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Friday, November 27, 2020

Sunday Long Reads: Of Idli’s popularity, Scam 1992, ladies of Rashtrapati Bhavan and more

Here is your Sunday reading list

New Delhi | Updated: November 1, 2020 11:10:23 am
Comfort food: Rava Idli at MTR.

Serves all, with a side of chutney

Idlis,/ plump and spongy lenses,/ magnify our appetites; / and, through the telescope of shared hope,/ bring the stars within our reach

In the long poetic sequence, ‘Breakfast at Kala Ghoda’, which forms the centrepiece of his Kala Ghoda Poems (2004), Arun Kolatkar made special mention of the ordinary idli. In the poet’s imagination, the idlis collected in the “jumbo aluminium box” of Our Lady of Idlis are transformed from something unremarkable to a “sacrament”, towards which the hungry and homeless people within a mile of this spot in south Mumbai gravitate. What is it that makes this humble food, available for as little as Rs 1 in some places, a source of such inspiration?


I can’t let myself be muzzled: Director Hansal Mehta

An artist without a voice is like an animal in a muzzle, says Mehta.

The buzz around Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story, a web series directed by Hansal Mehta, that released on SonyLiv recently, refuses to die down. The show about one of India’s biggest financial scams put the spotlight on Mehta for its taut story, direction and acting. In this interview, the filmmaker speaks of a new phase in his career and why shooting the show was one of the best experiences of his life.


How did the idea of Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story come up?

Many years ago, I had read the book The Scam: Who Won, Who Lost, Who Got Away (1993) by Sucheta Dalal and Debashis Basu. I tried to pitch this story as a film but no one was interested in it. When Sameer Nair (producer) and I met three years ago, he mentioned that he wants to make a series on the book. I came on board. There were two reasons for that — to make a white-collar drama and to relive my growing-up years. We don’t tell white-collar crime stories. Even when we do, they are flaky and dumbed down.


‘The invisible shield reporters from the West once had is diminishing’

Pen man: Walsh worked as a Pakistan correspondent between 2004 and 2013, when he was summarily booted out of the country for ‘undesirable activities’ (courtesy: Bloomsbury)

To many Indians, Pakistan is a dreary land, hijacked by religious extremism and the military. Declan Walsh’s The Nine Lives of Pakistan (Bloomsbury) tempts us with the unofficial version — absurd and violent, but never boring. Through nine portraits of battle-hardened politicians, activists and spies, Walsh, who served as a Pakistan correspondent for The New York Times for nine years till 2013, sketches a country that struggles with contradictions and mutinies. In this interview, the Irish journalist, who is now NYT bureau chief in Cairo, speaks about writing against stereotypes and the increasing difficulty of being a foreign journalist from the West.


Feels Like Home

The sandstones of Rashtrapati Bhavan evolved with first ladies.

Louis Mountbatten’s appointment as the Viceroy of India was a “bombshell” for Edwina Mountbatten. But she adapted swiftly. Her presence loomed large over the Viceroy House and the political activities associated with it. She was only following tradition: The Viceroy’s House was, after all, home. Likewise Emily Lytton Lutyens, wife of architect Edwin Lutyens, had another connection to the monument. As the daughter of Lord Lytton, who had been Viceroy during 1876-80, she was not untouched by India’s influence. Though it’s difficult to establish explicitly, some credit goes to her for the presence of lotus and elephant motifs in the Rashtrapati Bhavan.


An Art Lesson

Healing strokes: No matter how difficult any given moment feels, art can help us find hope.

Ever evolving is how I feel our life has been calibrated and designed to be. If we grow with each moment, if we become better versions of ourselves with each chapter of our life, we stand to be humans who leave a legacy and do good by the world we inhabit.

Some have accused me of fashioning Pollyanna and her irrepressible optimism, hinting that I am naïve and simplistic. But fate is not destiny. Reality does not equal fatality. Rather, it is a moving point that we chart the course of through our actions. Of course, we must do all we can and as best as we can, but then we must let go and let life happen. Learn to make peace with the outcomes.


Many miles ahead

On rough terrain: Indian peacekeeping troops during the Congo Crisis in 1963

The genesis of Mahindra & Mahindra, a leading Indian vehicle manufacturer, lies in World War II. Timeless Mahindra, a new book by veteran journalist Adil Jal Darukhanawala which celebrates the company’s 75th anniversary, traces its origins to 1941. The United States military’s search for a low-volume, low-cost scout vehicle for the frontlines led to the development of the Jeep, designed by American Bantam and further developed by Willys and Ford. Hailed as “one of the three tools that won the war”, it was distributed in various countries and made its way to India when the Allied forces were fighting the Japanese on the Burma front.


Fair Game

Peek-a-boo: Animals only hunt out of necessity (Source: Ranjit Lal)

To some extent, we all have the hunting instinct, or we wouldn’t have survived. The best natural hunters are, of course, the carnivores: the big cats and canids, and even omnivores, like bears. But size doesn’t matter: have you ever watched a praying mantis lie in ambush on a leaf, then lunge out with its gin-trap arms and lop off its prey’s head and eat it as if it were enjoying a bhutta? The ladies do that to their husbands, too. Diabolical wasps seek out spiders or caterpillars, paralyse them and then lay an egg on them so that the baby has fresh meat on tap when it’s born!


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