Sunday Long Reads: Of food, films, travel, music, love and Islamophobia

Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, Fire, My Beautiful Laundrette, Call Me By Your Name, Pain and Glory, Brokeback Mountain, Happy Together, Carol, Dostana, Dedh Ishqiya, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga, Moonlight, My Brother Nikhil, Margarita With A Straw, Super Deluxe, Wongkar Wai, Karan Johar, I Am, Kal Ho Na Ho, Bombay Talkies, Blue is the Warmest Colour, William Friedkin, The Boys In The Band, Stephen Frears, Daayraa, Darmiyaan, Ayushmann Khurrana, Jitendra Kumar, Indian Express, Indian Express news

The unapologetic kiss between Kartik and Aman, the characters played by Ayushmann Khurrana and Jitendra Kumar in Hitesh Kewalya’s upcoming Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, feels like “A Moment”.

Is Bollywood finally ready for gay films?

Sealed With A Kiss. SWAK. Remember that acronym? Widely used, mostly on the backs of envelopes containing mushy missives, in the time when kissing was taboo in the movies, along with much else that was part of the territory — making out, making love, or, even, gasp, having sex.

This was, of course, in the days when mail and snail rhymed, people used calligraphy to telegraph romantic attachments, and Bollywood’s boys and girls, (or, rarely, if the movie was a little grown-up, men and women), bent and twisted in slavish adherence to the rules of the game. No exposing, no touching, and emphatically no kissing. Tauba tauba!


Why the digital world needs a new vocabulary to defend our rights

Digital, Protest, Internet Ban, Technology, Computers, Social Media, Data, Digital Native, Nishant Shah, Database, Indian Express, Indian Express news

A new way to engage: Rethinking our terms of digital engagement

Social media has become the de facto visual representation of the digital. The infinite scroll seduces all our attention and it is also where the drama is. It is designed for human engagement and consumption and offers cybernetic feedback loops of instant gratification. They feed us with something almost being said, a sentence without an end, an expression that hasn’t yet been completed, a tale that grows in its telling, thus keeping us hooked to what is just around the corner. Thus, when we say “online”, or “connected”, or “digital”, we eventually narrow it down to apps and sites and platforms that we engage with through different digital devices.


A new museum is an ode to all things Odia

Kala Bhoomi, Bhubaneswar, Odisha, Kansari, Banias, Pattachitra, Shree Jagannath Temple, Bhubaneswar Museum, Indian Express, Indian Express news

Cultural Affairs

The museum as an institution is very contrived and colonial,” says art and cultural historian and museologist Jyotindra Jain. “The coloniser was very keen on knowledge projects on other cultures...In fact, early collections in Western museums were known as curiosities galleries”.

Kala Bhoomi in Bhubaneswar, an effort to compile and preserve the state’s local cultures, may prove to be the exception. Sprawled across roughly 13 acres in the state capital and set up by the Odisha government in collaboration with Jain, it brings together Odisha’s cultural diversity scattered across space and time. It is an ode to the skills of traditional local communities that are losing touch with the arts they practised and crafts they produced.


Is your food Indian?

Poha, Biryani Bangladesh, jada poha chevdo, kanda pohe, chire doi, aval nanachathu, Dalits, Vegetarianism, Brahmins, Untouchables, Eye 2020, Sunday Eye, Indian Express, Indian Express news

Does the food we eat say something about who we are? Does it need to? (Source: Getty/Thinkstock)

How Indian are you if you eat poha? At an event in Indore last month, Kailash Vijayvargiya, general secretary of the BJP, spoke of the “suspicious” eating habits of some workers at his house. He said, “They were eating only poha (flattened rice dish)... I suspected these workers were residents of Bangladesh.” This observation befuddled many around India who eat poha in different ways — from the Gujarati jada poha chevdo and the Maharashtrian kanda pohe to the Bengali chire doi and the Malayali aval nanachathu. It spawned impassioned opinion pieces, as well as numerous jokes and memes, with Indians claiming the right to eat as much poha as they want.


