Saturday, May 31, 2014

In which I learn about popular culture

- By Deepa Krishnan

I took this picture of our neighbourhood poster guy, as he set up his pavement stall in the morning:
In one quick glimpse, I could figure out what people want to put up on their walls:
- Sai Baba of Shirdi
- Hindu gods and goddesses
- Bonny babies (including one baby + cell phone combo)
- Chhatrapati Shivaji
- Body builders
- Unrealistic Landscapes
- Bollywood movie stars

My favourite was this poster of Devi, showing the entire universe contained in her. It has such fantastic iconography, I stood there for a couple of minutes just trying to figure out everything that was going on. I wish I could meet the unknown artist, who put together this dazzling imagery of earth and its creatures, all the gods and indeed, the entire universe, contained in one form.
Here's a closer look at the lower half of the picture: what do you see? I see the natural world; elephants, fish, snakes, cows, swans; I see a thousand references to mythology, each one a complete legend in itself. I can't even begin to describe all of them. Amazing, to just find this on the street. This is what popular culture is about - there are no art curators, there is no knowledgeable prattle, and there are no fancy galleries with their rarified atmosphere. The market rewards the artist who best expresses what people want.
Here is a closer look at the upper half: the style tells me this was produced in the south of India, but I don't know where. If you click on it, you can see a larger version. The navagraha (nine planets) are represented in her eight arms and in her crown (the Sun God is in her crown). The entire universe is contained in her.
I looked more closely, and found that there were two names signed at the bottom: Siva and Jothi. I think Siva is the artist, and perhaps Jothi is the company that produced the poster? That spelling of Siva tells me this is likely from Tamil Nadu, where I see this spelling usually. Whoever it is, I hope they know they are appreciated!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Teaching and Learning

- by Deepa Krishnan

These days we're doing a training / sensitization series at my office. It is a summer program for young people who work in the tourism industry in Mumbai.
We're discussing a wide range of topics - caste, gender, education, legal system, history, architecture, and so on. The idea is to help these students speak with some level of depth about these issues. They meet and interact with many tourists each month - so it is very useful for them.

I have myself also been enjoying these discussions on social, economic and political issues. And I'm looking forward to more of them. We have three interns this year, students from St Xavier's College (including my daughter Aishwarya!). They're helping to research topics and they're conducting the sessions. I'm the moderator, sort of.

There is lots of participation. I love the dynamics, and especially I love way learning works when there's discussion and fun, and most importantly, when everyone is sharing their own life experiences. I was glad to see the sort of questions that came up in the discussions on caste and gender. I'm learning lots of new stuff myself.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Taoos Chaman ki Myna

by Aishwarya Pramod

This Sunday, I went to see a children's play at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (Chowpatty). The play was called Taoos Chaman ki Myna, meaning "The mynah from the Peacock Garden".

I loved it. It was funny, witty, and extremely well-produced, with a mix of realistic and stylized scenes lending it a fairy-tale feel. And the music was great (my mom is still humming it).

Taoos Chaman ki Myna is based on a short story written by Naiyer Masud, an Urdu writer from Lucknow. The play is set in Lucknow during the mid-1800s. Wajid Ali Shah, the Nawab of Awadh, has a large cage full of beautiful mynahs in his garden in Qaisar Bagh. Kaley Khan is a poor employee in the Nawab's garden. The play follows the story of Kaley Khan and his family, and specifically, what happens when he steals one of the mynahs for his daughter, who has long been asking for one.
Lucknow in the background. Death of Kaley Khan's wife, with his daughter sorrowing.
The acting incorporated a lot of graceful dance-like movements and postures (Kathak, according to my mother), and the play almost became like a dance-drama.
Kaley Khan's first glimpse of Taoos Chaman's peacocks.
Outstanding choreography and imagination.
Newly arrived hill mynas are about to be released into the cage in the Nawab's garden.
Nawab Wajid Ali Shah comes to inspect, along with the British Resident
I loved the glimpse I got into Lucknow's culture - the story was peppered with references to the city of Lucknow - from major landmarks and historical figures to street foods and bird markets, havelis and Nawabi eccentricities. 

It was presented by Gillo Theatre Repertory, which works exclusively in theatre for young audiences. I like the fact that Gillo focuses on showcasing Indian content. They have established a talented repertory of adult performers who perform exclusively for children.
The talented team at Gillo.
Dolly Thakore was there in the audience, she came up on stage and praised the group
... wah re celeb dekh liya B)
The hall was filled with children, most of whom had come with their parents. There was also a large group of schoolchildren with their teachers. I think the play definitely succeeded in delighting the kids :) The adults in the audience loved it too, going by their expressions and applause.

Now I'm looking for more of Naiyer Masud's stories, in Hindi.

Photo credit: Deepa Krishnan