Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Atop the Delhi Sky!

The past week saw the Insider join a book discussion, attend the exclusive launch of a rooftop Lounge and is now walking the Fashion talk at the Amazon India Fashion Week, as you read this.The Royal Plaza hotel is a little nugget of a heritage property hidden from the luxe traveller's eye, at Janpath, in the heart of Delhi.
The seasonal opening of its 19th floor, rooftop Sky Bar & Grill at the Connaught recently, had The Insider revel in the capital's vistas and their sumptuous spread. It was an equally pleasant scenic change getting elevated (literally) to the 19th floor from its impressive French interiors of the foyer, resplendent in Baroque sheen, with frescoes on the wall to the high ceiling, to glass encased cherubs. 
A Roof With a View!
The first sight of a bustling Delhi below, as you stand staring at the distant calm, sets the stage for chilling atop the city! The Lounge is divided into two separate spaces that are connected by a ramp: The Moon Bar and the Presidential Lounge. One side overlooks the majestic Rajpath, flanked by the Presidential Palace and the India Gate memorial. To the other, Connaught Place’s Georgian architecture catches your eye.
From the colonial to the French Renaissance inspired architecture, Delhi has an eclectic mix of hotel properties, each unique in its own way. From the pianist in the lobby playing lilting tunes to the beats of the DJ's tunes at the Sky, take your pick to suit your taste.
Judging by the  events planned  on the hotels' turntable, the lounge is ready to belt out Sufi nights as well as World Music. Come winters, you can attend the Champagne day soirees. For now revel in the views!

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Of Bhopal House

If you're slightly familiar with Bhopal, my case in point, you  would know the languid, luxurious charm the city possesses. My solitary visit to Bhopal has been for a, yes, you guessed it, a family wedding in Arera colony, one of the oldest colonies, South in the lake city. Amidst the manicured gardens in the sprawling bungalow teeming with the wedding party in the ancestral house, there was the din of marriage and of course bonhomie. Not much later, time seemed to have stood still in that picturesque lake where we were whisked off to, on a cruise atop a barge'ish' boat. Later that day the decadence and  pleasure seekers head to the majestic Jehan Numa and much later to the Nur us Sabah palace- heritage building now preserved as hotels. We regale further in each other's company and wine! Cut to the streets of the chowk bazaar resplendent in all ways, people and the brightly lit gota and paut (popular beadwork trinkets). 
Suffice to say that the brief sojourn almost a decade ago, had piqued my curiosity about this quaint town. M.P as it is, wasn't a stranger -having spent some time in Gwalior and explored its Bada and Sarrafa enough, along with of course the Forts and the chattris.  When the book Bhopal Connections, Vignettes of Royal Rule, Shaharyar Muhammed Khan, Roli Books landed on my review desk, I was thrilled to bits. Excited at the notion of being privy to a royal's account of the royals. The author is the grandson of the last ruling Nawab of Bhopal, H.H. Hamidullah Khan- this added to the urgency to flip through this 152 pager. 
The anecdotal and narrative technique of the writer glides us along the intrigues, scandals, joys, societal norms and the many surprises that the Bhopal house, houses, chapter after chapter. An insider's info and first person account in the latter part, brings the reader as close as possible to rubbing shoulders with the royalty. Amidst the fondness of shikaar, the lure of indulgence, the cordial relations and later, the acquiesce to the British Raj's ruling, there lies the humanising of the Royals. The largeness of their heart and mind in treating a captive with respect and honour and at others Machiavellian machinations for securing power- both sides get equal light. Most significantly, the equanimity in the Royal rule comes forth. With a large part of the ruling history presided over by the Nawab Begums of Bhopal- Qudsia Begum, Nawab Sikandar Begum, Begum Sultan Shah Jehan and Begum Kaikhusrau Jehan. 
Bhopal's history through the lives and times of its founder, Dost Muhammad Khan to the final accession of the state to M.P, in 1949 is relayed by the author in an anecdotal tone and tenor. An engaging beginning of each chapter has been clearly worked out to whet the reader's interest- the technique hits the bull's eye! No mean task to glide over decades of rule by individuals, to recount the turn of the tide and swoop over the changing times through the establishment of the Raj, the sepoy mutiny and to final acceding to the Indian state. 
To a history buff, the writer places things in perspective but to say that it could be the Bible of Bhopal's history, not that there has been any such claim, would be misplaced enthusiasm. The information in parts, appears repetitive and in others rushed. The language also in bits effortlessly eloquent in others circuitous. The relaying of incidents largely limits itself not in scope but in depth. It would make however, an interesting read for a history enthusiast, like it did for me and also would be suited for a young adult reading. And why not, this is the age that's hardly reading, especially about the Past. 
As a start point of knowing the history of this princely state, the book wasn't a false start. But sure enough, wasn't the finishing line too!

