Sunday IB

Practising the art of normalcy

Posted on 2 Aug 2020 03:16:30 GMT - sunday-ib

Jhaveri Contemporary, Apollo Bunder

Priya Jhaveri, owner of Jhaveri Contemporary, personally welcomed us into her gallery and advised us against touching anything. A few months ago, from its vantage point at Apollo Bunder, it offered respite from the hustle and bustle below, while visitors took in the direct view of the Gateway of India across. Today, much like the empty roads around it, the gallery, too, has become a place of quiet, with Mrinalini Mukherjee's bronze sculptures and etchings still on display. "We're relieved we can reopen," says Jhaveri, "A gallery is a lonely place without its visitors. As gallerists, we are all in touch with each other regularly, and the opening of a few galleries in June gave us the confidence to open in July. There is always safety in numbers, and we support each other and learn from each other's experiences."

She says they first made sure that their small team could make it to work as cautiously and safely as possible a few days a week, with not more than three staffers in the office at any given time. The gallery is regularly sanitised, as well. "Once we got into the rhythm of this exercise, and the lockdown was eased in July, we knew it was time to open doors. My responsibility is equally to our team and to our visitors, so we worked through the month of June to adjust to this way of working."

For now, the gallery has been quiet with most people still reluctant to leave their homes. For the foreseeable future, Jhaveri believes in being hopeful and adapting to the digital platforms that have become the need of the hour. "The gallery has participated in three online fairs since the lockdown—Art Basel Hong Kong, Frieze New York and Art Basel in Basel—and will host some part of its programming online this year. We're working on a new website, too, that will have the facility to host online exhibitions. Meanwhile, at the gallery, if all goes as planned, we hope to host new exhibitions in September and November this year."

For booking an appointment to visit, write to info@jhavericontemporary.com

Chemould Prescott Road, Fort

Atyaan Jungawala, gallery manager at Chemould Prescott Road, says that only a few have visited them; most of them include long-time patrons

Once the Maharashtra government announced its plans for systematically lifting the lockdown, thereby allowing businesses to resume, we witnessed the reopening of Chemould Prescott Road live on owner Shireen Gandhy's Instagram page. As we walked into the expansive space, we met gallery manager Atyaan Jungawala. "It still doesn't feel like we've fully reopened," she explains. "We come here at our convenience because we have been working efficiently from home. We've had a smattering of people who've come to visit us. They mostly comprise our long-time patrons, and we're regularly in touch with them. Most of the time they'll ring us up asking when we'll be in the gallery, and we coordinate a visit accordingly. But in between, someone from a team member's family contracted COVID-19, and we had to go into quarantine, so it's been tough to stay consistent. At the same time, we don't want to be irresponsible and over-advertise and encourage people to get out."

The work behind the scenes is still ongoing and quite rigorous, with the team tackling things they wouldn't have the time or patience for earlier, such as stock taking and updating the technology. "At first, it felt like the doors had immediately shut on us. However, we were surprised to see the enquiries and interest we were still receiving online and over the phone for the artists we represent, which has stayed the same if not increased. The lockdown has given people a lot of personal time to explore their interests and delve into things they enjoy."

On the one hand, while art is meant to be an immersive physical experience, the recent times have brought forth a new crop of collectors and people discovering art. "Platforms such as InTouch, and even Instagram, have made art more accessible for those who had an interest but may have been intimidated," says Jungawala.

For booking an appointment to visit, write to admin@gallerychemould.com

Akara Art, Colaba

Puneet Shah, founder of Akara Art, reopened the gallery with a new exhibit, showcasing selected works by Somnath Hore
Puneet Shah, founder of Akara Art, reopened the gallery with a new exhibit, showcasing selected works by Somnath Hore

For some galleries, such as Akara Art, the option to reopen has given them the confidence to put up a new exhibit. Selected works by Somnath Hore is a small-format show," says founder Puneet Shah. "A large-scale exhibition didn't make sense at this point in time, and we're only working twice a week, right now, to take on work that can't be put off. We have also had a show online, to support smaller artists."

For art that's high in quality but lower in value—R5 lakh and below—the demand has stayed constant; but for art in the R18-25 lakh price range or higher, sales have been affected, he shares. "While we're mostly approached by our patrons, we've surprisingly had two new buyers—one of them was Hore's student, who wanted to buy a piece for his son."

Puneet Shah, founder of Akara Art, reopened the gallery with a new exhibit, showcasing selected works by Somnath Hore

The gallery still plans to go ahead with their next lineup of shows in September and November, as Shah believes seasoned patrons and collectors are open to viewing it digitally. An infectious optimist, he feels it is human nature to be resilient, saying, "Once this pandemic is behind us, people will go back to their normal lives and habits, venturing out very quickly; I don't think the world has changed forever."

For booking an appointment to visit, call 22025550

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Challenge accepted

Posted on 2 Aug 2020 02:32:48 GMT - sunday-ib

This week on August 7, India will celebrate National Handloom Day. The date harks back to 1905 when Mahatma Gandhi supported the call for buying local, and formalised the Swadeshi Movement at Calcutta's Town Hall on August 7.

He called for the boycott of "Manchester-made cloth". Interestingly, he laid stress on being mindful of how this cloth was produced—and not only where. He asked Indians to assess if its manufacture involved exploitation, whether by the British or privileged Indians, thus possibly laying the foundation of what we now know as ethical production and fair trade.

The occasion couldn't be more relevant when India is introspecting on how to build a lifestyle that hinges on local and indigenous produce with the double aim of not just lowering carbon footprint, given how closely climate change has found to be linked to the Coronavirus pandemic, but also support local professionals and businesses at a time when the economy has tanked.

(Above) Yarn and shuttle for handloom weaving; (Bottom) A woman weaver works on handloom yarn at master weaver Vishram Valji Vankar’s home at Bhujodi, Kutch. PIC COURTESY/ARTISANS’
Yarn and shuttle for handloom weaving

In India, the handloom sector employs more than 43 lakh people, directly or indirectly, contributing to more than 15 per cent of the fabric production of the country. It is the second largest after the agricultural sector and plays a major role in exports.

And yet, rarely do we have a heated debate on handspun, handwoven fabric. How often did we discuss the plight of weavers and artisans during the lockdown-induced economic crisis? Why aren't those who spend their lives supporting the crafts considered influencers?

Organic unbleached cotton yarn. PIC COURTESY/ ARTISANS’
Organic unbleached cotton yarn

It's a good time to hear it from those who have made it their passion to go beyond ethical finger-wagging and give Indian handlooms the fillip they deserve.

Ravikiran

Of metaphor Racha, a proprietor owned self-funded social enterprise working with co-operative societies from north Karnataka, where the yarn is Ambara Charaka spun and then handwoven. Metaphor Racha refrains from using the word KHADI, respecting the KVIC guidelines of trademarking the word

Traditionally, there have been two different kinds of handwoven textile: a simple coarse-textured fabric for the layperson and a skillfully refined one for the wealthy. The refined textiles always managed to survive under patronage. But the simple textile made by masses, for the masses, doesn't require an evangelist anymore. Gandhiji was the perfect evangelist who came when acutely needed. As long as we, as a society, understand the need for handmade products and people behind them as life-essentials, we will not need evangelists.

