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/-

Friday, 21 July 2017

Inside Shah's Shenanigans!

A memoir is a delicate genre to choose reading, you succumb because you are interested in the author's life, at the same time, can't guarantee the author's deftness at writing, to sustain you through the passage of pages. Unless of course it is of a writer, even then, can't be sure these days!
So, with trepidation, I gingerly picked up Naseeruddin Shah's memoir, And then One Day, Penguin India. The author makes no bones about the fact that he started writing as a way to pass time during a tedious Hollywood movie project, wrote something, forgot about it, wrote some more and lost the pen drive etc etc. You get the impression of a 'low threshold of boredom' in Shah at the very launch of a couple of pages. What is heartening is the revelation that it's not ghost written so what you see is what you get- His life imitating his pen!
A peek inside Shah's world, spanning decades and topographies as varied as Sardhana to Mussoorie, Nainital to Ajmer to Aligarh and finally to Mumbai. Phew! Keep up with the changing pace of his life. The memoir as the name goes 'And then One day...' to me stands for the interest Shah had only in storytelling, the act and the drama on stage. It is a coming of age story of a brother who always felt being under the shadow of his societally sound siblings, one an IITian the other an Army officer. And then One Day is self=-recounting of the  life of an actor, a heretic a footloose and fancy free soul who was fascinated by acting and being on stage in theatre. A stumbling actor who would go through the rigours of 'making it big' in the film industry to being regarded as the greatest 'Art' cinema actor to being mistaken many a times for another actor like Om Puri. 
The pages take you through the journey of Shah's struggles of coming to terms with commercial cinema and doing it for the money. The ride is as shaky as the Standard Herald he manages to purchase sometime in his career- guaranteeing no safety only adventure, sometime of the afire of sleeping on the footpath or parks in Mumbai! Replete with its ups and downs, his love-hate relation with his father and the fond memories he has of his mother. It indeed is a roller coaster ride when you see Shah admitting to guilt, doubt, greed and lust- unabashedly.
The loves of his life also find mention, actually much more than that, in sections of the book. Breaking the stereotype seems to be the thread, binding his life and love. Be it in being love with an older woman of the world in Aligarh as a 19 year old or fathering a child at a young age and feeling resentment towards her at the same time! Or be it finding love in Mumbai - in Ratna Pathak, who he calls the 'anchor of his life', this forms a background, albeit an important one in the book.
Shah makes an admission of being instructed to cut out the slang, the swear words and the exclamation marks but he includes them nevertheless, with such an eclectic mix of drama, action and emotional journey of  life, I suppose they theses came organically- and what's a memoir if not an honest one!
Not a literary masterpiece, and not having pretensions of one too, the book leaves you better informed on the actor's life and times but disappointed in his over simplistic writing canvas. Sometimes wordy, at others casual and blasé about writing about his own self. While reading the book, make no mistake, you will be judging Shah mentally and also making notes on his life's choices. He makes no bones about his escapades and lays himself bare to a reader's examination. As a writing piece it is a spouting out of topmost in his mind- 'Getting it out of my system'. Hard hitting and brutally honest, it stays in the reader's system much after it's consumed.
And then One Day 
A Memoir
Naseeruddin Shah
Penguin, India 

Monday, 17 July 2017

Inside the Working Woman's World!

As a working woman (is there such a thing as a working man's issues? No right?), our issues concern me deeply and are unfortunately here to stay! Patriarchy and misogyny coupled with an unsupportive work eco-system make it a doubly hard for women to shine, stay safe and work just as any other person! 
When Swati met Sairee!(Couldn't resist that!)
I was recently at the SHEROES Summit 2017, Delhi, India’s largest forum for women professionals that deliberates upon potential and alternative work opportunities for aspirational women- spread across a day. 
Here are my top takeaways from a day well spent! Also read on to my chat with Sairee Chahal, Founder & CEO, SHEROES as I ask some probing questions! If you are a working woman, you need to read this!
Tech Future!
Technology ensures a sustainable work-life balance for women who are unable to be a part of a full-time organization as well as for those relying on self-employment. Case in point, me! Cashing in on this Sheroes has built an app that reaches out to women in distress and also a programme called MARS where support, mentorship and networking form the base of a progressive #FutureOfWork for women! 
Remote Working!
The concept of remote working has grown exponentially and how! I meet Flexi moms all the time especially in our Army fraternity. Employers have also begun value the contribution of remote and flexi work owing to Cost to company benefit, also it is definitely a win-win situation. 
Keep the conversation Going!
We may not be all there yet, but chatter on women's issues must go on! Sometimes, all you need is a kindred spirit and helping hand and a compassionate ear. So community and the Circle of trust that Sheroes Summit heard a lot of makes complete sense to me. So join in! Have a look at mine on Twitter around the working women's issues chat!

