The Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum

I love museums, and I can spend hours inside them pottering about and looking at their varied collections. And yet strangely, for some inexplicable reason, I have never really explored the museums in my city of Mumbai. Of course, I have visited them as a child but not really visited them, if you know what I mean.

Bhau Daji Lad Museum 2So one rainy day in August last year, I took the afternoon off from work to see the Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum (BDLM). This was a museum that I had never visited, but one that I had heard about a lot from Appa. I went without a camera as I automatically assumed that, like most Indian museums, photography was not allowed. Big mistake. Non-flash photography was allowed in the Museum, though they don’t really advertise the fact.

The dazzling 3-hour BDLM visit was a visual treat all the way — right from the stately Museum building to its grand interiors (that reminded me of a ballroom) to its tastefully displayed collection — and one that stayed with me longer than the time I spent there. I knew that I didn’t just want to write about the BDLM’s artefacts in my Museum Treasure series, but write an entire post on the Museum itself. And since I wanted to include photographs, I had to wait for an opportunity to visit the BDLM once again. And last month, I got that chance and when the Museum opened it’s doors that Friday morning, I was the first to enter with a big smile and my camera. 🙂

Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai
The entrance to the Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum

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Celebrating India: A book review

What makes India a nation? What gives a common Indian identity to its billion plus population? Is it religion? Is it race or ethnicity? Is it language? Or is it something else altogether? In his essay on “The Invention of India”, Shashi Tharoor says that the answer for a common national identity, unlike in other countries, is neither religion nor race nor ethnicity nor language, but diversity.

India is never truer to itself than when celebrating its diversity. (in Celebrating India, p.14)

Celebrating IndiaThese particular lines in Tharoor’s essay sets the context for Celebrating India (2012, Nivasini Publishers, pp. 152, Rs. 200), an anthology that aims to celebrate this diversity and the “India in each of us” through memoirs, poems, short stories, travelogues and art. A special feature of this book is that all contributors waived payment for contributing to the anthology and agreed to contribute the profits of the book to Yamini Foundation, Hyderabad.

An initiative of the publishers themselves, this anthology has contributors from various backgrounds — journalists, engineers, editors, academicians, film personalities, students, bloggers… In fact, nearly half the contributors have blogs !

The contributors are a mix of well-known names like Tharoor, Gulzaar and Deepti Naval and unknown writers (for me at least) and all of them have attempted to elaborate on the theme of the anthology in their individual pieces. And do the contributors succeed in communicating this? Let’s see.

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Mumbai Lens: The war memorial at Ballard Estate

♦ This blog post was featured in the “Around the Blog” section of the DNA newspaper published on January 14, 2013 (pg.6) 

At a road junction in the busy Ballard Estate area of Mumbai, and near two landmarks of the area — Cafe Britannia and Old Customs House — stands a memorial.

World War I Memorial at Ballard Estate, Mumbai
World War I Memorial at Ballard Estate, Mumbai

This memorial commemorates the employees of the Bombay Port Trust (now Mumbai Port Trust) who fell during World War I (1914-1918) and also Port Trust’s contribution to the war effort. A brass plaque on the memorial reads:

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The corrupt Indian

So Anna Hazare and Team Anna are back with their fight against corruption in India and to ensure the implementation of the Lokpal Bill. There are mixed reports in the media about the success of this round of agitation, as none of the expected fasting, sloganeering, jail bharos, allegations, counter allegations, etc., etc, has really taken off. It the reports are to be believed then it appears that the movement has lost momentum as well as direction this time around.

I feel that part of the reason for the Anna juggernaut not sustaining is due to their simplistic understanding of corruption. Today, corruption is no longer only about those who take bribes; it is also about those who give bribes. Corruption is not only financial; it is moral, ethical, ecological, societal, ideological, creative… It is not only the politicians and the bureaucracy who are corrupt; society itself has become corrupt.

Corruption no longer has a simple definition; today, it is highly contextualised, complex, layered and subjective. What one person perceives as corruption can be another person’s “legitimate” way of securing his/her future! Take the case of a person who bribes his or her way to a lucrative posting within the organisation he/she works for. This is done with the understanding that the returns are worth the bribe paid. Think Customs, the Mumbai Octroi, the RTO… and you’ll know what I mean.

Corruption is so endemic and blatant that we have taken it for granted in a matter-of-fact way. Regrettably, the discourse on corruption in India rarely reflects its subjective understanding or its diversity or its depth or its endemic nature. Mostly, we get to read dry and technical analyses full of academic jargon, tables and figures and how India is being bled dry economically. Most of the articles are dramatic exposes intended to shock and titillate, but which ignore the deeper malaise that grips our society. Though some of these articles go into the reasons behind the corruption, very rarely does it take a mirror to the society we inhabit and present the different faces of the corrupt Indian.

I am surprised at the blinkers that we have on as we only have to look around us to see the many faces and avatars of the corrupt Indian 😦

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Mumbai Lens: Who lives within?

This blog post was featured in the “Around the Blog” section of the DNA newspaper published on July 230, 2012 (pg.6).

Mumbaikars, many of whom live in tiny flats with “caged windows”, optimise every inch of space that they have and then some more. I have seen these caged windows being used to store bicycles, for growing plants, for drying clothes… And I have great fun imagining the families living in such flats. A bicycle indicated school-going children, a tricycle indicated a toddler at home. If the bicycle/tricycle looked unused, then maybe the “children” had grown up. The clothes lines would help me weave even more colourful backgrounds to the families living behind those caged windows.

And then I came across these windows recently, and incidentally from the same building. It is said that a person’s desk is a reflection of his or her mind. If this logic were to be extended to families, what would the “caged windows” in the photograph be a reflection of?

What comes to your mind when you see these caged windows?

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A visit to Dakshinachitra

A welcoming Kolam and flowers greets visitors
The glass of chilled mosambi juice was a life-saver. The blinding white heat and the humid haze that had assaulted my senses from the time I had landed in Chennai dissipated a wee bit.

I became aware of the quiet and calm of Dakshinachitra, “a living museum of art, architecture, crafts, and performing arts of South India”.

Located on the East Coast Road in Muthukadu, Dakshinachitra is about 21 km south of Chennai. The sprawling, 10-acre complex houses carefully recreated heritage structures, traditions and culture from the four southern Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It is also a hub for performing arts, a retreat for artists, a learning centre for students, an exhibition space, a place to visit for the culturally inclined tourist… And a place that I had been wanting to visit for a long time, particularly to see the heritage structures.

So when the opportunity to visit Chennai came up about 10 days back, I planned my itinerary in such a way that I would go straight to Dakshinachitra from the airport itself. So far so good. What I had not accounted for, or rather ignored what everyone told me, was the severity of the infamous Chennai heat. I mean, how much more different could Chennai humidity be from Mumbai’s? By the time I reached Dakshinachitra, I was almost dehydrated and was having fond thoughts about Mumbai weather !

A shady courtyard at Dakshinachitra

Though the mosambi juice and lots of water revived me enough to brave the heat and take a walk through the heritage houses, the relentless heat made it difficult for me to really enjoy my visit there. I did manage to walk through the entire section of heritage structures, but my mind and camera did not register or record everything I saw.

But do allow me to share with you what they camera recorded. 🙂

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