It's unfortunate, when words like handloom, khadi, sustainability, are used irresponsibly and end up being buzzwords for the season. But hashtags, they say, are a technological demand.

At metaphor Racha, we try and bring the makers to the forefront and talk about the importance of purpose-people-process-product (in the same order), both on our social media and blog.

There is also a need to re-define the word khadi. Khadi is not only a decentralised way of working but also selling. Khadi is also about working with farmers growing short-staple indigenous cotton. Khadi is not just a fabric, but way of life. Khadi workers are not labourers, but guardians of our culture.

Mayank Mansingh Kaul

The age of others speaking on their (weavers) behalf is over! Simultaneously, a new, young generation that works at the grass roots levels needs to be heard for their fresh ideas. Pic/Sanjit Das
The age of others speaking on their (weavers) behalf is over! Simultaneously, a new, young generation that works at the grass roots levels needs to be heard for their fresh ideas. Pic/Sanjit Das

Delhi-based writer and curator with a focus on contemporary histories of textiles and design

Handlooms don't exist as a monolithic identity. They have diverse definitions and meaning—as a means of livelihood for millions of weavers, and for others a ritual within communities. It's also seen as an artistic product made at the highest level of excellence.

Since independence, due to Gandhian ideology, the patronage to handlooms has hinged on moral or ethical grounds. This has informed a certain generation of patrons and historians, who have their reasons to believe in its future. In my view, this is often highly romanticised. Why not ask the weavers themselves if handlooms have a reason to survive? Let's hear their voices in discussions.

Sitting at the base of the social hierarchy, weavers and their families, understandably, wish that the next generation not continue the family tradition. Let's give a thought to how they got reduced to merely being skilled producers for a designer's ideas. Let's recognise their inherent ability to innovate; it might just instill dignity in their creative production.

Handlooms will survive, and thrive, if they can compete at the highest level of quality. If machines can make something better than the hand, then the hand needs to make something which the machine cannot replicate.

Hema Shroff Patel

I’d like Indians to visit places like Maheshwar to see how our textiles are made and appreciate the handloom process. Handlooms hold memories; loving hands make them
I’d like Indians to visit places like Maheshwar to see how our textiles are made and appreciate the handloom process. Handlooms hold memories; loving hands make them

Former board advisor for WomenWeave Charitable Trust, Maheshwar, and founder and co-designer at Amba

AS a textile practitioner, I believe good design works in tandem with the specific skillsets of artisans. I launched Amba in 1999 as a micro-label and social enterprise. Two years back, we turned our workshop into a design lab where we work closely with select designers on a project basis.

The pandemic has provided opportunity for introspection. Hopefully, it will inspire those who are drawn to international brands to pause and understand what our rich craft heritage holds. Every single facet of design—be it architecture, art or textiles is right here—in India.

Real, tangible change won't come with Instagram hashtags but with uncompromising honesty and transparency, which are larger sustainable brand values. We need to put the health and welfare of our craftspeople at the heart of our business systems, treat them as assets. For example, I feel artisans thrive the most in their natural habitat. A designer's responsibility is to not encourage artisans to move to cities, but provide work for them around their communities.

Ritu Sethi

We need a round table of discussion and recording, and while doing so, we should not bring a colonial mindset to the table
We need a round table of discussion and recording, and while doing so, we should not bring a colonial mindset to the table

Founder-trustee of the Craft Revival Trust, editor of Global-InCh, online international journal of intangible cultural heritage and oversees Asia-InCh, an online encyclopedia on the traditional arts, crafts, textiles and its practitioners across South Asia

JUST before the pandemic broke, the Craft Revival Trust collaborated for a huge one-day seminar in Delhi called After the Nawabs, on the Himru weave. Worn by sultans, emperors and nawabs, the seminar examined the Himru weave over a span of seven centuries to its present avatar. We were delighted to see craft practitioners share the room with academicians, speakers and connoisseurs. We also saw a bigger turnout of young Indian researchers; previously it was mostly their counterparts from abroad who were interested in studying India's indigenous traditions and textiles. The change has come from the inherent understanding that we are losing so much; but instead of bemoaning, we are taking action.

I hope the pandemic has made at least some of us become mindful about what we wear and whom we patronise. The conversation around buy local, hopefully will lead to a powerful connection with the makers of handlooms. We need to treat crafts and its makers in exactly the same way as other skilled professions.

Sona Puri

 The sheer size of the crafts and handlooms market is mind-boggling, and if done the right way, a digital platform can play key role in empowering artisans
The sheer size of the crafts and handlooms market is mind-boggling, and if done the right way, a digital platform can play key role in empowering artisans

Co-founder and CEO, The India Craft House

IT is rewarding to know that TICH was one of the first to realise the potential of Indian handicrafts and handlooms and use e-commerce to promote them. We follow an inventory-based model, where we buy the products from artisans directly rather than function as a marketplace.

It's difficult to sift the real, authentic players from those who are in it to cash in. If you are a fake, it will show in your limited reach and range. It all depends on the psychograph of a customer to make the intelligent choice.

Everyone's motivations are different. One has to understand it's not easy to work with artisans. We are strict about sourcing norms and ensure that artisans benefit directly at fair prices.

The pandemic has made us realise the importance of curating what already exists, but also create new collections, and increase our bandwidth to feature as many artisans and clusters on the website. We have not even touched the tip of the iceberg of what this country has to offer.

Indigenous women of the Chakhesang tribe from a Naga village weave nettle shawls on back-strap looms. The fiber-to-fabric journey is self-sustaining. Stinging nettle is foraged from the wild once a year. The fiber is then thigh-reeled and hand-spun into yarn, softened, bleached, and strip-woven on back-strap looms. These are joined skillfully at the edges to make large shawls, which are not only warm but waterproof too. PIC COURTESY/ROKOVOR VIHIENUO AND RADHI PAREKH OF ARTISANS’
Indigenous women of the Chakhesang tribe from a Naga village weave nettle shawls on back-strap looms. The fiber-to-fabric journey is self-sustaining. Stinging nettle is foraged from the wild once a year. The fiber is then thigh-reeled and hand-spun into yarn, softened, bleached, and strip-woven on back-strap looms. These are joined skillfully at the edges to make large shawls, which are not only warm but waterproof too. PIC COURTESY/ROKOVOR VIHIENUO AND RADHI PAREKH OF ARTISANS’

Radhi Parekh

 Unlike what our designers love to romanticise—handmade is not a  luxury in India, though it might be for foreignersUnlike what our designers love to romanticise—handmade is not a luxury in India, though it might be for foreigners

Founder, ARTISANS', Mumbai

Sustainability and slow fashion are part of everyday conversation today, but that wasn't the case a decade ago. ARTISANS' was launched in 2011 at Kala Ghoda as an antithesis to a white cube gallery that would provide cross-pollination between the arts, crafts and sustainable design. While promoting and telling human stories of the crafts and its maker, the idea was to also create a new tribe of buyers who will appreciate the cultural significance of indigenous, handmade products. Honest pricing was another important factor. We still have a long way to go in terms of transforming the perception of handlooms. But we can start with collaborating with younger designers who bring a fresh perspective.

