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Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Sunday Long Reads: Of the art world, pandemic diets, revisiting Monsoon Wedding, and more

Don't miss out on this week's interesting stories!


June 27, 2021 10:15:27 am
With no visible end to the crisis, appeals for financial aid are rising. In September last year, the Culture Ministry announced that Rs 5,462 lakh had been released under Central government schemes to help artists during the pandemic. (Illustration: Bivash Barua)

What the pandemic did to those on the fringes of the art world

When the nationwide lockdown was announced in March last year, artist Umesh Singh was in Varanasi, preparing for exhibitions in the coming months. The 2019 postgraduate from Sarojini Naidu School of Arts and Communication, Hyderabad, was looking forward to leveraging the attention his work had received at the 2018-19 Students’ Biennale and the Serendipity Arts Festival and was hopeful that an early communication with gallerists and art collectors would help his career get off to a flying start. “People had appreciated my work at both forums and there were several inquiries. I was expecting some of the work to find buyers,” says Singh, 28.

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When holidays included extravagant flotillas of ships and unyielding elephants

Rashtrapati Bhavan Museum, New Delhi, Presidents, British, retreat, weekend home, British governor-generals, how Presidents travel, eye 2021, sunday eye, indian express news Officials receiving Rajendra Prasad at Haridwar station. (Rashtrapati Bhavan photo archives)

Ensconced in the hot and humid confines of the government house at Calcutta, British governor-generals were often desperate to get away to some place cooler. The idea of a “retreat” was born — from the heat, the dust and grind of daily work. In 1801, colonial administrator Richard Colley Wellesley, first Marquess Wellesley, took over a country house along the Hooghly in Barrackpore and made it a weekend home. He tried to connect the government house in Calcutta with this new bungalow through a straight road. But when the East India Company declined to give him funds, he proceeded to travel during the weekends in a grand barge along with his entourage in a flotilla of ships!

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How a Sanskrit poet is changing the way we see our traditional texts

Rishiraj Pathak Songs of praise: Sanskrit poet Rishiraj Pathak

Pāhi naḥ prāṇinaḥ mṛtyubhīterhi naḥ
(May all life be saved from the fear of death)

Sanskrit poet Rishiraj Pathak wrote these lines in a poem, titled Prarthana, in late 2020, when the pandemic seemed to be retreating and the air in Delhi was clean following months of lockdown. In April this year, as the second wave began to sweep through India, Pathak tested positive. During the time he spent in home quarantine in Delhi, his phone filled with messages about friends and teachers who had passed away. “We are all grieving, and in fear of what is happening. This is a terrible time,” says Pathak. In Kālo, Ham, another poem he wrote last year, the coronavirus appears as a fierce metaphorical figure called Kāla or Time, which waves its arms as it dances with the living and the dead. “Time has compelled us to confront our mortality and introduced us to our souls,” says Pathak, 32.

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Meet the mugger who can grip you in its death roll

mugger A mouthful of knives: The mugger balances twigs on its broad snout to lure birds (Source; Wikimedia commons)

Personally, I love their Machiavellian toothsome grins and the wicked glint in their eyes, especially when they’ve just spotted their lunch or dinner. They will slip into the water with nary a ripple and submerge, only their eyes focused on their target. Once in range, they will wait until their target bends down to drink again. And then, all hell breaks loose. Like a missile from a submarine, they will rear up, those great jaws, crammed with crooked razor-sharp teeth wide open. One bite, the most powerful in the animal kingdom, is usually enough to snap the victim’s neck. Or else, the thrashing victim is dragged back into the water and drowned. It’ll be cut into large chunks, or the crocs will grip it and roll ghoulishly (the infamous “death roll”) to shear off chucks of flesh, which are swallowed. Once their bellies are full, they need not hunt or eat for a while.

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‘Adapting a story by a master of cinema is a double-edged sword’

Abhishek Chaubey, Abhishek Chaubey interview, Abhishek Chaubey news, Abhishek Chaubey films, Abhishek Chaubey web series, Satyajit Ray's stories, eye 2021, sunday eye, indian express news Abhishek Chaubey

Writer-director Abhishek Chaubey on adapting Satyajit Ray’s story for a new web series and why in movies, no one talks the way people do in real life

While adapting Satyajit Ray’s short story Barin Bhowmick’s Ailment as Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa for a new Netflix series titled Ray, why did you decide to change the protagonist, a Nazrul Geeti singer, into a ghazal singer.

When Niren Bhatt (screenplay writer) and I started working on this adaptation, one of the first challenges was to find the right setting for the story. I wouldn’t have had any problem retaining the original setting except that the characters would have to speak in Bengali. I could not imagine Barin and Pulak (the characters in the original story) speaking in Hindi just for our understanding. It was important to transpose this story to a Hindustani-speaking setting. Ray sa’ab’s story is set in a very specific milieu. That apart, I needed a specific context for the characters. So, I chose the world of Urdu ghazal and poetry. It is a very specific world with its own idiosyncrasies, characters and language.

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What we learn from the study of diets of previous wars and pandemics

study The year of less: Imagining the depths of past adversity brings a sense of gratitude for how much better off we are now. (Source: Getty Images)

Remember the good old pre-corona days when shopping for food felt like one big playful party? We marveled at the innovative offerings of producers, and coveted the latest global super foods. If everyone else was eating chocolate-covered goji berries and guzzling kale and avo smoothies, we wanted them too.

We shopped regularly at weekly farmers’ markets, and cooked only when the urge to make an interesting new recipe struck.

A year and a half into the pandemic, the act of feeding ourselves is fraught with anxiety. With skeleton logistics and supermarkets running low on several items, much of our time is spent trying to come up fuss-free ways to cram flavour into perfectly balanced meals.

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Why Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding speaks of things loud and timeless

monsoon wedding A still from the film

Have I told you how much I love Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding (2001)? It gave the Hindi film industry an alternative way of portraying the Big Fat Indian Wedding, and all its non-stop accompanying tamasha. Mandir-mandap-mangalsutra. Blindingly colourful clothes. Simpering bride. Shy bridegroom. Each of these elements has been a Hindi cinema fixture through the decades, because nothing sells as well as shaadi ke ladoo, packaged with song, dance and drama.

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