This blog is best viewed with the latest browser and an open mind!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Dilli ... and books to read.

I've been to Dilli  often ... but this time around things were different. I applied for a confrence visa once and it got cancelled. I applied for a visit visa once and it got cancelled. I applied for a Faiz Anniversary Concert visa again ... and waited and waited. Nothing. Finally I asked Sabeen to call the people up and ask for our passsports back on the 20th April ... and she called up Salima who had had had our passports deposited at the Indian High Commission. Moments later she got called back to say the passports were being sent and the visas had been granted. Fourteen days, starting right away.

It isn't easy to get yourself out of whatever you are doing and plan a trip — but this was Dilli. Things would have to be switched around. So we decided to take the 25th April flight out and be back for the 5th May. It fitted the fact that Tarun and Geetan would be there, so any 'workmanship' could be arranged during those days.

So, off we went …

Geetan Batra is a tremendous host — the kind I love! —

… and Tarun Tejpal is a true marvel.

One of the finest journalists — and a great novelist, judging by his 2 currently available books — he is an amazing friend and really good company. He was away for a few days, completing the proofs of his 3rd novel (he thinks this will be his last book, but we'll haunt him for more, soon!) at their guesthouse in Gethia. But all the time I spent with him (before and after Gethia) was really something I adored. Conversations carried us in all directions and there are few people that I could relate to as I do with him.

Geetan was with us on most days, taking us to our favourite spots, specially Dilli Haat and Sabeen's great love for going to the Nizamuddin Aulia mazaar to listen to a qavvaali. The trip to the mazaar was fun - the qavvaali wasn't great at all, but gave us a feeling of how the loved ones react when even small time qavvals perform at the mazaar. It was the audience's love of Nizamuddin Aulia that kept it jhoomo-ing and in total awe of whatever was being sung. Khwaja Amir Khusrau's tomb is also in this place … and Mirza Ghalib's qabr is just before you get into the main mazaar area. You can see pics of some of these here (and also the other photos of the Dilli trip here).

Shubha Mudgal

Added to all the fun we had in Dilli was also meeting other friends, including Shubha — with whom we are planning to do something worthwhile at T2F soon. Sadly we missed Aneesh Pradhan, who'd gone off to Australia for some presentations and a course he will teach there.

Dilli has changed an awful lot in the time that I've been away. It seemed a lot cleaner because of the Asian Games that took place there, though I was told that other parts are still crowded and bad. The thrill I found was the Metro (a picture from another website is reproduced here).

Wonderful, clean, well organized, the Metro is getting bigger as it connects new stations and becomes even better. It is crowded - but so is Dilli. The ride was simple. The fare from our house to Connaught Place was Rs 200 by cab … and the Metro took us there for Rs 14. Not bad at all. (Telephone/Laptop charging facilities are in the train, too.)

The Shopping Malls were a surprise. Large!!! Full of everything that you can imagine, from a Volkswagen showroom to zillions of shopping places. Food stalls. Dining Halls. Name it and its there. I bought a pair of reasonably priced shoes - made in India - at Marks & Spencers. Things were not overly expensive, except in overly expensive shops!

I didn't go to Gurgaon (No visa!) but am told that the shopping malls there are even bigger! That's what happens when you change your laws and allow everything into the country, after having your own country set up in making great things. Great stuff, India!


Soon it was time to leave Dilli and, on the day before, Tarun asked Sabeen and me to join him at a bookstall where he'd buy us a book to take. Reluctantly we agreed and then waited for him at the bookstall. We selected a book each (and a few magazines for T2F) when T came in and said. "What's this? I want you to buy more books. Twelve of of them, each!" - Some arguments, including the fact that we were overweight, were tried and we failed. He said that was not his problem and we had to take these books back. Here is what he (and I) bought for me:

As an avid reader I'd always love books. The internet, iPad, iMac, and the iPhone, has added to my love of books and magazines and to read them on these devices (or to listen to Audio-Books) has been great. But the love of reading the printed material is another matter. After my heart attack I had a problem. Try as I might, I could not focus for too long on the printed word, though audio-books were OK. I couldn't figure out what was causing this. I tried to make sure I'd read more — but always had to end up soon. I wanted to get this 'problem' over with and, thanks to a friend's love, this is what happened. I started to read and am still reading long passages, just as I always did. So this was a great gift, Tarun!

There were 3 graphic novels, so it seemed a great place to start my journey. "Indian by Choice" was my first choice, writte by Amit Dasgupta. Wonderfully drawn — a mix of sofware manipulated images, sections from email, and photographs, this was a great book for NRI, specially young friends coming to India for the first time. It was made up of genuine comments about the difficulties in India and its environments by 'Mandy' — and a fair response to the fact that despite all this India was getting ahead and is respected worldwide. Soon those 'bad things' will go away, too. A good book for you to read if you are going to Dilli for the first time, since it shows a lot of pictures of places that you might find interesting to see.