I hope the pandemic is a turning point in consciousness, and that there will be a change in our values and whom we decide to endorse and support. It has provided us with a great challenge—how can we make the Indian crafts and textiles appealing to generation Z? They are turning their backs on the capitalist way of buying, and are looking at alternative, safer models of producing clothes.

David Abraham

We need to review the quality parameters that have been developed to evaluate industrially manufactured product, which are often thoughtlessly applied to the handloom sector
We need to review the quality parameters that have been developed to evaluate industrially manufactured product, which are often thoughtlessly applied to the handloom sector

Creative director, Abraham & Thakore

Designers are a relatively small section within the larger handmade conversation; they are the flag-bearers, they bring noise and energy to the space. It's the large clothing manufacturers, the department stores who can look at their supply chains. But, that means rejigging their entire philosophy.

Handloom fabrics by nature are inconsistent but that does not have to be regarded as a flaw. The large supply chains work on strict parameters, there's no allowance for surface inconsistencies. We deal with this often because we work with handlooms. There are going to be inconsistencies because they are made by hand. We need to question the need for absolute uniformity, celebrate the inherent variation of handmade products and create wider awareness among consumers and manufacturers that inconsistency is a value proposition.

A movement began five years ago in taking nationalist pride in being Indian. We all want the Indian experience, be it with gin or a holiday. The pandemic may affect our choices going forward, but it has to be done cleverly. A great new organic product has to also be packaged slickly.

Pavithra Muddaya

There are no straight answers. But we can start by giving weavers the respect and dignity they rightfully deserve
There are no straight answers. But we can start by giving weavers the respect and dignity they rightfully deserve

Founder, Vimor, a brand that has been reviewing, designing and selling South Indian handloom sarees since 1974

Design can't be about creative fancy alone, it has to serve the weaver, designer and the wearer. The Coronavirus outbreak is obviously a huge worry for the handloom sector, and might challenge our senior weavers who cannot practice anymore. They are repositories of knowledge and skills for the new generation of weavers, and they are scared and isolated. We introduced the Knowledge Bank Pension Fund with the intent of articulating the words at the heart of the value-based debate through our deeds. Only then there will be any real, lasting difference to the community of weavers.

In addition, there are other aspects that would help the movement of change. For example, why do we feel obligated to bargain for handlooms? Is it because we don't respect our own craftsmanship? Why do we practice double standards when it comes to the luxury
of handmade?

Aliya Curmally

We do need to double the efforts at preserving weaving skills and ensure we are not losing traditional knowledge
We do need to double the efforts at preserving weaving skills and ensure we are not losing traditional knowledge

Head of strategy & interim country head of Fashion Revolution India

This is our chance to reboot efforts and change our course. We can re-define the relevance of handlooms within the discussion of economic activity that can also meet Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). A large requirement of the world's textile needs can be met by the low-carbon handloom textile industry here, given India's repository of traditional knowledge and skill. We should encourage sustainable businesses that are committed to meeting the SDGs by 2050 to consider how and where buying handloom fits into the post-pandemic world.

For the future, let's encourage stakeholders to consider long-term financial planning and hope to see handloom communities being 'future-proofed' for times of crisis and disaster. Most clusters are in rural areas where natural disasters (cyclones, floods) occur. I believe that there needs to be an awareness on the part of the buyer about whether they are buying from a community that is secured from devastation. This will bring respect and understanding about the circumstances of the community that made the handloom they own.

Ambara Charakha spinning is a process where the sliver is drawn to the desired fineness with a required twist, resulting in a yarn that is used in a convenient form. A majority of the workforce behind the activity of spinning includes rural women-folk. PIC COURTESY/METAPHOR RACHA
Ambara Charakha spinning is a process where the sliver is drawn to the desired fineness with a required twist, resulting in a yarn that is used in a convenient form. A majority of the workforce behind the activity of spinning includes rural women-folk. PIC COURTESY/METAPHOR RACHA

A finished handspun and handwoven saree by metaphor Racha follows a dozen processes, which begin at cotton picking and end at weaving
A finished handspun and handwoven saree by metaphor Racha follows a dozen processes, which begin at cotton picking and end at weaving

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You've got mail

Posted on 2 Aug 2020 02:28:41 GMT - sunday-ib

When was the last time you poured out your feelings to a stranger, and that too, in a letter? In the age of speed-dating, where meaningful friendships—let alone relationships—have become a rarity, this might seem odd. Not to Aarushi Kataria, Nayomi Dave and Vaishnavi Vishwanath. In November last year, the trio launched the Mumbai chapter of Letters to Strangers (L2S), a global youth-run non-profit seeking to destigmatise mental illness, by encouraging sharing stories and feelings through a nameless letter. The idea, says Kataria, is to provide unbiased and empathetic listeners to help improve your mental health.

"I learnt about L2S through a friend. I have found solace in letters on really bad days, and thought it would be an interesting way to help others," says Kataria, a student of economics and political science at Ashoka University in Haryana.

Aarushi Kataria (left) and Vaishnavi Vishwanath
Aarushi Kataria (left) and Vaishnavi Vishwanath

The response, she says, was overwhelming. "Within the first week of launching, we had over a hundred sign-ups. Initially, we thought that only half of them would participate, because writing a letter does require investing time and thought. But nearly 80 per cent of them, did go ahead and share letters," recalls Kataria.

To participate, one has to simply log in to the website, and sign-up with L2S, by answering a set of basic questions. "We have a team that follows a psychological model to pair up people. We then send an email to each person, with their partner's code and pseudonym, along with their interests," adds Kataria. "After the letter is written, it is shared with us. We scan it, to ensure that it carries no personal details or trigger warnings."

The letters don't have to follow a particular theme. "You could discuss serious subjects, or simply talk about how your day went. But, if we sense that the participant needs extra help, we do put them in touch with a therapist."

To register: www.l2sbombay.com/

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Get groovin'

Posted on 2 Aug 2020 02:23:11 GMT - sunday-ib

Chingari

With over two crore users, this app has place not just for creating entertaining content, but also for trending and entertainment news and memes, quotes and shayaris, WhatsApp status, videos, audio clips, GIF stickers, and photos. Available in English and multiple Indian languages, Chingari pays its users based on how viral their content is—a plus for creators.

Instagram Reels

Instagram Reels

Here is where the influencer crowd migrated to the most. While a section of anti-TikTokers is not enjoying this migration of TikTok kind of content, most creators are having a great time creating 15-second videos, and editing it by choosing from a range of filters, Augumented Reality effects and audio files.

Moj by ShareChat

Moj by ShareChat

While the ShareChat App has been around for a while, their new offering, Moj, is ambitious. It aims to be the Indian 'TikTok' and is doing everything in the book to fill the gap in the market. It has the famous 'lip-syncing' features, along with the ability to download videos and upload 15-second clips that can be beautified with filters.

