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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Sunday Long Reads: Of architecture, yoga, life and beyond

What does a nation’s architecture say about its aspirations, politics and drawbacks? With the redesign of the Central Vista in the national capital imminent, tracing India’s socialist, democratic fabric through its public architecture and what changes to it mean for the country’s communal life.

December 22, 2019 1:32:53 pm
Ropar, IIT Ropar, sundayeye, indianexpress, Shivalik range, World University Rankings 2020, Indian Institute of Technology Ropar, Mohenjodaro, Heritage art works on the pillars at the entrance of IIT Ropar, (Express photo by Jaipal Singh)

A masseur’s gentle pull and push opens up the secret lesions of our life that only the body is privy to

Body and Soul (Getty Images)

You want a back massage, too?” “Yes, please.” The masseur did not ask as much as he suggested. I did not agree as much as I requested. Outside, the light had gone paler, the soot on my fingers were lighter than yesterday. Delhi was still exasperated but breathing now was less difficult. The day, it seemed, was made for kindness.

He promptly tied my hair into a messy knot and proceeded to do what he had voluntarily suggested. Slipping his hands on my neck, he nimbly pressed against the nape. I might have shuddered for he became gentler. He really didn’t need to. I have often run my fingers on the back of my neck but the touch never lingered. I didn’t know it hurt till I did. I exhaled, less at the relief at instant pain alleviation and more at the thrill of identifying the exact source of my physical agony for the past few days. This seemed singular: to place a finger on what precisely hurt. It felt oddly liberating.


Oscar-winning Eva Orner on directing a documentary on the founder of Bikram Yoga in a pre MeToo world

Bikram Yogi, Guru, Predator, bikram yoga netflix, Beverly Hills Chronicler of things untold: A film still from Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator. (Source: IMDB)

In a span of over 1 hour 20 minutes, director Eva Orner takes a deep dive into the world of Bikram Yoga, a form of hot yoga, and its founder Bikram Choudhury. He and his style of yoga were popular in the late 1970s and his charmed life was nowhere near fading until allegations of sexual abuse and harassment surfaced against him in the early 2010s.

Orner’s documentary Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator, currently streaming on Netflix, made over a period of three years, combines archival footage, interviews of Choudhury’s students and practitioners of the form. Orner, 50, who produced the Oscar-winning film Taxi to the Dark Side (2007), which looks at “the Bush administrations torture policies post 9/11”, talks about Choudhury, the #MeToo movement and growing up in Australia in an email interview from Los Angeles, US.


Mumbai artist Sudhir Patwardhan talks about how the city is a place of constant transformations

Mumbai artist Sudhir Patwardhan, Mumbai artist Sudhir Patwardhan National Gallery of Modern Art

For ALMOST 50 years, Sudhir Patwardhan has relentlessly put Mumbai on canvas after canvas. Little has escaped his painterly eye. The city’s working class, the communal riots of 1992, the mill-to-mall “progress” in both construction and economy — Patwardhan has been able to zoom in on and zoom out of Mumbai.

One would think that by this time he would have had enough of this megacity. But, that’s not the case. On November 29, the artist’s first ever retrospective opened at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Mumbai. Titled Walking Through Soul City, and on till February 12, the retrospective is curated by Nancy Adajania and supported by The Guild Art Gallery. With more than 200 works, the show emphasises the artifice and the elaborate constructions of spatial planes in his urbanscapes. Is this really Mumbai or a Mumbai of Patwardhan’s mind?


Little souls, big questions

My five-year-old and I have been talking a lot about death lately. Our conversations in a single day can cover a range of topics — games, poop, ice-cream, pollution, magic, why “th” in “thing” and “th” in “the” sound different (that’s magical, too), toys, Narendra Modi, colours, boogers, and friends, but also death.

This seemingly macabre interest evolved ever since Ira lost her Thakurdada eight months ago. A grand old man of 80 when she was born, he took a keen interest in her milestones, and insisted on buying her an abacus when she was two to “nurture a scientific temper”. As she grew, they developed a great rapport, the highlight of which was usually him telling her to stop doing things he thought dangerous and then watching her proceed to do exactly that while she maintained steady, twinkling eye contact with him.


