Friday, 31 May 2013

snapshots from Shaheen Bagh...

Shaheen Bagh is a neighborhood by the Yamuna, in the southernmost tip of South Delhi. The neighbourhood is not that old. It came up only about a decade or two ago. Here are pictures taken around Shaheen Bagh... of meat shops, sabzi mandi and a madarsa.

Sabzi Mandi

cloth market, Sabzi Mandi

madarsa at Thokar 7

meat shop at Thokar 6

another meat shop at Thokar 6

meat shop at Thokar 7

Saturday, 25 May 2013

My latest for Deccan Herald: Bobby Chinn's new food show on TLC and travel experiences...

Lip-smacking show

Juanita Kakoty, May 26, 2013, DHNS:
Learn & teach

In his new season of the show, ‘World Café’, chef Bobby Chinn is seen globetrotting in search of recipes that are simple and exotic. Juanita Kakoty talks to the world renowned chef about his passion for food and experiences during this show

Celebrated chef Bobby Chinn is all set to bring the food and culinary customs of Zanzibar, Sicily, Portugal and Peru to Indian television with his new series World Café, starting May 27 on weekdays at 10 pm on TLC. “The food that we do on the show is very accessible; they’re not haute cuisine and will not intimidate any cook. They are actually very simple dishes that we can film easily and articulate and teach easily,” says Bobby.

He enjoyed the travelling associated with the show and says that he met with mixed results when it came to acquiring a recipe. “For example, when we were filming in Zanzibar, it was very difficult to find recipes. We then tried going out and talking to people at cooking schools, to chefs in their restaurants, to as many resources as we could find. 

Then when I went to Chengdu in China, I really wanted to learn how to make the duck there. I wanted to get that recipe but couldn’t find it anywhere; no one knew how to make it, no one would show us how to make it. And then we had a competely different experience when we went to Peru. We saw that they’ve got an established restaurant and culinary scene with recipes easily accessible.” So, in a sense, Bobby admits that the upcoming series of World Café has everything from the web to street to peers to restaurants to cookbooks. And that, “In this series we are able to get really good chefs who can educate us on different types of cuisine.”

Hunt for recipes

The difficulty in finding recipes at certain places could also be attributed to the approach to food over the years, says Bobby. “In food history, they talk a lot about the economics of it and the trades. And it’s rare that you see a social side and technique side in a lot of different countries, because they were not documenting the recipes; they were passed on generation after generation. Like in Vietnam, no one knows know who made pho, and that’s a national dish.”

Half Chinese and half Egyptian, Bobby is a graduate from Richmond College in London with a BA in Finance and Economics. He worked in many positions in the securities industries before he gave all that up to sell seafood. He had also done some bit of stand up in Los Angeles and San Francisco and waited tables before finding his passion in the kitchen. He worked and trained under some great chefs in San Francisco and France and went on to become a great chef. He has presented many food shows on TV and has done shows on Indian food too. “In earlier seasons of World Café, when we were filming in India, we chose recipes that are accessible; recipes from people who have a restaurant as well as recipes from the streets. And they showed us their secrets. They were very forthcoming with their recipes.”

No complaints

Speaking about creating food shows, Bobby reveals that there are certain challenges involved, “When you are filming, you are dealing with the elements of rain, electricity failures, losing light, racing against time, etc. that happens all over the place.

So sometimes, it looks a little chaotic though I’m not sure if it comes across on film. And sometimes when I’m actually in the field, like when we were in Jordan, we filmed 15 hours a day. So by the second day, you are grumpy and exhausted but you have to look happy.” Yet he says, “But I don’t think anyone should ever complain if they have a job like this, because it is a privilege and a pleasure to travel and to meet inspiring cooks and people from all over the world.” He talks of learning experiences too, “In the first season, I was very excited just to be travelling. And then, as it went on, I wanted to be a better host, and do my job better. So I think there’s this evolution that’s taken place in this whole thing.”

Food inspires Bobby in many ways. “When you feed people, you make them happy and you bring people together in a relaxed environment. And then you also get to work with farmers and fisherman and get to know the seasons around and kind of have your fingertips to the ground almost knowing what’s going on.”

