Sunday, May 31, 2009

persepolis . grand illusion . rush hour 3 . rogue assassin . the perverts guide to cinema . 5x2

gorgeously drawn in beautiful black and white, but underwhelming when compared to the original novel. the novel seem dot be much more complicated and nuanced when it came to portraying the ambivalent relationship of a woman whose relationship with her identity as an iranian and as a woman is fraught with difficulty as it switches between embarrassment to fervent patriotism and back again.

made in between the two world wars, the germans in ‘grand illusion’ still maintain their humanity as the jailers in this prison break drama. even as they watch over the collection of prisoners from all classes they allow them wine, dress-up clothes for parties and harmonicas for music. they had not yet been made into the leering blonde cold hearted murderers of the nazi era. in the film, in fact, everyone is honorable and gentlemanly even at the time of death. it is all very idealistic and implausible. the tragic horrors of war are made so remote that people from all classes and nations intermingle in an atmosphere of unrelenting civility where one sacrifices ones life for the freedom of another.

for some reason chinese people need an american counterpart to be able to fight the triads- and the other way around. the only thing it provides the hollywood action film is some swordfights, some antiquated rituals that can be made important plot developments and some slim chinese women who can kick butt. also some neat chinese jokes- as in ‘rush hour 3’- where chris rock and jackie chan try to make funny and fail miserably. the timing is off and the joke is too old by now.  ‘rogue assassin’ aims for seriousness with jet li playing the title role and jason Statham the american partner. some silly double crossing plot about gold horses being fought over by the yakuza and the triads where li plays both against one another.

i guess i took the perverts guide too seriously and got more than a little put off by the over serious analysis of cinema by slavov zizek. i seemed as if everything was over-read as something else – like the silent scream in ‘the birds’ as being about the anxiety of the voice, or the toilet flushing blood in ‘the conversation’ as a return of repressed traumas. i guess if you look at it as a playful re-reading of films – it is entertaining and also at times enlightening. the film does that too placing zizek as narrator within the spaces of the films he is referring to. the parts that interested me were those where he talks about ‘form’, but those were too few and far between.

if 5x2 was not told in reverse it would be just another story of a holiday romance that became a marriage and finally ran sour. but because it is told upside down each of the five scenes is supposed to take on profound meanings, but each episode is so predictably plotted and shot that the whole premise seemed banal. 

Saturday, May 30, 2009

mahim walk (friday morning)

bisecting the bay, approached only in low tide is a shrine made of a pile of rocks where the sea water turned fresh in 2006. in the morning worshippers walk carefully on the bridge of rocks, buy roses from the vendor on the beach and lay them at the feet of the shrine. in the distance rises the bandra worli sea link.

on the beach littered with garbage brought in with the tide and shit were boats that looked like they haven’t been out ot sea for years. they have grown within and outwards becoming multistoried houses with a sea view.

mahim fort lies at the northern tip of the beach. a sewage line pumps out grey water where a few men were washing. the walls of the fort have completely disintegrated towards the sea but you can enter through a gateway further down. it is completely dark when you first enter. you feel your way against the stone walls still left exposed and can see that the whole inside of the fort has been completely occupied with slums. a narrow lane meanders through the inside with multistoried houses on both side. 

suddenly you are out on the other side on the main lane that runs parallel along cadel road towards the beach where the old houses are. this road leads to the dargah and since it was friday policemen sat lounging outside while worshippers were beginning to gather. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

rahul and the gay movement

rahul gandhi, it would seem, according to cnn-ibn is the new gay icon. and the story goes that section 377 has more of a chance of being defeated now that his aura is gaining ground. just how is that assumption made is not clear in the news story as he has not been heard making any statements in support, or for that matter, against the gay community. what is, though, is the reason why he is popular among the lgbt community according to the channel. it dutifully begins the story with a stereotyped (read effeminate, whiny voiced) gay man lusting after rahul’s sexiness and cuteness and how his dimples are adorable. naturally this is the reason why the case against 377 has new hope. and then you wonder why people don’t take the issue seriously.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

sicko . charlie wilson's war . the son's room . princess mononoke . the fall

the joke wears thin very fast- especially towards the end when michael moore carries fire fighter heroes from 9/11 to guantanamo bay to receive the health care that prisoners of the war against terror get. implying ….? that the prisoners deserve less than perfect care? otherwise to watch his sledgehammer beating down upon the horrors of the american health care system was entertaining- and sometimes enlightening.

i wonder about ‘charlie wilsons war’. it follows the senator as he generates the funds for the taliban to fight the russians invading afghanistan. the case is made as though the supply of arms has no ulterior motive behind it- but is made after wilson witnesses ‘with his own eyes’ the dismal state of the refugee camps. america’s funding of the war is then made into a war of a righteous power fighting evil invading forces. it is an apology of sorts but with a rider on it saying – ‘we did not know it then- we were too na├»ve’. really!? is this what liberal america tells itself for the fact that they armed and trained whom they now call the ‘terrorists’?

‘the sons room’ is a weepy and not a very good one- at least from my point of view. a middle class family in italy is trying to come to terms with the loss of a son. the family is some sort of perfect incarnation before the tragedy and after the squabbles are slight – nothing threatening- not that they should have been. the film deals with the grief neatly and systematically. at the end the family is left wandering on a beach in a perfect dawn. a neat ending for a gentle film.

and then the two fantasies- dark and beautiful. princess mononoke is anime while ‘the fall’ is mad live action and special effects. mononoke is the wolf girl princess of the forest whom the wandering prince falls in love with. she is fighting the cause of the deer god and the spirits of the forest against the greedy capitalist owner of the mill who uses guns and firearms to subdue the forest. only towards the end does the millowner realize the error fo her ways and pledge to create a village in ‘harmony’ with nature. the sustainability argument is made through the most gorgeous visuals – luscious forests and fields, fantastic battle sequences with severed limbs and heads and strange clicking creatures in the trees.

darker was ‘the fall’. tarsem singh makes depressive beauty out of a story in which a young girl is told a tale of bandits by an ailing stuntman in a hospital in los angeles. as his story that follows five bandits and their quest for revenge against the evil general odius the visuals travel from ladakh to the taj mahal to the forts of rajasthan to the pyramids- it is visually breathtaking. incredible india needs a campaign like this- though the diwan e aam in fathepur sikri is blown up by a bomb

Saturday, May 23, 2009

photo post

the flower of oxford - surabhi, mukul, setu; saurabh and mukul; happy birthday george 

requiem for a dream . fight club . east palace west palace . the passion of joan of arc . 27 dresses

in a mildly sardonic piece in the mumbai mirror talking about the sudden growth of foreign language film possibilities in mumbai over the past year american art films are said to be about suburban malaise and dysfunctional families. ‘ requiem for a dream’ mines both (except that the malaise is not suburban but is instead is in a modernist housing project outside new york much like the one in ‘l’haine’) here the three teenagers are a white kid who plays the brain behind the maony making plot, his gorgeous and disenchanted girlfriend who ends up prostituting herself for her fix and their black friend who is the point man for the drug dealing. meanwhile in a lonely apartment building a mother is getting her fix of television and prozac. the film is part of the antiestablishment angry posturing about american life of the 1990’s in the wake of grunge. as far as cult cultural objects go it belongs to the same category as nirvana’s ‘smells like teen spirit’. really good- but the hype outstrips the work.

another commentary on the same issues is david fincher’s ‘fight club’ – edward norton grows a split personality to compensate for the emasculation of his masculinity by corporate america. so brad pitt is the penis- perfect casting. helena bonham carter plays goth token female character- but the film is really all homoerotic undercurrent that ends up being about lusting after oneself.

more power dynamics regarding gender and sexuality in ‘east palace west palace’ supposedly china’s first gay film.  a policeman arrests a man for cruising in the parks where gay men meet in beijing. as the interrogation proceeds the relationship between the interrogator and the prisoner become more and more complicated. towards the end of the film the power relationship inverts when the prisoner wears a dress. all very well but did it have to feel so artificial?

cross dressing and the dangers it poses to all concerned are also touched upon in the very silent and stark ‘passion of joan of arc’ whose men’s clothes are causing great consternation among her interrogators. after she confesses under duress she only goes back to christ after the last vestige of her female-ness- her anyway short hair is shorn away and she is then burnt at the stake unleashing revolt among the masses.

and after all this talk of clothes i had to watch ’27 dresses’ a film so mired in classic gender stereotypes it would make you ill if you took it more seriously. forever the bridesmaid, never the bride the heroine hordes the dresses of all the wedding she has attended as she plays the humble pretty slave of everyone in her life. she is saved by love and marriage- as every woman should be. 

icons from the ideal world

in film city-  the rural home of all of south asia.  the swiss chalet of all of south asia, the temple of all of south asia (insert deity)and the church of all of south asia.

bharat darshan (a map from ajay) bad photos though

Thursday, May 21, 2009

cinema city (some notes on the map)

Part 1

The term ‘cinema city’ cannot be reduced to the sum of its two parts. I.e. 'City’ within which cinema is seen/made, as if the city is somehow an empty container - a place where we live; or the ‘cinema’ as a space in which we imagine the city - the space that we dream. While these observations are naturally true we believe that the discourses regarding both of these can play off each other and lead to new ways of seeing the city / cinema.

The space of desire is what spans the space of cinema to that of the city. There is a displacement in both of these spaces where the two meet. A history of cinema and the city is the history of desire in the city.

As cultural artifacts we dream and live in both. In both we make ourselves anew. In both we find utopias/dystopias that we attempt to inhabit within the parameters that exist within the everyday- our bodies, relationships, networks, buildings, machines, institutions.

The mirror is the most rudimentary device/machine that enables self representation. Before it - there was the reflection in a pool. The technologies of cinema and the city can be seen as these mirror machines that exist in the realm of the everyday as objects. These technologies have enabled new ways of seeing ourselves over the years. Our way of seeing ourselves has changed accordingly.

From the very first films where local trains were shown entering a platform we have this urge to see ourselves represented- somehow it seems to make us immortal. Or the screen is a mirror through which we reconstruct ourselves. Comb our hair or tuck our shirts in. Parallel to this in utopian imaginations of the city created by architects, urban planners have also existed as methods of reconstructing the self and society. These ‘u-topias’ or ‘no-places’ exist as imaginations to reflect upon who we are and what we want to become. Architecture always imagines an ideal inhabitant. In these images lie whom we see ourselves as – heroic, ugly, beautiful, evil - through what we want to become.

The city and the cinema are both clumsy concrete assemblages through which we try to inhabit the abstract cinematic. The ‘cinematic’ is imagined as the plane that we inhabit as performers in our private and public lives. These assemblages are made with what is readily at hand and recycled, shuffled and remixed to make new meanings. These assemblages can never satisfy the desiring machine and there is always this gap in between what the assemblage can achieve and what is still left over. Often the assemblages themselves create their own vectors of desire to be addressed by many more assemblages.

Drawing – the architects tool - is such an assemblage. It has perhaps a similar relationship to the ‘real’ as that of the film. When the drawing is a map it is a slice of the ‘real’ relationships manipulated to see things differently. There can be as innumerable maps of a city as there are innumerable ways to describe the city.

When the drawing is a proposition towards change it is a reaction to what exists around. While critiquing it is involved in the act of making new imaginations. This drawing wants to be an image of a speculative space(that does not mean that it only portrays idealizations of beauty and happiness).

In architectural and urban history these reimaginations of the city have been found in countless examples of built and unbuilt proposals for the city. Architectural journals carry spectacular images of ideal homes, overflow with metaphors and images for understanding the city- from images of dynamic spaces of opportunity, to lamenting about the city as an ecological disaster, to being a disease that corrupts with its dark alleys and strangers, to neotraditionalist paeans to a long lost past that needs to be revived, to spectacular airbrushed images of becoming shanghai.

Both the space of cinema and the space of drawings are involved in making ‘images’. These images are an apparition we make to replace the real over and over again until it is all that exists. Simulation becomes reality. Reality becomes spectacle.

But these images do not exist and are not made or consumed in ether. They are part of the world of concrete ‘felt’ relationships and spaces. They are enabled only by the tangibility of their modes of production and consumption. The relationship between these needs to be explored- in the contemporary city (and through history)

The project aims to explore this relationship- between the space of desire and the space of everyday life as intertwining stories or as a terrain within which we can make our own paths.

To achieve this we intend to explore both as they exists in the city today and through history. The study is currently in two parts:

1. A timeline of the city and cinema is currently being created where we are paralleling the history of the city- places of living, work and play that emerge at different times- their architecture and the desires embedded within it. This is to be juxtaposed with the spaces where films were made and consumed in those times and the kinds of films being made- the spaces within, their language and themes. This will be done through archival research of architectural journals, planning histories and maps/ images of the city created through history.

2. We are also exploring the relationship between the real and represented in more detail within the current citizens of cinema city- those who are actively involved in the production and the consumption of cinema in the city. These are the spaces of preproduction/ production / post production/distribution/ display/ archiving. In these spaces too lie embedded myth and desire embroiled in everyday life. The intention is to be able to uncover these.

Both of these datascapes will be utilized in creating a ‘map’ of cinema city. This map is thus not only a representation of the city it is also an intervention - a reimagination of the city, a projection- an ‘image’ in which we dare to find us again.

Part 2

the map of cinema city
notes towards a topology of desire

making a map of desire

the question is how does one map desire?

if desire knows no space and time determinants
if desire has only form. vectors with no mass.
using a metaphor from deleuze and guattari let us assume that desire makes a ‘body without organs’
mapping this body is a project of capturing (for the sake of the map) vectors that transgress time and space- bits of a projected future, bits of a constructed past, nostalgias of a rural hinterland, longing for elsewhere, remaking the public / remaking the domestic.

form - topology / topography

the concept of topography is a measurable (in real time and space) projection
the other concept of topology can overcome this cartographic projection. a linear grid along which we lay down the world. topology is "qualitative geometry from the ordinary geometry in which quantitative relations chiefly are treated"

topology grew out of geometry and set theory, and is the study of both the fine structure and global structure of space

to map cinema city we need to be able to bridge the gap between the topographical and the topological. while the topographical can map spaces in relationship to one another on one plane (whether that plane is a spatial one or a temporal one) the topological allows us to transgress these. the topological though can runs the danger of being too amorphous.

locating the space of metamorphosis (where the city becomes desire)

the first step is to locate the physical intersection of these two. as in the real (on the topographical map) spaces where the city is transformed into spaces of desire. if one is to examine the process of film making the intersection lies largely in the spaces where the actual film is shot in the city- the locations / the studio spaces - spaces of production where the metamorphosis takes place.

here the city is read through what the space of cinema wants it to become. these re-readings are based on a combination of the ‘collective memory’ of the city and the phenomenological nature of the spaces. the gateway of india, marine drive, dharavi, rooftops, dungeons, homes all become fodder for the frame to remake.

archetype / typology

aldo rossi speaks of the collective memory of the city as housed in the typologies of the built form within it. a typology is the general three dimensional nature of the built form. these ‘types’ are generic. for example the chawl ‘type’ would be one with single rooms around a courtyard with common service facilities at the corners connected by a verandah. in these typologies are the collective memories of the city.

jung describes the archetype as the patterns from our collective memory that direct and shape our desires and behaviour in everyday life. some the tendencies that he proposes are -
static female / dynamic male / static male / dynamic female

when the city is processed within the narrative frame of cinema (or desire) do we read it through these vectors?

static female – the womb / shelter / claustrophobia home / nature /
dynamic male – the phallus / generator / destroyer /movement / power / clarity / progress
static male – order / systems / imprisonment / the grid / anonymity /
dynamic female - disorder / freedom / chaos

these are distillations of spatial phenomena as seen in the cinematic space.
are these the spatial archetypes of the city of desire?

the meanings of these spaces in everyday life are made through and are reinforced through films and other processes of manufacturing desire. these vectors shape the everyday life of citizens in cinema city.

the map of cinema city is therefore a superimposition of a map of the spaces where space is remade and the spaces of the lived - if cinema city is the city of production, distribution and consumption of cinema, and if the map is of the ‘sweat shop’ of cinema the map emerges in the following way

the desired city is the city projected and imagined- never lived. but it forms the base upon which we construct our everyday lives.

the lived city is one where we are perpetually- it is the only city we really know. all else is in some form speculation.

cinema city is a terrain of images of real / represented spaces forming a map of mumbai. in these we have layers of iconicized images and the cartographies of everyday life intertwined with one another. the ‘map’ can become an ever growing repository for desire in and of the city. they would include official documents / policies; writings; images ; cinema across time.
pieces of the future of dharavi as imagined by developers jostle for space besides the labyrinth of the slum of ‘no smoking’ and the spectacle of the slum from slumdog millionaire, along with the acting school in koliwada.

the images are organized through a geography of positions and movements. positions are bounded entities marked by a particular quality. these are the neighborhoods / landmarks / emptinesses/ boundaries / closed sets. vectors are the movements between these and out of the terrain. they are constituted by speeds / distances / directions/ tendencies.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

v for vendetta. the lives of others. ivan the terrible. memories of underdevelopment. ploy . the apple . palace walk

the summer film festival goes on. from the super slick hollywood superhero film where natalie portman aids an abets what can only be called a terrorist- the mysterious ‘v’. in a future london where a neo fascist emperor loosely modeled on george bush (?) banishes homosexuals and muslims the masked man ‘v’ promises to blow up the houses of parliament to set england free. the building in all its victorian glory being the symbol of oppression par excellence. at the end the whole city stand up in defiance alongside v wearing masks. i hear the film flopped. i wonder whether this had something to do with the not so subtle take on the hyper active surveillance of the ‘war on terror’.

‘the lives of others’ on the other hand makes the stasi surveillance e of citizens in former east germany benevolent. here a cold german stasi agent while watching closely over the life and love of an author and his girlfriend begins to become rapidly more liberal. the transformation from cold hearted spy to savior (albeit a failed one- complete with redemptive hollywood end) seems pretty painless and unconvincing. this one won an oscar- not surprising considering the airbrushing of all things disturbing.

‘ivan the terrible’ played out parallel to the upa win around the country. this incredible epic switched between creating excuses for the tsars atrocities (his mother was murdered by the plotting boyars; his friend betrayed him- so did his aunt; it was for the good of the russian nation) shiv vishwanathan called the election victory a straight-laced western while everyone was expecting a russian melodrama and this was the latter at its best. expressionistic black and white shadow play, costumes and make up that multiply every gesture tenfold and acting that is about the pose and deliberate movement.

‘memories of underdevelopment’ plays with documentary and fiction as a playboy landlord contemplates cuba as it survives through the bay of pigs invasion up to the cuban missile crisis. as his family and friends leave for the promised land he stays roaming the streets of havana watching it struggle with ideas of identity, progress and development. i loved the film.

and then there was ‘ploy’- where a warring couple arrive at a hotel in bangkok. when the man generously offers to help a young girl waiting for her mother by offering her freshen up in the hotel room tensions between the couple explode. the frigid relationship between them is intercut with a love scene between a bartender and a maid with the main story line serving as a parallel line of sublimated desire. the real and the dreamt are interwoven until you don’t know which is which.

the easy cuddliness of iranian film often makes me annoyed. while the apple does fall clearly into the sweet little children- nice old people category it also tries its hand at some feminist posturing. locked up little girls are let out into the city where more sweetness ensues when other children offer them friendship. though the cynic cant stop the scathing criticism, i must admit that in spite of me, i liked the film having just finished naguib mahfouz’ palace walk where in world war 1 cairo three women are prisoners of sorts in their home while the men of the family enjoy the pleasures of the city. Cairo is made of these trellised prison yards and pleasure gardens with music and alcohol. like a good soap opera the story plays out with marriages and deaths and lustful looks across courtyard walls. 

Friday, May 15, 2009

sunrise . l'haine . pitru chhaya . silent night . death by hanging

in ‘sunrise’; ‘come to the city’ she says- the conniving fashion plate vacationing in the village- as she convinces the poor peasant farmer to drown his wife and elope with her. during the seduction a city apparition sways above the marsh with dancing lights and trumpets. when the murder fails the wife runs into a tram that leads through the fields through criss crossing riveted bridges into a city street. here the city makes sure that the lovers have a great day of reconciliation with a fairground, restaurants and a peasant dance. it is incredibly made with fantastic sets- the vibrant city and the idyllic village shrouded in mist.

the city in l’haine are the projects outside paris- sterile apartment buildings with playfields between them that are used by young men to hang around and listen to music. the basements of the buildings around these playfields are labyrinths in which chase sequences between a bigoted police and the largely non-white underclass of young men are played out; while the terraces are places where a hot dog party is stopped because it may be dangerous.  paris is far away. as the film progresses the three protagonists- one jewish, one black and the third an arab are slowly drawn into a spiral of escaliating violence. the film is all black and white cinema verite grit. one of the only scenes where a hard fought beauty is allowed to exist is when a dj console at an upper floor makes a party hall of the whole project.

soudhamini’s ‘pitru chhaya’ on the music of m d ramanathan stays still watching as the flow of life moves in and out of frame. these sudden shifts along with the beautiful music leave you breathless.

these still unpredictable frames are very unlike the long composed silences of ‘silent night’ which tries to capture the vast terrain of the rural mexican landscape and lives of the ultra religious memmonite community as a well settled man falls in love with another woman. the camera moves rarely and when it does it does in deloberate and careful slowness lie in the beginning where a starlit night transforms slowly into a gorgeous dawn through a dizzying spiral.

this sunday’s film was ‘death by hanging’. a korean man is tried for rape and murder- almost like a sequel to l’haine. a film that could be about frustration born out of bigotry leading to a life of crime. after the first hanging fails the cast of characters involved play acts the life of the murderer to revive his lost memory. thankfully the farcical helps the film stay above becoming sanctimonious though the end is a little stretched. 

Sunday, May 10, 2009

two films / two books / bad week blues

built on the predictable foundation of a hollywood drama in the ‘lemon tree’ a farm of lemon trees is the center of controversy. for the palestinian woman it is her memories of childhood and her livelihood while for the israeli defence minister and his staff a possible shelter for terrorists. perhaps i am unreasonably cynical but it felt like when violence is meant to be borne peacefully it runs the danger of being merely lip service that actually continues to allow things to stay as they are.
‘yours emotionally’ ups the camp meter to a level that i think few films can. the love affair between the sikh boy from london and the shy boy in small town karnataka as mediated by a local mustachioed diva and his agin boyfriend was way over the top- colour saturated, black and white, fast motion, slow motion, strange camera angles. it did it all.
'black hole' is a graphic novel where young men and women begin to develop a strange sexually transmitted disease. slowly they turn into half monsters. when they move into their own community hidden in the hills near seattle slowly a murder plot develops. i finished the whole novel inn one sitting from mumbai to delhi on the flight and felt nauseous towards the end. on the trip i slowly got through the second volume of proust's 'rememberance of things past' within a budding grove, where our hero in love with two different girls in the two chapters grows up through the embarassments of teenage love.
and then there is the harrowing past week. first the desperate scramble to put the paperwork in order for the staff selection meeting on monday. suddenly new gaps in the paperwork appear and enlarge into gaping crevices. all of these have to plugged before we are interviewed by a university appointed committee. tragically prasad is again not a part of the faculty. while trying to come to terms with this we learn that kudalkars son died in an accident on the way back from a site while our senior management member has also died. today is mr valecha’s funeral.
two other days were spent at the academy of architecture trying to navigate a reasonable syllabus within the new structure prescribed by the council where the course has a whole year of professional training.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

delhi / leh

india international center

this time delhi was different. we lived at the iic -for some reason this detail provokes great ‘oohs’ from all who know delhi. lovely building - 60s modernism from stein- lovely light filled corridors and screens of tiles and a lovely porch.

lodhi gardens

the persistence resistance film festival for which i was there as part of the majlis contingent making a cinema city presentation on the last day. for the first two days though i spent all my time listening to filmmakers argue away about ‘framing’ vs ‘seeing’ through the lens; or about the lack of screening spaces, the problems of funders and funding. in between these we did manage to catch a few films as well. ‘notes on man capture’ nandini bedis film on marriage rituals in the north east which was fascinating; arghya’s ‘ listener’s tale’ with its meditative take on the mythology and landscape of sikkim, ‘every good marriage deserves some tears’- a film by an englishman on a group of bangladeshi sisters and their marriages; ‘nusrat has left the building’ where the spirit of nusrat is evoked through drawings and the city of lahore as his journey is followed from early sufi to pop.

india international center

india habitat center

with the fabulous infrastructure delhi has every evening was spent in some kind of art opening. the first was a mega show like none i have seen at gallery espace where neelima was showing. beautiful delicate work. later on a dinner party in one luxurious bungalow in an delhi enclave. the building designed by hussain- the main door too and the false ceiling. inside every wall an art work by contemporary and modern indian art. the next day we were at lado sarai where kaushik and archana had an opening in one of the galleries that are infiltrating this old village. on the way there mukul and me got lost and spent time wandering the dark alleyways asking the locals for an art gallery receiving only quizzical looks as responses. the cinema city presentation went well i was told.

gallery espace

lado sarai

kausik at lado sarai


the post presentation party

the last day in delhi (or at least what was supposed to be the last day) we decided to take a drive to gurgaon, which neither of us had seen in its new avatar. the malls lie desolate and dark even as the new metro line is being made while the glass towers gleam in the hot glare of the sun. aniket’s devi art foundation building was fascinating, metal clad warehouse. unfortunately it was closed. would have loved to walk in.


devi arts

later that evening it was great to meet guddu mama at the meridien where we had dinner with him in his hotel room. it was so good to finally meet him.


guddu mama

after our flight to leh was cancelled on the first day we were (after a gujarati family created a rightful ruckus about the service) put up for a day in a hotel in mahipalpur – another small village, this time near the airport. this old town has become a sponge for all the services that the airport needs but cant find space in the rigid planned city. carrier services and hotels to cater to the airport thrive amidst older dhabas and farmlands. running parallel to the road to gurgaon are neon lit signs for restaurants and hotels while within the older village has become home to migrants from all over the country. this place was a planet away from gk2 where mukul and me met faisal.

delhi airport


one day less in leh because of the delayed flight turned out to be quite a dampener as it turned out. i think we would have loved to spend more time in the rarefied air. it was cold as hell and dry. the flight in was a spectacular ride over peaks of mountains.
the city lay separated by a plain from the indus perched on a hill. from our hotel room at the oriental guest house we could see all the way to the mountains and also the monastery that overlooks the city. like most of the other homes in the changspa area this house has grown with the tourists pouring in over the past few years. our company included honeymooning couples from delhi, backpackers and international ‘adventurers’ collecting experiences in notebooks as they move from dakar to leh to seoul, anthropologists standing by and watching superciliously at the ‘interesting’ customs of the indians as the systems collapse and some british men carrying out some dubious but funded research for a phd regarding mineral pollution on the air in the outskirts of leh. and us fools thought the air was pure- although there was very little of it.

oriental guest house

the first day we tried to acclimatize by hanging around in our hotel though a short walk to a stupa close by was something we could not resist. it was before tourist season and all the shops were closed- we were told that the owners were in goa. nice life, i thought.

the next day leh was sleepy till around 11 in the chilly morning. we walked through the market, meandered through the lanes of moti market and found ourselves at the polo ground where men hung around in groups and the palace formed a spectacular background.

the gompa in the market

polo grounds

moti market

the palace was completely disintegrating but the views were spectacular- as they were going to be over and over again over the next few days. inside a monk was tying up the volumes of the prayer books and on the roof a jawan was following his senior and his wife dutifully clicking romantic photographs.
i am not fond of momos. i know that many people think that that in itself is a crime. but the chow mein with the soup to soften the noodles is much more my kind of lunch. the restaurant was on the main market street overlooking the new mosque. on the street the maroon robes of the llamas, the military uniforms and black ‘north face’ jackets roamed.

the next day was the trip to the west along the indus. the road goes past the military barracks ( i think a generalization is necessary here- the armed forces have no architectural sense- the tin shacks and rcc atrocities plonked upon the smooth, the folded rugged terrain, the barbed wire fences that go on relentlessly or the tattoos of platoon identity on the faces of the mountains) '

the road went through some of the most barren landscapes i have seen until it dipped into the deep valley of the indus with apple trees and pastures, white houses with straw insulation, stupas along the landscape and the bazgo monasteries perched on top of the hill. the road goes to kargil and along the way as the gorge narrows there are landmarks to army officers who lost their lives along the way and homilies about speed limits and safe tea courtesy the border roads organization. the destination was the lamayuru monastery which overlooks a molten deformation that everyone calls a moonscape.


ladakhi ghar kab aaoge


on the way back at alchi beautiful murals and prayer flags along a path to the indus and the sangam of the zanskar and indus- green and cold. three punjabi boys played skipping stones over the river. the rocks sliced revealed their structure.

towards alchi - the wind and a sandstorm



on the way back ladakhi culture with models of houses and miniature costumes are collapsed along with military victories in the strange museum on the main road.

museum of military and ladakhi culture

another day in leh – this time hidden behind the main market, at the base of the hill the local market street, narrower and less touristy- barber shops and tailors. mukul got a haircut while the tv blared on about how shilpa shetty finally got revenge for her murder by shah rukh in baazigar when her royals beat the knight riders. the military store on the street sold cheap sleeping bags, military shirts and jackets. the polo ground was alive with a inter village cricket match complete with flags, uniforms and commentary. a short walk away we found the only theater in leh. one man runs around selling tickets, ushering patrons to their seats and helping the projectionist. arjun rampal and diya mirza were romancing one another somewhere in europe pretending to be bombay. the audience was the bihari migrants who don’t have televisions in their homes. most of the locals don’t venture close here. they prefer their entertainment off dvds and dish tv. lunch was a punjabi dhaba and desert at ‘desert rain’ -this christian coffee shop on the main market street.

local market

leh cinema

intervillage cricket at the polo ground

we took a taxi to the monastery on top of the hill for more views across the city and looked across to shanti stupa – our next destination as the wind blew cold around us. from the top the langdon school was having its cricket match in a playground flattened in the hill.

namgyal tsemo monastery

the shanti stupa is a new building with a public space that hangs above the city. very photogenic. you can see the golf course of sand towards the indus. the oriental guest house is at the base of the hill and dawa is building a new dining room so that he can take back his own. young, very cool llamas were painting gorgeous murals on the column and beams.

shanti stupa

the road to pangong tso leads east towards china and is much less rugged than the one towards kargil. the valley seems wider and more domesticated. along the way shey and thiksey which was the most spectacular of the monasteries for me. lopsangs brother was supposed to be a llama there. lospang wanted to be one too- thought life was easy as a llama but his parents insisted that he be there for them. instead he works as a driver and as a guide/ porter for treks across the mountains. thiksey is an entire city that spills over the slopes of the hill.


when the road heads north away form the indus the chimney monastery commands the hole of the valley and the road rises towards the change-la pass- third highest motorable pass in the world and a dizzying drive. at the pass a sikh officer offers us complimentary apple tea and asks us to please go see the temple. it is icy and cold.


changla pass

in the next valley is tangtsi were to spend the night. small village whose military theater ‘thiksey metro’ can house the whole population and more. our hotel was run by one woman and her pre-teen daughter sushma.


towards pangong tso the landscape changes every ten minutes from pastures with grazing yaks and sheep to rocky outcrops and shrubs to lakes of fine white sand to surreal wastelands of rocks and swamps. it is impossible to describe or to photograph the colours of the lake. it varies across all the way to the horizon where the mountains of china appear. we met army jawans from the jat regiment at the military run coffee shop who spoke of their time in siachen, the difficulties of acclimatization and the structure of the indian army. the souvenir shop they ran was a military vault of metal with overpriced t-shirts and mugs.


in the evening the village was lonely and dark with stars all across the sky. there was no electricity for most of the evening. after a cold night in the mountains the drive back was through roads inundated by snowfall being cleared slowly by tough men and women by hand. our car skidded in spite of lopsangs macho posturing and we had to chain the wheels in. at the pass the same sikh jawan gave us more tea.

lunch was chow mein and then hemis monastery on the other side of the indus set in a forest of sorts. students from rizvi recognize me. they happen to be living at oriental too. a llama kid sings bambai se aaya mera dost to us.


stok is the new home of the royalty. from there you can see the suburban settlement of choglamsar where the tibetan refugees live along with the huge hostels and housing colonies along the main road. along the main road there is a huge ground where the dalai lama gives his discourses. i wonder whether this is the place where he names everyone stanzin tensing or lopsang.

the bridge from choglamsar to stok


the leh secretariat

the last day at leh was spent browsing the tibetan market for gorgeous jewellery and eating kashmiri food. the morning was spent walking in areas we hadnt been to yet.

womens alliance center

tibetan market

sabzi mandi

light fixture at summer harvest restaurant

the women’s alliance was closed and the walk to sankar gompa somewhere behind it turned out to be too exhausting in the morning so we took a taxi later. the huge house opposite is the place where the head llama lives. inside a medieval city of balconies and staircases. a monk sang the evening prayers as we explored the rooms behind the main shrine and found instruments and statues lying in glass cases. to the rear of the building were the ruins of a building protected by snarling dogs.

sankar gompa

in the evening the market was still and sleepy with migrants having kebabs at the corner of the market street.

kebabs at the corner

football practise in a market courtyard

free tibet posters in the market

the tibetan market

for more photos.. mukul's picasa page