Tuesday, June 30, 2009

congress house

just off lamington road and in the crook of kennedy bridge is congress house. nice middle class paartment complex whihc was the headquarters of the indian national congress with building names like sarojini bhavan and tilak bhavan. directly across the road is the bombay sangeet kalakar mandal- probably a euphemism for the heart of the mujras and later the bar dancers of the city. i wonder where they are now. while we stood there in the drizzle girls in strappy saris got off taxi cabs and chatted nonchalantly with one another coming in and out of the doorway. our minds were racing. 

on falkland road the windows are double panelled. when both levels are open you can see the whole body in the window but you can also open only the lower windows so that you can look out and be seen by those on the street while sitting on the floor. 

Sunday, June 28, 2009


how ridiculously beautiful it all looked form the sky. palm covered city which never seemed to end like blanket of green with little concrete rooftops poking out as far as the eye can seen. especially around the airport when the road goes through a narrow lane and climbs a bridge over a canal you wonder whether there is any city at all. later the same day after we reach the main venue for the screenings (none of which we sat for) and then bandhu shows us around to the other venues for the december film festival. we drive past sleepy, pretty houses and ostentatious government buildings to the 60s modernism of the new theater and the dramatic downward spiral of kala bhavan. we are invited to crash the dinner party for the jury and listen to stories about the chennai film industry from sadanand.

all of the next morning we drive past more theaters starting with the open air theater of the palace gardens. the mascot hotel where the jury lived in was a far cry from our own seedy keerthi with its covered courtyard and room handles that come out in your hand. from the mascot hotel the views across the city were gorgeous. 

kovalam was a rickshaw ride to the south and as it was a thursday afternoon most of the tourists were white men and women lounging over long lunches in between their ayurvedic massages. the promenade was being strengthened against the tide and the sand was black. the lunch was divine- fish wrapped in banana leaves and prawns in coconut. 

we were almost too late for the evening meeting when, on the way back, we stopped over at the padmanabhaswamy temple and decided to see the palace to its east. low  lying with verandahs wrapping around the building and the gardens where a tamil film was being shot. the lower floor was in heavy masonry punctured with tiny courts through which light filtered in wile the upper in intricate woodwork. two wooden rooms – one for dance and one for song were connected by a long verandah like corridor. the guide told us stories of trvancore which we only half heard- kausik being preoccupied with the paintings and me with the scale of the architecture.

the closing ceremony of the film festival had its share of embarrassments- for the jury as well as the entries when after the ceremony a man decided to felicitate a blushing amol palekar by singing ‘jaaneman jaaneman’ with his daughter on stage.

the party rocked hard on the 6th floor of the mascot. all the rooms were thrown open as rooms became smoking, eating and drinking zones. the corridor was the place for loud angry discussions on chauvinism and bengaliness of which there was a little too much in all the rooms. but the real fight i had was when i was told that i am too smug about myself because i have not read ‘maximum city’. paro- the queen- helped me fight; and the food she had sourced- exquisite syriam christian duck, pork and beef was divine.

it was lazy the next morning. we left directly for a fish lunch at saagara which might become quite a feature on our next trip. when we got to the temple complex we realized that god was asleep and would wake up only after we had left trivandrum. instead we walked through the grid of the old fort district where old palaces have been transformed to house government departments and banks.

on this trip i missed seeing the kovalam beach resort- that cross section we used to admire when it came to building on terraced land. i also could not manage a trip to the center for development studies- reportedly laurie bakers masterpiece; but instead managed to have a coffee in the funky india coffee house. the building is a strange medieval spiral tower that rises form the bus stand with small little nooks from where you can peer at fragments of the surrounding city. i pitied the waiters who have to constantly walk up and down the ramp carrying trays of fantastic coffee. 

Saturday, June 20, 2009

three (and a half) days in delhi

got back from delhi wednesday night. i had flown there on some rather silly but extremely important mission to get my degree from the university of maryland equated with a degree from any university in india. it seems that the u of m is not on the list of universities here. so there i was on monday standing obsequiously in front of an officer in one of the many government buildings file in hand full of attested copies of everything in my life. thought the first signs did not seem hopeful as we immediately got caught in a inter-ministerial mix up, hopefully things will sort themselves out over the next week. as this was the only real work i had in delhi the rest of the time mukul and me spent meeting up with people we had not met in years and otherwise going to places in delhi that we had not been to before. these included the paharganj market with its collision of extremely local and extremely backpacker joints. through the narrow lanes we walked in the street where mukul mother lived and meandering ended up at the ramakrishna mission near the metro station. dinner was with shekhar and anandita at this very fancy restaurant on connaught place.

the next day after our disturbing trip to the association of indian universities we had the entire day ahead and spent it walking on ansari road in darya ganj with trying to find hindi novels for mukuls mother. we finally found the last on the list at a publishers office/shop at kashmiri gate.
i was so awe struck by the dazzling metro station there. delhi has always been perfect. a diagram for a city or rather a diagram of the nation. in a sense it is ideological. it represents everything we want to become. the metro is part of the nations claim for world recognition. the city is like the constitution – an ideal text that attempts to make us citizens of an ideal nation. in the evening after a visit to guddu mama our rickshaw took an alternative route back and we found a completely different delhi- a city of indeterminate street edges and unsystematic growth- in other words the ad-hoc madness of other indian cities.
tuesday- after a visit to the council of architecture to clarify what exactly the problem was with my paperwork again we had the rest of the day free. this time we drove across the yamuna to the vastness of the housing projects that lie on the other side- the hyphenated alphabetized and numbered housing colonies 1970’s rubber stamps. we met mukul’s mother childhood friend and his aunt right on the border where delhi becomes uttar pradesh. later we went to the national museum to browse through all of the cultural history of the country in pink and green painted rooms. the sarkari displays are awful but also vaguely comforting compared to the atrocious new age displays at the gandhi smriti building. but more on that later. evening we spent at yogita and nilesh’s meeting satyajit who looked adorable.

on the last day an obligatory trip to the aiu and then we spent the morning at the red fort with its gardens and palaces. on the way out we walked across the bridge that connects the red fort to the salimgarh fort which has become a museum for the indian national army trials. after a lunch at the india coffee house with its over the top harem interior we did a dynasty tour beginning with nehru’s house, then indira gandhi’s and finally gandhi smriti.

the nehru house in its palatial splendor had a door that opened out to the dome of the rashtrapati bhavan and rooms of old photographs and domestic items arranged in ‘as-it-was’ organizations. there was also awfully oversized digital prints of some ‘designed’ posters of his life.

at indira gandhi’s house the relics of the past took on a gruesome tone with her sari on the day that she was shot displayed neatly ironed in a glass case while in another room rajiv gandhis clothes on the day he was blown up make high abstract art. the path she took on the way her death is marked by a class walkway and the spot where she dies has clear glass.

at gandhi smriti someone thought museums need to be fun. it a pull out the stops digital multimedia experience of such shallow and childish content that it made me laugh. there are pads that you stand on and reach across for another persons hand- when the blue light comes on we know ‘unity’. or the raghupati raghav xylophone which when played reveals a drawing of cartoon men in different costumes holding hands – again ‘unity’! and there is more such over produced silliness. give me the older miniature dioramas on the ground floor any day.

the timeline

the prison with lighted bars

depicting unity

the house that tells stories

marking the spot b