Roposo

Roposo

Available in English and nine Indian languages, a TV-like experience with hands-free scrolling and a full-screen view, Roposo is luring creators to become stars. Express every mood, get creative with fascinating desi GIF stickers, voice-over and music for your videos and photos. There are channels like the Bazaar, Fashion Quotient, Beats, Top-notch, look-good-feel-good, and rangoli. Take your pick and get on stage.

Mitron

Mitron

Despite being doused in controversy for not being an Indian app, Mitron has been listed again on App Store and has been downloaded by over one crore users already after the founders issued a clarification. Designed for people to showcase their innovative videos in line with the company's theme of light humour, Mitron provides an easy interface for users to create, edit and share their videos and at the same time browse through a library from across the globe.

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The proscenium curve has flattened

Posted on 2 Aug 2020 02:19:29 GMT - sunday-ib

Why do we watch plays? At a time, when you simply can't run out of OTT options, what form of entertainment does a theatre performance provide?

As QTP's Every Brilliant Thing (written in 2013 by Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe) made it to Zoom over July, logging in to watch yet another thing online and having to watch people—many of whom knew each other—and ideally participate, as was the mandate of the interactive performance, caused both screen fatigue and brought on the anxiety of having to speak to people and interact in a social setting. Ironically, just a few days ago one had pined for social interaction. Perhaps for introverts, finding themselves in the midst of strangers is going to be more difficult than ever when socialising replaces social distancing.

As Vivek Madan, the host and the main protagonist, leads the viewers through the story, other viewers are asked to sit in a quiet place at home. Some, on cue, are asked to participate. Either with a prompt of a number [No 324, for instance, Julie Andrew's voice is one of the things that make to Vivek's list of things he likes]. Through the 90-minute-long performative play, you are led through Vivek's life and musings on death, suicide, love… with some viewers asked to take on roles of other characters, a father, a date, a professor.

The show was first staged in March 2019 and had been running for a year before the lockdown began. Quasar Thakore-Padamsee of QTP says, "For us, the biggest struggle was trying to make the online performance recreate the sense of community that the stage show did. It took us a while, and many weeks of exploring. What we've stumbled on is not a play, because in a play or in a theatre, actor and audience share the same physical space, and so do the audience members with each other. Zoom is not that. So, we've come up with a slightly different way of telling this narrative. As a participative story-sharing experience."

As Vivek talks to you through the camera, looking directly at you from the screen, live from his home, it becomes a far more intimate space in a way.

Watching something on an OTT is a singularly solo experience. We would attend plays perhaps to watch, experience it as a community. There's been an argument for many years that watching a play on screen will ruin that live experience. Nobody denies that.

But, at a time when you can't go to the theatre, the theatre must come to you; with actors performing alone at their home, and viewers like us, connecting across geographies and time zones. The good thing is, you might still be able to catch a play on a Friday evening at 6 pm, when your work gets done at 5.30 pm (or even 7 pm) and where you work or live in the city is no longer a handicap.

When: August 2; 6 pm
Price: Rs 400 – Rs 600
Log into: https://insider.in/

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He was an Indian music missionary

Posted on 2 Aug 2020 02:16:31 GMT - sunday-ib

Writer Oliver Craske might as well call himself the chosen one. Penning sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar's biography wasn't something he saw himself doing, especially since he had collaborated on Raga Mala, the second autobiography by the veteran in the late 1990s. "When I first met him, I was only 23," recalls London-based Craske. "My role was to assist him with the book. But I spent a lot of time with him, sitting down and going through the drafts and manuscripts. Occasionally, he'd toss in a comment like, 'Oh! That can come out later.' At that point, Raviji didn't have any fixed plan. But it was as if I was being assigned a role, without asking for it. Like there were seeds being planted for later."

Soon after Shankar passed on in 2012, Craske felt the need to write his biography. "I had thought about it for many years [before that], but I slightly resisted the idea, internally. I think I wasn't ready." A conversation with Shankar's second wife and mother to sitarist Anoushka, Sukanya Rajan, who was still in mourning then, made him realise he was destined for the role. "I remember ringing Sukanya up, and decided to ask her what she thought about my idea of writing a biography. It was funny, because, even before I got the words out, she said to me, 'You should write something more about him.' It made absolute sense."

His new book, Indian Sun: The Life and Music of Ravi Shankar (Faber & Faber), which is also the first-ever biography on the veteran, is a result of nearly six years of rigorous research and 130-plus interviews with Shankar's friends, family, musicians, contemporaries, lovers. It's also 650 pages of a life that is as fantastic as it is Bohemian, glowing and illustrious. The kind very few could have claimed to live.

Satyajit Ray (left) and Ravi Shankar (right, aged 36) watch a playback during Shankar’s recording session of music for Ray’s Aparajito in 1956.  PIC COURTESY/Shankar family
Satyajit Ray (left) and Ravi Shankar (right, aged 36) watch a playback during Shankar’s recording session of music for Ray’s Aparajito in 1956. Pic courtesy/Shankar family

A story has many lives, and Craske was aware of this, before he got started. The biography follows two significant autobiographies by the legendary musician—My Music, My Life (1968) and Raga Mala. "Everyone has their own version of their story, and when you are as famous as Ravi Shankar, you get asked about your life a lot. I think the biographer's job is to dig deeper and understand what motivated the subject [to do what they did]."

Craske says that he was particularly interested in looking at Shankar's time in India in the 1940s and '50s, when he was beginning to make a name for himself in Indian cinema—he rose to fame for his music in Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali—and the All India Radio. "He is always remembered as the person who took Indian music to the rest of the world, and for his association with the great musicians, [Beatles star George Harrison, John Coltrane, Yehudi Menuhin, among others]. But what people have forgotten is that the reason he went abroad, was because he was already such a big star in India. He had charisma, and experience from his childhood in the West [he had worked with his brother Uday Shankar's dance troupe], and that confidence enabled him to take Indian art to the rest of the world. I became very interested in that period, especially his tryst with AIR. Before he was presenting Indian music to the rest of the world, he was presenting it to India, and in the early age of Indian radio, he was telling Indians, our art forms are wonderful and you should own them."

Shankar performs at 91.  PIC COURTESY/Michael Collopy
Shankar performs at 91. Pic courtesy/Michael Collopy

As other-worldly as Shankar's musical career was, so was his personal life. His tempestuous first marriage to Annapurna Devi, the daughter of Shankar's guru and idol Allauddin Khan, under whom he learned the sitar in Maihar for six years, has been under scrutiny on several occasions. For the longest time, Shankar's extra-marital affairs and musical rivalry were said to have been the reason for the marriage falling apart. In the book, Craske writes about Annapurna's preoccupation with her husband's past-sex life that first created tensions in the relationship, which began on a foundation of love. Shankar, on his part, claimed that he had "really controlled myself. And then I found out after a few years that she had an affair with one of my students."

