Thoughts/ Articles

Are There Emotional No-go Areas for Artists?

Are There Emotional No-go Areas for Artists?

What was shocking was that the vitriol and cry for rioting came not from political goons as is so often the case in India over art, but largely from the creative community itself. They drummed up such an uproar on the social media that the photographer, Raj Shetye, cowering under pressure, quietly removed the photos.


How a Cop asks for a Bribe. Remembers his ‘Old Self’. And goes to a Temple.

How a Cop asks for a Bribe. Remembers his 'Old Self'. And  goes to a Temple.

They usually hum and haw and wait for you to make the offer. So when he finished the paperwork  and looked straight at me and  demanded, “Now get me the money”, I was taken aback. Even in his civvies, he looked every bit a cop. He was tall, had flaccid, clean- shaven jowls and wore […]


Golden Temple Kitchen – The largest community kitchen in the world.

This is no ordinary kitchen. This is the kitchen of the holiest Sikh Shrine, the Golden Temple or Harmandir Sahib which serves meals to more than 40 thousand people any given day. On a Sikh religious holiday however, the number can cross 1,00,000, making it the largest community kitchen of the world.


Sherpas and the Truth about Mountain Climbing.

Year after year, all manner of people, from the physically handicapped to the age defying – the very old to the very young- climb Everest and other big Himalayan peaks setting up new benchmarks and world records. The fact is, the easier the Sherpas make the climb for the amateurs the more they risk


Varanasi- A Divine City in Decay

The assault of the incessant honking, traffic snarls, the squalor and the general chaos can be overwhelming even for an average Indian city dweller used to the din. But instead of dismay there is a lazy romanticizing of the city, as a consequence nothing changes and the putrid Ganga continues to collect garbage from ghat to ghat.

Perhaps Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who won his election from here, can stem the rot. Or perhaps not. Because the decay is not just physical.Its also deeply cultural.


Have you visited the Holiest Hindu Temple in Varanasi? Probably Not.

But its inclusiveness is not just in the fact that it welcomes everyone –most Hindu temple do that- but that it incorporates the spirit of Hinduism like no other temple in Varanasi. All aspects of life, including sex are celebrated in its beautifully carved wooden sculptures. Nothing is condemned.


The Opium Drinkers of Jodhpur, Rajasthan

Doda is the last derivative of the opium plant. Its bits of straw and dust and this is what they sell at the government shops. It’s less pure and therefore less lethal than pure opium but just as addictive. The addicts ground the dry straw to powder. They mix it with water and filter it through a piece of cloth several times. The tea-colored liquid, which is odorless and tasteless, is then drunk by the glassfuls.


Rent a Womb? The Baby Factory in Gujarat.

However for the childless around the world, Anand is just a pit stop on their dream to acquire a child. Each year hundreds of them flock here from as many as 34 countries, winding their way through the traffic chocked, dusty by lanes to reach Akanksha Infertility Clinic- the hospital that churns out an average of one baby a day.

But Anand is also the last hope for women who have none. Empty stomached but fertile wombed they come here from all across Gujarat offering their womb for rent.


Gujarat- Its Smelly, Its Dusty , Its Poor. Its India.

Luckily, I had the opportunity to make road journeys across this vibrant state twice in the last one year to see for myself and rejoice. Truth be told, at first I did feel that same tug –a mixture of inferiority and expectancy – you feel when you fly to any Western country from India.

But away from the steel and glass, in an old part of Ahmedabad, where I went walking the next day, I got the same chocking feeling you get in any Indian city where filth and noise overwhelms you and sweaty smelly men buffet you about in the milling crowds.


Siddis- The Lost African Tribe in India.

The Siddis were brought to India almost 500 years ago as slaves by Arab and Portuguese merchants. Some Siddis also came as merchants but most of them worked as slaves and since then remained in India as part of the African diaspora. Over time, the Siddis were completely Indianised but they kept their African genes alive by marrying within their community.

Where do the Siddi’s fit in the complex caste system of India? In pre-Independence India they were outside it and were put even below the untouchables in the social hierarchy.


Female Bikers in India.

The image of a girl on a bike is that of her riding pillion. Biking is a male preserve where boys use their bikes to assert their masculinity. They have their peculiar mannerisms, their boy talk and adventures that one man can share only with another man.

But entering this cozy boy’s club are few females who are not content on sitting behind the boys to make them look pretty. They have their own bikes just as big and heavy. They go on long cross- country tours just like the boys and make all the heads turn at the traffic signal in the cities.


Bikes, Brawns, Babes: Testosterones Tales from India Bike Week, Goa.

They called the biking rendezvous; the Woodstock of Biking and touted it as the biggest and meanest of its kind in India. The first one, which took place in 2013, attracted biking aficionados of all hues, over 6000 of them. This year it was more flamboyant drawing all comers to the sweltering cauldron at Vagator, despite the hefty entry fee.
True, the India Bike Week at Goa , only a year old, is Woodstockian in scope. But it’s more a monument to testosterone.


Indian Gays and Lesbians: Pushed Back into the Closet.

Walid , 29, research scholar was not so fortunate. His family never tried to understand his point of view. His father told him bluntly that if he spoke about homosexuality again he would stab him. The Supreme Court judgment has only hardened their stand and they have already begun to send him we-told-you-so feelers.

“My father told me clearly that he would rather have me dead than have me a homosexual. He said our religion is against it and that was enough”, says Walid.


Tarun Tejpal and The Story of his Assassins.

Tarun Tejpal  and The Story of his Assassins.

Schadenfreude is a German word, which means deriving pleasure out of other people’s misery and discomfort. It embraces the bitter elements of sadism, voyeurism and malice.

And when a big man falls the Schadenfreude is that much sweeter. We drive pleasure out of other’s misfortune not necessarily because we hate the person in question but because it makes us feel better. We feel better about our own sorry lives.


Ranaram Bishnoi- The 75 year Old who Stopped the March of the Desert

No sooner we exchange greetings than he whisks us to the desert swathe where he’s planted over 27 thousand trees turning it green. He has singlehandedly stopped the march of the desert, which left to itself would have muzzled up the farmlands adjoining it and beyond. The desert dunes now lie tamed and anchored to the roots of Ranaram’s trees.
Ranaram has been planting these trees for some years now, drawing water from a nearby well and carrying it in an earthen pot on his shoulders to water the saplings.


Living With Parents ? Get Out of That House Already!

The biggest fallacy is that those who continue to live with their parents, love them more. The truth is, it’s a minefield of squabbles out there and the build up resentment and acrimony in the family is so thick, you can cut it with a knife.

It has nothing to do with love in the first place. Or with our great Indian culture – which is invoked every time in a discussions of this nature. The reasons for shacking up with parents are usually selfish; not being economically independent, high rentals, security and comfort, warm home cooked meals, not having to deal with the pesky landlord or simply plain laziness.


Apple Farming in Himachal: A Bitter-Sweet Fruit

But over the decades apples have transformed the lives of the apple growing community completely. The apple growers no longer live in villages in traditional mud and wood houses. Most of them now live in lavish farmhouses in the middle of their orchards harking to a lush, beautiful English countryside than a rural Indian setting. Expensive 4WD’s park behind the high walls of these houses and orchardists check for weather forecasts on their iPads and iPhones. Their children study in expensive boarding schools and little expense is spared during any social occasions like marriages or village rituals.


Temple to Lord Amitabh Bachchan, Kolkata

Temple to Lord Amitabh Bachchan, Kolkata

This is clearly not a fans shrine to their superstar. Bollywood fimstar Amitabh Bachchan is worshipped here as a God incarnate and full rites and rituals are accorded to him as to any Hindu God including the devotional aarti sung to him in pious clamor to the accompaniment of cymbals and bells.

And the temple is like any other Hindu temple with its religious protocol and symbols and customs. So much so that as we cross the threshold, the autorickshaw driver, as if on an ancient impulse, folds his hands in reverence.


Temple Freak Show in Bikaner, Rajasthan

Reverence for all things living is a special trait of Hinduism. But nothing prepares you for the freak show at this temple in Rajasthan overrun by thousands of overfed rats. There are over 20,000 of them living within the temple precincts and people come from far and wide to pay them obeisance


The Birds I Shot in my Orchards.

When I was growing up I wanted to become a hunter. I was encouraged in my bloody endeavor by my father when he got me my cousin’s hand -me -down air-rifle. With it I shot a wide variety of birds that live in the orchards and its periphery.
The birds were shot for morbid boyish pleasure of course but there were some like the streaked laughing thrush and the oriental turtle dove we barbequed in the jungle and ate. The streaked laughing thrush was particularly delicious and as a bird lover now , disconcerting though the thought is, my mouth still waters at the memory of the flesh.


In Search of ‘Real India’ with Chetan Bhagat

‘’I want to see the real India. Its important to see these people living at the grassroot level’’, Chetan tells me. But accustomed to dishing out homilies though his columns and tweets, Chetan is clearly out of his depth when it comes to asking questions about other people’s lives.
Chetan has come to see the ‘real’ India but he clearly cannot get enough of the India he has left behind. Between shots, in the jeep, even between conversations with the locals he twiddles briskly on his blackberry.


The Clay Refrigerator Man: He Makes all Appliances out of Clay.

Prajapati is an innovator who is in the business of making everyday household appliances including refrigerators, pressure cookers, non-stick pans, water dispensers- all out of clay. These products marketed under the Mitti Cool banner are not only eco-friendly, sustainable and effective but also very cheap.


Dining with the Dead: The Graveyard Restaurant

Life and death are so finely interwoven into the matrix of Indian life that sometimes it is just a matter of course. Like in this quaint restaurant in Ahmedabad, Gujrat, where the living come out to dine with the dead. Built over a graveyard, the New Lucky Restaurant has more graves than tables.


Its only Human. How Sexual Perversions and Depravities are uniquely Human.

Humans are the only species on the planet who rape though ironically we often call the rapists animals. No animal rapes. No animal has sexual perversions or depravities. It is, as with most things, a peculiar human trait.