On Greta Thunberg and others who inspired and led from the front

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has been declared as Time magazine person of the year for her defiant and impassioned plea to have the world take note of the climate emergency we are in the middle of. Thunberg has certainly led the way with her unusual protest, but this is a year which has seen the youth come forward to fight the good fight across the world — from Chile to Hong Kong to India, the young have mounted spirited civil resistance to uphold economic, academic and civil rights:


Reduced to Numbers

digital, cyberspace, Citizenship (Amendment) Act, Eye 2019, Sunday Eye, Indian Express, Indian Express news Our social media world view of metrics and counting is now clearly defining the way in which we live and understand our world. (Source: Getty/Thinkstock)

Late in the 1990s, when the computer was being democratised and produced for the mass market, there was a new word that was becoming the buzz — digital. What exactly is digital? What does it mean? How do we understand it in our everyday life? These were questions that were often asked, leading to the binaries of analogue-digital, real life — virtual reality, meatspace — cyberspace, etc. The intent and intensity of the digital has been much theorised since then, but the word that strikes right to its core is quantiphilia: The love of counting. If there is only one way of describing the digital, quantiphilia will be it.


Forwarded as Received: Let’s Spare the Rod

Citizenship Amendment Act, protests, Eye 2019, Sunday Eye, Indian Express news Students of Guru Nanak Dev University protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act in Amritsar. (Photo by Rana Simranjit Singh)

My family… this is not some ancient rishi or great poet ka beautiful writings…. it is words of ur own dadu:))))!!! Yes bachchon… it is my sarva shresht geet for which I won prize in school… I had composed this madhur lekh for competition on auspicious day of saraswati puja… all ppl clapped… even superintendent of entire district “wah beta wah!!!”

I know what u all r thinking… old daadu is being boasty again.,.. but my family… let me tell u very frankly…my geet i hv shared becoz it has gr8 tatparya today… all over india all students and all r protesting… do they understand that they must be bhakts of saraswati devi???? Adarniya Pradhan sewak master of meditation kailash conquerer shiv bhakt ram mandir bhavya builder topper of entire political science creator of exam warriors light of youth, speaker of mann ki baat pradhan mantri shri Narendra Bhai Modi ji has said all protesters are being trapped in chungal of evil intellectuals and pakistan and urban naxals…. that students of all big kendriya vishwadyalas are being stupid idiots…. that they r not knowing about things…


Tastes Like Christmas

Christmas, Christmas celebration, Goan food, Eye 2019, Sunday Eye, Indian Express, Indian Express news Let them have the cake: Bolo de batica (Photo by Kishore Amati)

Every year, before sitting down to their Christmas lunch, Goan Christians drop in on their neighbours, friends and relatives to exchange kuswar (derived from the Portuguese consoada, the Christmas Eve supper). This includes a variety of sweets and savouries such as nevreo (deep-fried pastry stuffed with coconut, jaggery and dry fruits), kulkuls (deep-fried, sugar-glazed curls), bebinca and mandare (sweet papad of rice and pumpkin).


How a WWII Japanese soldier’s photo album, lost 74 years ago, finally reached his family

Japanese soldier, World War II, Eye 2019, Sunday Eye, Indian Express, Indian Express news Homecoming: Hideo in Philippines from his album. (Photos Courtesy OBON SOCIETY)

When Jarat Chopra handed over to Tamotsu Shikata his late elder brother Hideo’s photograph album late last month, the moment was solemn, of course, but a little comical, too.

Chopra was late for the “returning ceremony” in Ayabe, Kyoto, Japan. He missed alighting at the right station, and the cab he caught took a long detour. “The album had taken 30 years to get back, so, perhaps, for another 30 minutes, Hideo wanted to look at the countryside before arriving,” remarked a mortified Chopra, 55, as teary-eyed people broke into laughter. Then, when Tamotsu opened the tightly-bound album, it somewhat disintegrated and pages flew out. Tamotsu — recounting his last memory of bidding Hideo goodbye under, perhaps, a tree — said he’ll fix it while recognising his sisters and relatives in it.


