Sunday Long Reads: Of theatre, novel coronavirus, Korean pop culture, films, travel, fashion, and more

Shafi Shauq, eye 2020, sunday eye, indian express news

Express photo by Shuaib Masoodi

The Actual Shafi Shauq

Shafi Shauq, eye 2020, sunday eye, indian express news

The lobby had been appropriated. Writers sat on sofas, talking. Any reminder of the purpose of their visit was met with resentment. Indian musicians hate sharing their repertoire with students. They eke out what they know with reluctance. It looked like the writers were no different. They were content to be “Indian writers” as if the category were a caste. They appeared — the word is emphasised as a caveat against taking appearances at face-value — uninterested in writing. Periodically, they burst into laughter. If you overheard a snatch of the conversation, you'd realise that the subject of mirth was writers who weren’t in their company. Their anecdotes proved the truism that every second writer is a fool.

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Why young Marathi director Suraj Parasnis’ plays are drawing the young to the theatre

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Mickey is a play set in a barbershop

Most nights, as Suraj Parasnis is studying for his CA final exams, a little child comes and peeps at him from behind a door. Parasnis waves and the boy smiles. “When I move towards him, the child runs away. I go after him but he enters a wall from where he continues to look at me and grin,” says Parasnis. He adds, “It is possible for me to imagine such things and become very scared.”

Even when Parasnis is turned out like a tax consultiant — that is his day job — in a collared shirt and neat trousers, a part of his mind is seeking out drama. At a cafe, he observes how people behave when they are deciding where to sit. While watching the news, he is triggered by the way survivors of calamity speak. “I never say, ‘Let me look for something interesting’. I see important events everywhere and, one fine day, something I have seen somewhere long ago will emerge in a play I am directing,” he says.

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The economic, social and political toll of Covid-19

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The novel coronavirus has already focussed attention on the performance of world leaders. (Source: Reuters)

The novel coronavirus may slay its thousands as it spreads, while the common flu routinely slays its ten thousands every year. The panic being seen now reflects humanity’s most primal fear — the fear of the unknown. While influenza has been studied for over a hundred years, the behaviour of COVID-19 is still unknown. But it is more similar to influenza than the other Coronaviridae, in that it spreads rapidly from host to host without the need for an intermediary. The speed of transmission is dramatic, but the death rate is not orders of magnitude higher than in influenza. While there is talk of a pandemic developing, it is not necessarily frightening.

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When a banking-sector crisis hits, even the most devoted patriots are hurt

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People wait outside a Yes Bank branch to withdraw their money in Ahmedabad. (Source: Reuters/Amit Dave)

My family... phalgun ki ghadi dhal rahi hai, chaitra maas ubhar raha hai... yes my family... spring is in the climate... flowers are flowering... all shud be wonderful... u all toh dont know.. but ur daadi... my beautiful and bountiful Mrs is having her sattarvi saalgirah... I wanted to take her to mussorie... do some chutti and romance...Beta Angad dont make emoji of blank face... ur parents umar may be very high but dil is still chanchal:))))!!!!!

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How Mizoram fell in love with Korean pop culture

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A still from Parasite

On February 10, when history was being made at the Academy Awards with South Korean film Parasite taking home four Oscars and becoming the first non-English language film to win the Best Picture Award, 11-year-old Rochanhlui Ralte woke up early, as usual, to catch a rerun of her favourite Korean series, Yellow Boots (2012), before getting ready for school. She likes this show, she says, because the lead actor is "pretty and funny". She also enjoys Korean films because, "the actors are very handsome, and the lead actresses are usually poor, but they always get very lucky in the end." Ralte lives in Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram. While most of the world seems to have caught the Korean culture bug with Parasite, in this north-eastern corner of India, it was around 2004 that the Korean hallyu (wave) hit the state.

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How the Chinese are coping with being in quarantine

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Time out: The streets of Shanghai, China, wear a deserted look (Source: REUTERS/Aly Song)

Zhou Xin, a 33-year-old teacher in Beijing, ordered takeout over 150 times last year, and only once over the last two months. "We are scared, we can't trust the people cooking or delivering food," she says. "So many people are learning to cook for the very first time under quarantine. My social media is flooded with cooking experiments," she says, laughing.

As China slowly emerges from the grasp of the Covid-19 outbreak, which shut down nearly all outdoor activities, its people have been coping by going online. DJs are livestreaming parties, gym classes and universities are online and Chinese TikTok is bursting with goofy videos. Among them are people, driven by boredom, reading out statistics books to their cats, making masks out of orange peel, dressing up as dragons, playing badminton indoors, and wearing custom-made hazmat suits. In one video, a man is seen distributing cigarettes using chopsticks, and another smoking through surgical masks that go all the way up to his forehead.

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Designer Rahul Mishra on why fashion has to be “slow” if it is to be sustainable

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Rahul Mishra as his bustling Noida atelier, working with the karigars.(Photo: Gajendra Yadav)

While the Indian fashion fraternity has affirmed the slump in the economy with sliding numbers and a slowdown in sales, designer Rahul Mishra has seen an almost 50 per cent increase in his business from last year.

Even with the ongoing protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019, and the proposed National Register of Citizens, it has been business as usual at Mishra’s Noida workshop.

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Geetika Vidya Ohlyan: “How can one not be political in their choices?”

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Geetika Vidya Ohlyan in a still from Thappad

"How can one not be political in their choices?” asks Thappad actor Geetika Vidya Ohlyan. Finding the spotlight in a time when stars make headlines for selfies with politicians, an industry outsider refusing to be apolitical could be seen as a revolutionary act. “I realise I might not always be aware about everything, but I try to educate myself and I’m conscious of falling on the right side of history. No puns intended,” she adds with a chuckle.

Speaking about the violence that took place in Northeast Delhi last month, Ohlyan, who graduated in English literature from Delhi University’s Kirori Mal College in 2012, says, “Those meant to serve us, are showing us the path of hatred. If we’re going to be led in a manner where we’re told to kill the person in front of us to protect our roti, how is that fair?”

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The quaint charms of Sri Lanka's Galle Fort

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Postcard-perfect: A heady hybrid of a European town in a tropical place. (Photos: Adityavikram More)

Curled up in the yawning arms of the Indian Ocean stands the Galle Fort, a quaint walled city. Bronzed with centuries of tropical sun. Bundled in thick walls guarding it from the land on one side and the sea on the other three. Charmed with dreams of past lifetimes. Softened with incessant waves, drifting and colliding on its ramparts in a timeless rhythm. When my partner and I visited this sultry southern fortified city for the first time all those years back, my reaction was, “ I have a feeling we are not in Kansas anymore.” A heady hybrid of a European town in a tropical place, it greets you like a suited-booted gypsy with the tip of his hat.

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Why does Lake Tahoe in California, US, never freeze?

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The chill factor: Lake Tahoe’s cradle, the Sierra Nevada mountains are thickly carpeted with snow every year. (Source: Pooja Bhula)

Way out in the land of the setting sun/Where the wind blows wild and free/There’s a lovely spot, just the only one/That means home sweet home to me/If you follow the old Kit Carson trail/Until desert meets the hills/Oh you certainly, will agree with me/It’s the land of a thousand thrills/Home means Nevada/Home means the hills/Home means the sage and the pine.

We don’t follow the Kit Carson trail suggested in Nevada’s state-song by Bertha Rafetto, but scatterings of salt-desert shrub and sagebrush resiliently rooted on sandy, desert terrain race alongside us en route South Lake Tahoe, California’s resort city, from the Reno-Tahoe airport. Halfway through our drive under the blue sky and glaring sun, I can feel the desert. The arid, dusty climate makes my nose crusty. And, then, when the desert meets the hills, I awaken to the land’s surprising thrills.

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Discovering the cultural wealth of rural West Bengal

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Culture trail: The Ayodhya Hills, a small plateau with hilly surroundings, in Purulia district. (Courtesy: Banglanatok.com)

West Bengal, a state full of exotic natural wealth, is also home to cultural wealth in the form of built heritage, folk forms, handicrafts, festivals, theatre and fine arts. However, traditional tourism has primarily focused on either natural destinations like hill stations, beaches, and the Sunderbans, or the built heritage in Bankura, Bishnupur and Murshidabad. But there is so much of its unique cultural offerings that remain to be explored.

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The many joys that songbirds bring

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One of the main purposes of birdsong is to let the world know that the songster is alive and well and is laying claim to a territory. (Photo: Ranjit Lal)

Songbirds around the world are renowned for their famous morning “chorus”, something for which birders and nature-lovers will awake at unearthly hours. Performances are given in parks, woodland areas, gardens, jungles and in fields — any location where birds live. Technically birdsong has two purposes: one, to let the world know that the songster is alive and well and is laying claim to a territory, and secondly that he (as is usually the case) is singing his heart out to impress a girl.

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The surprising Bengali connection of a Braj sweet shop in Delhi's Kamla Nagar

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In picture, Rajiv Brijwasi (centre) with brother Amit (right). (Photo: Surbhi Gupta)

The year was 1954. Lala Ram Prasad ventured out of his hometown of Vrindavan, the holy city known for its temples to Hindu god Krishna and Radha, and one of the key places in the Braj circuit in Uttar Pradesh. He was following his ancestors, who prepared the prasad at the popular Shree Rangnath Ji Temple, and was involved in making sweets at the Banke Bihari Temple. “But he wanted to hone his skills further and came to Delhi, and then someone suggested that he should go to Calcutta, which is famous for milk-based sweets,” says Rajiv Brijwasi, Ram Prasad’s grandson and third-generation owner of Shri Banke Bihari Brijwasi Rasgulle Waale in north Delhi’s Kamla Nagar.

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Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Smriti Mundhra on how she made St Louis Superman

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Smriti Mundhra with the crew and Franks Jr at the Oscars red carpet.

A few hours before she made her way to the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles, Smriti Mundhra donned a Kutchi embroidered jacket over the Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla gold-and-red brocade gown and pinned a small badge that said “Black Lives Matter” on the label. She carefully adjusted her mother’s kundan maang tika in the centre of her forehead. There was one last item left to wear — her father, the late filmmaker Jagmohan Mundhra’s Titan Edge watch. When she stood on the red carpet at the 92nd Academy Awards, held on February 9, she was joined by her co-director, Sami Khan, who wore a black sherwani. Her producer, Poh Si Teng, wore a Chinese-Malay dress in magenta; Mundhra’s co-producer Cheyenne Tan’s gown featured fabric from Tan’s grandmother’s sarong. Last but not the least, as the subject of St Louis Superman, the Oscar-nominated film for Best Documentary Short Subject, rapper and activist Bruce Franks Jr stood tall and proud in an all-red suit — they were all there because of him. And each other.

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