Something weird has happened to our lives because of the digital. We have long lamented the fact that our life is being reduced to flattened spectacles mediated by manipulative filters that exacerbate the feeling that everybody else is having adventures of a lifetime while we count it a day well spent if we caught up on the latest show on Netflix and whined to a friend about a potential online date that could also be a catfish. The presentation of life in digital streams is performative, and we have perfected the craft of artfully capturing our lives. The visual predominance has become the default mode of being of our mobile-triggered lives, where every banal moment is potentially viral and presents us as perceptive and quirky and insightfully thoughtful.
Many years ago, so goes an Aboriginal tale, an eight-year-old orphan named Kubra was punished by the elders of his community for stealing, and not sharing the pond water. When the boy taunted them from atop a gum tree, up flew sticks that struck him, making his neck disappear, his eyes grow bigger, his shoulders roll over, and shrinking his arms and legs. Kubra became the first koala. And that’s why koalas drink little water because they remember the punishment.
The shampoo bottle was one of the first to go. When Maya Kilpadi embarked on a plastic-free challenge this July, every single item of daily consumption in her house had to be considered afresh. “A shampoo bottle is built to last and the plastic can be downcycled. But the problem is with the pump. Each component of the nozzle is made of a different material, and, in all probability, it doesn’t get recycled,” says Kilpadi, who once edited a nature magazine and now works for an e-commerce website. But removing the sturdy film of plastic that sheaths urban, consumerist lives doesn’t have to involve smelly hair. “I moved to a shampoo bar. They are made of natural material, and come in paper packaging. It is perfect. It lathers just like a regular shampoo does, and it lasts me two months, with my hair,” says the petite 34-year-old with a stylish bob when we meet at a café in Bengaluru.
The market stops for no one. Not for a thunderstorm. Not for a fire. And certainly not for a band of filmmakers, cameras in tow.
So last April, when Pradip Kurbah and his crew, stood in the middle of Iewduh, men, bent double carrying loads twice their size, hissed at them to make way. Jainsem-clad Khasi kongs looked up from their wares, intrigued by the paraphernalia of people and cameras. In the warren of narrow alleyways that sold everything from fish to hair pins, children formed groups as quickly as they dispersed, to point and stare. “Then one day, just like that, they stopped caring,” says Kurbah.
The smog has settled over our megapolises, wiping out the festive cheer with an AQI that breached the 400 mark in the national capital the day after Diwali. Why, one might wonder, would a people who cough their way through the beginning of winter want to burst crackers and worsen life for themselves? But good sense is hard to come by, and, perhaps, the only counter might be to sensitise the young early enough for them to make informed choices.
I had my first panic attack when I was 18 years old. It was 7.30 am and I was supposed to be up for college. I remember thinking that I couldn’t afford to miss class when I was already falling behind, but for reasons unknown to me, I couldn’t move. A feeling of dread was settling in and it felt like my brain had disconnected from the rest of my body. My vision was blurry, my heart was racing and I was sweating while the air-conditioner was set at 18 degrees Celsius.
The apartment was on the 22nd floor of a building that came with a carpeted foyer, an elevator with a liftman who saluted the puffy-haired ladies who rode them, and a furry resident Labrador named Mango. The building was neither on a dingy Shantaram-esque lane off Colaba Causeway, nor in the darker turns of Cuffe Parade. On this road, where the apartment stood tall, trees grew high into the sky above.
Have you tasted air? Dive into Daulat ki chaat
In 2006, I made friends with a group of foodies who sought out Delhi’s “lesser-known” eating joints and revelled in exploring the gullies and kuchas of the old city, hoping to chance upon the culinary delights that were known to be hidden there.
Winter was the best time for these excursions. The nip in the air added its charm to the aromas of the stews, curries and roasts. Life seemed good while slurping chaats or chomping on pakodas with the friendly sun for company. And, the jalebis seemed to be best had while rubbing one’s palms for warmth. But the best part of these trips was when the city revealed its food secrets. Like, when some of my foodie friends discovered Daulat ki chaat and emailed a tantalising invitation to the rest of the group to partake an “ineffable delicacy”.
The first Indian to sail across the world solo offers a taste of adventure on the high seas
In 2006, when Dilip Donde — then a commander in the Indian Navy — was chosen to go around the world in a boat, as part of the Sagar Parikrama project, his foremost task was to find someone who could guide him on this adventure. Donde travelled all the way to Gosport, Hamsphire, in the UK, to apprentice with Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first person to sail around the globe solo, nonstop. Donde set sail from Mumbai on August 19, 2009, and successfully finished his trip on May 19, 2010, becoming the first Indian — and 190th human — to complete a solo, unassisted circumnavigation of the globe under sail. Many oceans have been crossed since then.
A publishing house that is translating Dalit writers’ works into English
When Yogesh Maitreya discovered the works of noted contemporary Marathi poet Loknath Yashwant in 2013, he was struck by the simplicity of the poetry and its underlying dark humour. It strengthened Maitreya’s belief that a lot of powerful writing from the Dalit community remained invisible in the mainstream because the works had not been translated into English. In 2016, Maitreya launched Panther’s Paw Publications and in the three years since, he has published seven titles under the label, which are either original works in English or English translations of works by writers and poets from the community. This also includes a compilation of Yashwant’s poetry, translated by K Jamanadas and Maitreya, titled Broken Man : In Search of Homeland (2019).
Building Blocks: How the City Centre mall captured the spirit of Kolkata
“Malls don’t excite me,” Charles Correa had told Harshavardhan Neotia, currently chairman of the Ambuja Neotia Group. At the turn of this century, malls were the new sites of consumption, and Neotia had plans for one in Kolkata. After much coaxing, Correa agreed, but, days after laying the foundation, the architect thought it was a bad idea to have a mall in Kolkata, and tore his design into shreds. After many meetings and visits to Mumbai by Neotia, Correa finally drew up a plan that would be far removed from the conventional air-conditioned box with imposing entries and escalators.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep
In the beginning, there was the forest, primeval and teeming with life, governed by instinct, unmoved by emotions. Yet, for those who survived its inherent violence, the forest was also a repository of visceral wisdom. In 2016, when mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik got in touch with Amruta Patil for a collaborative project, it was the idea of returning to the rich tangle of Vedic texts rooted in nature to chart out the trajectory of human experience — hunger, fear, rivalry, the quest for knowledge, and, eventually, compassion and empathy — that intrigued the latter.