#FutureofWork is Logic with Technology!
Not my coinage but Faisal I. Farooqui's,  interesting take on the panel discussion on #FutureofWork! Also agree whole heartedly with Priya Krishnan CEO Founding Years Learning Solutions, when she said that being a career woman and having  a family are not antithetical forces! Oh yeah!
L to R)Priya Krishnan,CEO,Founding Years Learning Solutions;Emilie Moulard,MD Medela India; Faisal Farooqui,CEO,; Mishi Choudhary, Founder,Software Freedom Law Centre;Vinati Kastia, Partner AZB and Partners & Sairee Chahal, Founder & CEO SHEROES
Going Live now!
Networking Ahoy!
No man or a woman is an island unto self! Period! Networking, exchanging notes, staying connected and exchanging experiences and reaching out to fellow women workers is the way forward for sure! Therefore a packed hall at the Sheroes Summit where interesting stories were being exchanged an also Hi-Five's!Thanks to the ebullient emcee of the day!On the sidelines of the summit- I caught up with Sairee Chahal, Founder & CEO Sheroes- Excerpts:
Me: So this talk of women's safety, security and sustainability of work is more in the corporate world- where shocks are insulated? what's your take?
Sairee: Yes and no! There's a lot of new addition SHEROES which is supported by an ecosystem of 300 partners and over 15000 companies. The new helpline and apps and programmes are to empower the grassroots worker as well ...SHE, SEW(Support Every Woman) MARS and AskSHEROES  are some social products that that augment deep tech changing the gender parity numbers! Plus you can reach out anytime!
Me: Do you think this need to look fr support outside the familial precincts is growing because of the breakdown of the familial system?
Sairee: I think so and the more alone we are the more support we seek. 
Me: Do you think there can be a forced sensitisation towards working women's issues?
Sairee: No I think if a long lasting, effective change has o be brought in the work ethos and space, it has to be organic and broad based. I feel technology and a continued dialogue about the working women's space is the future!

Keep the conversation going ladies! 
The Summit will travel to Mumbai (15th July), Bengaluru (29th July), Kolkata (5th August) and Chennai (19th August).

Saturday, 8 July 2017

The Insider Travel Staples!