"This is one of the things that he was reluctant to talk about in his lifetime, because she was his guru's daughter. There are certain rules and expectations about what you should be saying. He always felt very tied by that," admits Craske. "It is always very hard to understand what went wrong in someone's marriage. There are usually two different sides of the story. The biographer has to be cautious about that. In this one, there was responsibility on both sides for the marriage breaking down. He obviously had a very complicated private life with lots of relationships [during his lifetime]. But I think it's only when the marriage first fell apart that he started having this complex private life. People always think that he was this ladies' man, but I think they both tried very hard in the marriage. The marriage became a facade in the latter period, and then he went on this sort of three decade-long period, where he had a lot of relationships, some of which endured, like Kamala Chakravarty and Sue Jones [Norah Jones's mother]. And then he eventually married Sukanya, and that was a very happy, satisfying married life. And all his games were over by then," shares the biographer.

Craske has taken great pains to stitch the minutest of details of Shankar's musical oeuvre, as well as his performances across the globe. "My greatest source was the Shankar family's own archives, which Sukanya kept, and which are really excellent, and nobody had been through them in the thorough way that I had. That's where I had picked up a lot of details," he admits.

OLIVER CRASKE PIC COURTESY/Charlotte Knee Photography
Oliver Craske. Pic courtesy/Charlotte Knee Photography

His life-long friendship with Harrison, and musical collaborations in the West, which earned him a lot of criticism back home, sometimes causing Shankar deep pain, are also highlighted in the book. "If you look at his music—and I became more convinced about this, as I researched for the biography—he was essentially using other forms at times, like an orchestra, but still making music based on ragas and talas." His collaborations, says the author, were always aimed at giving Indian music a lift. "He was very much like a missionary, showing the world the greatness of the music. He was also about preserving Indian classical music. And that's why he became the hero for the generation."

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Are you in love, with yourself?

Posted on 2 Aug 2020 02:14:48 GMT - sunday-ib

There is an exercise right at the start of Shayamal Vallabhjee's new title, Breathe.Believe.Balance, that one had already been given the answer to, though in a completely different context. A friend had been sharing an exercise her therapist had given her to assess 'how much do you love yourself?' I knew the hack. And yet, when it presented itself again here, I was still not able to manage to give the right answers. Perhaps therein lies the need to actually do the exercise.

Vallabhjee, born in South Africa, is a sports scientist and a psychologist. He has spent the past two decades working with Olympians, professional sports teams, corporate executives, patients, and children. In Mumbai, he set up the HEAL Institute in 2013, a physiotherapy and rehabilitation clinic. Even so, while the book has the undertone of sports, Vallabhjee says it's not aimed at the athlete. It's for anyone on the journey of self-improvement. But, because that's his background, he uses sports to discuss how an increase in the awareness of emotions, thoughts and feelings, using the rational cortex of the mind can help us distance ourselves from our emotions and still the mind when the stakes are high and improve our performance. This can be achieved with mindfulness, meditation and breathwork and will help whether you are a runner on race day or a working professional during a presentation or well, an astronaut.

Shayamal Vallabhjee
Shayamal Vallabhjee

"Once you still the mind and understand yourself, you bring the best version [of yourself] to that project, to the world," adds Vallabhjee, whose own spiritual journey began when he was a 20-year-old.

"I grew up in South Africa during the apartheid era, a systemic oppression of the coloured. I wanted to play sports for the country, but that wasn't an opportunity that was open to people of colour. I played at the state and national level, but couldn't progress beyond that. It left me angry. I noticed that oppression turns people of colour against their own. I came from a spiritual family and knew that that was my anchoring point. For three-and-a half-years, I lived at the Hare Krishna Temple and worked out of here sporadically," he adds.

It's the principles he learnt through their spiritual practices, that come together in the book to help readers, critically, with emotional healing and learning how not to sabotage yourself.

On why emotional healing is necessary in every aspect of our lives, Vallabhjee gives the example of an athlete who breaks their racket during a super difficult point in a match. "Now the ramifications of that in the field of sports are big. It shows the inability to control one's anger. And the learnt behaviour probably came in early childhood when someone around him reacted to a situation with rage and got a positive outcome. Let's say his mom or dad shouted with rage. The other got subdued and listened. However, in the field of sports, there's a penalty for such behaviour. This athlete would need to rewire his brain."

The book aims to help you find your own patterns. "The brain," says Vallabhjee, "loves symmetry, story and familiarity. Familiarity is the most dangerous." It's
familiarity with what's toxic that pushes us to choose what we don't want. How does one break these patterns?

Everything is in the book, he says. The first step of course, is to fall in love with yourself.

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Score me a tune

Posted on 2 Aug 2020 02:14:45 GMT - sunday-ib

MAKING background scores… it all happened by accident," says Karan Kulkarni. A fortunate accident it would seem, because Kulkarni is the man behind the scores for Abhishek Bachchan-starrer Breathe, and now, Amazon Prime's upcoming film Shakuntala Devi and Netflix's Raat Akeli Hai. Both released this Friday. The Punekar, who moved to Mumbai to make it as a musician, tells us why he shifted tracks.

"I would have liked to do songs, and I have done many, but things are so controlled in the Bollywood music industry, that only a few directors manage to get their songs into movies. So here, I am, doing background music," he laughs, adding, "I guess, it's best to adapt."

Since Kulkarni moved to Mumbai nine years ago, he has given music for a short film directed by Vasan Bala. This was after he returned from Australia where he signed up for a music production course. He then started assisting music director Amit Trivedi, but it was with Bala's Peddlers in 2012 that his career truly kicked off. "That movie never released, but it gave me the chance to do something. Then I did Aligarh and Shahid, and it all took off from there."

A still from Shakuntala Devi, for which Kulkarni created a lively, upbeat score
A still from Shakuntala Devi, for which Kulkarni created a lively, upbeat score

He also may have been well accustomed to the wily ways of the music industry, and thus, started composing jingles for brands like Amazon and Flipkart. "I did Tumhari Sulu and Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota, but as I said, it's all very controlled here—how much work a person actually gets [depends on other forces]. Web series have opened up the floor, and the bar is raised high, since you are competing with the best in the world. For example, Stranger Things, which has a great background score, is available to watch on the same platform as my work," says the 34-year-old. Ask him what makes a music composer different from one who makes background scores, and his answer is deceptively simple. "You need to love movies! Otherwise, how will you know what fits with what? You also need to be able to tell a story through music—and be aware that change is constant, as emotions keep changing. So your music has to based on what's happening on the screen."

Keeping this in mind, Kulkarni's score for Breathe is more "psychological", with character themes for everyone. For Raat Akeli Hai, which is a murder mystery starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Radhika Apte, the music had to be darker. "For Shakuntala Devi, everything was more upbeat and positive. There is a certain brightness to it."

For Raat Akeli Hai, Kulkarni kept the theme darker
For Raat Akeli Hai, Kulkarni kept the theme darker

Personally, Kulkarni is inspired by music that is technology-driven, so composers like Trent Reznor are high on his listen list. After all, who can forget the brilliant score Reznor gave for Social Network, where the piano melody harbours the power to give rise to an emotion. And Kulkarni has made good use of technology this lockdown. He and his team completed the full score for Shakuntala Devi in four months of lockdown, sometimes going to a studio, but mostly working out of their bedrooms. "It was quite tricky, but we managed. We exchanged samples, and put it all together. It has been a lesson." Here on, Kulkarni has decided to take on less work. "There are a few projects that have come up, but I am going to take it slow. I am utilising this time to study.

