I first came across Mahaveer Swami’s art at Narendra Bhawan Bikaner when I was exploring the hotel on my first evening there. In a narrow space, not unlike a gallery, I came across some exquisite framed works of art.
These were paintings with detailing like miniatures, but with a completely different colour palette — predominantly pastels, instead of the bright saturated colours usually identified with such paintings. A closer look also revealed quirky details in some of the paintings like two women using a computer or a man with a telephone, among others.
Intrigued by the art, I enquired about the artist at the hotel. “That is Mahaveer Swami ji, a Bikaneri artist”, was the reply. “He’s a National Award winner.”
“Is it possible to meet him?” I enquire.
“I’m sure that can be arranged,” comes the enigmatic reply.
Pondicherry, on the southern coast was under French colonial rule. In 1962, it merged with India.
French Citizenship was offered to local Tamils; 6,200 opted for French Nationality.
In Apr’ 2017, 4,600 were eligible to vote for the French Presidential elections.
These statements flash on the screen at the very beginning of Two Flags, a documentary film directed by Pankaj Rishi Kumar, outlining its theme and focus clearly. The film follows the small community of the Tamil French (who are not Indian, but French Nationals) living in Pondicherry and their engagement with the 2017 Presidential election in France.
The film, which is mainly in Tamil and French (with English subtitles) and some English, introduces you — the viewer — to the Tamil French community on the occasion of French National Day celebrations in Pondicherry before diving into the main narrative of the 2017 French Presidential elections. The viewer watches community leaders discuss the merits of different Presidential candidates and predict the percentage of votes their preferred candidates will get. You visit the houses of other members of the Tamil French community, as the leaders exhort them to vote in the elections, sometimes even telling them who they should vote for. You realise with a start that if not for the French-sounding names of the candidates and the occasional French spoken, one could very well be watching the campaigning for elections in India.
Just when you are settling into the film and French election politics, parallel narratives on French language and culture, and another on French citizenship is introduced. And suddenly, Two Flags is not about the 2017 French Presidential elections anymore.
… later, I sit down to write my annual blog birthday / anniversary post. There’s a touch of disbelief (and a quiet sense of pride too) that I’m still blogging considering how much the blogging scene in general and travel blogging in particular has changed in the 9 years since I began this blog on June 2, 2010.
From a small group of bloggers led by their love for travel and writing to the marketing and social media driven influencer type of travel blogging today, there has been a paradigm shift. The initial dismay at the changing atmosphere gave way to angst and then despair, followed by resignation and finally the inevitable acceptance.
This annual blog birthday/anniversary post is an opportunity to look back at the blogging year that was. An opportunity to reflect and share the highs & the lows, the fun times and the not-so-fun times, the learnings and the unlearnings as well. And as the title suggests, some numbers and the statistics as well — from the number of posts and words written to page views and spam comments !
But the statistics don’t really reveal the full picture.
I first visited Bikaner in February 2013 as part of a larger tour of Rajasthan with a group. Bikaner, the fourth-largest city of Rajasthan, was our first stop and it turned out to be the perfect introduction to the state as well as the perfect beginning to what turned out to be a great trip.
Five years later (and almost to the day in February 2018), I was back in Bikaner courtesy an invitation from Narendra Bhawan. And this time around, thanks to their curated trails, I was able to explore new places — the havelis and markets of Bikaner — and re-visit old ones like the royal cenotaphs. In addition, I also visited the Laxmi Niwas Palace and Bikaji ki Tekree, the site of the first fortified settlement in Bikaner. I also got the opportunity to travel out of the city into the desert one evening for a sundowner and a special dinner. An unexpected bonus of this trip was getting introduced to two master artists of Bikaner and an opportunity to see their work (more about this in a separate blogpost!).
Presenting my “Bikaner Revisited” experiences, beginning with a brief history of the city.
We don’t always have to travel to seek stories; they are right there in our homes too. In “Stories From My Home“, I examine the many objects surrounding me at home and attempt to document and share the memories associated with them, one story at a time.
My maternal Paati (grandmother in Tamil) had only one request for relatives visiting Madurai — to bring back Captain Sandal Face Powder that was only available at the M.K. Azeez and Sons shop located in the West Tower Street outside the Meenakshi Temple. Once or twice a year, a few small tins of the face powder would be handed over to my thrilled grandmother by obliging relatives returning from Madurai.
Paati would get to work immediately. A newspaper would be spread out and the little tins of Sandal face powder would be emptied on it. Some ‘normal’ face powder (Ponds, Lakme, or whatever was available) would be added and then mixed and filled in 4 silver powder boxes — one each for my mother, her two sisters and my Paati herself.
Paati and her three daughters used only this face powder and each had her own silver powder box. When the powder box got empty, it would return to Paati for refilling. After Paati passed away in 1980, Amma took over the role of preparing the powder mix for her younger sisters and herself till they passed away, and then she would do it just for herself. Continue reading “Stories from my home – 6: Captain Sandal Face powder”→
At first glance, the red sandstone structure that is Narendra Bhawan Bikaner doesn’t stand out or give any indication to the luxury boutique hotel that it claims to be. In fact, it looks more like a haveli or mansion of a merchant rather than the one-time residence or palace of Narendra Singhji, the former king of Bikaner.
Once past the rather modest entrance gates, you will cross a small courtyard covered with paving made from the same deep red sandstone, that Narendra Bhawan is constructed from — the local building stone. You will then pass through an arched entrance and climb up a few steps clad with golden yellow Jaisalmeri stone. And that’s when the change happens !
The floor tiles change to colourful vintage tiles. Carefully curated artefacts fill your sight, and deep and luxurious furniture beckon you to sit down and take it all in… But, wait for there is more to see and explore. You pass through a door and enter the very bold and beautiful foyer where large black and white tiles create a chequered floor pattern. Glass cabinets with the most interesting curios twinkle in the light reflected from the art deco lamps on the ceiling. At one end of the long foyer is a bright red piano…
You look around in wonder and accept the welcome drink offered to you by the ever smiling and friendly staff of the hotel and let it all sink in. This is how my Narendra Bhawan Experience began.