Bhopal Connections- Vignettes of Royal Rule 
Shaharayar Muhammed Khan
Roli Books 

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Decoding a Fashionable Play!

Most sports stars are that, stars, on and off the field. Especially now, when Instagram filters don't let you have a bad hair day! Though the stipulated protocol of dressing has to be adhered to on the field ,  we've still seen Tennis power women turning out at the court, in no less than high fashion dresses - think lace and denims! Who could miss Sharapova's sharp tuxedo styled white number or senior William sister's pleated Nike shift dress. Within the bounds of a dress specification, a lot can be done! 
From then to Now!
Golf is perhaps the second most stylish game, after Tennis (a personal opinion). Golf  fashion and its charm has a fascinating recorded history to it. From the bustles, crinolines and constricting petticoats  of the Victorian age to the more refined yet largely street wear flavour later on to the trousers a.k.a slacks worn by women in the 30's- Golf fashion pushed the boundary of rules, staying fashionably within it! 
Cut to the present when I recently attended a Golf and club wear  high fashion unveiling. The designer Christine Storm a recording artist from the US and I got chatting about exclusivity and elitism of Golf and interpretation of fashion on the Golf turf within the necessary protocols.  The collection comprised her signature Golf & resort line consisting of dresses, trousers, shirts in varied colors and cuts. 'I believe women golfers can be chic and athletic at the same time'  Agreed, looking and feeling good go hand in hand. 'We use the best sports suitable fabric to help the player do so'. Storm agrees that protocols in dressing should be adhered to and hence married fashion fanciness with club correctness . 
Golfing Right 
Her couture inspired golf clothes are transitional- to flow into the night post a field workout!  This course to the club just with a change of the shoe! 'While watching golfers on the course I began to imagine lines on the body that might be put there from a high-end designer or costumer that would allow someone to look  while still effortlessly swinging the club, freeing them from the boxy, unflattering attire!' Have a read of an a sample of Golf's charm from a poem culled out of an anthology of eulogies on Golfing divas' drives- The Golf Girl by Samuel Minturn Peck. 

Golf can surely do wonders I say :)! Look out for Christine's collection creating a storm at a Pro shop and at high-end boutiques near you!
The designer's Sign!

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Lawyers as Politicians, Anyone?

I have very little faith in politics and no experience with lawyers ( touchwood!) to make up my mind on them yet! The previous paucity of trust stems from a purely personal distrust emanating from years of nursing the middle class hang up - 'Do as you say and say what you do!'- something that politicians don't have the liberty of doing- especially nowadays, you never know where the next twitter lynching is hidden! 
It was the coming together of Politics and Law on stage that  made me accept the invite for the launch of  Courting Politics- Shweta Bansal, EBC. The book etches out the life and times of nine Lawyer luminaries who have raised the bar (pun unintended) in the political sphere. Bansal in the tome, charts out the individual journeys of these men. She doles out in her conversational manner of writing, snippets into the personal, professional and political crests and troughs in their lives. 

