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.

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)!

Anjali - The Dog Protests

All kids go through the dog phase they say. Anjali is going through one now. Sadly for her Shobhs and I are not really dog people or pet people (not even human people for that matter). But Anjali has a surprisingly 'animal' side to her - where she is genuinely caring about animals and quite fond of them. It shows in little acts of hers.

So when the first signs of pets phase (hamsters, kitten, rabbits etc) came up an year or two ago we got her hooked on fish. The fish were ok but then they died after a while. Another round of fish came up and two new gold fish - Tutti and Frutti or something like that joined us. Then after a while Tutti or Frutti died and the other stayed. Then she also died.

But now Anjali is eight years old and far more articulate and cogent, clear in her mind. She sees the beagle upstairs with my brothers family, Max, and the neighbours who have a beagle too, and she is now rather set about getting herself a dog.

The first request came rather dramatically one day recently when she complained of feeling lonely. 'I don't have a brother,' she said sadly. I looked at her. 'At least I could have a dog then I would not be so lonely,' she continued
I smiled at her.
'Can I have a dog?' she asked me directly, seeing that it was going nowhere.

Pushed into a corner I said, 'Let's see. You could.'
And then I reeled off all the ways in which the dog might not be a good idea, mostly about - who will take care of it - because I am not.
'I will take care of it nanna,' she said all serious and good intent and fully meaning it. 'I will take it for walks, I will bathe it, feed it and all that.'
I nodded.
'Yea' she yelled. 'Nanna has agreed'. And then she moved on to her mother.
Shobhs was far less diplomatic with her and told her she is not convinced of the need. 'Full time care, vacations etc etc.'
So the idea stopped at 40% and mostly negating the idea.
One would think Anjali would give up her idea. (I'd have gone into a corner and resented the entire idea. Probably disowned my parents and never had a dog ever to punish myself. I am good at that sort of a thing.)

But the young lady was made of different stuff. For every objection of ours she googled answers. What to do with dogs when on vacation? What to feed dogs? How to train dogs? How to maintain dogs? What types of dogs are best and safe for children? Printouts started showing up.

'I want a golden retriever,' she said. 'How much does it cost?'
I had no clue. Maybe fifteen or twenty thousand? I hazarded. Everything is that much these days. She was surprsised they cost that much.
The next thing I know she googled the price of a golden retriever.
'It costs 1200 rupees,' she said. 'I googled.'
I was surprised. What? So I checked? Turned out it was a stuffed toy. The real ones were still in the 20-30 k range. Anjali and I looked at the prices and nodded.
'Don't worry about the price,' I said looking at her crestfallen face.
'It's more about whether we should or not. It's a responsibility. We cannot get it home and leave it alone after we get tired of it. They will be a part of the family for the next 13-14 years.'
'12 years,' she corrected.
She had done some research on how long they live.

The pressure is relentless.
'Dog,' she points on the road at every dog she sees. I squirm.

Next thing I see is that her screen saver is a golden retriever. In her things-to-do list getting a dog is prominent. Her folder is full of dog pictures and stories. She collected some stuff from the net and made an article addressing all our concerns about dogs -kennels, food etc. The dogs have already been named in anticipation - Jumpy when small and Bruno when big. How not to confuse dogs by giving too many names was also discussed. At the super market she points to Pedigree and Drools and says she will feed her dog that. At night she tells me her daily routine - walk dog, feed dog, play with dog, train dog. I will teach dog to fetch she says. Every day there is a subtle hint and sometimes not so subtle hints about getting the dog. When it gets serious she says she will get it when she is eighteen with her own money - when she is in America. This kills me a bit but I have had an experience when a pup was brought home many moons ago (when we were kids) and then it was left to the mercies of the gods. Our only dog Caesar did not have the life a pet deserved mainly because we are not loving persons - dogs and humans included. I am more a duty person. And I did not get the dog home - so all I did was my duty which was not enough. But I did feel for Caesar and his confined life.

The other day however Anjali's protest went to another gear. Anjali wrote a huge letter titled 'I really want a dog'. A text of some 400 words was typed, addressed directly to me and her mamma, telling us why she wants, how she will take care and all that. The end was a direct instruction for us to say Yes or No. There was space for mamma to write her suggestions and words and then my space. Both copies of the agreement or MoU were left on the computer table where I work. It is that - an agreement, MoU or whatever you call it - complete with signatures and all matters addressed.

