rest of the post.

One of my colleagues, AS, is an amateur musician. Thanks to him, I get to listen to a wide range of music and though not all the genres are unfamiliar, some of the artistes definitely are, like this one.

Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad are brothers and qawwali singers from Pakistan and this short 16-minute piece in Raga Malkauns is mind-blowing, particularly the first 4 minutes. I have always found Raga Malkauns to be sombre and serious, but this rendering was so different—mischievous and light-hearted. I also like the way some Farsi lines have been woven with the traditional brajbhasha lyrics. And I am amazed how Fareed Ayaz is able to sing with a mouth full of paan !

I like this song so much that I am listening to this song even as I type out this post.  Thanks, AS, for recommending this song 🙂

Balasaraswati: Her art and life

Photo Source:

The background

I did not know what I was getting into when I decided to review Balasaraswati: Her Art & Life by Douglas M. Knight Jr. (Tranquebar Press, 2011). All I was aware of at that time was the fact that I would be reading about a person I “knew”. Let me elaborate here.

Amma (my mother) grew up on a diet of classical music and dance. A student of Carnatic classical music, she was fortunate to watch many musicians and dancers perform, one of whom was Balasaraswati herself. Amma worshipped and idolised her as only a true rasika can. I started attending kacheris (music performances) and dance performances with Amma when I was 5. After each performance there would be a discussion on what we liked or did not like, and we would try sing the pieces we liked. If it was a dance performance that we had attended, the discussion would begin with the dance, then move on to the music, and finally to the inevitable mention of how Balasaraswati would have performed a particular dance item. By the time I was 6 or 7, I knew who Balasaraswati was, what her dance was like, and how she danced—all this without ever having seen her dance. But thanks to Amma’s vivid descriptions, and whenever Amma herself sang, I could and would imagine Balasaraswati dancing to them ! Such was her impact on me.

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Mumbai Lens: Haji Ali Dargah

This blog post was featured in the “Around the Blog” section of the DNA newspaper published on January 23, 2011 (pg.6).

We almost miss the narrow entrance to the Haji Ali Dargah hidden amongst the many stalls. Actually, that is not really the entrance to the dargah itself; it is the entrance to the only path that leads to it. The path has stalls selling flowers and sweets to be offered at the dargah on one side, and beggars with unimaginable physical deformities lined up on the other side. It is nearly 4.30 in the evening and we (a friend who is visiting from Delhi and I) have joined the many people making their way to the dargah. For both of us, this is our first visit to the Haji Ali Dargah.

Just outside the main entrance to the dargah, we pick up some flowers and sweets from one of the stalls and join the separate queue for women. The din, the crowds and the organised chaos that is normally associated with such places vanish when we enter the dargah. Inside, it is quiet and peaceful and when our turn comes, we make our offerings, say our prayers and move to one side.

My friend wishes to take some photographs of the dargah, but we are not sure if it is allowed. Though there are no signs stating otherwise, we are still hesitant to take out our cameras. A caretaker at the dargah notices the cameras around our necks and our indecision, and mimes that it is alright to take photos.

Inside the Haji Ali Dargah

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The social movements calendar 2012

The Social Movements Calendar (SMC) is back !

The 2012 edition of the SMC is dedicated to the “saga of labour struggles from colonisation to globalisation”, and is yet another effort to document peoples’ struggles in the last few decades in the country and provide a one stop source for references on social movements on this theme. Originally conceptualised by the late Smitu Kothari and published by Intercultural Resources India, the 2012 SMC Calendar is the fourth edition.

The cover page of the Social Movements Calendar 2012. Source:

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