Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Mottled Dawn - Saadat Hasan Manto

'A writer picks up his pen only when his sensibility is hurt.' - Manto to a court judge.

Some errors have to be corrected. I had not read Manto (1912-1955) so I found myself at a loss when people discussed his raw intense writing. Manto is the Che Guevara of writing. Now that has been corrected. 'Mottled Dawn' is a translation of 50 of his works.
Penguin, P. 171, Rs. 199

The Urdu writer who comes from a family of Kashmiri barristers lived the writerly life (and died in poverty), the kind of a writer one speaks of in awe because they never change their first draft nor the starkness of their ideas despite criticism or court cases, the one who went away to Pakistan after the partition more out of disillusionment than any specific inclination and in his resentment and disappointment slowly faded away in a life of penury. 22 collections of short stories (he is considered one of the greatest in Asia in this genre) one novel, five series of radio plays - all in a life of 43 years. He was tried for obscenity six times - never convicted.

Manto writes with a shade of humour that exists beside the raw truth in his tales relating to the partition. Tales of Hindu, Muslim, Sikh viewpoints of the partition times. What caused such high passions among people that they murdered, raped, kidnapped, pillaged, looted with no fear of god or society. Just one mad outpouring where they ravaged anything that could be ravaged with untold savagery. What caused this anger - was it some outpouring of something hidden inside already, of a beast that makes men walk into houses of neighbours to kill  all the men, rape the women, take them away and use them as sex slaves, occupy their homes. Was it about survival? Or a basic human conditioning to take when the law is not looking? As you read the stories you know that there is a truth to that reality that even someone like Manto cannot put forth without resorting to his trademark wry humour. You cannot handle the truth.

Among the stories are themes that haunt for a lifetime. The partition also leads to a partition of all the inmates of mental hospitals of undivided India and finds the lonely ex-landlord and now mental hospital inmate Toba Tek Singh, whose village lies on the border; he finally refuses to leave the no man's land in between. The Dog of Titwal which goes to both army camps across the border wagging its tail unmindful of the reality and finally dies a dog's death shot by soldiers of both sides who were its friends but who suspect its affections. The handsome sardar who becomes impotent because he cannot forget the touch of the Muslim girl he abducted and raped - she was cold as ice - dead. Two soldiers, Hindu and Muslim, who fought together in the World War for the British as Indians now fight against one another across the border and one kills another by mistake, as the soldier lies dying even in their friendly banter. The daughter who marries a Sikh and does not recognise her Muslim mother who is stark raving mad searching for her lost daughter. Two fathers, one Hindu and one Muslim, who rape each others daughters in their anger against the other community. A father who loses his young daughter in the partition journey but finds her again in a hospital - when the doctor asks the father to 'open' the window the badly ravaged seventeen year old unconsciously opens her salwar; the father is overjoyed that she is alive while the doctor understands the significance of her involuntary act. The child who sees the ice cream man's blood congealed with ice cream and who thinks its jelly. The wealthy man who helps the looters loot his house in an organised fashion so that his precious belongings are not ravaged but used elsewhere as they are. The two rapists who find in the end that the girl was from their own religion and not from the other religion; but shrug and move on feeling let down by the pimp. The killers who kill all people from the other religion on the train mercilessly and in the same breath offer pudding to their own community in all humility and affection for humanity. And on and on the stories flow, all real, but still protected by perhaps the writer's love for humanity or even his sense of shame at what humanity is capable of.

Manto writes. If you find my stories dirty then the society you live in is dirty he says. My stories only expose the truth. Manto first translated works of Gorky, Chekhov and other greats. He wrote for films in Bombay. One story in the collection 'A Tale of 1947' is what they say perhaps influenced his decision to go to Pakistan when in the aftermath of the partition, one of his close friends says in anger, he might kill a Muslim friend like Manto. In Lahore Manto again met great minds like Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Nasir Kazmi etc in the famous Pak Tea House of Lahore where they say fearless debates raged even in times of dictatorial rule. His greatest works have been produced in the last seven years of his life when he faced extreme financial and emotional hardship, unable tot come to terms with a humanity that seemed to have let him down.