I like a routine on a holiday... there I said it!  Not for me the laze-all-day siesta that extends into a snooze and then a slumber. Neither for me are the watch the sea ebb and retreat (there are those moments too) frames that translate into days and nights of repeats. 
I got my Travelin' on! 
Exploration on foot, taking the back alleys and avoiding a 'tour guide' is more my thing. Largely a schedule kind of person but definitely not a package huffing and puffing and catching my breath and sightseeing in between kind of  tourist too! Of course a bhindi tourist sometimes but no trying to catch hold of the Sun, lifting the pyramid or caging the Taj Mahal in your hands kind of memories in pictures!  
Back from one such holiday in the hills and preparing for another one in the deserts I thought of mulling over what exactly do I want out of my holidays that'll help me zero in on that perfect getaway that eludes us! 
So in the long list of listicles, here's another one! My travel staples!
I mean in food as well as around me- Nature. Walking on the grass barefoot, soothing the eyes with the abundance of Pine, Cedar as we descend down to the Annadale erstwhile Polo and now the golf Course in Simla. Winding roads, music and stopping at the many fresh waterfalls- enroute is definitely my thing! Hydrangeas- deciduous or evergreen are a thing of beauty-they are rustic in shape and appeal. Not the dainty Wordsworthian Daffodils for me but the robust bunches of this flower, any day! 
A drive into the mountains!
Now this should be topping the list, but its thereabouts though! What's behind, what's passed and the past hold an immense fascination and one that I like to peel off layer by layer. Be it the now Oberoi Cecil Hotel which was The Faletti's hotel with an atrium that looks at the stars or the Gaiety Cinema at the Mall and the Christ Church at the Piazza -The ridge, all fascinating vistas of the colonial past! 
The Grand facade of the Oberoi Cecil-Faletti's Hotel earlier
A visit to the Viceregal's lodge - built by Lord Dufferin was one such takeaway- revisiting the now IIAS (Indian Institute of Advanced Studies) and gaping at the black and white pictures and capturing their colour in mind when the all important meetings etching out India's partition modalities was a reality- is something that gives me goosebumps still! 
Lady Dufferin, was amongst the few vicereines who found the lodge lovely! 
Or catching a glimpse of the life in the seat of 'Power and pleasure'  in Kiplingspeak  was rife with scandal, soirees and strategies! especially in the 'Season'! Oscar Wilde and George Orwell amongst many other notable critics of Rudyard Kipling have pulled up the writer and journalist on many counts and accounts. However,  Kim may not be one of my favourites or for that matter the many idioms he coined 'The White man's burden' or 'East is East' but chancing upon his lines on Simla hills in the heritage property we were staying at was priceless. Whatever be his place in the literary and cultural map, Kipling caught the essence of living in the hills replete with social intrigues, physical bounds and political and military ambitions.  See for yourself! This is a nugget I say!
Elfie at The Taj, Chandigarh
Epicurean me absolutely loves the gorging that couples any vacation but and that's a big butt! Therefore I like the food to be healthy- read baked, roasted, parboiled, grilled and steamed! Raw would be the best, if I could! Also coupled with this I confess to being a steam, sauna junkie! Yes i did it Shimla too. In chandigarh on our way back to the sweltering plains, I made full use of the Steam and of course swimming at night at The Taj, and promptly registered a complaint on the lack of hygiene with maintenance at the facility! Hopefully it's now been rectified! Why forget health when on a holiday- what say? 
These are my pets and pet peeves on a holiday! What are yours? 
Also read my Review of the Ramgarh Heritage Palace Hotel - Now to Rajasthan! 

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The Koh-i-Noor Amongst Diamonds!

Chances are, if you Wikipedia or Google ‘Kohinoor’ you download the colourful and fanstastical history richly supplied by the market scandal and city yaks as gleaned by the junior Magistrate Theo Metcalfe, upon Lord Dalhousie’s directive 170 years ago. William Dalrymple who I consider the only last Mughal left (his twitter bio reads Kabutar baaz and Mehrauli Goat herd!)  and the effervescent U.K based journalist Anita Anand, combine their research potency to cut through the mythological and fabled legends around the Mountain of Light –The Koh-i-Noor.
Kohinoor- The Story of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond, Juggernaut, travels the reader through ‘centuries of bloody conquests, pillage, looting and seizure’ of this carbon form. The authority lent to this retelling of history by the duo is Dalrymple’s chancing upon previously untranslated records of a Persian historian Muhammad Kazim Marvi which contests the assertions of Metcalfe’s ‘anecdotal’ version and establish unequivocally amongst other claims,  the famously claimed ‘Turban exchange' between Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah Rangila and Persian General Nader Shah couldn’t have come to pass. Through the hands that Koh-i-Noor changed with time, the mist around the famed rock grew denser and more fanciful and Dalrymple and Anand take it upon themselves to present an objective analysis of history’s turns and twists involving the possession of the fabulous Kohinoor. Not for them a polemical essay on the entitlement of the contentious diamond- on last count amongst five claimants – India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and also the Taliban! The merit of the book should therefore be judged so- as a dispassionate objective account of the celebrated piece of adornment.   
The two parts of the book see Dalrymple whisking the reader into the depths and some ‘bloody’ lows of the diamond’s early history. From the Syamantaka gem as mentioned in the Bhagavad Purana manuscript to possible sightings of the gem in Mughal times to its capture by Nader Shah where its history becomes more sure footed. Anand threads the history forward through the warp and weft of royal intrigue, passion, betrayal and finally the most poignant part of how the British took way the diamond from an eight-year-old Prince – albeit not without signing a ‘Treaty’ and not before making up its mind to separate the feisty mother, Maharani Jindan Kaur from the innocent King-in-waiting, for the fear of a rebellion. Thence, the fate of the feted diamond is sealed, locked and shipped to the sovereign of the Great Britain, to be trumpeted and lionized at the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in London, finally to be housed in – The Tower of London.
The blood-spattered history of the Koh-i-Noor, is a fabulous and disinterested recounting of events as is, devoid of passionate pleas of the rights and wrongs. History is doomed to haunt us, if you’re reading the book and hunting for bits of personal author sightings then you have to suffice with Anand’s apparent love towards the headstrong, Jindan Kaur or the recounting of the rise and fall of the mighty Ahmed Shah Abdali, through Dalrymple’s pen. The imagery of gore egged by greed will make you immune to the stabbings, bludgeoning and slow poisoning of the players in the diamond’s saga! Maggots falling off Ahmed Shah Abdali’s nose afflicted with a tumour, as he descends into death is a visceral recounting of the many tales of, dissipation, greed, deceit, blindings and torture in the book. 
Ultimately, the book will leave you wondering about the supposed curse upon the bearer of the gem that gets whispered throughout the text. Is the curse a fiction or a fact is best left to fate! For the moment, the authors succeed in unearthing as many carats of truth as possible, given the paucity of references- since the Kohinoor’s unearthing, from the Godavari riverbed! 
Kohinoor- The Story of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond
William Dalrymple Anita Anand 