The glaring absence of a woman in this august company is lamented by Fali S Nariman in his Foreword to the book and rightly defended by the author in the Introduction. The inter woven themes in the book are intriguing. Can the political identity of a lawyer sunder itself from the party's ideology, in a manner of speaking? Can the two passions be seen as disparate in their own right and allowed to remain so? Is there a stepping on one's toes while doing either of the jobs? 
The men she chooses to talk about are not without faults. The writer doesn't hold back from getting her hands dirty with that nitty-gritty of their illustrious lives. In her own admission, keeping up with her subjects' busy schedules, mandated her doubt that the book will ever see the light of day, before she says au revoir to life!  I ask Shweta how generous were the men in giving her face to face time to chisel her word heaps. ' Oh! They were more than just that- I could talk to them and garner many details of their lives' 
Legal eagles all, the author makes a note of their stellar cases that they made a name for themselves in ranging from the nonagenarian- Jethmalani's KM Nanavati v. State of Bombay which was an archetype of a greek tragedy as it were to minister  Ravi Shankar Prasad's - who she rightly grants the epithet- The Lawyer of lord Rama! She delves into the culinary choices of the lawyers too and doesn't spare a mention of their pet peeves too. She dextrously glides the conversation into an outlining of their many high and lows. She draws out in the chat with the lawyers their mantra of treading this thin line of public life with a legal one and of course not to forget the personal too! I ask her if she had to tone down her language to ensure a greater reach of readers and she agrees, 'Yes, I was conscious of avoiding legalese and jargon to make it palatable, however the subject was such that it didn't require all that tweaking.' 
Yours Truly- Courting Books 
Glib talkers and erudite, wise saws gliding off their tongue, the book launch at the historical Bikaner House in the capital saw a back and forth of political sparring and as also a healthy banter amongst the lawyers. The book is immensely readable if you're interested in this aspect of the men who are already quite popular and am gauging, harbour ambitions of a memoir. Don't go about looking for instances of literary gems, instead go looking for the truth that lies bared in Bansal's simple yet engaging lexicon. 
The book is fraught with pitfalls of a simplistic narration at times and also of excessive reliance on the grandiose subjects' aura. The author in her debut novel however, chooses an ambitious theme- one she does full justice to, considering she's an experienced lawyer herself.
Bansal's tying up of this political and legal thread in the lives of these men is commendable however this is a classic case of a deserving writer becoming a blurb amidst her subject that command headlines. I wish there were more sound bytes from her at the panel discussion. I wanted to hear more of her at the launch as I knew I'd get to read about the lawyer-politicians in the book!
Her next book she tells me is going to be a  non-fiction too, one that I am looking forward to reading because of her and not because of who she is writing about. More Power!      

Courting Politics
Shweta Bansal

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Of History and a Sense of it

India- its past, present and future has been a fertile inspirational ground for many a writer. Part of it has to do with the the expanse of the land- topographically and also in its complex cultural manifestation, played out against the mercurial technological advancements globally and locally. If you have been following Dr Shashi Tharoor’s writings on India- a subject he has written copiously on- you’d know that he rarely writes purely as a historian. His perspective is more of an observer and a commentator, recorder and reflector on the goings-on in the country. The author, politician, and former international civil servant, blends in his books, erudition with experience as he charts the flux,  evolution, growth and future of India in his non-fiction repertoire. Many of his books also stem out of his previously written articles, opinions pieces in the the media- expanded and updated for recency.  The Elephant, The Tiger, And the Cell Phone: Reflections on India - the Emerging 21st-Century Power (2007), India Shastra: Reflections on the Nation in our Time (2015), India: The Future Is Now (2013), Pax Indica: India and the World of the 21st Century (2012), are some, amongst many other such books authored by Tharoor. They echo the changes the country has gone through from time to time, muse endearingly about the peculiar Indian-ness of Indians, mull over the co-existence of technology and tradition, and also indicate India's position in a rapidly changing geopolitical and economic scenario. 
Before you quit reading any further, let me give a disclaimer! This background of my own reading, was necessitated by the fact that in my last read of his writing- ‘An Era of Darkness’ the author writes purely as a historian for the first time.  The book that stemmed out of a 15 minute Oxford Union Debate speech that went viral – is an exhaustively researched refutation of the imperial apologist’s arguments and claims of the empire being a benevolent and an empowering entity.  
This three-thirty pager, takes the bull by its horns and decimates the traditional strongholds of the Raj defenders– the Railways, the education system, ‘the free press’ to name a few. He cuts through the benevolent pretensions of the empire and seeks to establish the greed and personal (here the empire’s) gain through neatly cut chapters ranging from ‘the Myth of Enlightened Despotism’ to ‘the Divide and rule policy’. He does acknowledge the inherent fissures in our country's hand-me-down laws such as the caste system, at the same time, making a case for the empire's devious strengthening of these rifts by the self-serving designs of the colonizer. 
He exposes the anatomy of exploitation down the years, supporting it with facts and figures right from the conquest of India by the East India Company to post colonial imperial amnesia.
Read the book if you are not daunted by the gargantuan task of keeping history, as it were – replete with dates, quotes and references. Read it also if you need academic reasoning for your vague aspersions on colonial powers that ruled the country.  Read also objectively, sundering emotion from rationale- as a literay piece. But not without the author’s disclaimer, ‘I do not seek to blame the British for everything that’s wrong in my country today.’ More so in today’s times than ever before!    