The second book was Joe Sacco's "Notes From A Defeatist". Having been a Sacco fan for his brilliant political graphic works ('Palestine', 'Footnotes in Gaza', 'A Story From Sarajevo'), it was wonderful to see his works of an entirely other set of ideas, a way to see how his comics art developed. I would certainly wish people interested in this genre take a good look at how Sacco moves within his cartoons and comics to look at society in numerous ways. Political events do take place, too. Here's one image that shows his work:

And, finally, I moved to 'Bhimayana'!!!

What a great book. It is the story of Dr. Ambedkar who was a tremendous figure in India. He was posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian award. A man who was a strong opponent of Gandhi Ji in the matter of Dalits (a group that respects him even more than other Indians) — his statues are more numerous than Gandhi Ji's, in India — he was also the Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Indian Constitution. (Anyone listening here?)

Pardhan Gond artists, Durgabai and Subash Vyam, are a wonderful couple who did this book together, illustrating a story written by Natarajan and Anand. I assure you that you'll love the page after page of Ambedkar's growing up and becoming the man he was, drawn in the wonderful style that the artists have chosen to do for him. During the making of the book Durgabai had said that it was like Ramayana — and Subash said "This is Bhimayana!" — which is now its title.

I have read the book twice - and go back to it often to enjoy the illustrations. They are remarkable!


At the first step of reading the non-graphic works, I picked up The Immortal life of Henrietta Lacks (by Rebecca Skloot) and discovered, really discovered, that my 'problem' of not reading large texts had disappeared. Yayyy! I just could not put the book down. It was an amazing text about a woman, her contribution to all of us in so many ways, racism and the problems that the 'blacks' faced in her time, and an adventure that makes you live every part of their lives.


Now I am starting on V S Ramachandran's The Tell-Tale Brain - something that'll keep me occupied for weeks, while the Best of Tehelka V4 & V5 will be in the loo to read every time I go there.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Just a thought …


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Queer Sunil Gupta

Max Mueller Bhavan is Dilli's Goethe-Institut. I was here on the 2nd of May, 2011, to be at the launch of Queer Sunil Gupta, a book of photographs that has been put together by Vadehra Art Gallery (VAG) & Prestel.

Goethe Institut

The leaflet given at the exhibition says that "VAG's position as an artistic interlocutor with the public is especially vital in contemporary India because of the lack of vibrant art museum culture". Coming from Pakistan and looking at the exhibitions and books on photography and art  - as well as numerous photography and art magazines - it seemed so strange to hear this.

By the way, VAG has printed several books in its 25 years of history, ranging from monographs and picture books to an art directory.

Sunil Gupta

A regular writer on gay culture and its history, Sunil Gupta, the author of Queer Sunil Gupta, is a brilliant photographer and curator. Amazon calls him "Arguably India's best-known working photographer". He has spent several years living in Canada, UK, and USA and his photographs have appeared in group and solo exhibitions in USA, UK, and Australia.

For many years Gupta has looked at the narratives of gay life in India and other parts of the world. He has written about and tackled the issues of gender and sexuality. Importantly, he has written about his own experiences while living with AIDS.

Gupta's work is personal and political and has been instrumental in raising the awareness of homosexual living in the world.
"I have moved out of my comfort zone with my camera to get a full picture of the capital's LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) communities in the fringe areas of east and west Delhi - the kind of place where your domestic helps would live. I am shooting a series of portraits of men and women who find themselves queer among the various social networks," Gupta told IANS recently.
Pramada Menon

Gautam Bhan

Pramada Menon & Gautam Bhan opened the event with humourous conversations and the audience loved their work. They were followed by Sunil Gupta who also invited Saleem Kidwai to join him. Saleem used to teach medieval Indian history at Delhi University and is now researching homo-eroticism in Urdu Poetry.

Saleem Kidwai

The session ended, after several questions from the audience that Sunil and Saleem responded to, with Radhika Singh speaking about Gupta's work.

Radhika Singh

Queer Sunil Gupta is an excellent 140-page hardcover edition with 80 colour pictures. It includes Gupta's remarkable range of photographs, from fictional essays to narrative images. There are heart-rending images of children in an HIV centre, plus the wonderful portraits of men, women, and transgenders living in India while they struggle against homophobic culture and laws.
Sunil recounting his younger days

Sunil and Saleem have been long friends from their days in Canada. I found their lovely conversation in Queer Sunil Gupta remarkably interesting to read. Keith Wallace, Director/Curator of the Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver, also has an essay in the book.

By the way, Saleem Kidwai co-authored, with Ruth Vanita, the brilliant Same Sex Love in India (Palgrave), a book that you must get to read.

Of course, you'll have to ask someone coming from overseas to get these books for you as they are unlikely to be seen in our bookshops.

Labels: , , , , ,