Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Hauz Khas: No Show Yes Show

The store owners were looking for people and the people for bargains, which were there – hidden round some corner. Despite some hiccups, the first Open Village Night at the upmarket Hauz Khas Village on June 19 was a roaring success. The shoppers watched films, saw puppetry, enjoyed a sensuous reading session, ran into old friends and met new ones, checked out high art as well as folk craft and went home happy.

In short, the people had a gala time being at the Hauz Khas village. The innovative show that brought together galleries, restaurants, stores, studios and bookshops did manage to achieve what it had set out for – to play the Pied Piper and get Delhiites out of their comfy spaces. Publicised at an individual level, Facebook and through mailing lists, the Hauz Khas village (somehow don't feel like calling it a village) is likely to see more such events, provided the various shop owners can put together a more cohesive show.

A big cheers to the store owners for the sheer number of activities that they pulled out of their hats. The Yodakin bookstore collaborated with The Pleasure Project to organize a fantasy reading with Anne Philpott reading out some sensual passages from last year’s Granta. Contrarily, the newly opened art and design store A.S.O.T had Bikram Ghosh scaring a small audience of children with his reading of The Wolves in the Walls. Photographer Anushka Menon had displayed her photographs of the classical dances.

The far end of the village had a film screening by the Travel Café Kunzum, Neha Rehani held a colour interpretation therapy for individuals and the Happy Hands Foundation showcased the work of India’s rural artisans. A billboard painter from Old Delhi demonstrated how to get a 3-D effect in the English, Hindi and Urdu scripts. Later he showed the gathered enthusiasts how to paint bottles which were then converted into lamps by inserting LED lights.

A magic show and puppet shows with performers from the kathputhli colony of Delhi, souvenirs on Delhi as part of the capital city’s centenary celebrations, a thela selling traditional craft items while another one by O Layla sold exquisite merchandise on special rates only for that night – the Hauz Khas Open Village Night had quite a lot. The streets had revelry, more important people, and restaurants, that included Gunpowder, Flipside Cafe, TLR, The Grey Garden, and a couple of new ones like Elma's and YETi had more guests than on normal days.

Despite the happening scene, there were people who went back disappointed. Even some of the store owners were not happy with the effort. Not all streets were decorated, it was just one that had the buntings, lights and festoonery, and that caught the shopkeepers by surprise. A designer, who owns a store said: “This was the first time that we had an event like this therefore it was not very well managed. Hopefully we will hold the event again and a better one at that.”

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Ecofest 2011 @ Alliance Francaise, Delhi

This World Environment Day was different. I was a part of it and was interviewed which was so encouraging. Unlike most other similar days when I would be covering it as a reporter, or be a mere witness to the events, this time I was an active participant. And what a high it was!

I was part of the Eco Festival 2011 at Alliance Francaise, New Delhi, along with The Kriti Team, a Delhi-based NGO. The festival held on June 4 and 5 was pure fun - dance, theatre and crafts workshops, a photo and painting exhibition, films on environment, music and protest music. Adding to the activity was an eatery called eco-café and shopping at the eco-haat which also sold beautiful red-coloured solar lanterns.

I was happy to note that one of the highlights was my photo-exhibition, Green Art. It was a wonderful experience to talk to numerous visitors who admired the photographs and were taken by surprise to note that
all of them were from Delhi. Well, Delhi remains one of the most green cities not only in the country but also in the world with its the lakes, gardens, the river Yamuna, nurseries and even the flower markets.

I love roaming around in Delhi's green areas not just because these are a wonderful break but also because of the sights and the smells. Not to mention the pleasant surprises the little creatures throw up. Very close to what Robert Frost had said, "the forests are lovely dark and deep," particularly if you are stomping in one during the monsoon.


The festival had Class XI student of the Sardar Patel School, Michelle Oraa Ali present her drawings titled Nature Series. She has showcased her talent at many other platforms earlier.

Dancer Himani Khurana held a session on dance that was pure fun. Half way through her workshop I realised that missing her workshop was not a good idea. She made the participants stretch, twirl and execute movements that were more exercise than dance. In short it was a lot of fun.