Bon Appétit! How I discovered Moradabadi biryani

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Outlets selling Moradabadi biryani have proliferated in Delhi in the last decade or so. (Source: Getty/Thinkstock)

About a decade ago, I decided to change my vegetable vendor. Instead of getting my supplies from the local Mother Dairy outlet or the man with the pushcart outside the east Delhi housing society I lived in, I walked more than a kilometre to the vegetable market. The vegetables seemed fresh, and the walk, I told myself, was good for my health. The attraction, however, was a hole-in-the-wall eatery that served a variety of biryani I had never heard of — the Moradabadi biryani.

For nearly a month, I feasted regularly on this rice-and-meat dish that was very different from any other biryani I had ever had. The basmati was of the broken variety, it was garnished with a green chilli and ginger juliennes and served with a watery green chutney that I would usually discard. And, there seemed to be a hint of food colour — a replacement for saffron, perhaps.


Why a Chinese scholar translated the Upanishads

Sri Aurobindo, Mirra Alfassa, Aurobindo Ashram, Puducherry, Xu Fancheng, Rue Dumas, China, Sanskrit, Santiniketan, Mao Zedong, Eye 2020, Sunday Eye, Indian Express, Indian Express news

Hu Hsu at his house in Puducherry. (Photo courtesy: Devdip Ganguli)

In the late 1960s, Hu Hsu, the only Chinese man at Aurobindo Ashram, would often be spotted cycling around Puducherry with a “peculiar green sunshade”, like a Las Vegas croupier. A philosopher and Indologist who later came to be known as Xu Fancheng, he spent 27 years (1951-78) in the ashram — for the most part penniless, meticulously translating several of India’s classical Sanskrit texts and modern writing, including the Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads and Sri Aurobindo’s works into Mandarin. This was at a time when there was no market for it back home in China.

Hu’s collected works, published only after his death in 2000, show that apart from being a translator of Indian philosophical works, he wrote extensively about a range of issues like Confucianism and Buddhism. “After 2006, when the collected works came out, there was a massive interest in Sri Aurobindo’s works because of Hu Hsu,” says Devdip Ganguli, a faculty member at Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education. “This interest is primarily at Chinese universities and it is only growing.”


Supriya Gandhi: 'Difficult to call Dara Shukoh liberal or secular’

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In her words: Supriya Gandhi is a professor at the Religious Studies department, Yale University, the US. (Photo: Travis Zadeh)

Every time Dara Shukoh is mentioned, Aurangzeb’s name inevitably crops up, as a binary between the liberal Dara and the bigoted Aurangzeb. Why is it so?

Both Dara Shukoh and Aurangzeb seem to be familiar figures to us. Aurangzeb, especially, is constantly invoked in the public sphere in India. One politician doesn’t like another, he compares him to Aurangzeb. I have gone back to the sources of their time, while acknowledging the fact that these sources are representations and have to be read carefully. Dara’s own writings are rather self-aggrandising. There are other writings that look upon him very nostalgically. Besides placing the story of Dara in his socio-political context, I try to tease out ways of reading these sources, and the different dimensions they present.


Anoushka Shankar: ‘I look inwards a lot more than I used to’

Anoushka Shankar, Anoushka Shankar interview, Anoushka Shankar Pandit Ravi Shankar, Anoushka Shankar Love Letters, Anoushka Shankar albums

Last year, Sitar player Anoushka Shankar gave the world Bright Eyes, her single from the forthcoming album Love Letters, which explores infidelity and loss. (Photo: Anushka Menon)

In May 2018, sitarist Anoushka Shankar, 38, in her divorce proceedings with husband and director Joe Wright, cited adultery. Months after the split, when actor Haley Bennett was pregnant with Wright’s child, Shankar wrote on her Instagram page, “It’s against my faith in life to let pain close me up, and just for today, as I learn to be single and to be a single parent, I will manifest this feeling of being ‘in love’ when I kiss my children, when I watch the waves roll in, when I play my sitar, when I sit in moonlight, and when I pray…”

Last year, she gave the world Bright Eyes, her single from the forthcoming album Love Letters, which explores infidelity and loss. In the black-and-white video of the song — set to the poignant Bhairavi, the raga that defines the moods of separation and sorrow — a short-haired Shankar dwells on her personal life.