An Era of Darkness 
Aleph Book Company 

Friday, 11 August 2017

Long Weekend Leisure

As I pack my bags for another sojourn- I write about my last week's travel shenanigans. Long weekends start when you reach the end of Gurgaon's noxious-air on to NH 48. This one was made extra special as we were travelling as a family of three sisters, three kids and one set of parents! The fact that we were celebrating 75th of our dad's, was what made the trip even more eagerly awaited- also one sibling had travelled for the three-day visit, all the way from Singapore-  another reason this had better turn out well! Pressure!
A panoramic scene of the fortress and beyond

After zeroing in on the location, after a lot of back and forth, we hit upon Tijara Fort, Gram- Hasanpurmafi, Tehsil Tijara, District Alwar, Rajasthan - one of the 23 properties of the Neemrana chain of hotels- also a recent one.
Tijara- A Treasure Tucked Away...
Tiajra is a 19th century fort which has been restored and revitalised over a decade. The suites and rooms have been named to honour India's leading painters, designers, and aesthetes. Tijara Fort-Palace's seven terraced gardens have been compared to the Hanging Gardens of Babylonia - one of the Seven wonders of the ancient world – and the ruins to Machu Picchu! Most rooms offer views of the Aravalli ranges & countryside. Some overlook the Hawa Mahal, the hanging gardens & the pool. Ours had a vantage point of the Date tree lined plains below!
The Camelcade!

Holed up in the Hotel!
The hotel does not have in-room televisions and does not offer room service. The intention to disconnect from technology is there but what would one do with uninterrupted panoramic views that the hotel offers - but capture them in selfies and non-selfies(if theres such a term !) So you will find hotel guests clicking away to glory! and why not!
There are activities on demand at the hotel that include Camel Ride  Billiards,  Badminton, Table Tennis, Spa and of course lazing by the pool- a poor substitute to a beach, but heck bring out your beach dresses and kaftans- swim we can, later! Also, enroute the short drive from Delhi to Tijara (2.30 hrs!) one encountered  traffic jams of a different kind and bumpy roads in patches!

Cow girl in the mirror!
Breathe Deep!
Relaxing ambience, laid back pace and a quiet charm of history in the fort receives you much before the front office executive. Vistas spread across your line of sight as unappreciated jewels in the sand. You take a moment to capture them and insta story them- but No connectivity! There, welcome back to a time when you enjoyed a holiday for your own sake. There are patches where you can still smuggle, cheat, internet moments- but largely you remain in the quest of signal!
Things not to do!
If you're the outdoorsy kind, this place isn't for you- though you could still do a lot of sightseeing, or hop across to Fort Neemrana to satiate your adventure streak, if time permits. Start with a tour of the fort itself then move to other places of interest in Alwar District - which is mind you - quite a drive away( an hour plus). There's Tijara Jain temple, Suraj Mukhi Kund,  Bhatari (Former Ala-ud-Din Alam Shah Tomb in Tijara), Alwar government Museum Palace Museum in Alwar,  Alwar Fort City Palace,  Bala Quila  Vijay Mandir Palace,  Neelkanth Temple, Hanuman Temple,   Karni Mata Temple, Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri ... phew! and Sariska national Park and  Bhangarh fort...
But be warned- its a long weekend you've gone for, not a week! So ration your time well...
The long and short of it
Jungle Safari much?
We ventured out to the Bala Quila in Alwar in search of the museum but were greeted by eager jungle safari guides and we soon whisked away in a modified off-roader! Off season jungle safari saw us spotting Peacocks and more peacocks! Sambhars added to the intrigue I must say! The museum, we were told was shut and parts of the fort under renovation amidst visible signs of habitation within the fort precincts- such is the state of heritage buildings!