“And in matters of health, it is interesting how food can be used as medicine. So the thing with food is that you are working with all your senses: your sense of smell, touch, sight.” Bobby says that he eats the food he cooks. Therefore, healthy food is foremost in his mind, “I’m going towards healthier, lighter food.” And to that he adds, “I’m also learning how to use technology to make my job easier and to try and maximise the nutritional value of the food that I eat.”

Friday, 24 May 2013

My latest short story published by New Asian Writing- 'Romance on Indian Railway'

'Romance on Indian Railway'

What is it about a train journey in India I fail to understand, but every time I have been on a train, I’ve made friends. And the nature of the friendship has been such that it lasted for only as long as the journey lasted, but its warmth tugged at my heart for the rest of my life. I have forgotten their names with the passing of years; some, I do admit, I remember. But it is their faces that I have not forgotten. At times, it is not even the face, but the action and the gestures that have stayed on.

And the romance! Our train journeys; especially the long distance ones that take anywhere between 12 – 36 hours to cover the passage, make for an ideal situation to fall in love. Not just to fall in love with the cultural and physical landscapes that change with time and stations, but with one passenger or the other who can charm their way into your heart. Just like the girl who occupied the berth opposite mine in the early 1900s. I was just 13 years old then and travelling with a group from school on an excursion to New Delhi from Guwahati. We were travelling by the Northeast Express which, including delays, took about 34 – 40 hours of travel. It was my first time on a train.

She buried herself in some fat book, ear plugs on, with the Walkman hanging from her hips. She was not bothered with her co-passengers, but every time a child entered to clean the floor of the compartment, she fished out a coin and a toffee from her bag and delighted the child with a warm smile. At Siliguri, when hawkers with ‘Chinamaal’ – goods they claimed were from China – flitted about the train, she would put her book aside, free her ears of the plugs and get into full-bloodied bargaining with them. “How much are these for? What? No! No!” And then she would bait for a price half of what the hawker would demand. “Arrey Madam,” the poor guy would say, “How is that possible! How will I survive?” But she would definitely survive the bargain with what caught her attention, at her price. There were hawkers who would scoff at her when she slashed the prices, them she would ask to be off with a wave of her hand. She wasted no words with those kinds.

The day was almost over and as far as her co-passengers were concerned, she had not yet uttered anymore than “Can you please pass me the bottle of water?” or “Excuse me, I need to go to the washroom. Could you kindly keep an eye on my bag?” or “Which station is this?”

Finally, by about 9 p.m. the lights of the compartment were switched off. All of us had settled into our berths dreaming our own sweet stuff. I must have drifted into sleep when suddenly a pinch at my bottom shook me awake. I sat up, as much as the middle berth allowed, and looked around. Everyone was asleep. Who could it be? I went back to sleep thinking it must have been an ant or something. It was not too long before I felt a hand feeling the sole of my feet. I gave a good kick and sprang up. A man was quickly making a dash for the exit door. I chased after him and crossed one sleepy compartment after another. Finally, the man seemed to disappear. There were no more footsteps to be heard and the whole compartment I found myself in was dead quiet. Not a soul stirred. It was as if the silence had swallowed him!

And then, there was this whisper behind me, “Where did he go?” I turned to find the girl standing right behind me, anger in her eyes. We both knew what had happened to each other and felt a bond.

Sharing a cigarette by the entrance door of our compartment, a few minutes later, she showed me how to smoke and we went into a mood of discovering the other and the self. Older to me by six – seven years, pursuing a degree course in Delhi University, the girl told me about her family, her pet dog Chikooo who wears a green collar, growing up in the tea gardens of Assam, stories of Babus who made early rounds in their bicycles to see the garden girl, who has stolen the heart, pluck tea leaves and gather them in baskets hanging by the head. She told me that Delhi has this great night life and that she had had about six boyfriends so far. Her current guy, she said, was making her life hell with his ‘machoism’!

We talked all night and came back to our berths only when breakfast was being served. I felt a high like never before. I had fallen for the girl although I couldn’t say it was her face I liked, or the way she dressed or her voice! It was her spirit, I guess, that attracted me. She was a free spirit and a courageous one too. Not the one my mother would like me to be with, I realized later; but one whom my soul would always seek out. She infused in me a thirst for adventure, a desire to collect stories and to have a mind that gave me the strength to live life the way I wanted. She had awakened something in me that I had never known before: Maybe a desire to step into the adult life.