I am practising guitar, and also working on the tabla, which is a brand new instrument for me. After a very long time, I am a student again, and I am completely enjoying it."

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Is there a right and wrong food?

Posted on 2 Aug 2020 02:12:40 GMT - sunday-ib

In the opening sequence of Axone, a film by Nicholas Kharkongor currently streaming on Netflix, Upasana (Sayani Gupta), Chanbi (Lin Laishram) and Zorem (Tenzin Dalha) smuggle axone, a fermented soya bean paste into a room on the terrace. Set in Humayunpur, South Delhi, the plot revolves around the challenges faced by the flatmates from Manipur and Nepal, who wish to surprise a friend, from Arunachal Pradesh, by making her favourite dish. Pronounced 'akhuni', the condiment is known to have an overpowering aroma and is eaten as chutney, in curry, or with smoked meat and fish.

Smoked pork in axone
Smoked pork in axone

As he watched the movie, Delhi resident Tituraj Kashyap Das, originally from Guwahati, was reminded of his own experiments with the ingredient when he was a student at Pune University. "Back then, I had friends from Nagaland, and one of them decided to make a pork dish using axone. While in the midst of it, we got a call from the landlord complaining about the strong smell," he says. No amount of flak has deterred Das, now a public relations executive with a chain of hospitals, from cooking with it. A self-confessed foodie, he and wife Rupamudra Kataki, often stack the ingredient—dried, wet, semi-dry—in their kitchen. They have scoured the neighbourhood and built connections in the capital, with chefs and students who make frequent trips back home, to ensure that they don't run out of stock. But the lockdown is proving to be a rather long, dry spell. "One might assume that just because I'm from the Northeast, I'm familiar with the ingredient, but that's not the case," says Das, 39. "Axone is dominant in Nagaland and Manipur, not so much in Assam. In fact, I sampled it for the first time at a Guwahati restaurant and was struck by its unique flavour." He admits that it's an acquired taste. It's only after you experiment with it that you begin to discover its versatility.

Plain boiled rice, dal (without tadka), boiled vegetables, pork cooked in bamboo shoot and bhut jolokia and axone chutney made by Tituraj Kashyap Das
Plain boiled rice, dal (without tadka), boiled vegetables, pork cooked in bamboo shoot and bhut jolokia and axone chutney made by Tituraj Kashyap Das

According to the website of the Tribal Cultural Heritage in India Foundation, Nagaland has 16 different tribes, each with one or more dialects, and Tripura about 20 tribes.

Tituraj Kashyap Das with wife Rupamudra Kataki
Tituraj Kashyap Das with wife Rupamudra Kataki

Although a staple delicacy of the Sumi tribe of Nagaland, the condiment has travelled to other parts of the country, including Mumbai. Hoi Liethang, who works as a teacher at the International Society of Fashion Technology in the city, sources axone from select shops in Kalina. "Every time I visit Manipur, I bring some with me. It's comfort food," she says. There are two ways of making axone: either dry or paste-like. "We soak soya beans overnight, boil them in water till they become soft. Then, the water is drained and the soya beans are put in bamboo baskets lined with banana leaves. This is then kept over a fireplace in the kitchen for fermentation to start. In cities, we keep it in direct sunlight." Although it's the dehydrated form that she brings home, Liethang prefers the paste for its potency.

The word axone comes from the Sumi dialect and is prepared all year round from soya beans by the Sumi Naga tribe of Nagaland
The word axone comes from the Sumi dialect and is prepared all year round from soya beans by the Sumi Naga tribe of Nagaland

Chef Alistair Lethorn who runs Aal's Kitchen, from his Madh Island pad, explains that every tribe has its own timeline of fermentation and that makes a difference to the flavour profile. "The Manipuris take it out of the fermentation process much faster than the Nagas. The smell is more prominent in the early stages of fermentation." His patrons, however, have taken to it with alacrity. The smoked pork in axone is one of his highest selling dishes.

Chef Alistair Lethorn
Chef Alistair Lethorn

Traditions of preservation and fermentation are key to the Naga way of life, says executive chef-partner Thomas Zacharias of Lower Parel resto-bar The Bombay Canteen. He dedicated a detailed Instagram post to axone during his Chef on the Roadtrip series to Nagaland, in 2018. "The Nagas use axone in a variety of chutneys, pickles and stews, and most notably, in the incredibly flavoursome smoked pork," he says. At the Angami home in Khonoma, an organic village, Zacharias witnessed it being added to yam stem and wild basil curry. "It was a simple unassuming stew, but a dash of axone was enough to elevate the taste and lend it a complexity." Because it's a strong flavouring agent, Lethorn suggests it be used wisely and sparingly.

Chef Zacharias holds a pack of axone paste. He says Nagas ferment close to 150 different types of products, each with its own flavours and nutritional benefits
Chef Zacharias holds a pack of axone paste. He says Nagas ferment close to 150 different types of products, each with its own flavours and nutritional benefits

Dolly Kikon is a senior lecturer in the anthropology and development studies programme at the University of Melbourne. She is currently completing a book project on fermenting food cultures among Himalayan societies. A native of Nagaland, Kikon says for Himalayan cultures, fermenting is a journey of preserving food and exploring taste. Among all the food items that Naga people relish, axone occupies a distinct place. "It is made in everyone's home; there is no mass production in Nagaland. So we can say it is artisanal and a specialised item." But when it comes to fermentation, there is a procedure. "Although it appears as a straightforward process, the fermenter is aware of the complexities involved. From seasons, rain, sunshine, and moisture in the air to moods, the story of fermenting food is rich and magical."

Thomas Zacharias during his Chef on the Roadtrip series to Nagaland, in 2018
Thomas Zacharias during his Chef on the Roadtrip series to Nagaland, in 2018

It's what inspired her to delve deep into the local food practices and the tradition of fermentation. "Although the nutritional values and rich heritage of fermented food across Himalayan societies are well known, it was not until I realised that the Northeast's fermenting culture needs celebrating did I start working on a book project." She believes that understanding the place of fermented food in Naga society will give us an insight into people's relationship with the land and their interconnectedness. "Adopting a fermenting culture means being intimately linked to sustainability and taking care of the earth, where we value the role of microbes and generate greater awareness about our food."

Dolly Kikon, lecturer, anthropology and development studies programme at University of Melbourne
Dolly Kikon, lecturer, anthropology and development studies programme at University of Melbourne

She feels it's important that it is made part of public discourse. "In Indian metros, residents from the Northeast face discrimination, including food shaming. Landlords are known not to rent their home to those who eat 'smelly food'. I feel we need to talk about fermented food, taste, caste practices and discrimination in contemporary India." Zacharias says for the average Indian, Northeastern food equals momos. "Nobody in the Northeast of India traditionally makes momos. The only parts where you find it, like Sikkim, is where migrant Tibetans reside."

Talking about its "smelly" aspect, Kikon underlines how these olfactory reactions are created by humans themselves. "Masala is smelly, cheese is smelly, sambar is smelly. What I mean is aroma is integral to all food cultures. If a dish of fermented bamboo shoot is tasty for me and invokes memories of home, does it give another the legitimacy to suggest otherwise? Food habits are deeply political in India. But should I be apologetic of my habits? Whose sensibilities am I trying to align with? When we loosely use the term 'Indian food' are we including tribal culinary traditions, for instance?"

Other fermented foods

Other fermented foods

. Fermented bamboo shoots: According to the Slow Food Foundation for biodiversity, its juice has preservative property similar to vinegar and so meat, fish or vegetables cooked with it have longer shelf life.

. Anishi: It's a Naga delicacy of fermented leaves made into patties and smoked over the fire or sun-dried. Anishi is prepared from the leaves of the edible Colocasia genus.

. Tungrumbai: A Khasi delicacy from Meghalaya, it is consumed as a side dish with rice.

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Meet Sonu Sood of Australia

Posted on 2 Aug 2020 02:08:36 GMT - sunday-ib

With a one-way ticket in hand, Australian couple Chloe Dimopoulos and Ben Munro arrived in India on March 12, hoping to travel the country, and then the world. When the recent graduates reached Jaipur, Chloe was overcome by a fever, bodyache and chills. On March 16, they were in a public hospital trying to get a COVID-19 test. What they thought would be a two-day-long wait for results, turned into a harrowing experience that lasted three weeks. "There was hostility towards foreigners at the time. The hospital staff refused to let the couple leave. Interestingly, they had tested negative twice. It was unfair to confine them," remembers Simon Quinn, an Australian expat living in India since 2017. It all went south from there after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown on March 24, to halt the spread of the Coronavirus infection. "And, there must have been about 20,000 more people stranded in different corners of India, desperate to return to Melbourne. I wanted to help them," Simon, 32, adds.

When you think of someone to arrange an airlift of thousands stuck in a foreign country, Simon will not be your first choice. But then again, the year 2020 is full of surprises. Kindness is coming from the most unexpected places. "Anxious messages started flooding a chat forum that I am part of, dedicated to Aussies travelling in India. Some wanted urgent medication and supplies, others wanted to get a COVID test, few were cast away in remote areas." Simon, a PhD student living in Gurgaon, is studying Sanskrit at Delhi's Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan. Being married to an Indian woman meant he had hands-on training in Hindi; he also teaches English on the side. Crisis management, however, has never been his subject of interest. "While the governments of other countries had started measures to bring back their people, the Australian government was seemingly struggling. The Australian High Commission in Delhi was negotiating with airlines, but that was not going too well. Even if they did manage to get people on the flight, the tickets were going to be very expensive. This is the problem with the geography—if you have to go to Europe, you can fly directly with one crew."

On March 28, Simon took a leap of faith and launched an open-access spreadsheet on WhatsApp for Australians to register their details. "Most Aussies in India are of Indian heritage. So, they were familiar with the local language and had their families around. Those facing major challenges were foreign tourists. They were stuck in hotels; some of the hostels had shut down. There was this one guy who was in the hills in Tamil Nadu and there was no way for him to get out."

Simon created a group on Facebook called Australians Stuck in India, where he started to speak to them individually. When things got out of hand, and thousands of messages started pouring in, he created an army of expats across India to use their assistance. "Meanwhile, we advertised our WhatsApp group on the Australian High Commission website, and more distressed people got in touch with us. I had been liaising with someone at the High Commission and asking them about the efforts made to organise flights. I would then communicate this information on the WhatsApp and Facebook groups."

Australian couple Chloe Dimopoulos and Ben Munro were stuck in a Jaipur hospital for three weeks despite testing negative twice
Australian couple Chloe Dimopoulos and Ben Munro were stuck in a Jaipur hospital for three weeks despite testing negative twice

The Indian government banned international flights from India even before the lockdown was imposed. So, Simon explored charter flights. "I found Brendon Hempel, who runs a Melbourne-based charter company Stratos Group Aviation. He was chartering planes from China to Australia to transport medical equipment. I asked him if he could do the same with passengers. With Hempel's help, we got in touch with Lion Air."

Simon then asked the High Commission if it would support them. "It wouldn't have been possible without their representation. They needed to lobby the Indian government to get the necessary permissions," he says.

By the second week of April, the group managed to secure permissions from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). "But this was only half the battle won. Now, we had to get people to the airport. At that time, the permit system for local travel was chaotic. There was a lot of confusion between the central government and the states. It was only when the High Commission identified stranded Australians and gave their names to the Centre, that the list was passed on to the various state governments. This is how we got 440 of them to Delhi airport, and they sat on their first flight to Melbourne on April 12. So much could have gone wrong, and so much did, but we pulled this off. The most rewarding experience for me was when Chloe and Ben made it to this first flight to Melbourne. I won't forget that moment," he remembers.

On April 16, another charter took off. Barry O'Farrell, Australia's High Commissioner to India, tweeted: "Another charter, JT2846, supported by the High Commission, took off from Delhi for Melbourne with 425 passengers. It was organised by Australians led by Simon Quinn. Thanks to the Indian authorities for facilitation."

While Simon has received no material reward, the Facebook page he started is now flooded with messages, this time, however, with thank yous. He is deemed 'Australian of the year' and 'people's hero' by his new fans. "In April, we managed to arrange five flights—three from Delhi, one from Mumbai and one from Chennai. A total of 2,000 people were sent home. After this, the Australian government had stepped up its efforts, so we could take a backseat."
In the second week of July,

Simon decided to leave India. Soon after he landed, the Australian government introduced a cap on international arrivals at Sydney Airport to ease Coronavirus quarantine demands. Simon continues to operate the Facebook page, by posting informative videos to reach out to stranded Australians. "I am assuming that at least 5,000 people are still stuck in India. Their last hope is with Air India as it has just announced that it will resume flights to Australia," he signs off.

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End of an era: COVID kills salon

Posted on 2 Aug 2020 01:46:58 GMT - sunday-ib

When I was distributing relief packages to migrant workers at the beginning of the lockdown, I didn't realise that I would be affected by the pandemic, too," says Sapna Bhavnani, "But we are just a mom-and-pop shop like Altaf bhai two blocks down who makes cushion covers. Small businesses like ours can't survive this lockdown. I've already heard of suicides among small barbers in Pune."

Mad O Wot, the hair salon at Pali Hill, is shutting down. Covid-19 got to it. The brand will live online as a hair academy, with subsidised fees for the underprivileged. With no relief packages from the central or state governments, Bhavnani cannot afford to pay the rent in one of Mumbai's most expensive areas, nor keep her staff of 11 on the rolls. One of them, Nazia Darvesh, has been with her since 2004. For the past few weeks, she has been running the shop with three stylists. On Tuesday, the staff came together for one last haircut in the distinctively kitschy interiors with a 1970s nai ki dukaan vibe.

On the video call from her salon in Bandra, Bhavnani is unvarnished. You can't see her armour—the tattooed skin, nor her usually black outfit and heavy boots. Her hair is not the flamboyant chameleon we have come to know—not flowing in long braids, or being vivacious pink, nor blonde and short, or fiery red with an irreverent Minnie Mouse bow. It's deflated and dark brown. None of her ensemble of accoutrements are visible either—no kohl and double nose piercing.

"If there's to be a Western-style lockdown, there has to be a plan for a relief package," says the 49-year-old celebrity hairstylist known to work on a slew of Bollywood names. "USA and Canada have offered relief—waive off the rent, the utilities bill, or give a compensatory package. Here, there's nothing. It's not just salons, this is the death knell for tailoring shops, clothing stores, toy shops, stationery marts..."

Demonetisation and GST had already pulled the rug from underneath the business and now Bhavnani is left without means to provide severance for the staff, although she says, "many salon owners have been sweet enough to offer space, rent free, to service our clients."

ppp

Mad O Wot sprouted in 2004, in a forest of sterile white and beige franchisee salons that were muscling out parlours run by neighbourhood "aunties". Bhavnani had moved from LA, after tasting success in the music industry at just 31. "I had made my money, bought my house in the Hills and the motorcycle I wanted," she says. She enrolled at Juice Hair Academy to study hairdressing formally, and was made manager within six months.

The next step was "her own dukaan". "The first thing I did was trash the uniform," she says, "A brand name plastered on the chest kills creativity. I didn't want to be a placard for someone else. We also didn't push products, or try to convince people to straighten or curl their hair. We wanted people to embrace their texture. We didn't even 'set' it after the cut, championing the 'rickshaw dry' to let them experience what their hair would look like naturally."

She also changed the salary structure: The industry norm was a fixed salary for the stylist, as per seniority, and a 10 per cent commission on the haircut. Bhavnani's "American upbringing" put it as 50 per cent of the haircut. "We also let freelancer stylists 'rent a chair' in the salon to save their overheads," she says.

Soon, Mad O Wot is where the cool kids went for extensions, hair colour and punk cuts, without fear of being coerced to 'rebond' or 'relax' their opinionated mop. The salon moved three locations in Bandra and Khar, and also had an Andheri branch for a couple of years. MS Dhoni, John Abraham, Bipasha Basu popped in for a quick snip.

With the editor of a then upcoming tabloid in her chair, Bhavnani's personal brand grew parallely. She became a columnist in the newspaper and then moved on to writing for Sunday mid-day every weekend. While she expected to write about the celebrities she serviced, she grabbed the opportunity to talk about bigger things—the termination of a foetus, divorce, calling out film producers who flew out actresses abroad for a simple colour job, instead of patronising local talent. On product shoots, she pushed brands to show a spectrum of browns as the natural Indian hair colour, rather than reflective 'boot-polish' black; and refused to over-process hair for the sake of aesthetics. Paralelly grew her philanthropy—hair workshops in Kamathipura and classes for acid attack survivors.

Bhavnani will continue working on shoots and as a personal stylist. "That is still my bread and butter," she says. But the future holds a new direction in filmmaking and as an author [a book of short stories is coming]. "It brings together all my loves—styling, storytelling and music," she says. Her recent documentary, Sindhustan, about the migration of the Sindhi community during the Partition has won global accolades. Next up is My Dog Is Sick, a story about a self-destructive couple, set to sound and music with no dialogue. "Irrfan Khan once told me that dialogues keep an actor from emoting as the character," she says. "That stayed with me."

She's calling her production house Wench Films. "I asked people for the derogatory names women are called—kalmoohi, kameeni came up a lot, but I wanted something understood globally." And since every creative endeavour of hers is meta (the map and iconography of the Sindh province bloomed on her skin as she made her first film), this is the beginning of another physical metamorphosis.

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Getting high takes patience

Posted on 2 Aug 2020 01:38:43 GMT - sunday-ib

When the pandemic forced the state government to allow sale of liquor via home delivery only, a veteran in the alco-bev industry confessed, "The pandemic has done what the industry has been lobbying for years. Finally, a landmark order, even if it is till the lockdown lasts."

The lockdown has led many enterprising masterminds to huddle, reshuffle, and create new business ideas. Last Sunday, we downloaded the two-month-old Spiritzoned app, a digital liquor store and online alcohol delivery service.

Founded by Kushal Jaiswal, the CEO of a tech company in Navi Mumbai and a retailing and distributor chain of liquor shops, along with Yash Jaiswal and Aneesh Saggar, it offers a contactless delivery model across India.

Aneesh Saggar, Kushal Jaiswal, Yash Jaiswal
Aneesh Saggar, Kushal Jaiswal, Yash Jaiswal

The team launched the idea as a phone-based model, taking orders at a call centre and forwarding a payment link to its customers. "Every call that we monitored had us realise that if a particular choice of alcohol was not available, the customer service executives could not recommend another. That is when we realised, we could change the paradigm by making it more visual than verbal. We have done 20,000 deliveries so far in Mumbai itself," he says about the end-to-end solution with a product catalogue, tracking system and free delivery. "There are around 900 relevant brands in the market but shops are not large enough to display all.

The hot-selling items usually get display and you end up buying what you lay your eyes on. But with us, it is a supermarket for every brand available at MRP," says Aneesh, who handles logistics and operations.

"It is now time to alter the future of the alcohol industry and deliver a seamless, omnichannel customer experience. Using state-of-the-art technology, we are building an AI-enabled intuitive platform to deliver alcohol safely and responsibly," Kushal adds.

We placed an order and here's how it went

The app locates the nearest liquor shop to fulfil a delivery under two hours and offers a detailed product catalogue
The app locates the nearest liquor shop to fulfil a delivery under two hours and offers a detailed product catalogue

Once signed in, the app requests you to turn on your location and locates the nearest liquor shop to fulfil a delivery under two hours. For example, if you live in Andheri West, on the backend, they will check the stores available near you and present the alcohol that can be ordered. Once you place an order, the order goes to a shop, where the staff makes sure it is packed in time and their personal delivery set up picks up the parcel and delivers it.

The app disqualifies 25 years of age at entry. We passed with flying numbers through a simple form and mobile verification, and were led to the supermarket on our screen. But at almost every step, the app jerked, forcing us to shut down and restart.

The app has been designed for ease of use and displays categories such as vodka, whiskey, gin, tequila, brandy, beer, rum and wine. It allows you to filter the search and opt for price sensitive viewing. We clicked to scan the whiskey section, but the search took 40 seconds to load. When it did, it showed us a wide range from Haywards Fine Whiskey (R62) to Johnnie Walker Blue (R28,000). Each bottle has added information of alcohol percentage and region and a description about the spirit—informative value addition. The layout and categories surely broadened our choice, but the 40-second lag at every step marred the excitement. At payment, we got stuck and called customer care, where we were informed that the minimum order needs to be of R1,000.

We finally placed the order at 3.40 pm, and received a notification that it had been accepted. At 6 pm, we clicked on the call option to enquire about the delay. An SMS informed that we will have the order at our door in one or two hours. We finally received it at 8.33 pm.

Our order of a couple of beers came with a complimentary packet of peanuts and a facemask. The app is still in beta stage and work is ongoing at the backend. For the time being we will stick to ordering from our local vendor who on call, parrots what's available and delivers under 20 minutes.

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