As I read his stories, short, some are only one line long  as in this one titled 'Luck' - 'That is rotten luck my friend. After so much hard work all I was able to get was this box... and all it contained was pork.' - I was awakened to the idea that stories must be told whatever and however. The one line tells enough of the man's search for loot, god knows how many he killed and how he ended up with nothing but a box that contained food he cannot eat. Manto's stories are typically short, ironical and leave a small wound. Reading Manto (I have another huge collection) inspires me to write stories for the sake of writing them and nothing else.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Anjali - 'Lucky Lemons' Lemonade Stall

'I will set up a lemonade stall,' Anjali declared a couple of days ago. 'I will sell lemonade.'
Visions of Dennis and Joey and their lemonade stalls flashed through my mind. I looked on in my silent-leader mode. Any statement here may create problems. Let me see which way it goes.
'I will call Mansi and we will make lemonade and sell it outside and make money,' she said. She seems to be acutely clued in to the fact that she has to fend for herself - and that she might do a better job of it than relying on us.

'Ok,' I said getting off the wall and committing to one side. Let me say Yes for a change.

'Yeaa,' she yelled excitedly and disappeared. 

I let her chew over the idea. Obviously she will need help at some stage. I wanted to see at what stage she would involve me.

Last evening a poster appeared. Anjali had designed her first advertisement. It proudly announced the name of her stall - Lucky Lemons - which had a smiling lemon sipping a glass of lemonade casually. Very cool indeed.
'Will you help me put up the table and chair,' she asked. 'Yes,' I said. She obviously knew who to delegate for which job. Only the physical and menial jobs for me. 

All of yesterday during our walk she constantly thought of buying lemons for her stall. Back at home she got her Mom to make the lemonade, got some ice cubes, got two separate jugs - one with iced lemonade and one without. 
Ad is up - On the gate
It was time for the table and chair. On the pavement outside?

'What about dogs?' she worried. She originally wanted it on the pavement but these days many strays go around in packs in the colony and she is aware of that. This being the first time and also because her friend was not there I suggested that she could set it inside the gate and leave the gate open.

She promptly stuck the poster on the gate. There was lemonade and some cookies on sale.

I like lemonade. More so when Anjali is selling it. So I drank up a few glasses and ate some cookies. Her ajji came and her cousin too. After she made some 130 bucks, she closed shop for the day.

Shop Closed - But don't worry, come back on Saturday
In case some customers drop in after hours and may get disappointed she wrote with a chalk on the gate. 'Closed. Come again next Saturday.' On the floor nearby the logo was drawn - lemonade with a cocky mug and a rakishly angled straw, cool and stylish. The loop was closed.
Random ads on the pavement - branding exercise
My friend Ramaraju came this morning for a walk and looked at the poster and the advertising. 'It's got everything,' he said. 'I don't think my people will make something as good.' He took pictures and told me he wanted to share it with his team.

Brisk sales to the thirsty
The idea of finding a market need. Then the product - lemonade - with and without ice. Then pricing at 10 bucks (without ice) and 15 bucks with ice. Cookies were priced at 15 bucks. The shop was called Lucky Lemons – nice, peppy and easy to remember. The logo was a lemon drinking from a mug with a straw. The deal was to get one free if you bought two. The mantra of advertising - repetition - on the poster, the floor, the wall. Of branding - using good catchy visuals with bright colours and repeating them consistently. Ok, I compromised her on the place but when she gets into the act next time she already has ideas – I will sell to those uncles who play badminton everyday. All the Ps and more.
Another ad - just the lemonade glass in blue
All angles covered. No spellos. Neat design. Good job.

Know what, I think I should make her my agent. Problem is - I don't think she will accept me as her client. She has pretty clear ideas on that.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Hyderabad Heritage Walks - Walk 3 Charminar to Purani Haveli

We got to Charminar at 715 and spotted Mr. Anjaiah sitting in his designated place under the Charminar. In a short while Mr. Sambrani, our guide, and Mr. Siddiqui Mr. Anjaiah's assistant showed up.
Majestic - Charminar at 7am

Tickets were bought at 50 bucks a head. Mythily, Monica and Harsha joined us today. Two other tourists came by, one was Mohan whom Shobha had recently met at a Meetup. Just as we were leaving, a couple of young Germans working in an NGO (WASH) came up and joined us. I love the way they travel around in India.
Studying the route

A view of the Charminar kaman and the Jama Masjid to its right
The trip covers Unani hospital (our parking place), Rath Khana, Sardar Mahal, Mansoor Khan's mosque, Bargah Pan-e-Shah-e-Vilayat, Khadm-e-Rasul-Alava, Mir Alam Mandi, Devdi Inayat Jung Bahadur and finally stops at Purani Haveli. This is information from the brochure hence the accuracy!

The classroom in the Unani Hospital
First stop is the Unani hospital which offers a great view of Charminar and Mecca masjid since it stands on an elevated space. The hospital was built in 1929 under the post-flood development scheme. (Unani is a Perso-Arabic system of medicine which was practiced in Mughal India.) This hospital is one of the biggest Unani hospitals in India and there is a research centre in Hyderabad too, standing next to a centre on Ayurveda research.  
Cobble stoned path
Another view of Charminar

Rath Khana
We peeped in and saw some lovely old classroom furniture - beautifully designed benches and tables that make you want to join college again. Then we headed east and walked along a beautiful cobble stoned (something like it) street which is part of the pedestrianisation project of Charminar. The entire street is lined with old buildings and some dental hospitals - there are so many of them there. We stopped at a beautiful old gate which was also the Rath khana - where chariots were kept.
Old, old buildings
Sardar Mahal
Then came the Sardar Mahal to the right, which was a palace, built for the wife of the sixth Nizam Mahboob Pasha, Sardar Begum. For some reason it was never occupied and used as a palace and has been converted into various government offices (currently GHMC offices). It is a beautiful old structure, spacious and warm. Lots of monkeys too.
The inside of Sardar Mahal

Old Mosque
Then we turned into narrow streets - which was the most exciting part of the walk. And old mosque from the Qutb Shahi's time. Then we visited the Bargah Panj-e Sher-e-Vilayat named after the palm impression of Nafs-e-Rasool. Then the Khadm-e-Raul-Alava which houses the sacred footprints of Prophet Mohammed brought in 1575. It has been a couple of days since Moharrum and the streets were littered with blades and bloodstained bandages.
Leads to Charkaman

Mir Alam Mandi
Some more narrow gallies and we were in the lovely Mir Alam Mandi with its huge kaman dominating the market place. Another Qutb Shahi period mosque can be see at the Mir Alam mandi. Fresh vegetables were being sold. Anjali looked for lemons for a lemonade stand which is being proposed today. What next?

Mir Alam Mandi kaman
Structure in the middle of the road
We joined the main road and passed the Devdi Inayat Jung Bahadur. Inayat Jung was a scholar who translated the  Persian map of Hyderabad Deccan. There is a platform in front of the Devdi where the owner of the Devdi stands and receives the procession of Bibi ka Alam. The Devdi is presently being used for Shia congregations.

A little further down the road we see the beautiful Nizamia Girls College. Further down on the right we see the Hathi darwaza or the Peeli (yellow) darwaza. It's big enough for an elephant to enter and hence the name perhaps. This was the original entrance to the Purani Haveli but now a road bisects the front part of the gate and the palace. Apparently, the Dabirpura gate which is as majestic as this one stands a little ahead but we did not go there. We retraced our steps and headed to the Purani Havel. 
Hathi darwaza now separated from the palace

Spacious old grounds of Purani Haveli

It's spacious and beautiful. Takes our breath away.

Purani Haveli was built during the Qutb Shahi period in the 16th century as a residence for the Pehwa of Mohammed Quli. Apparently it was used as a nodal office for trade even then. The palace was later acquired by the Nizams and renovated. Since this palace remained unoccupied for many years as the Nizams used the Chowmahalla palace instead, this became Purani or Old palace.
Tree lined arcade - a whiff of times gone by
It saw some years of grandeur though because the fifth Nizam was born here and the sixth Nizam, Mahboob Ali, made it his permanent residence (before he moved to Falaknama palace). In 1971 Mir Barkat Ali Khan son of Nizam VII donated the palace to the Mukarram Jah Trust. There is a lovely garden, two rows of beautiful buildings on either side which house offices and a junior college, vast courtyards and the palace itself at the far end. There is a museum of HEH Nizam which includes a humongous wardrobe, but we did not get to see that because the museum opens only at 10.
Long view of the Purani Haveli

Purani Haveli

We ate the breakfast of idli and vada which is part of the event and took a rickshaw back to Charminar. Another day well spent. 

The huge arches, the old mosques, the ancient buildings, the plan of the old city, the history and the drama makes you want to come back again. Just as the decay and neglect worry you as it is a space that is slowly but surely being swallowed by the demands of a new city, a new world. These spaces and ideas have a quality that is missing in the new spaces - the soul is missing. A look around and you can see greed, poverty and survival. 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Link - Cave Digger Art

Salarjung Museum - Outing With Anjali

As listed in Anjali's to-do list for the Dussehra vacation, Salar Jung museum came up. Anjali's two close confidants Mansi and Harsh were invited. Mansi declined but Harsh joined us armed with a nice bag full of food. We hit the museum by 1030 in the morning.
Ivory work - out of a tusk
Entry for kids under 12 is free, adult tickets are some 15 bucks and camera (including mobile cameras) are 50 bucks. There is an elaborate check for vehicles by some tough military looking types (why do the military guys look so tough, clear and precise?). Parking costs another 50 bucks. There is a canteen at the back end, near the parking area. The walk is a little long. Security at the gate again - scanner for bags etc and pat downs for visitors. Once in, we headed left, the Eastern side.
Veiled Rebecca - Marble Statue with gossamer fine detail on the veil
We move through spacious halls full of well categorised articles. Paintings, miniatures, metal products, textiles, wood carvings, bronzes, arms and armoury, bidri work, glass works, ivory carvings, clocks, toys, furniture, clothes, walking sticks, porcelain and so on. We spent much time gazing at the exquisitely crafted items. Anjali and Harsh listened to me intently as I gave them a quick understanding of the history of Hyderabad - the Qutb Shahis, the Nizams, the Salar Jungs, the relevance of the musuem - and they listened intently.
Fine display for Rebecca
Our main aim was to tick off the three most important items according to me - the musical clock which is wildly popular for some reason, the veiled Rebecca and the statue of man and woman. The musical cock and the veiled Rebeccca were in the ground floor while the wooden statue of Man and Woman was in the western pavilion on the first floor, well hidden in a hall titled 'Paintings!'
Musical Clock - About
After wandering around many of the rooms in the ground floor - where the walking sticks with knives caused considerable excitement among the two young visitors who mimed drawing daggers and fighting one another - we spent time admiring the veiled Rebecca and other marble statues.
Oops - Dogs!

The veiled Rebecca was scupted by sculptor G.B. Benzoni and acquired by Salar Jung I on a visit to Italy. Apparently the sculptor (or so I read) has left a blot on the right thigh of the statue as an indication that perfection is only for the gods.
H and A before the Musical Clock action began
We returned in time for the musical clock and its grand performance at 12 noon. The entire courtyard was filled up, some few hundreds of people, no place to even stand, people waited there for almost half an hour. It's not very clear what happened even on the small TV screen - why don't they have a bigger screen is what beats me. The musical clock's importance comes from a blacksmith on the top right who hammers away at time, every second to be precise, and the appearance of a bearded man in a red dress at the turn of every hour to strike on a large bell. People just love it.
Some young thoughts