When we reached Delhi, we exchanged our phone numbers and postal addresses and promised to keep in touch. But that was the last time we heard from or saw each other. Life got busy and new distractions and attractions came up. The Delhi excursion became the high point of my life and I thought of the girl only when I found time alone. Slowly her face faded, but her spirit stayed with me. I made the most of the Delhi trip. Collected as many stories I could, did as many new things that were possible with two teachers acting as our Supervisors.
And then, it was time to take the train back to Guwahati. I must say that I missed her when I boarded the train and wished she were on board too. God must have taken pity on my longing heart for it was soothed soon. “Excuse me, could you help me put my luggage on the top berth?” a lilting voice addressed me. I cheered up for I had fallen in love with the voice even before I saw the face.

The whole journey those were the only words she spoke to me. I never got to know her nor did she exchange addresses or phone numbers with me; but we exchanged smiles whenever our eyes met. And our eyes met so often!

Juanita Kakoty, 33 years old, is a freelance writer and journalist. She has written on the arts, cultures, travel, food, etc. for publications like The Deccan Herald, The Thumb Print, India Today Woman, The Assam Tribune, etc. She is from Assam, a northeastern state of India, and holds an M.Phil. degree in Sociology from Jawaharlal Nehru University. Having taught at two Indian universities, she is now taking a break from academics and concentrating on feature stories and photo-documentation. Her published work is available at her blog
Illustration by Alan Van Every (Featured image on the front page)

Saturday, 18 May 2013

on Odissi exponent Madhumita Raut and the legacy she carries. Her father is Mayadhar Raut. (

Carrying on a legacy

Juanita Kakoty, May 19, 2013, DHNS :
In father's footsteps

Renowned Odissi dancer Madhumita Raut uses the medium of dance to promote social causes. She talks to Juanita Kakoty about her legendary father, and her passion for dance.

A conversation with celebrated Odissi exponent Madhumita Raut draws out the ordinariness of her extraordinary life. The daughter of legendary Mayadhar Raut who transformed the aesthetics of Odissi in the 1950s, she is not only the inheritor and proponent of her father’s legacy, but has also used the medium of dance for social causes. “There are four schools of this dance form; and the Guru Mayadhar Raut School is one of them,” she proudly declares. At the same time, she is aware of the responsibility involved in taking forward the heritage of the man who codified, redefined and restructured Odissi to bring it to the level of a classical dance form.

“I was never conscious that I was learning dance,” Madhumita reflects. “Dance was like any other activity at home, a part of everyday routine. In fact, it was such an ordinary part of existence that I even forgot to mention that I was an Odissi performer while applying for a degree course at Indraprastha College in Delhi University.”

In her growing up years, she recalls, after being back from school, every evening would be spent watching some great artiste. And Sundays were spent visiting art galleries. “We stayed at Mandi House (in Delhi) — the hub of cultural centres. Places like the Kamani Auditorium, Triveni Kala Sangam, Sangeet Natak Akademi etc. were all close by. Twenty years ago, there were more performances happening than these days. Every other day there would be a performance by some great artiste. But, after a few years, that changed and fashion shows took over. Even the government-sponsored programmes declined.” She also fondly remembers her school Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. “I realised much later what an institution I had the privilege to be associated with. It helped every student to understand and cherish India’s culture and traditions,” she says.

Legendary father

Talking of her pedigree, Guru Mayadhar Raut was the first to present the Gotipua dance on stage in 1944, was the founder-member of Kala Vikas Kendra (Cuttack) and acted as its first Odissi Guru in 1952. Kala Vikas Kendra, thus, became the first institute in India where Odissi began to be taught.

Guruji founded the Jayantika Association in 1959 with his colleagues to codify and develop Odissi as a classical dance form. They built its vocabulary by incorporating the basic sciences of abhinaya. Madhumita shares, “He accomplished all of this even before I was born. There was a phase in Orissa when the devdasi tradition stopped, Jagannath worship stopped, and so the dance form, whose origin has been associated with these institutions, was lost too. The dance form eventually became corrupt and the classical tradition was lost. It was only when my father returned from Kalakshetra, where he trained under Rukmini Devi Arundale, that he took Odissi back to the shastras. He got the classical texts translated into Oriya and held classes for dance teachers so that they could understand the shastras.”

