Morning Walk to Sewri Fort and Jetty in Mumbai

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On way to the Sewri jetty, located at the eastern edge of South Mumbai.

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Flamingos and other migratory birds, arriving from Gujarat, are usually spotted here during the second half of the year.

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Beholding the sea…

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Inside the 17th century Sewri fort built by the British as a watch tower.

Mumbai Through My Eyes

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Marine Drive, South Mumbai

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Marine Drive, South Mumbai

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Cuffe Parade Garden, South Mumbai

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Cuffe Parade Garden, South Mumbai

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Worli Seaface, one of the seven islands of Mumbai

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Cuffe Parade reclamation area

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Cuffe Parade Garden, South Mumbai

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Cuffe Parade Garden, South Mumbai

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Mumbai Fort area, built by the British; also a business district hosting large institutions such as the Bombay Stock Exchange, Reserve Bank of India and the Tata Group

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Fabindia store in Mumbai Fort area

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Cuffe Parade Garden, South Mumbai

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Municipal Corporation Building in South Mumbai

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A procession showing the idol of Hindu elephant god ‘Ganesha’ being taken for immersion into the sea.

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A jogger’s park in Dadar area

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Oval Maidan in South Mumbai

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National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai

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Prithvi Theatre, Juhu suburb

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The trees of Mumbai!

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One of the sea-facing art deco buildings in South Mumbai

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Inside the World Centre Complex of Cuffe Parade, South Mumbai

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View of the Meethi River from Mahim Nature Park

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Afghan Church

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Dadar Parsi Colony

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On way to British-era nature park, the ‘Rani Baug’, in Byculla

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On way to British-era nature park, the ‘Rani Baug’, in Byculla

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Inside the historic botanical garden, the ‘Rani Baug’, in Byculla

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Inside the historic botanical garden, the ‘Rani Baug’, in Byculla

Alibag – a holiday destination for art lovers

It was an advertisement of an art exhibition that led me to Alibag, a sleepy coastal town south of Mumbai.

Famous for its scenic beaches and sprawling properties of the rich, Alibag is also a holiday destination for art and culture aficionados, besides being a weekend respite for Mumbai residents. I spent a day looking at — collectibles and contemporary art-works at The Guild gallery, the multi-disciplinary repertoire of artist Dashrath Patel, and a permanent showcase of Vinayak Pandurag Karmarkar’s sculptures.

IMG_0800The Guild art gallery, Alibag

IMG_0805Collectibles at The Guild

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IMG_0806The Guild courtyard

IMG_0845Dashrath Patel Museum, Alibag

IMG_0842Painting by Dashrath Patel

IMG_0831Sculptures by Vinayak Pandurang Karmarkar

An elaborate brunch awaited us at Bohemyan Blue, a garden café nestled in the wilderness of Alibag. Sitting in the verandah, we gorged on a large meal, which comprised of scrambled eggs, aloo paranthas, chicken sandwich, pots of coffee, and carrot beetroot juice. It poured heavily; there were no other guests to be seen, besides a friend and myself. As we ate, we beheld the luxuriant foliage of the property, and found ourselves captivated by the stillness of Alibag.

We walked towards a patch of wild vegetation, near the café, which hosted the stay area of a dozen luxury tents for tourists. The land had a swimming pool and an al fresco restaurant, where the radio was playing. There were no listeners, however.

IMG_0765Bohemyan Blue café

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IMG_0799Bohemyan Blue gift shop

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The Alibag spell was soon broken when we reached Mumbai the following night. We grabbed a table at Café Universal, one of the city’s famous Parsi restaurants. The century-old café’s charming interior was a sight of redemption amid the stadium-like boisterousness of the guests.

That night, on my way back to my apartment from the café, I thought of the early morning in Alibag. It was a little before 6 a.m., when I had woken up to the sight of palm fronds soaked in rain. The morning felt crisp and tranquil, as if I’d never been tired. The short trip made me realise what we’re missing out on by living in cities like Mumbai and Delhi, and the harm they are causing us.

IMG_0756Drive around Kihim village

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IMG_0859Sasawane village 

IMG_0856Varsoli beach

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The 50:50 Home – Journeys beyond Mumbai and back

A new art exhibition in Mumbai explores the circular journeys of migrant families between the city and their villages in Maharashtra’s Konkan region.

The title of the show, “Mumbai Return: Journey Beyond the City”, personifies a life divided between the twin spaces of the adopted home (Mumbai), and The Home (the migrant’s place of birth and early life). By implication, the exhibition is also an ongoing narrative about themes of home, belongingness, ancestry, and alienation from the migrant’s perspective.

However, the scope of its inquiry and research is not only limited to the familiar themes of home and dislocation. Curated out of a research project by an urban planning collective and a think-tank studying the future of global mobility, the exhibition analyses the transformation of cities and villages as a consequence of migration.

What does home mean to the migrants? Can a migrant belong to two different cultural and geographical spaces at the same time? What is the impact of that migration on their ancestral home? How do the “circular” migrants’ cultural roots shape their life in a new city? The exhibition, on view at Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum, seeks answers to these questions through mixed media art-works such as installations, films, architectural models, photographs and the traditional Warli painting.

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“For many Mumbaikars, home is here and there, stretched between two inescapable and complimentary polarities,” says the exhibition’s curatorial note. Just as the village house is transformed into an “aspirational city house”, thanks to the new money, some residential areas in Mumbai emanate the communal atmospherics of rural life. The transforming village home and the city flat constitute “the two inescapable and complimentary polarities”, cemented by the migrants’ desire to simultaneously belong to both these spaces.

Such “homegrown” neighbourhoods are Bhandup, Ghatkopar, Naigaon, Shivaji Nagar and Dharavi, the exhibition shows. The community of migrants in these areas live in close proximity to each other just the way they would, back in their villages, according to urbz architect Marius Helten. However, the proximity may also have to do with the city’s space constraints, unlike a village that has a lot more open space.

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Public transport systems of the railways, auto-rickshaws, and buses inevitably contribute to the paradigm of the circular migrant’s life. Artist Sandeep Bhoir essays this back-and-forth movement of migrants onto a large circular “canvas”, placed at the exhibition’s entry. Bhoir’s traditional Warli art-work represents two worlds, the idyllic pastoral life and the rhythmic chaos of cities. The folk element, which personifies the Warli art form, pervades the city-village representation. Perhaps, it’s an implicit pointer to the fact that the memory of “the historical” never fades, irrespective of a migrant’s present geographical location.

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The question of belongingness continues to return, or haunt, the migrant’s narrative. In one of the documentaries shown at the exhibition, a man says he belongs 50 percent to his village and the rest to his city home. The belongingness, he adds, is complete.

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The exhibition closes on August 13, 2017.  

When in Barog hill station, do nothing

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Yeah, that’s what I did – nothing; I slept like an infant, ate like a wolf and trekked with wanderlust.

Nestled in oak and pine forests, Barog is a pristine hill station on the Kalka-Shimla highway. It’s about half-an-hour drive from Kasauli, another short holiday destination.

Did you know a British engineer, whose name was Barog, committed suicide here? Here’s his incredulous story: He was incharge of building the Barog tunnel, the longest on the Kalka-Shimla railway track, which is now a World Heritage Site. Due to a railway alignment error, he was fined a rupee. Unable to bear the shame, he shot himself during a walk with his dog. Buried close to the Barog station, his grave – like his story – seems to have been lost in obscurity.

But Barog, named after the unfortunate man, is anything but spooky. Standing in the vicinity of where the engineer might have been laid to rest, the Scottish style station offers the perfect sundown view of the hills.

We met the station master, who had been working there for many many years, through the week, and ensured the place was spic and span. And indeed it was. Before we left, he pointed out a spot on the platform that once had a board, which read – “Indians and dogs not allowed.”

During the walk back to the “main” Barog road, you hear the sound of silence, amplified by cold winds. There are little or no tourists either in this little unknown outpost in Himachal Pradesh.

Four of us checked into Barog Heights, a relatively new sprawling property that is built in the midst a stunning green valley. My room was cold, and the food was bland; even the humblest of dishes lacked any taste. A dhaba, a short walk down the hotel, came to our rescue with half a dozen boiled eggs, spicy kadi chawal and rounds of milky tea. [Though locally brewed Apple wine would have been just the right drink, it was out of stock at every theka we stopped at.]

After a quick breakfast we walked again, this time to the top of a hill to visit a campsite run by retired faujis. And then time stopped for a good forty minutes as we beheld a spectacular view. Ferocious winds blew right in our faces, making sounds in concentric circles. Wrapped up in woolen caps, mufflers and hoods, we sat there, not speaking to each other.

Sometime later, we returned to our principal obsession – eating, at the beautiful and very warm Pinewood Café, run by the state as part of its big hotel there. I distinctly remember the smell of food. Poori aloo, sandwiches, omelets, cutlets.

Like many (but not all) state-run properties, Hotel Pinewood felt homely and warmer than Barog Heights, a walk through the premises revealed. We decided to have lunch there, which was so good, we skipped dinner. Well, almost.

On our way back, we spent some time in Kasauli. After taking in a panoramic view of the plains, including Chandigarh’s Sukna Lake, from the top of a Hanuman temple, it was time to hang out at the mall road. To get a taste of the British-era architecture, walk into a 19th century church that leads to a short mall road. At the end of the bazaar, try pickles made of meat. And definitely stop by at a photo studio which has pictures of India’s famous people – from the world of films, sports, politics – to its credit.

Braving a troop of menacing monkeys, we gorged on desi Chinese food from a kiosk that gave other eateries a run for their money at the mall.

It was time to go back, to routine, agendas, alarm clocks and a life that rarely gives the opportunity to look up and notice the sky.

Photo Album – Beyond books, Jaipur’s Diggi Palace

Jaipur’s Diggi Palace, an erstwhile 19th century residence of a royal family, has been an unrelenting host to the city’s famous literary festival for years. If you had the time, like I did, to look away from the discussions about books and writing, the “star” authors and the melee of visitors, the palace has a story of its own.

Here’s a collection of photos from Diggi Palace:

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Notes from the Jaipur Literature Festival

Visitors are seen inside a hall at Diggi Palace, the venue of Jaipur Literature FestivalOn the last day of the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), before dawn broke I woke up to the sound of prayer from the nearby mosque. The muezzin’s deep voice made its way to my hotel courtyard, its corridor and finally into my room. I woke up, turned on the light and VS Naipaul’s photo on the front page of DNA newspaper caught my attention, which was lying under the door of my hotel room.

“You don’t know what you’re getting into. You can’t go in, if you can, you can’t get out. This is ridiculous,” an irritated foreigner said as she struggled to leave Diggi Palace, the festival venue. Her brief tirade was heard by many who were probably waiting to catch a glimpse of Naipaul on the penultimate day of the event.

Minutes before his session was about to begin, the entry gate appeared to be blocked with teeming visitors. Unsure of being able to attend the session, I headed back to the hotel, disappointed. So did two journalists from Delhi I knew.

According to the festival estimates, a record number of more than 2, 00,000 people visited the Diggi Palace over five days. The sessions by former Indian president APJ Abdul Kalam and Naipaul attracted the largest number – 5,000 for each event.

“I realized how this festival, which in spite of its trifling inadequacies – the access is a nightmare, toilets un-kept and creepy commercialisation of even the kulhad tea – brought the high priests of literature right at my doorstep,” wrote Siddhartha Bose in the DNA story.

Indeed. The literature festival, believed to be the largest in Asia-Pacific region, mostly gets the attention of the press for reasons more dramatic than literary or intellectual. This year it was the emotional reunion of Naipaul and his former protégé and travel writer Paul Theroux that got everyone hooked to the show. The Nobel laureate, too frail to talk continuously, broke down as his ex-adversary compared him to Charles Dickens.

On the last day of the festival, commentator Suhel Seth reportedly taking BJP leader Shazia Ilmi to task excited many on Twitter. A friend from Delhi, a former journalist, texted me to know what had exactly happened. I didn’t watch TV debates or their adaptations, I told her.

And of course, the controversies over Ashis Nandy’s comments on Dalits or Salman Rushdie’s absence may be a thing of past but have hardly faded from public memory.

So I decided to look away from the bold headlines and explored sessions I knew nothing about or looked up names in the schedule I hadn’t heard of, ever. Like American Gilbert King, who talked about racial discrimination in the U.S. when four black men were falsely accused of raping a white woman in 1949. His book, on the same subject, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013.

Earlier in the day, a tall bearded American talked with Jeet Thayil about his fascination for footnotes, which sometimes exceeded the length of the main text. He liked to stretch moments into pages and pages, whether it was writing about a puff of air being blown or a man taking an elevator. Nicholson Baker, who has written a fair amount on sex, said he always felt uncomfortable about reading the erotic bits in public.

I also had a chance to listen to ancient texts written in Pali, Bangla, Kannada, Punjabi, Persian, Sinhalese in a single session. Although the guests translated their readings into English, the mere sound of so many languages in a matter of a few minutes was a novel experience.

And did you know ‘yeti’ is a dangerous creature that exists in Bhutan? Apparently no one has seen it, and those who do don’t survive to narrate the encounter. And then, there are these ‘transrunners’ – monks who learn to walk thousands of kilometers in 100 days. There are only a few such in Bhutan, we were told, and those who know this art don’t talk about it.

The world’s highest unclimbed mountain is in Bhutan as well. Located in the Himalayan nation near the Tibetan border, it stands at 24,981 feet.

From Bhutan I was transported to the fantasy world of Cat Weatherill, a British performer-storyteller. She dramatised the story of an African girl, Muthoni, and her necklace, which she gets as a gift for curing the ‘river goddess’ of her ailments. Also as a gift, the goddess saves the girl from a dragon. But the monster eventually devours other girls because they refuse to help the goddess. In another story, a grumpy and much-reviled old man ends up marrying his domestic maid, who wears wooden ears but hears nothing.

On Sunday, as the festival gradually neared its end, a huge number of people waited to see Ram Jethmalani and Shobhaa De for a session called “Devil’s Advocate”. As usual, it was hard to find a spot to stand and as the veteran lawyer and former union minister waved at the crowd, the Google Mughal Tent seemed to be drowned in a roar of applause.

I managed to find my way out of the venue as I had a train to board. Getting out of the main gate where people still yearned to get in, I thought of the woman who enjoyed her life wearing wooden ears made by her dead husband.

(Writing and photography by Ankush Arora)