The festival concluded with a resounding performance by Dr Parvez Imam who sang Songs of the People. The highlight was that he sang in numerous languages including Hindi, English and Oriya. Satyajeet Mukherjee accompanied Dr Imam on the percussions.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Of Vegetables and Drive

A little walk on the Yamuna bed, yes you can walk on a river that has everything in the world except water, had me clicking vegetables, marigold plantations, a forest and migrant workers. The wicked summer season, with all its inherent problems - power cuts, sandstorms, sweat, and of course the bright blinding sunlight - also brings plenty of vegetables.

Though no big fan of most veggies, I know well that most of the summer vegetables help the body stave off the soaring temperatures. Don't ask me how, but these vegetables keep a person cool. Even as I spoke to the farmers and their families on Delhi's river bed, I realised that I had encountered a similar scene barely a month back in another city, Bhopal, where again I had photographed a family plucking ladyfinger.

From the outside it was a similar scene - two different families in two different cities picking and plucking vegetables from farmland. But coming to think of it, when I sat down to write this blog post, I realised that despite the very same visual scenery, the behind-the-story was completely different. While the farmers' family at Bhopal tilled its own land and was secure, the one in Delhi had migrated here from Uttar Pradesh and was tilling the land for a Delhi-based farmer.

The irony is that the Delhi farmer too does not own the land. He has sublet the river's, rather the government's land, to a migrant family. And this land can be taken up for 'development' or 'beautification' anytime by the government or by a construction company through the benign intervention of the government. Land around the river has been ocassionally taken away by the government for construction purposes, more so during the last decade of 'growth and development'.

When I pointed this out to the farmer, he was concerned. His wife was even more concerned. It was just a couple of years back that they had seen a large portion of the land on the river bed being taken away for the  building of the Commonwealth Games Village. When asked if that land too was under cultivation, the farmer nodded his head. That plot of land too was under cultivation till it sprouted the massive games village.

So what happened to the family that was working there?

The woman replied. She was garrulous of the two: "What could the family do? Once the land was taken, the family went back to their village."

And what is the uprooted family doing now?

"How do we know?" said the woman. But I was persistent and wanted to know more, so I asked: "What will you do if the government wants to construct something else here?" " 

Now the man joined the conversation in the right earnest. Lines of worry immediately creased his face and even his children stood still. He responded: "Do you think this land too will be taken away for construction?"

I told him that I am not aware of the government's plans, but I want to know from him if he has any plans for his family and future. This fellow has four children and his eldest, the son, has dropped out from school. This made it amply clear that the boy will not do anything but follow in his parents footsteps - work on someone else's fields or join a construction site if the fields are taken away.

It was obvious that the farmer had not even thought about such a happening or his future. But he did reply: "If the land is indeed taken away, we will have no option but to go back to our village."

And what will he and his family do there?

His staid answer: "That we will see when we go back to our ancestral village. We will do something, afterall one has to feed onself."

Right. One has to feed oneself and this drive works for most of India. For the rest, just about a minority really, it is greed that works. :-)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Soul Survivors

Tattooed faces, women with nose-plugs, men with spears and the brass necklaces of the last living headhunters.

It feels nice to go to a photo-exhibition of a different kind. It also feels good to know that the photographs on display are from a culture that might just be on the cusp of extinction.

With us city-dwellers looking West for inspiration and aping everything of theirs - looks, accent, fashion, even mannerisms, originality is hard to come by. So, this exhibition on the Konyak tribe from Nagaland, the Apatani from Arunachal Pradesh and the Tibetan nomads transports the viewer to another place, another  world.

On at the National Museum on Janpath, Soul Survivors, goes beyond its photographs. It has installations, furniture, vases, handicrafts and artefacts from the tribes of India's North East - and this is what makes it different. It is only food that is missing. If we had some authentic North-Eastern food at the exhibit or even at the museum, this exhibition would have been an ultimate experience.

Anu Malhotra, the photographer, had taken these photos almost 10 years back while making documentaries on the different tribes and people of Asia. She is aware of the importance of her work and also the fact that very soon these photos will have archival value. This is something that she repeats in her interview often.

