Sunday, December 22, 2013

"Touched by Bhupen"

- By Deepa Krishnan

There's an exhibition currently going on at two art galleries, Max Mueller Bhavan and Mirchandani+Steinruecke. It's called "Touched by Bhupen", and it pays homage to the artist Bhupen Khakhar, who died in 2003. A group of 26 artists have come together to display art works and installations inspired by Khakhar.
Poster as soon as you enter Galerie Max Mueller
So why all the fuss about Bhupen Khakhar, you ask? Who was he, anyway?
Photos of Bhupen Khakhar, sourced from
Bhupen Khakkar is considered to be one of most iconic, provocative and controversial artists of 20th century India. Born in Bombay in 1934, he moved to Baroda in the 60's. His paintings, with their street and daily life imagery, combined with some sardonic and playful twists, have been a major influence on Indian artists. He was among the earliest to portray the ordinary - the tailor, the rickshawalla, the barber - in ways that celebrated the mundane. He used historical and mythological references, as well as stylistic references to traditional painting techniques, to create a unique style of his own. Khakhar was the leading member of what is called the 'Baroda group', a set of artists who defined the art scene in the 70's. . 

In the 80's Khakhar created a sensation by becoming India's first openly gay artist to express his homosexuality on canvas. In a repressed era where such subjects were taboo, this made him iconic. 
"You can't please all", 1981, Bhupen Khakhar
In "You can't please all", Bhupen Khakkar references the Aesop's fable of the boy and his father taking a donkey to the market. The man on the balcony overlooking this street scene is himself. He painted this at his house in Baroda, at a point in time where he had not yet openly declared himself gay.

My introduction to Bhupen Khakhar came in Bangalore this September, where I attended a talk at the NGMA. I learnt that it was only after the death of his mother that he could bring himself to come out. "I can't do this to her", he told a friend. "She won't understand."

But after she died, he began expressing himself through his work. Here is one that moved me, because you can see he is not afraid to express his insecurity and need: 
"How many hands do I need
to declare my love to you?"
Watercolour, 1994
Since that talk at NGMA, I have looked up many of Bhupen Khakhar's works online, checked out photos and tidbits, trying to piece together who he was, and how this boy from a traditional Gujju family in Khetwadi could actually come out finally and declare his sexual orientation to the world. I've read what his friends have to say about him. What emerges from all the things written about him is that he was a unique man. Someone who was not afraid to paint his inner world, someone who appreciated the beauty within the mundane, who was not afraid of the grotesque. Above all, a man who was not afraid to declare his hurts and disappointments.

Anyway - I was quite intrigued by the concept of 26 artists doing tribute to Khakhar, and it so happened that I was passing by Max Mueller Bhavan, so I popped in to have a look:
Jogen Chowdhury's "His peaceful life in Heaven" on the left. I don't remember what the one on the right was called.
Karmakar's "Door" and "35 Views", two installations referencing how Khakhar shows both the inner and outer worlds. And also referencing the voyeurism in Khakhar's art
Of course, one of the problems with this kind of tribute/homage is that it tends to have all kinds of impossible-to-understand references, since each artist is influenced by Khakhar in different ways. But leaving that aside, there is some really good stuff to see. These 26 include some of the major contemporary artists in India today, so if you are anywhere near the Gateway of India, then you have until Jan 6th to check it out.

Like I said earlier, there are two venues; Max Mueller Bhavan and Mirchandani+Steinruecke.

I did not go to Mirchandani+Steinreucke, but I am very tempted to go, having seen all these interesting installations and exhibits on their website
Ram Rahman: Akhara Gate, Panchkuian Road, Delhi, 1980s. The photographer Ram Rahman shares Khakkar's interest in the depiction of street scenes, and finds some playful humor as well in this photograph.
Clockwise: Anju Dodiya, Sudhir Patwardhan and Gulammohammed Sheikh
In case you are planning to go, here is some practical information:

Exhibition details:
Dates: Friday, 29th November 2013 to Monday, 6th January 2014

1) Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke
(Tuesday – Saturday 11 am to 7 pm)
2 Sunny House, 16/18 Mereweather Road, Behind Taj Mahal Hotel, Colaba, Mumbai 400 001 

