Friday, November 06, 2015

Deepika Vs Madhuri

The music channels are full of the  “Deewani Mastani” song. It takes one back Madhuri Dixit’s so many kg ghagra kothawali dance in Devdas.  Pet obsession?
Chitpavan women would never be caught in public watching such a performance, as Priyanka Chopra is seen, with perhaps the most authentic expressions crossing her face as she looks on at the interplay between Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone.
Deepika, in  her pale gold avatar in a net outfit reminiscent of flamenco dancers, with many  co-dancers, seems to inhabit the same Madhuri  space.  She dances in a huge ornate space, more European than Peshwai in design.  
Peshwai architecture was noted for its long, perhaps narrow halls and tall distinctively fluted and carved wooden columns based on stone to prevent damp and  insect damage --- all topped with intricately carved wood ceilings and all polished black in color.  Noted examples are the Mastani resurrected palace at the world renowned Kelkar Museum in Pune and the Wada of Nana Fadnis at Wai.
Yes, the setting has a beauty of its own.    But the historical references?
Despite considerable ‘authenticity’assurances from the production company, Mastani is apparently being depicted as a dancing girl – from Persia!!   or Spain? It sticks to an old myth of  a courtesan, not Baji Rao's legally married second  wife. The marriage  is accepted by the present day Peshwa family and Kashibai’s descendants, after later day research brought out the facts of Mastani's origins.

Mastani was a kshtriya princess from Bundelkhand, a daughter of  one of the noted kings of his time and the chief proponent of the Pranami Panth.   Maharaj Chhatrasaal gave  her a dowry 5 lakhs lugda choli with 500 gold mohurs, plus a jagir of one third of his estate to Bajirao plus one third share in the mines of diamonds and emeralds at Panna.  
Such a handsome dowry for a dancing girl?   When all that he sent to Maharajswami Shahu as war reparations for Bajirao's rescue mission was a sum of 1.25 lakhs?   
Yes, Mastani used to dance … in her Krishna bhakti (hence the name Mastani.)  and for her husband Baji Rao. The only time she danced for the family was when she had performed at the Janmasthami that Kashibai organized in their apartments.  Baji Rao's secretary came in to get signatures, saw her dance and spoke about it, germinating that myth.   The other time  she directed the little girls of the family for a dance at Ganesh utsav.
At the Kelkar museum recreation of her palace chamber, a prominent display is that of her tanpura and her Bal Krishna. Would such a  devout princess stand up in public to sing main deewani mastani hogayi etc etc.   no dignity or class?

The book on which the film is purportedly based, was first written in the 1970s before any research had happened. The author went by the prevailing myths of the time.  Those dancing girl myths were created at the instance of Kashibai's grandson and Raghunath Rao's son, later known as Baji Rao II who lost the Peshwai to the British.  He was trying to ensure he got the Peshwai and not Mastani’s grandson, Ali Bahadur who was favored because he was the replica of Baji Rao I both physically but also administratively and emotionally and therefore popular.  Ali Bahadur was later sent off as the Nawab of Banda. In his absence all these stories were created and circulated and the Bakhars edited to remove Mastani by Krishna Sohni.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Sun rise in Abu

One morning, after innumerable years,
I watched the entire gamut of a sun rise over the hills…

That awesome sight of a a still, chilled night
Sprinkled with the glitterati of the night stars
Never visible in polluted Ahmedabad.

The rising of a slow glimmer of light
Accompanied by the plaintive cry of a loudspeaker fed azaan.
Atop the sky sparkled two stars
One atop the other
Way above the dark horizon.
Then a glimmer of a pale copper, or was it saffron or orange
Varying shades rose in strings and strips.
At times eerily resembling the Rings of Saturn
Straddling the guardian peaks of Abu.

It was a long way to sunrise
Abu’s Rings of Saturn changed color and shape
Now ring formations;  now climbing Sirius ones and others
As the morning mist enveloped the entire city down below.

We waited.  My daughter and I
Taking deep breaths of the clear cold mountain air
Looking around  as dark shapes around came alive
Into rocks surrounded by variegated greens.
At   the stunning terrace garden  below
With the wrought iron furniture symbolic of the good life of long ago.

Hearing the peals of the temple bells; those of the boarding schools
The rising chirps of a numerous variety of birds
The raucous craw of the crows again after ever so long
And the stillness of the Nakki lake further below
Until finally the cool fresh mountain air started to warm
And the Sun rose majestically through the hills
To cast all before it in dark shadow
Before light shone free over all.

Friday, October 16, 2015


Tell me, how are literary writers expected to register their protest on mind bans?

=       a Pens Down Strike? Aah, wouldn’t the powers-that-be just love that one? 
=       a thali-belan  or slate-pen rally to generate noise pollution?
=       a quiet withdrawal all their work from the public domain?  Perumal did it last year. Remember him? What did it get him?  Yes, it  did  leave the field clear for all the Trolls and the Roadies and mass productions.

Where are the Writer former chief minister of a southern state and his thought provoking poetess MP daughter?                 Ultimately, an 88 year old writer, acknowledged for her generation of ideas and leading thoughts, took  a lead in pointing to the degeneration of thinking in a fast slipping culture and the ongoing esasure of  a cultural heritage.
Of course, the return of Sahitya awards has been dubbed futile since they are awarded by the Sahitya Parishads, not the government.
Doesn’t everybody know who nominates the members of the Parishads?  
Had they been Free Agents, would there have been craven silence at each successive instance of Stalinist/Maoist/Taliban terror wrecked on writers and thinkers?
What can be more damning than the dichotomy between a Sahitya Parishad and a Sahitya Academy, both are about Sahitya itself?
“____Sahitya Academy has not reacted as it is a government body.” 

This at a time when the Frankfurt Book Fair is slated to open with Iran, Indonesia and Salman Fatwa Rushdie. The world has, perhaps, moved on  -- while we remain entrenched in our pettiness, serving WhatsApp jokes en masse.

more to follow…..

Kusum Choppra: A DARE

Kusum Choppra: A DARE


He had dared to ride a horse for his wedding.
Challenged the age old rites of Rajputism.
Punishment instant by a kangaroo court.
His feet  shod with hooves held with nails through his soles. left to die.
They took him to the big Dilli hospital.
Recovery would take weeks, they were told.
They left him at the mercy of hospital staff n well wishers.
Returned to a threat .... don't ever see him again or else...

Dilli worked its own magic.
An NGO filed a suit; media picked up the issue.
"India wants to know" bellowed TV screens. Donations poured in.
Infections held up recovery.
From the little screen on his mobile he watched
Police rounded up those who had gored him.
The battle will be long. He was told.

Witnesses threatened, bought or bumped off. Judges selected for bias.
Will you n your village last the war?
Years later the verdict came in.
A prematurely aged groom, his harried looking wife and bored son
heard that they been convicted alright.
Leeway for the time already spent in jail
so only a couple of months were left.

The assassins would be free to roam their home stomping grounds.
While the trio could never go home again.
Home? Where was that?