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Alternative Schooling Anyone?

As aspirational parents we seek that elusive 'Good' school that would guarantee the very best education (whatever that means!): the holy grail of a 'good' parent!  What do you do? You ask around, check a zillion websites and go on a sanitised guided tour to schools- scouting for that mirage of an education! Chances are that we learn from our own experience of schooling and everyone's experience is varied, adding to the noise; Sigh! the conundrum of a 'good school' remains just that!
Those with time, read books on schooling! If you're one of those, Kalpana Pathak's Breaking the Mould, Alternative Schools in India, Westland Ltd, gives you a heads up into the alternative schooling space! The book is a handy tool for a parent looking for an option, away from run-of-the-mill schools, and also offers insights for an education enthusiast.
Pathak's sight is on schools that engender creativity, natural imaginative powers of a child and is a ready-reckoner for parents starting out in getting to know about tenets of alternative education, philosophies, their founders and also practical tips and advice from parents of the children going to these schools. She lists schools such as the Tridha Rudolph Steiner school, Inodai Waldorf School ,the Sita School Rajghat Besant School amongst others, and takes a closer look at the enrolment policies, the daily days' activities and also examines if there are settlement issues that the child might face if coming from a mainstream school. 
A journalist with a Daliy in Mumbai, Pathak unravels the world of alternative schools for the reader. She delves deep into their philosophy, practices and curriculum. A directory at the end of the book offers contact details and addresses of the schools should you wish to explore.  
A breezy read heavy with facts, interviews and quotes, but easy on the pace, Pathak's success lies in condensing otherwise deep axioms of alternative education and charting its growth and reach in India. In a dispassionate tone, she presents the case as is. Readers might find this book handy as a ready reckoner of beginners' guide to alternative schooling in India. Researchers, educational enthusiasts might find the book more 'on the surface only' but not superficial, and less exploratory and insightful - though am sure the intention wasn't to really pitch to them.
From busting myths surrounding alternative schooling to pictures of sessions in progress, or the property of an alternative school- the book has it all. The pictures, however, could do with superior quality and clarity for better representation and also a more inviting one. In a 200+ pages read, the book will take you on a journey to options of schooling, what to expect and what it is not! It might not help you make a decision as that got to be supported by personal experience and exposure, but it might open a window and do away with myths that is the reason for alternative education still being a distant reality for most.
However, no book can prepare you for a real life experience - you know that. Right? 
Breaking the Mould - Alternative Schools in India
Kalpana Pathak
Westland Ltd