2) Galerie Max Mueller, Max Mueller Bhavan, next to Jehangir Art Gallery - +91 22 2202 3030/ 3434 - Call and check opening days and hours before you go. I think they are closed Mondays.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Santacruz Market Walk

- By Deepa Krishnan

A couple of days ago, I walked through Santacruz Market. It's great for photography, with lots of colour! There's a meat and fish market, a vegetable market, lots of spices and snacks, as well as fabrics and jewellery. I had only a camera-phone and I didn't really photograph everything in the market. But here are some photos of the food section.
Indoor market for vegetables
The fish market was nearby, with a busy looking kolin inviting me to check out the day's catch. There were a couple of men selling dried fish as well. 

Neatly slicing with her curved fish-knife
The meat market was gross as usual, dirty and bloody. I walked quickly past it. I think Mumbai customers should make more of a fuss about how the meat is displayed and sold. No wonder people are buying super-market meats! It was a relief to come out to the open street.
General street view: The awnings of the shops offer protection from sun and rain
Jalaram Stores, selling tea-time snacks
Pickle and spice shop
Leafy vegetables being arranged. The daily stock arrives in jute bags and is cleaned and presented on bamboo baskets.
Several spice shops sell fried stuff. This shop had a board advertising various types of fresh-ground flours. Looks like pasta is very popular in Santacruz!
As usual, the most fragrant thing was coriander.

The coriander stall also had fenugreek and mint, as well as chillies, garlic, lemongrass, fresh turmeric, ginger and amba-harad. I was very tempted to buy some amba-harad for pickling, but I had a deadline and lots of other work in the market, so I reluctantly walked away. 
The winter fruits were interesting too. They deserve a whole post of their own!

I'm definitely going back to Santacruz Market. Next time, I'll photograph the fabric markets and the little stalls that sell embellishments for sarees and salwar kameez.  And I'll see what else I can find. What a fabulous market it is. I think a new bazaar walk may be coming up!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

In which a little bit of Greece comes to Mumbai

- By Deepa Krishnan

In 2007, before the era where food shows took over Indian television, I went to a little village called Zaros in the island of Crete. 

We stayed at Studios Keramos, a small B&B, where our hostess Katerina was famous for her fantastic breakfasts. She made fresh bread for us every morning, and also all kinds of other Greek peasant-style baked treats. 

I peeped into her kitchen, saw her old oven, and fell in love with the idea of baking. 

It was alien to me, this whole thing about ovens. I had seen clay tandoors in India, with naans being stuck to the sides. But Katerina's kitchen was my first look at a 'proper' oven. 

It seemed like magic. Ordinary dough, transformed into pies with savoury and sweet fillings - how amazing it was! Sarikopita, spanakopita, kalitsounia...Katerina would pull all these Cretan specialties out of the oven, brown and delicious. To add to my delight, many were vegetarian, reflecting the abundant greens grown in the local farms. The typical breakfast table had some 15 baked goodies, absolutely stunning. 
But it was bread, plain bread, that caught my fancy. Fresh and warm, straight out of the oven, eaten with loads of butter, olive oil, feta and salad. 

I've been wanting to bake my own bread ever since I first ate Katerina's bread in 2007. But you know how it is. These thoughts are fleeting, and you rarely have time in your busy career to do anything about it.

The biggest problem was yeast, which is a smelly, ugly fungus, with a rotting odour that makes you wonder why you ever thought of baking anything. It's not something I am familiar with, and I didn't have the necessary initiative to go find it and tread into unfamiliar terrain. 

Then as luck would have it, I happened to find dried yeast at the food store at the Mumbai airport, when I went to pickup my in-laws who were visiting for Diwali. I plonked 350 rupees on the counter and brought it home. And finally this week, I took my first stab at baking. 

Here is the result - my first attempt at baking yesterday (which I converted into bruschetta), and my second one today (which is garnished with sesame and still whole). 
It's not as if this is a stupendous achievement, but after years of eating store-bought white bread, and having to depend on bakeries in Bandra and Colaba for better stuff, it is great to be able to bake my own bread.