With 85 photographs and 10 videos, spears, bamboo wind chimes and things of unique shapes on display, Soul Survivors is not to be missed.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Photo of the Week

I was fascinated by the look on the child's face. He is clearly enjoying himself thoroughly. I am sure he is right now on the safest place on earth - much like a li'l monkey or a kangaroo baby. I managed to get one more shot of his.

I later found out that the little one belongs to the Chin tribe, migrants to India from Burma.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sand Soil Earth... and Earthworms

It was a Greenpeace call for entries for a photo exhibition that prompted me to write this post. It was an unusual call for photos - the organisation wanted photographs on Soils and Survival, which is indeed by any parametre not a run of the mill idea/theme for a photo-exhibition.

Before this I had come across, and participated in, photo-competitions of all kinds, almost everything under the sun, - Humanizing Development, the Millennium Development Goals, woman/women, Delhi, nature and wildlife, weddings and marriages, flowers, portraits, street photography, and so many more that I cannot recall. Not many of such competitions forced me to think - I either had photos or I did not have. In profounder words - I was either interested or I was not in some of these themes and calls for participation.

So, participating in this Greenpeace exhibition on 'soil' set me scratching my head, though it still did not make me grip my equipment and shoot soil, sand, earth, ground, land, rocks, stones, hills, vegetation, grass, fields, crops, farmers, earthworms, cows, goats or cowdung... I just scratched my head and thought off all those photo-shoots that I had either participated in or, sometimes, had led in Delhi.

Scratching the head helped. I recollected and recalled that I had unknowingly, maybe unwittingly clicked earth so many times during such shoots. And then I began to scrutinise the deep forgotten recesses of my hard drives to successfully unearth dozens of photos on soil and related subjects.

My joy was unbound.

The variety was, as the English would say, not bad at all. I had anthills (fantastic work of architecture using local construction materials), insects (one flouroscent beetle trying out climbing on a sapling), butterflies holding a long lunch-hour meeting (much like NGOs), tiny islands of earth in Delhi's green spaces (in the middle of smelly sewage water from plush Delhi residences), ancient rocks from Rajasthan, fallen flowers, dried leaves, rotting stems and much more (all the right ingredients for a healthy soil), though I found no earthworms.

My job was done. A few of those entries passed the Greenpeace muster, were blown up and dutifully highlighted at the exhibition.

But I was amazed to notice how an abstract competition trigger a chain or thought or light up creativity. The soil of our country, it seems, is unwell these days. Fed with an overdose of chemicals - fertilisers as well as pesticides - it is on the sick bed. The microbes in the soil have died and the earthworms are disappearing. The chemicals have killed them all.


The farmers, despite their traditional knowledge and farming systems, have dumped the age-old farming practices of soil and nature friendly farming in favour of government subsidies that promote chemical fertilisers; corporate marketing gimmicks that spread out the chemicals to the remotest of farms and crops that bring in the moolah. But all this has happened at the cost of soil health and declining productivity - inspite of additional doses of fertilisers.

Funny isn't it how, in the rat race to push growth rates, we close our eyes to extraction machines in forests, chemicals in soil, sewage in rivers and pollution in air?

On that note, I wonder what is happening to our food? What are we eating these days? Genes of coachroaches, bugs, reptiles, insects... ?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Last of the Season

Once again there has been a long gap. The longest till now - more than two months. Longer than  the one I had in the middle of last year. The irony is that I have been writing consistently but have not been updating my blog. And it has been more than two months of not a single write-up - not even random thoughts, no lament either about the level of corruption, the Japanese tsunami and the nuclear catastrophe, the murder of environment, the skewed-up development processes...

So, I have finally decided to update. Not with a write-up but with photos - seems photography is becoming an activity, which I have been consistent thinking about and  practicing. So, here come some flower shots taken today in the diminishing romance of spring. Now being steadily replaced by the domineering heat of  the summer, which even though in its infancy has made its impact felt. I wonder if we will get baked in a matter of a couple of months.