Every day she asks - have you written your word or suggestion on it. I have not. I think I will.

Yesterday, I saw a stuffed toy of a cute dog on my table. Another hint.

This is just too much. Wonder what next? Will she prevail? Will she lose steam? Will parents find love in their hearts? Only time will tell. 

The Steel Flea - Nikolay Leskov

Fantastic story telling. A Russian Emperor goes to England with his trusted aide, Platov. The English (always looked at with a wary eye by Platov) show a miniature steel flea to the emperor, so small that you cannot see it with the naked eye. Even better, under the nitroscope (whatever that is), one can see a small key which winds the steel flea and makes the flea move about and dance. The English sell the steel flea to the Emperor but not before Platov shows proof that its parts were made in Russia. Platov is grumpy at the Emperor's praise for the Englishmen and his lack of belief that Russian workmen are any lesser. He avers that the Russians can make better stuff if they were trusted with it.

Back in Russia the Emperor dies. The new king finds the steel flea and asks Platov to pursue the matter of finding better craftsmen than the English. Platov finds a bunch of expert gunsmiths, to whom he entrusts the job. Ah, what wonderful descriptions of the people and their craftsmanship, more so of Lefty the Tula craftsman whose hair has been pulled out during his years of apprenticeship. The gunsmiths lock themselves up in a home for two weeks and do not come out even when people scare them with news of fire etc - so devoted are they and so high their concentration on the work at hand. They complete the job in two weeks but when Platov looks at it he finds only the steel flea in its original condition and nothing else at all. However Lefty shows, in his unrefined manner, what they have accomplished. Under a more powerful microscope he shows the king how the flea has now been given horseshoes on its tiny feet, with a neat brand name printed on it with the names of its makers. Lefty's name is not found though - he says he made the nails for the horseshoes and his name is on those - it might be difficult to see them.

Lefty the chief craftsman is then sent to England as a reward and to show off their expertise. He is enticed by the English with much, wine and women included, but he leaves for Russia. But not before he notices that the English have given the old Emperor some wrong information about their guns. Information he tries to pass on to the king but which never reaches him because Lefty dies after a drinking bout with an English sailor - due to lack of medical help.

Absolutely brilliant story telling. Leskov leaves with a small thought about the 'soul' a craftsman can add to any work as opposed to mechanical production of things. Soul is right - not everyone can recognise it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Story Idea - The Inanimate World

Hook: Man gets depressed with lack of relationships in his life (thanks to social media and other distractions!) and takes to forming relationships with inanimate objects around him.

Story; Man finds human relationships more and more shallow and withdraws to a point where he is all alone. At a point when all seems hopeless he finds inspiration in some quote, or song, or book and seeks to find something to be grateful for. He looks around and finds that the only ones that are giving him unconditional love are the inanimate objects around him. He starts appreciating them for their love. He has names for them, starts treating them like old friends. Maybe we can have them talk to him as well.

Relationships develop. The home improves. Furniture and gadgets get better with repair and from being cleaned regularly. The atmosphere improves. While getting the furniture repaired he meets a fine young girl who shares his love for small things. His life gets better. He finds love.

Life's good again.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Happy Song - I Can See Clearly Now

Happy song to start the day.

"I Can See Clearly Now" - Jimmy Cliff
(lyrics from www.azlyrics.com)

I can see clearly now the rain is gone.
I can see all obstacles in my way.
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind.
It's gonna be a bright (bright)
bright (bright) sunshiny day.
It's gonna be a bright (bright)
bright (bright) sunshiny day.

Oh, yes I can make it now the pain is gone.
All of the bad feelings have disappeared.
Here is that rainbow I've been praying for.
It's gonna be a bright (bright)
bright (bright) sunshiny day.

(ooh...) Look all around, there's nothing but blue skies.
Look straight ahead, there's nothing but blue skies.