We hit the first floor which has an interesting Eastern pavilion - a Chinese gallery, a Japanese gallery, a Far Eastern porcelain gallery etc. In the Central block there are, toys, flora and fauna, manuscripts, silver gallery and on the western side lies the western pavilion with European paintings, European glass, French gallery, pocelain and clocks.
Some more activity in their world 
The famous Man and Woman statue of Mephistopheles and Margaretta is displayed in the Paintings hall so don't ignore that - I almost did.
Man and Woman - Mephistopheles and Margaretta

I like the modern man and woman in the foreground - On equal footing
So there is good and bad (Mephistopheles apparently barters the soul of Margaretta's husband for sensual pleasures with tragic consequences), man and woman, arrogance and humility, power and servility, control and the controlled.
Porcelain hall - Like the piano effect on the flooring which I did not notice while there

But nice touch - Oriental stuff in the Eastern block and European stuff in the western block.
Ullus - Owls
The kids showed a lot of patience and made the experience interesting and fun as they always do by devising some games while imbibing the artefacts on display. To me it gave a fresher perspective at what the creators had created, the painstaking work in collecting these items and maintaining them, the lives those nobles led, the thought that prevailed, of beauty and abundance, recognition of art, and more importantly the splendid workmanship that went into creating such works of art that were on display.
Some walking sticks - some had knives inside
Behind every single one was the life and vision, craft and patience of craftsmen who envisioned and carefully extricated beauty from the hazy picture that existed in their minds. I tried to explain to the children how a block of marble must have looked before the sculptor decided to convert that into a work of art like the veiled Rebecca. They listened and hopefully understood a small part of what the artist goes through. Wonderful.
The Salar Jung musuem has come about mainly due to the efforts of Nawab Mir Yousuf Ali Khan, Salar Jung III, who is responsible for the maximum collection in the musuem. Originally the collection was on display in Diwan Devdi (lies behind the curent museum) which is the ancestral palace of the Salar Jungs, who were nobles with the Nizams with many of them being Prime Ministers. The museum was first established in 1951.
More clocks - ironical, because our Hyderabadi culture is about having no concept of time
Later an Act of Parliament was passed - the Salar Jung Musuem Act in 1961 which recognised it as an institution of national importance. The collection was shifted to the existing premises which stand on the banks of River Musi in 1968. The Salar Jung museum is managed by a Board which is an autonomous body formed under the Act.

Anjali - Learn From My Mistakes

We were playing chess. Anjali made a mistake that resulted in her losing a power. It was an important stage in the game so I asked her if she wanted to replay it.
'No, I'd like to play a real game,' she said.

I insisted.
'It's ok. You're learning anyway. Replay it and see if you can play differently.'
But she was adamant.
'It's ok. I will learn from my mistakes.'

Ah, ok. Most effective way to learn I guess. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Shaandar - Movie Review

It's different. In many ways.

A marriage between two rich families. So rich that they hire a castle someplace magical. And gold plated limousines. And gold plated guns. Many goras serve them. An event manager who is an insomniac and an offensive one at that (and a smoker - what was that for?). A daughter who is an orphan and also deliriously illegitimate. A groom who does not want to marry his rather well built fiance. A bride-to-be who wants to marry for the sake of  her family. Two bankrupt families hoping to make money from the marriage. A frog named Ashok. A heroine who stores many pieces of useless information (bike models etc) and who goes swimming naked at midnight. A dream scene where she appears in a pink bikini. An old matriarch whose death has everyone laughing their guts out. For good measure her corpse is dressed up so the show can go on - and in true desi fashion, aslo set on fire. Errr...anything else. A breakfast plate which has a panty - from last night. A favorite number - 36 - why  favorite? Socho.

If you like different you can try this movie. It's an intelligent piece of work. I didn't understand it. However it made me laugh three times which is my standard for a funny movie. So though disjointed, inane and trashy I have to give it that. You might laugh three times too. Most times however the characters and the crew seem to be sharing a private joke which must have been fun for them (for example, see poster above)!