The  flowers have been withering away, but  I managed to catch a few of the healthier variety despite their withering motions. It was not even planned - just that I happened to find myself in a small passionately-managed garden and I had my camera alongside me. I also had my new lens which I put to good use in the garden. Enjoy the flowers from the lawns of the Constitution Club, the heart of Delhi, on a day when a perfectly-timed, heat seeking Wikileaks cable hit the Indian Parliament with the intensity of an American nuke.

The timing of the Wikileaks story could not have been more apt. For India, it came at a time when corruption has now become a regular beat for reporters just as agriculture or defence are. There is so much happening on this beat that now the media should seriously think of assigning a full time reporter to cover corruption.

In the global context, it came exactly at the time when Japan is facing a nuclear holocaust which is a runaway reminder of not only history's, and indeed Japan's, first nuclear bombing but also of the Chernobyl disaster.

For India, the Japanese nuclear meltdown and the helplessness of the mighty Japanese despite their nuclear prowess gives added teeth to the protestors of the proposed Jaitapur Nuclear Plant about which the Indian Government is so stubbornly hopeful of erecting. On the other hand, it also reminds us of the Boxing Day Tsunami which hit the South East and South Asian nations in 2005 and  whose waves almost touched the feet of our own nuclear power plant on the south Indian coastline.

Oh oh oh, seems my thoughts have led me astray from my original topic(s) - not writing, not updating, flowers, photography and the receeding spring. So, coming back to flowers... time to enjoy them before they beat a hasty retreat to the scorching sun.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"Attention NGOs"

Kumi addresses experts from the Indian development sector in Delhi

“The civil society found itself doing nothing when the banking sector collapsed. It was a lost opportunity for the international development sector. Now the world leaders have put a big band-aid to stem the current crisis,” said Kumi Naidoo, the executive director of Greenpeace International. Naidoo, a passionate human rights campaigner, was speaking at a panel discussion organised by a coalition of Indian NGOs called the Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (WNTA) during his recent visit to Delhi.

Naidoo, who comes from Durban, has earlier headed the Johannesburg-based international NGO CIVICUS and has been an active member of the African National Congress. He has been speaking at the World Economic Forum and the G-20 meetings to impress upon the world’s most powerful political leaders to pay more attention to the deprived people. Words like growth and GDP mean little to Naidoo, who says: “The astronomical rise in fuel prices caused a rise in food prices which led to riots across the world. Though fuel prices have come down, food prices have not. More than 50,000 people die every year due to poverty.”

Talking about the food riots, Naidoo said: “When the riots took place in 2008 in South Africa, we turned against those African brothers who came from other countries. We forgot that there was a time during our struggle against apartheid when we had turned to those countries for help and other things.”

Pranjoy makes a point during the interaction with Kumi in Delhi
Naidoo urged the Indian civil society to be proactive and said: “We cannot put the poverty crisis, environmental crisis and the financial crisis in different boxes. The various civil society organisations have to work together and support each other in their causes. We will have to organise a civil society beyond boundaries. If Europe can have its common currency, the Euro, why cannot Africa have an Afro?”

Rajesh Tandon from the Indian civil society organisation PRIA too was critical of the current global economic paradigm. He said: “Public revenues have gone up seven to eight times in India but corruption has gone up by 70-80 times. Maybe we were better off in times of low growth rates.” Talking about the emerging countries, Tandon said: “India in South Asia, Brazil in Latin America and South Africa in Africa have emerged in their regions. Their companies are working across the world but should we be championing the existing world order or should we be championing a new world order? So how do we raise the debate between these countries?”

Speaking on the changing role of civil society organisations, Prof. Neera Chandok from the Delhi University said: “The task of the civil society is to safeguard democracy and keep a watch on the government. In India we noticed that the government acts only when people go to the court. So, in the case of the right to education, food, work and information, where the NGOs went to the Supreme Court, the government has acted but it has not done anything over the right to health because nobody approached the court.”

Quoting the solidarity slogan of the South African anti-apartheid movement, “Injury to one is injury to all”, Naidoo pushed for unity and cohesion among diverse constituents of the global civil society. The session was moderated by noted journalist and activist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta.