Friday, December 30, 2011

Worth its salt!

My two small feet stepped on a land unlike any other on the face of this planet. It could have been snow. It was cold enough for it to snow. Temperatures in winter did drop below zero degrees. I surveyed the landscape around me. All white! I picked up a pinch of it. Small crytals of white with brown mud. And then I did the unthinkable - I tasted it. Salt! I spat out.

The white Rann of the Greater Rann of Kachchh near Dhordo (yes, that's the official spelling and not the very common Kutch) is as close to moonscape you can get on earth. Dry, barren, isolated, it's over a three-and-a-half hour tiring drive through open scrub that offer little to stimulate the senses from Gandhidham (two hours from Bhuj, the largest city in Kachchh). The BSF guards flag down all vehicles. "No plastics allowed beyond this point." We handed our plastic bottles over to him. He simply tossed them behind.

We made our way through the brown mudflats following the treads of tyres that have been taking the same course. At the far horizon, we thought we saw waves lapping up the sand, not unlike the view at Chowpatty Beach in Mumbai. Or was it a mirage? We had barely been into the desert for about five minutes. Sure we couldn't be seeing mirages. But we were. The car came to a stop near the parking area. From there we could see sands of two colours - brown, where we had parked and white, where we were headed to on foot.

The wild asses are native to the Little Rann of Kachchh

There were no birds, no wild asses (khur) and just one camel cart. It was two in the afternoon. I tugged my jacket close to my chest to beat the chill in the air. I have never felt as exposed to the elements as I was on that day. Nothing could camouflage my existence. It was eerie and breathtaking at the same time.  

Also read Love Across the Salt Desert by K N Daruwalla   

Resolutions 2012

Thursday, December 29, 2011

What do you do when doctors say they can't do anything?

A dear friend's father has been lying in a hospital bed in a comatose state for the past 72 hours. A Parkinson's patient, he fell when the wheelchair he was sitting in turned over. He hasn't responded since. There has been no external injury but the CT scan shows cerebral haemorrhages and clots. His chances are slim, but he is breathing and that too, deeply. He moves his toes sometimes and his body is warm even in the cool environment of the ICU. They're feeding him through a tube, like they have been doing since August. It's a situation no doctor wants to be in. They say they can't do anything. Surgery is ruled out because of his age and the advanced state of his disease. His family, much as they love him, don't want him to suffer anymore. All they can do is wait, like the doctor told them to do: "It is only a matter of time." But time has no limit. And the body doesn't give up easily. And neither can we, our loved ones. So taking one step at a time, one day at a time may help. A slight twitch here, a movement there for a patient at this stage is the equivalent of making a mark on the moon. It may not sum up to anything but it is still there and just that knowledge is comforting and we may take better care of him. Sometimes, it is better to aim for a 10 per cent recovery than to give up hope altogether. At least he will go with a subconscious feeling of being looked after when his days were numbered.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Bol: Of blind faith and a few words

A hakim (traditional medicine-man) opens the Quran to a particular page and shuts his eyes as his index finger hovers over the page. It comes to rest after a few seconds. The hakim opens his eyes reads the line his finger points to and closes the holy book. This is how he takes his decisions -- of whether he should kill his transgender child or  not or if he should go against his conscience and enter into a second marriage with a tawaif (erstwhile courtesan, now often synonymous with a commercial sex worker) and make some money by secretly parenting a girl child. I have not come across a film where blind faith has been depicted so subtly, yet so powerfully.  

And that is why Shoaib Mansoor's film, Bol, is a must-watch. I loved his Khuda Kay Liye for the differences between culture and religion it brought out. I liked Bol because it celebrates the spirit of women, even when their circumstances are the most unfortunate. 

Set in Lahore, the story revolves around an extremely conservative hakim (Manzar Sehbai plays the character to a T), who, in his quest for a male child, has fathered 14 children. As the only earning member of the large family, he forces on his seven surviving daughters a life full of restrictions and denial, to keep them under his control. Gradually, his divorced eldest daughter, Zainub, starts questioning his decisions and beliefs. Unable to form the words to answer her queries, he resorts to violence, but that only makes her bolder. To escape the jabs of his conscience, he seeks refuge in religion. But he follows faith blindly, choosing only what he wishes to know and read and that slowly destroys his family, his honour and him. 

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Bol, which means words in Urdu, relays more than just the story. Go, watch it now.

A question...

Would you like to own a unique watch crafted by a watchmaker specially for you and that would cost you a few thousand rupees or would you want a watch that cost one crore rupees with the knowledge that 75 people in the world would be wearing the same thing?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Politically Incorrect

Book Review: The Moghul

Author: Thomas Hoover
Publisher: Fireship Press
Pages: 608
Price: Rs 1,308 (for the Imported Edition); free on Kindle

Eisha Sarkar
Posted on Mumbai Mirror on Friday, December 16, 2011 at 02:50:23 PM

The small naval Battle of Swally that took place on November 29-30 in 1612, off the coast of Suvali, a village near Surat in Gujarat, is the little-known event that turned the course of Indian history. The victory of four English East India Company galleons (multi-decked sailing ships) over four Portuguese ships and 26 barks (unarmed rowing vessels) paved the way for British dominance over South Asian trade and gradually the colonisation of India.

By drawing from the diaries of the early English tradesmen who came to India aboard ships, braving such Portuguese attacks, Thomas Hoover has crafted an intriguing tale of an envoy of the English East India Company whose goal is to get a permit for trade from the Mughal Emperor in India and wrench the control of the trade in the Indian Ocean from the Portuguese. The protagonist of the story is Captain Brian Hawksworth, whose experiences in this mystical land are based on the true accounts of William Hawkins, the first envoy of the English East India Company who sailed to the port of Surat in 1608 and of Thomas Roe, who, as ambassador of King James I to Emperor Jehangir's court, obtained permission for the company to set up factories in Surat and get their toe-hold into India.

As Hawkworth makes his way from Surat to the Moghul's court in Agra, he discovers a country of contrasts, where the sword is revered and so is the pen, where men of valour wear jewels and perfumes and build monuments dedicated to love, where delicate noblewomen plot against powerful heirs to the throne, where caste and religious prejudices run deeper than bonds of love and friendship and where passion is nurtured and repressed. As he absorbs the customs and manners of India, the rough English seaman veers away from his commercial interests and begins a new quest for sensuality in music and the love of his life.

The fictional characters of the opium-addicted Arangbar, the wronged heir, Jadar, the great Akman, the scheming Jahanara and the clever prime minister Nadir Shah in The Moghul are loosely based on Jehangir, Shah Jahan, Akbar and Nur Jahan and her brother Asaf Khan. Travellers and writers from the West are often intrigued by Indian politics. Hoover is no different. He layers the text with multiple sub-plots, adding new characters to the ensemble cast, much like a rich and colourful tiered cake. You have to cut it, bit by bit, layer by layer, so that you can finish it off. And that requires patience. But if you love historical fiction, this tale of blood and lust, love and war, music and poetry and commerce and politics is a must-read.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

On Design

Creativity in print journalism is often limited to a set of good headlines and great page layouts. As journalists, we observe life so closely, scrutinizing its various flaws, that we rarely get a chance to step back and appreciate the beauty of the processes that make life, life. I am extremely honoured by the opportunity the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, had given me to look at design from a different perspective — from the point of view of the process, and not the product; as a means and not the end.

Such had been the journey of compiling Young Designers 2011, an endeavour to present the works of 222 budding designers from 17 different disciplines. The range of areas of design their projects have covered reflects the growing need for design interventions in diverse sectors of industry all over the world. Going through the sheer body of the work that the students have produced has been a process of learning for me, as much as it had been for them when they had tried to express their ideas through words and form.

That design could be an aesthetic, a form, a function, an experience or all of them put together, was something I was earlier not aware of. While editing the publication, I learnt that design solutions could be presented in forms as varied as documentaries, films, products, processes and services. It just points out to how little, we, as lay people, know and understand of design. Seldom do we realize that design is everywhere. It is both an art and a science. It could be in philosophy as well as in practice. It could be a method and a solution. And it could be both a process of creation and destruction, as we see in Mother Nature, who is, by far, the best designer in the world.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The viral Kolaveri Di video

Of cats, apes, crocs and sting-rays

With its dense tropical rainforest, the eastern Malaysian state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo, is every animal lover's paradise

Eisha Sarkar
Posted on Mumbai Mirror on Tuesday, December 06, 2011 at 12:40:39 PM

Cat Monument in Kuching

The capital of Sarawak is Kuching. According to one local legend, James Brooke (the first White Rajah of Sarawak) pointed towards the settlement across the Sarawak River and enquired about its name. The person he asked thought Brooke was pointing towards a passing cat, which in Bahasa Melayu (the Malay language) is called Kuching. Another theory suggests the town may have originally been known as Cochin, a word for port commonly used across India and Indochina. The most popular theory is that the town is named after a tidal stream called Kuching River, which originated from Cat's Eye Hill (Bukit Mata Kuching) where there was an abundance of a local fruit called Green Longan, vernacularly known as Cat's Eye (Mata Kuching). Little wonder that the furry animals are ubiquitous here -- on the streets, inside stores and even in the lobbies of five-star resorts! Kuching is also the only place in the world where you will find a cat museum.

Monkey business
It's time for breakfast at the Semenggoh Nature Reserve
Borneo, the world’s third largest island, is home to the ‘old men of the forest’, the orangutans. Situated 24 km from Kuching is the Semenggoh Nature Reserve which was established in 1975 to rehabilitate orangutans that were injured, orphaned or rescued from captivity. The 1613-acre dipterocarp forest is currently home to 26 semi-wild orangutans of various ages. You may enjoy observing their antics during the feeding times (9 am and 3 pm) as long as you keep a distance of 20 feet between them and yourself and not attempt to tease, feed or touch them. The other attractions include an arboretum, an orchard and a botanical garden. Borneo is also home to the rare proboscis monkey, long-tailed macaques and leaf monkeys, which may be sighted at the spectacular Bako National Park, which is about 1.5 hours away from Kuching (that includes a 45-minute drive and a 45-minute ferry-ride).

Baby crocs at Jong's Crocodile Farm
Get croc-king!
Along the Kuching-Serian highway about 29 km from Kuching, is Jong’s Crocodile Farm and Zoo. With over 2,000 crocodiles (both saltwater and freshwater varieties) that have been bred in captivity, Jong’s is the first and largest captive breeding crocodile farm in Malaysia. The gaping reptiles, their powerful, lashing tails and cold, menacing eyes make for great photographs. The crocodiles are fed whole defeathered chickens daily at 11 am and 3 pm and those are the best times to catch them in action. A Jong’s farm-hand ties the chickens to a rope above a crocodile pond. The giant reptiles ‘stalk’ the ‘chickens’ and jump several feet above water to clamp their ‘prey’ between their powerful jaws. The farm also has a museum which houses the skull of Bujang Senang, the notorious man-eating crocodile that went on a rampage in the Sri Aman area in 1993. There is also a souvenir shop which sells crocodile soft toys and leather products. 

Damai Beach
Watch who you swim with
Sarawak’s most popular and scenic beach, Damai is located on the Santubong peninsula and is a 45-minute drive from Kuching. You can engage in water sports such as jet-skiing and windsurfing or relax on the white sandy beach and enjoy sighting a variety of birds such as sandpipers, egrets, terns, collared kingfisher, the white-bellied Sea Eagle and Brahminy Kites. Be careful while swimming especially because this region of the South China Sea is known for some of the deadliest jellyfish and sting-rays. The Damai Beach Resort also offers a two-hour trek through the rainforest to the Mount Santubong.
Mount Santubong

An Iban musician playing the Sape in Kuching
According to a legend, the mountain is associated with two beautiful princesses, Santubong and Sejinjang. Santubong was an expert weaver while Sejinjang was an excellent rice thresher. One day, they quarrelled and exchanged blows. Sejinjang swung her thresher which hit Santubong's cheek. Santubong threw her weaver at Sejinjang, hitting her head. The King of Heaven put an end to the quarrel by cursing them and turning them into mountains. Santubong turned into Mount Santubong while Sejinjang became Mount Sejinjang. It is said that Mount Santubong resembles a woman lying on her back.

Getting there
Kuching is well-connected by air to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. To travel from Kuching to various reserves and sanctuaries, you have to rely a lot on taxis and hotel shuttles, which are expensive. Bargain hard with taxi drivers.Buses are cheap but do not often stick to time-tables.

(All pics by Rachit Mankad)

Just Another Black Day...

Rachit's rendition of Aahatein by Agni

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The little things that make me smile...

  •  The sight of dew on a green leaf
  • The sight of my husband
  • A paycheck, no matter how small is the amount that it mentions
  • Watching mom clap as she discovers something new on Facebook
  • A new shoot sprouting from a seed
  • A dog
  • Chocolate
  • A romantic film with very gorgeous actors
  • Granny's wrinkles when she smiles
  • Turning into her walking-stick
  •  The smell of Kebabs
  • A drive to nowhere
  • Spotting a new bird/animal
  • The sight of a water body
  • Watching someone else smile
  • Writing
  • Gossipping with a friend on GTalk 
  • Looking at old pictures
  • A walk on the riverfront/seafront
  • Sunset
  • A new dance step
  • Music
  • Memory
  • Acquiring a book I've been waiting to read for long
  • A task well done and well-appreciated
  • Learning a secret
  • Feeling the wind through my hair