What does a nation’s architecture say about its aspirations, politics and drawbacks?

architecture, India Gate, India, infrastructure, politics, democracy, Eye 2019, Sunday Eye, Indian Express news A picture of India Gate at night. (Source: Getty/Thinkstock)

When imperial Delhi was being designed in 1913, a voice that went unheard was that of EB Havell, art historian and former principal of the Government College of Art and Craft in Calcutta. In their book, India: Modern Architectures in History (Reaktion Books; 2015), Peter Scriver and Amit Srivastava write that Havell had argued: “The question to be discussed is, not in what style, but by what method the new city should be built…the method of the modern architect, with pencil-trained mind and hands or the method that has given us Westminster Abbey, Saint Sophia, the Taj?” It was a crucial question — one that would creep up time and again in the building of what would, in a matter of a few decades, be a newly-independent country with dreams and aspirations of its own.


How IIT Ropar is honouring the storied past of its location with a modern tribute

Ropar, IIT Ropar, sundayeye, indianexpress, Shivalik range, World University Rankings 2020, Indian Institute of Technology Ropar, Mohenjodaro, Heritage art works on the pillars at the entrance of IIT Ropar, (Express photo by Jaipal Singh)

There’s little in Ropar, a small town with a population of 48,000, that hints at its history as a bustling centre of trade and culture. In the 1960s, the excavation of a 21 m-high mound overlooking the Shivalik range revealed the town’s — also known as Rupnagar or Rupar — significance over six epochs of civilisation, starting from the Harappan to the Mughal era. The finds ranged from copper implements used in the Indus Valley civilisation, and terracotta rings of the Shunga and Kushana periods to a Gupta period gold coin, issued by Chandragupta I and his queen Kumaradevi.


Bharatanatyam exponent Alarmel Valli on battling cancer and returning to dance after 18 months

Alarmel Valli, Alarmel Valli artiste, Alarmel Valli bharatnatyam, sundayeye, Alarmel Valli breast cancer, Alarmel Valli dancer, who is Alarmel Valli, Valli, 63, at this point one of the finest contemporary Bharatanatyam exponents.

The scent of the earth lends an abiding fragrance to Chennai-based Bharatanatyam exponent Alarmel Valli’s works. Nature recurs in her compositions as well as her pieces in Tamil Sangam poetry. Valli, 63, at this point one of the finest contemporary Bharatanatyam exponents, whose technique and lyricism find a unique balance almost every time she steps on the stage, was out of action for 18 months owing to breast cancer. Recently, she performed at Mumbai’s National Centre for the Performing Arts during its golden jubilee celebrations. In an exclusive interview, Valli talks about her dance which allows her to go from quietude to whirling energy in a matter of seconds; her mother’s towering presence; and, for the first time, about dealing with breast cancer, and returning to dance a different person.


Memories of Sambhar

Sambhar Lake, Sambhar Lake tourism, ranjit lal column, ranjit lal, indianexpress, sundayeye, eye 2019, Ratan Talao, largest saline lake in India, Greylag Geese flying over Sambhar Lake. (Photo: Ranjit Lal)

This year, Sambhar Lake, the largest saline lake in India, and a winter destination for thousands of migratory birds, especially waterfowl, has become a place of mass death. Way back in November 1994, I visited the place and spent three days there. I’ve just excavated the notes I made during the visit. Here are some extracts from what I’d written then: Sambhar Lake (and Salt Lake City) lies about one-and-a- half hours north of Jaipur and has been used for the extraction of salt for over 1,000 years since the time of Prithviraj Chauhan. About 20 per cent of the lake has been dammed for salt extraction. The only modes of transport are the system of rail-run trolleys and jeep.


Bon ApPÉtit! The joy of discovering naankhatais as a gift on Christmas

naankhatais, Christmas gifts, Christmas gifting, indianexpress, sundayeye, eye2019, cookies, naankhatais, what is naankhatai, childhood memories, cookies from childhood, Today, confectioners in several parts of Delhi sell the concave morsels of delight. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

One of my favourite childhood memories is dipping my hands into my blazer pockets a day before Christmas and finding them laden with goodies — nuts, chocolates, and sultanas. One year, Father Christmas left a small plastic packet sealed with a bright red ribbon. It had cookies which were nothing like I had eaten before. They were concave, mostly pale brown and quite a few were speckled with char marks; they exuded an irresistible buttery aroma. The cookies melted away in seconds, leaving a mild aftertaste of cardamom. They are naankhatais, my mother said, a gift from one of her friends.


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