Love in the Time of Protests

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Source: Shivani Parihar/Agents of Ishq

As the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act first began, amidst announcements, videos of arrests, demonstrations and calls for help, the screenshot of a WhatsApp message also circulated. Its sender was unknown. It said: "I've reached Red Fort. In case mar war gaya toh please tell Mahek that mera pyaar saccha thha. I forgive her for blocking me. And that she can do much better than that c***u Kaustubh" (I've reached the Red Fort. In case I die or something, please tell Mahek my love was true. I forgive her for blocking me and she can do better than that f****r Kaustubh).


How I challenged my parents' Islamophobia

Islamophobia, Eye 2020, Sunday Eye, Indian Express, Indian Express news

Designed by Suvajit Dey

I'm not a regular dad, I'm a cool dad."

This version of the Mean Girls (2004) quote is heard around my house often. My pot-smoking, alcohol-enthusiast parents, with good education and exposure, have given my brother and me an open environment to grow in. No restrictions on dressing, dating, going out, making friends, or even career options were imposed on us. My fiercely religious parents don't question my lack of faith. My mother, who was married off as soon as she turned 18, wholeheartedly supports my decision to remain single forever. My father believes education and financial agency is paramount for his daughter.



Why Krishen Khanna still paints at 95

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Last man standing: A series of bronze sculptures on bandwallahs from 2019. (Source: Gajendra Chauhan)

As Krishen Khanna leads you into his basement studio in Delhi, it is not the strong smell of colour or the bright canvases alone that strike you, but the artist’s grit and determination to “paint and paint some more.” “I am 95, I must use the remaining time as well as I can,” says one of India’s greatest modern painters.

To mark his 95th birthday last fortnight, his latest show at Artoholics Gallery in Delhi has 16 of his new paintings on display, along with some sculptures, all done in the past year. It’s a remarkable burst of productivity from an artist who has lived through a breadth of time and events. Even now, he paints at least five-and-a-half hours a day.


A gentleman among birds

Northern Ridge, Corbett National Park, Himalayas, Malcha Marg, Malcha Marg delhi, indian express news

What made matters worse was that we were at that time temporarily “putting up” at a relative’s house in the ostensibly posh Malcha Marg.

Ask anyone who’s lived elsewhere in the country — what their first impression of Delhi was when they came to live here and they’ll give you a boiler-plate reply, without batting an eyelid: “Massive culture shock!” And follow it up with bewilderment: why were ordinary people here always scowling and hostile, appraising you from head to toe and belligerently asking you where you “put up” and how much money you made?

And it was not only people. Forty years ago, as I was just getting interested in birds, we shifted here permanently from Bombay. To my horror, I found the birds here, too, were pretty much as in-your-face as everyone else: the jungle babblers behaved like the cops (though the babblers have a secret soft side, which I think cops should observe and inculcate into their training manuals), the parakeets were raucous and querulous, the kites rude and greedy and the mynahs strutted around as though they had just won seats in the Parliament by record margins.


Hutatma Chowk is a monument to police brutality

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Relic from the past: Hutatma Chowk or Martyrs’ Square in Mumbai. (Source; Nirmal Harindran)

The protests over the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act across the country have seen the police open fire, allegedly even at peaceful protestors. Sixty-five years ago, Mumbai witnessed deadly police firings at peaceful demonstrations. Today, Hutatma Chowk or Martyrs’ Square, an important landmark located in the Fort area of Mumbai, stands as a reminder of the horrific incidents.

Earlier in January, a call by the Joint Action Committee for Social Justice asking anti-CAA protesters to gather at Hutatma Chowk, was turned into a peaceful protest march to the Gateway of India. In spite of the memorial, the square is not designated as an official space for mass protests. The police filed FIRs against three protesters, bringing back memories of the policing of protests.