More importantly, whenever I do something new, I feel good. Today it was the beauty of baking that gave me creative joy. But whether it is baking or snorkelling or climbing a mountain, I want my life to have a sense of newness and wonder all the time. I never want to be a bored, cranky, negative person who wonders how to get through the day.

In fact, I think the secret to happiness is always having many new "firsts", all through life. I hope I can keep myself open to new things, so that I never lose the joy of living. 

I think I will be baking some more. And I have Katerina to thank for it :) :)

By the way, she doesn't speak a word of English. It was all hand gestures and smiles. When we left the B&B, she gifted us her famous herbed tea, it was a bunch of wild herbs from the Cretan countryside. Aishwarya's journey into herbed tea began with Katerina's wild herbs :) And Katerina also gifted my husband a bottle of raki.

When people talk about travel and how it brings strangers closer, I always think about Katerina and how she introduced me to herbed tea and baking.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Bhelwalla at Horniman Circle

- By Deepa Krishnan

Bhelpuri is a great leveller. I clicked this photo at Horniman Circle, at the heart of the financial district.
This bhelwalla has bankers and moneymakers queuing up for chana and bhel, alongside courier boys and labourers.
The new Starbucks is just across the street from the bhelwalla.
Inside Starbucks, it's a completely different world. I spotted SoBo teenagers doing a group-study thing, over expensive lattes, with fancy cell phones nearby. There were groups of foreigners with ipads and laptops. A security guard / doorman stood outside. It was a little upscale haven where the real world couldn't rudely intrude.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Festival season at Kumbharwada, Dharavi

- by Deepa Krishnan

With Diwali around the corner, the kilns at Kumbharwada are going non-stop. If you go now, you will see women and men working round the clock, selling the diyas and decorative pots that have been made specially for the festive season. 

I went on Saturday. Here is what I found:
With every available open space taken up, these diyas were being dried on top of a taxi
Large quantities of standard type diyas were being filled
into gunny bags and loaded into trucks for
sending to other parts of the city
They were being given a last wash in geru (red colour) and dried before packing.
Decorative diyas had been made using fancy moulds.
Some of them were ceramic as well.
I found a girl deftly painting designs with acrylic paint.
She was super-quick and efficient.
Her mother sat nearby doing the base colours.
They made a pretty picture, lined up in a row
Women managing the shop.
Behind the shop is the home and the kitchen.
And behind that is the workshop and kiln.
Purchase transaction in progress
Every visit to Kumbharwada teaches me the importance of cottage industries. When work and home location are combined, women become active participants in production. The separation of work and home, aka "industrialisation" is simply not set up with women's inclusion in mind. If you want to read Gandhi's views on the subject, they are here.

This is what I bought for myself:
The larger diya will go in the centre of my Diwali rangoli
There is something special about going to the source of a product and buying it directly from the community. To be able to do that in an urban environment like Mumbai is something even more special. Go visit Kumbharwada, buy some stuff!

Kumbharwada is really easy to get to. With Sion railway station on your right, walk towards Bandra. The first big left you see is called 90-Feet Road. About 500 meters down this road is Kumbharwada (on your left).

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Why I love Navratri season

- By Janaki Krishnan

For youngsters, Navratri is a time of dance and merriment, through playing dandiya with friends and loved ones. It is said that at the end of the nine nights, young people end up finding the perfect life partner. For older people, Navratri is a time to show their devotion through prayer and fasting. I don't fall into either of these categories, because I can neither dance nor fast!

But I still love Navratri. When I was in school, our house would host Navratri celebrations. My sister and I would go round inviting other South Indian ladies in Matunga for vettalai pakku (pan supari). 
Navratri 'golu' display at 
Dr. Jayashree Rajagopalan's house
When we visited other houses to see their 'golu' displays, the lady of the house would ask us to sing a song for Devi before giving us prasad. My sister, a good Carnatic singer, would use every opportunity to show her skill, while I was more interested in the packets of prasad. 
My sister and I
(she is wearing blue, I am in red)
I would open the prasad eagerly as soon as we got home. Usually it would contain various types of chundal (boiled chickpeas and pulses of various types, sauteed and garnished in many ways). 

We would prefer to go visiting people on Tuesdays and Fridays, when the prasad would be sweet! Kozhakattai, shira, neiappam, these were all wonderful delights to look forward to.

Today at eighty years, I find that while my hearing, sense of smell and sight have deteriorated, my sense of taste has only become sharper! When I was working I never had any time to do anything; but retirement has given me all the time in the world. I intend to do full justice to it, and to my taste buds!
One of the many delights of Navratri: White chana chundal, with red chilli, mustard, curry leaves and fresh grated coconut
Kozhakattai, with jaggery and coconut stuffing
These days, apart from the prasad, I also enjoy the various gifts that I get during Navratri when I visit friends and family. I now have at least a dozen coconuts to last me for a whole month! And innumerable blouse-pieces to match all sorts of sarees. Here is a photo of all the things I got this season: steel dabbas of various sizes, plates, bowls, shopping bags, handbags, and sarees. 
Now do you see why I love this festival? 
Article by Janaki Krishnan; Photos by Deepa Krishnan; Inputs/edits by Aishwarya Pramod

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A wedding (and cool biryani!) at Chamda Bazaar

-by Aishwarya Pramod

Recently my mother and I attended a wedding reception at Chamda Bazaar (in Dharavi). The bride was the sister of Fahim, one of my mother's colleagues.

A three-storeyed hall had been booked, with the men on the ground floor, women on the middle storey and the dining room on the top floor. The actual nikaah ceremony was over by the time we reached, so Fahim took us upstairs to join the social gathering that follows the ceremony. 

The hall buzzed with the conversation of women and the shouts of children running about. We made our way towards the bride. 
Fahim's family was extremely nice and welcoming. I muttered some inane greetings, grinned foolishly at everyone and then took to lurking behind my mother.
We were soon called to have dinner, which I was really looking forward to. The dining room had about ten tables, each seating around eight people. Each table had a single large platter of mutton biryani, accompanied by a large bowl of raita. Our table was also given a vegetarian biryani. The food was supplied by a professional caterer but it was Fahim's friends who welcomed the guests, filled the platters and made sure that the khaatirdaari was perfect.
Apart from us, some of Fahim's relatives were also vegetarian as they had lived in Gujarat their whole lives. For dessert there was doodhi ka halwa, which I hadn't tasted before and was very good. My mother took small to moderate helpings of everything (repressed, I call it :P). I, on the other hand, heaped generous quantities onto my plate and felt glad my salwar was tied loosely.

Here's a closer look at the food: 
As far as I can remember, this is the first time I've eaten biryani at a wedding. Most weddings I've attended have been South Indian ones with long tables and banana leaves. Sharing dishes at a table was new, and so was being served by Fahim's friends instead of professional caterers. It felt really nice to be taken care of in that way. All in all I'm really glad I got to attend a kind of wedding that I'd never been to before.

The professionalization of wedding catering in Mumbai is relatively recent. It has only happened in the last couple of generations. At my grandmother's wedding, food was served by her uncles. But most of that stopped before I was born, and professionals took over all the arrangements. My grandmother's probably relieved that someone else is doing all that arduous cooking now!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

A beautiful trip to Bedse Caves

- By Deepa Krishnan

Ever since the monsoon season started, I have been wanting to see the Western Ghats in all their green glory. Finally we found the time, a perfect day, half sunny, half cloudy, and we set out for the Buddhist Caves at Bedse. 
The mountains ahead of us
Most people living in Bombay don't know that the spread of Buddhism on the West Coast of India began in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region; in what we today call Nallasopara (the next train station on the Western line immediately after Vasai). The Mauryan Emperor Ashoka (273 to 276 BC) sent an emissary called Dharmarakshita to Sopara (it was at that time major trading port). Ashoka's Edict at Sopara is now in the Prince of Wales Museum, but you can see a photo and translation of the edict here

The Buddhist monks found the perpendicular cliffs of the Sahyadris eminently suitable for their monsoon prayer retreats. What may have started as a small rock-excavation experiment of the monks turned into a very major architectural trend, with over 1200 cave temples excavated in India. Of these, 800 are in Western India, and thankfully for Mumbaikars, several of them are very close to Mumbai.

With about 2 hours of drive (from Sion), we made it to Bedse. On the way, we saw several waterfalls, and the mountains clouded in beautiful mist. Once we cleared Kamshet and turned off into the rural areas, we were in for a visual treat. Everything was green and moist, with countless small waterfalls. It was very quiet, with no traffic noise. There were cowherds everywhere, keeping an eye on cattle. Women of the villages walked by the side of the road, fetching water and washing clothes. The road went right upto the base of the caves; although it was narrow and could take only one car at a time. 
Rural scenes and first view of Bedse Caves
(the caves are midway up this low hill,
between two waterfalls)
From the base of the hill, there are 450 steps up, to reach the caves. The climb is spectacular, green, inviting, with beautiful views. You can stop every now and then to catch your breath and admire the scenery. I got my first very beautiful photo of a little frog, who was perhaps frightened into stillness by our proximity.
Steps with lots of space to rest.
They were slippery in the rain.
Once we huffed and pufed our way to the top, we got our first proper glimpse of the cave entrance: a grand pillar half-hidden by the rock. It lay to our right, inviting us in. To our left was a small stupa, and near the stupa were the underground water cisterns, cleverly designed to store drinking water all through the year. We walked into the pillared entrance, and found some stunning carvings waiting for us. 
Because we went early, we had the entire place to ourselves (awesome!).
The earliest Buddhist caves in the Deccan belong to the Hinayana faith, and were excavated between 2 BC and 2 AD. Bedse, along with its neighbours Karle (Karla) and Bhaja, belong to this early phase. The primary enabling factor was the rise of the Satavaahanas, a dynasty that practised Brahmanism (a Vedic religion which was a predecessor of modern-day Hinduism). The Satavaahanas brought peace and prosperity to the Deccan; it was a period of flourishing trade with the Mediterranean as well as with other parts of India. The Satavaahana kings seem to have been perfectly happy to let Buddhism flourish. Maybe the lines of division between various sects were not as sharply defined as they are today; or maybe they were secular leaders. Or maybe the Brahmins did not perceive these monks as any sort of threat to their way of life. Who knows?

We entered through the pillared portico, and saw a beautiful chaitya-griha (prayer hall) of the Hinayana style. 
Chaitya-griha (left) and pillar outside
Here are the typical characteristics of a chaitya-griha in Buddhist rock-cut architecture: you can see ALL of them in the chaitya above.
  • First, the typical chaitya is apsidal in plan. Apsidal means that the altar end of the chaitya is curved in a semi-circular fashion. In Buddhist chaitya-grihas, you have a long rectangular main body, with an apse at the end.
  • Second, the roof is usually entirely barrel-vaulted from end to end. In fact, I have not seen any Buddhist chaitya without a vaulted roof.
  • Third, the nave (the main central part of the chaitya) and the sides are clearly defined through a series of pillars. 
  • Fourth, there is a stupa (containing sacred relics, usually ashes of monks) at the remote end of the nave. 
  • Fifth, if a chaitya-griha belongs to the Hinayana period, you will not see carved images of the Buddha (this is why I simply LOVED the caves at Bedse, not a single Buddha figure anywhere, stark, simple, a place of meditation and prayer, a philosophy rather than a cult, and a true reflection of Buddhism as the Buddha conceived it).
There are more reasons why Bedse is the perfect specimen of a Hinayana settlement. In determining the chronology of rock-cut caves, architects usually look at how closely the features tend to copy wooden prototypes. The older a chaitya-griha is, the more likely it is to have wood-like carvings and features, including grilled lattice-work windows. I was delighted to find all of these at Bedse.
Typical Hinayana architecture
Apart from the chaitya, there is yet another cave in Bedse, this one is a "sanghaaraama". This word means "resting place of the Sangha". Often the word vihaara is used instead of sanghaarama, but really a vihaara is more like a monastic settlement, than a single resting place. The typical sanghaarama or vihaara has two architectural features, both of which are perfectly illustrated in Bedse. There is usually a central hall; with flanking residential cells. The hall may be square or curved. At Bedse, our guide Dahibhate showed us a series of 12 cells. One of them had a rock window to peer out into the world; perhaps the ancient equivalent of the "corner office" with the view :)  
Sanghaarama/vihaara with rock window and residential cells.
We had to walk through a mini-waterfall to enter.
You don't have to be a fan of Buddhist caves to enjoy Bedse. If you go in the monsoon season, the views and the greenery are reward enough; and the exercise is good for all us city-bred folks. It is super-romantic as well :)
The Sahyadris are truly a treasure, they are my escape when I want to get drunk on the beauty of nature. So close to Mumbai, and so accessible! Especially in the monsoons, there are so many waterfalls everywhere and so many things to see. Bedse Village at the base of the mountains has a lot of rice farming going on and it's fun to walk through the narrow road that goes through the village (I like to make-believe that I am a farmer, OK, I know that is stupid!).

But seriously, don't wait for the "right" day, don't let the weather or work or the daily grind get to you this monsoon season. Take a day - you need just half a day, really - and go out to the mountains. They are there, waiting for you...go today if you can!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Bazaar Treasures - Monsoon Special (2)

- By Deepa Krishnan

I promised a second instalment of special monsoon veggies and fruits, so here they are! The bazaars are very exciting these days, and I am enjoying walking around with my camera.

Have you seen all the gorgeous fresh dates in the market yet? They come in two colours, red and golden. I cajoled some vendors into giving me some to taste. Delightful! 
Red kharak / Dates
Yellow kharak; just as sweet as red
I also saw lots of tender bamboo shoots in the market the other day. "Who buys this from you?" I asked the shop keeper. "Manglur-wale", he answered. The Konkanis and Mangaloreans who shop in Matunga for beautiful coral and gold necklaces also shop for keerla (bamboo shoots) which is a rainy season delicacy. The outer layers are cut and the tender white inner portions are soaked in water, usually for 3 days. Each day the water is thrown out and fresh water is added. 

The cleaned shoots are then used in multiple ways. Some of it is kept in salt water for later use during the year, usually cut into discs. Some of it is cooked as dry curry or wet curry and eaten (usually with rice and some kind of dal). Usually tamarind, coconut, red chillies, onion are used in preparing the dish.
Tender Bamboo Shoots / Keerla
In the rainy season, vazhapoo, the banana flower, is back on the tables of South Indian homes. The banana flower is usually left to ripen as it holds the potential for huge bunches of the fruit within. But heavy rains and strong winds sometimes force huge single clusters free from the main plant.

In the earlier days, families that owned abundant land had hordes of banana plants in the courtyard and these fallen fruits were treated as 'poor man's food'. Times have changed and family courtyards in the south now may hold just a few of the plant or if they’ve moved to cities, none. Today, the flower is a delicacy.
Banana Flower / Vazhapoo
There are also lots of fresh water chestnuts in the market these days. I don't eat them, but my friends tell me you can just peel and eat them fresh. They certainly look very green and fresh. I have had them smoked / roasted over a coal fire.
Singhada, water chestnut
There are lots of other things in the market too. Fresh corn is in plentiful supply. 
Fresh maize / corn / bhutta
Tapioca also has made a big appearance, after not being available much in summer. Malayali hearts must the rejoicing at least a little bit :)
Tapioca / Kaappa
And - since it is Shravan - there is also wheatgrass, for the keeping of "vrats". I don't think I'll ever comprehend these religious observances, but the wheatgrass looks fantastic, doesn't it? Does anyone have a recipe for me to try eating this? It is very healthy I am sure.
Wheatgrass / Gehun
Here's the wheat, germinating. I'm guessing this is just regular wheat, the sort that we make rotis with? How do you get it to germinate at home?
Early stage in the growth of wheatgrass
I hope you've enjoyed looking at all the photos :) In case you are wondering where I clicked all these, they are from Bhuleshwar and Matunga. There's so much variety in the market that I want to keep going and discovering more stuff. And there is so much to learn, about different cuisines and cultures. Anyone who wants to join me is welcome, but remember to bring a sturdy shopping bag!

Next is the next part in this series - Monsoon Special (3)
And for those who want to see the previous entry in the series: here is the link