Bala Quila Courtyard -Padharo Maare Desh

You exit the fort's majestic gates but not before catching a glimpse of the entire Alwar town through its port whole of a window!
An eye on the town

Long weekend holidays are to rejuvenate and relax and that's exactly what we did- a spa treatment at the Tijara Fort property - Balinese one at that! An infusion of orange and lavender and the massaging  techniques of applying the right kind of pressure made up for the horrible culinary options in dusty bazaars of Alwar town earlier that day.
Amidst the three-day quietude at the heritage hotel's Arpana Mahal- our abode, there were flashes of a cultural show by Rajastahni artists- not sure of their authenticity in being true to the musical traditions of the state as the Manganiyars and the Langas are- but an evening worth spending with the kids as they joined in the revelry in the end!
The hotel I suggested, could do with a small library to pass time and also a more proactive training intervention with the staff. There was hospitality and a warmth spread across the faces of the helpful staff but not necessarily a consistent one across verticles.
We started out from the Hathi Mahal -the reception area of the Fort, but not before clicking a few fancy, yet shaky Instax polaroids.  Not before also, keeping a part of the Rani Mahal, as captured in water colours - sketched in my heart! Enjoy the long weekend and tell us where you're headed!
A beauty I say...

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Unveiling the Drama Queens

Lipstick Under My Burkha's, initial reception exposed the hypocrisy of the times we live in, where gender  parity is far from a palpable reality. This battle is not new, especially in the arts and culture scene where women were extraneous or erotic aspect of the dramatic piece.  Drama  Queens, Women Who Created History on Stage, Roli Books, by award winning Veejay Sai's maiden 195 page venture, paints the troughs and the peaks, the rise and the decline and the shining and the fading of ten women actors  on stage starting from the early 19th century. 
Drama on The Insider Instagram 
'Woman of Substance' may be the most googled phrase when it comes to the umbrella and oft misinterpreted term, feminism ( perhaps 'nepotism' might topple it now on a generic search), we take for granted the struggle women have had to undertake to make their presence acknowledged, let alone follow their passion. A topic such as this gains increased relevance, when dumbing down of women's voices, equating feminism with extremism of fatal kinds and twitter wars and hatred against gender is spewed on social media, as a norm. After 70 years (and counting) of independence, gender politics seeps surreptitiously into the dialogue and discourse on life! 
Veejay Sai has done a yeoman's service to the cause of gender parity in theatre, by carefully constructing the life of ten pan India,  female theatre actors, whose lives and times, hitherto remained un-excavated. The erudite, theatre actor, playwright, historian and Director  Girish Karnad, in his insightful foreword has outlined the theme running across the book and in the lives of these Drama queens on stage- that, men were the performers, women the sensuous distractions. Period! 
Veejay Sai, in his aim to piece together the tattered parchment of these actors' lives, draws inspiration from the connotation of the word 'Drama' and employs the metaphor to lend gravitas to the meaning and validate their contribution to the inclusive theatre practices that were to follow. 
Kumbakonam Balamani, Tarasundari Devi, Munni Bai, Mukhtar Begum, Hirabai Barodekar,  Malavalli Sundaramma, Jahanara Kajjan, Moti Bai, Rushyendramani, and Thambalangoubi Debi, find space in the the Sai's map. Book's coordinates are staggering- right from bengal to Maharshatra to the Hinterland of Bihar to the oft missed North-East, through this coverage, he manages to represent all the languages that theatre existed in, in the days of the yore. The struggles of the actresses are also bound by similar tribulations each one faced, including the societal resistance against acceptance on stage and in social life. 
Sai in the book assists us to relive the lives lived by these fearless females, much before the visuals on the screen hit the arts scene. The book offers snippets of the tribulations faced by mothers of the actresses who sometimes cooked meals at an ustad's house for barter of music lessons for the daughters, and recounts the running out of favour of the nawab's and the feudal lord's patronage. 
It is a seamless tying of patterns and stereotypes that women on stage and in the arts had to face, the visuals garnered from painstaking research add to the literal topography of the world that these women inhabited. 
With a technicolour cover juxtaposed against black & white pictures of the women protagonists of Sai's script, the book entices you into plunging into the world of the author's inspirations, even though you aren't a theatre afficionado. I know I am not!  

Genre: Non-Fiction/Biographies &Autobiographies
Publishers:Roli Books
Price: 556/-