I can see clearly now the rain is gone.
I can see all obstacles in my way.
Here is that rainbow I've been praying for.
It's gonna be a bright (bright)
bright (bright) sunshiny day.
It's gonna be a bright (bright)
bright (bright) sunshiny day.
It's going to be a bright (bright)
bright (bright) sunshiny day.
Yeah, hey, it's gonna be a bright (bright) bright (bright)
sunshiny day.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Paradoxes of Our Lives - You Help When You Need Help

Helping others at your cost is not really helping. When you help that way, you need help yourself.
A fine gift by my student
The one who is helping himself or herself first, is the one who is truly helping others. Because he or she can genuinely help others to rise. As a role model. As an inspiration. Or even in real terms.

It is best to pull another up rather than help someone up over your shoulders. You will remain in the well as the goat did.

Don't help when you need help. Help yourself first.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Femme Fatale - Guy de Maupassant

Maupassant is a mischievous soul and his stories normally involve some affairs of passion. This theme pervades all four stories in this book. 'Cockcrow', 'Femme Fatale', 'Hautot and Son' and 'Laid to Rest'.

In 'Cockcrow' a hot blooded man chases a married lady. She flirts with him, her husband being a boring type, and finally throws him a challenge - if he hunts the beast - she says she may have something to give him. The man is beside himself and gives it his all, and succeeds. But the poor fellow is so tired when they go to bed that he falls asleep as he waits for the lady to return to bed and wakes up only in the morning.

In 'Femme Fatale' the rich son of a powerful senator falls hopelessly for a woman whom many think controls him and is not worthy of him. But he is totally under her spell. She goes to a party with a bunch of people he does not approve of. He follows her, beside himself with the thought that she is cheating on him. But when he finds her, she is not in the arms of a man but worse, she's with a woman. The poor chap drowns himself even as the bi girlfriend and her lesbian fiend shrug it off and move on. 'It's not your fault,' says the girl friend.

In 'Hautot and Son' senior Hautot dies in a hunting accident but before he breathes his last tells his son to give his young mistress a share to take care of herself. The obedient young son goes to meet her, tells her that he has come to give her a share and that his father is no more, finds a half brother of his there. The lady is a good host, feeds him, gives him wine and provides cmpanionship and comfort. So Hautot junior starts visiting her every day off of hers. It all happens without skipping a beat and it does seem so practical and convenient.

In 'Laid to Rest' (nice title) the protagonist finds a young lady mourning at a cemetery and offers help. One thing leads to another and she draws him into a short term arrangement before he moves on. But when he sees her there again on another day with another man he is shocked - it seems to be her hunting ground.

Another theme of Maupassant - hunting.

The Hyderabad Heritage Walks - Walk II

The Heritage Walk organised by the Tourism department is a fine concept that helps enthusiasts explore the heritage of Hyderabad and it's magnificent old city in particular. The Telangana Tourism Department offers three Heritage Walks - Heritage Walk 1 (the most popular and which I am led to believe is typically on the last Sunday of the month) starts from Charminar and ends at Chowmohalla Palace. Heritage Walk 2 (typically on the 1st and 3rd Sundays begins at Charminar and ends at Ashurkhana) and Heritage Walk 3 (normally on the 2nd Sunday of every month) starts at Charminar and ends at Purani Haveli. All walks start at Charminar around 7 am every Sunday (at the side where there is a board mentioning the timings to visit Charminar and buy tickets etc). The walks cost a paltry Rs. 50 which includes a fine breakfast of two idlis and a vada.
Charminar at 7 am
I had promised Anjali a heritage walk this holiday season and Shobhs joined in, so the three of us made it to Charminar at 7 am. The only place to park is the government hospital to the left of the road as you pass Charminar (they charge Rs. 20 an hour). You also get a great shot of Charminar from that elevation and we found many photography enthusiasts clicking away with their expensive cameras and Nikon t shirts. We parked and walked past the Bhagyalakshmi temple which had a large stream of devotees queuin up to pray early in the morning.

Many devotees were doing pradakshinas of Charminar and praying to it or applying ash on their heads as they walked by. There is a small mosque right beside the temple on the inside of Charminar and a few Muslim ladies were praying there. The temple juts out on one leg of one minar.
Morning sun streaming into the Charminar

We walked to the front of Charminar and the security guard let us in. The Assistant Tourism Officer (ATO) Mr. Anjaiah asked us to look around the Charminar from the base - entry to the top is prohibited. This was the closest I got to the Charminar yet.
View of the south side from Charminar

 I had actually hoped to go on the Heritage Walk 3 to the Purani Haveli and was on the right day for that - but then they changed the schedule because the Ashurkhana, a prayer place for Shia muslims, which is down the road near Bahar cafe, has on display many motifs or alams this muhurram season. It is open only for a week so the change. That was perfectly fine - I can aways come back next week.
The imposing government hospital where we park

After walking around the base of Charminar and getting some early morning snaps of the iconic structure, we sat down and waited for some more people to join us. Finally at 745 we left, by then another three walkers joined us. We were given an introduction by Mr. Anjaiah and then handed over to the guide Mr. Suryakanth Sambrani, a senior freelance guide who spoke well and had a fine knowledge of the place and history.
Nice light
Mr. Sambrani first gave us an account of why Charminar was constructed - it is always a challenge because most people are confused about who the Qutb Shahis were, the Nizams, the Paigahs, The Asah Jahis, the Moghuls, the Nawabs and why there is an Indo Sarcenic element to it all. But he did a great job of getting it all in quickly. I realised that the Charminar had four stories and was wonder struck at that. Then we headed North (towards Madina) and I made another discovery - that the Jama masjid (1598) is older than larger and grander Mecca masjid and that they were different mosques. However we did not go into the Jama masjid.
Charminar kaman
We then moved into the area where a Sunday seconds market was opening up slowly with some really interesting stuff - they sell anything - and from the square saw the charkaman (four arches). Charminar kaman (south), Sehr-e-Batil ka kaman (west), Machli kaman (north) and Kali kaman (east) were built by the Qutb Shahis around the time the Charminar was built (1591).

The arches served as gateways to the royal palaces - which are not there any more and have made way to some crowded modern day homes.
Mitti ka sher
However one gets an idea of how the city was originally planned - the jewellers market, the mandi, the clothes market  and so on.
Shopping arcade
We walked towards the Batil kaman past some early morning idli and dosa vendors and came upon the mitti ka sher, a mud statue of a tiger which  is believed to be 150 years old. How it survived all these years is a mystery but apparently locals believe it is a good omen and preserve it. It has no boundaries, just lies on the road side.

Back on the main road and we slipped into a small crockery market and back on to the main road again.
Gramaphone and other antiques at the seconds market
We crossed over after Madina across the road and walked into the Pathergatti market area.
An old broken typewriter
Then into the Devan Devdi, which housed the palaces of the Salar Jung nobles, many of whom served as prime ministers to the Nizams.
People buying and selling in the seconds market
Only the entrances remain and their palaces have long since gone. Wonder how? And who claimed that land and built all these new houses and constructions?
Chatta Kaman
We exited out of one of the gateways and came upon the Kaman Chatta bazar, which is a very interesting kamaan. It stretches from the Nayapul to Purani Haveli.
Badshahi Ashurkhana

We turned back and headed towards the Badshahi Ashurkhana or the 'house of mourning' which was built by the Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah in 1593-96. It is one of the odlest ashurkhanas and imambaras in the counrty.
We toook of our shoes and the women covered their heads and walked into to view all the motifs on display. Its wall is decorated with enamel tiled mosaics, similar to the tiles we see on the Qutb Shahi tombs.

We were met here by Mr. Anjaiah and his colleague Mr. Siddiqui who offered us breakfast. We ate and headed back on foot to Charminar - a distance of a few hundred metres which takes about 10-12 minutes.
It was a morning well spent and Anjali seemed to like it too. I also believe that to know a place one must walk and walk and walk through it. The walk takes over an hour so it would help to have a cap, shoes and to carry water and a snack if one cannot hold on till 9 ish when breakfast is served.
Close up of the motifs on display

I checked with Mr. Anjaiah, the helpful Assistant Tourism Officer of the Telanagana Tourism Department, if he could arrange guides for personal tours and he said he would be glad to do so.
His number is 9553485577 and anyone who needs help to organise personalised tours can call him. Similarly our learned, cultured and distinguished guide Mr. Suryakanth Sambrani also shared his contact details - 9491152725.
Another close up of the motifs
Anyone interested in heritage walks and guides to help discover Hyderabad's historical glory can call these two gentlemen for help. As for me, I would love to spend a day out there in the old city, slowly browsing through and imbibing its flavors, culture and history.