Guruji went on to introduce Sanchari Bhava, Mudra Viniyoga, and the Rasa Theory in Odissi, and was the first to choreograph Gitagovinda Ashtapadis with Shringara Rasa. “When he introduced Sanchari Bhava (that includes dance expressions as enumerated in the shastras),” Madhumita recounts, “There was an uproar created by the parents. The sensuous and spiritual love stories in Gitagovinda, which imagines the divine desire for spiritual and physical unity between Lord Krishna and Radha, upset the parents. But eventually they gave in and let their children participate in such performances.”

Mayadhar Raut is turning 83 years old this year, yet, Madhumita says, “He is still very active; comes and sits in the class and still teaches better than me. He catches mistakes in students that I don’t notice,” The daughter talks of how loving her father is and that “all students are Madhumita for him.” She admits that he is not strict, but a perfectionist, he surely is. “It is the perfectionist in him and his loving nature that draws out the best from his students. You would just not want to let him down. His power lies in his humility, his simplicity, and the fact that he is a great storehouse of knowledge.”

Gurukula-like school

Love is the true spirit of guru-shishya parampara, Madhumita states, and it is this that she claims one can find in plenty at the Mayadhar Raut School. “My father sees to it that his students are comfortable, are learning well, have taken their meals, etc. This is a very old school of thought; and, I must say, very rare these days. What we have here is very unlike the commercial ventures that you get to see today.”

As the conversation closes, Madhumita leaves a message — “I feel every country has something to offer. Our country has this great tradition in the classical arts; we should acquaint our children with them.” And on a lighter note she adds, “People do come to classical dance eventually, but they are already 40 years old by then. It will be good to see them come early.”

Saturday, 4 May 2013

on music composers Sachin-Jigar (

New music mantra

Juanita Kakoty, May 5, 2013, DHNS:
Tuned in
With their catchy and unconventional tunes for the film ‘Go Goa Gone’, upcoming music directors Sachin-Jigar have stolen the show. The duo talks to Juanita Kakoty about their stint in showbiz.
Young music composers Sachin and Jigar have yet again captured the limelight with their Khoon Choos Le for Go Goa Gone becoming one of the most viewed videos on YouTube. Although the film is scheduled for release on May 10, the music album is already available on the stands. 

Speaking about the popularity of the song, Jigar says, “You don’t expect these things to happen. You go with the flow. As soon as we had the ‘Monday’ concept, we were all kicked about it. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t crib about Mondays. From a student to a sabjiwallah to the corporate guy to everybody who has relaxed or partied hard during the weekend, Monday blues are ready for attack as soon as the week starts. So, we simply had great fun working on this concept for the film.” 

The song has been penned by Amitabh Bhattacharya and the comedy film featuring Saif Ali Khan, Kunal Khemu, Vir Das, Anand Tiwari and Puja Gupta has been directed by Raj Nidimoru and Krishna D K.

Talking about the album, an excited Jigar reveals, “I am really kicked about the responses coming in from all over for the songs Slowly Slowly and Khoon Choos Le. The Khooni Monday song in particular is not your regular antara-mukhra song. I want to see where it can take us and what limits of experimentation we can perform and get away with.” 

The crazy track features Kunal Khemu, Vir Das and Anand Tiwari, and has been sung by Arjun Kanungo, Suraj Jagan and Priya Panchal.

The duo made a mark in the music scene with compositions for films including FALTU, Shor in the City, Hum Tum Aur Shabana and Tere Naal Love Ho Gaya — all within a brief period of two-three years. Yet, this is what Jigar conveys about their compositions, “All these compositions are our babies, so it is difficult to come up with a favourite. Yet, personally, I am very proud of Saibo (Shor in the City, 2011). We wanted to do it immediately after Char baj gaye lekin party abhi baki hai (FALTU, 2011). I had gotten used to hearing people say that Sachin and I are young and that we do the DJ type of music. So it was a great opportunity to do melody; and we are extremely proud of it. It proved that we can’t be typecast.” And to that he adds, “A composition comes out of thin air. It’s not like composing the music first and then placing lyrics in it, or having the lyrics before one sets a tune to it. We don’t decide what comes first — the music or the lyrics. We work around a concept, spending a lot of time brainstorming. Once the concept is ready, it becomes much easier.” This, perhaps, explains the versatility of the duo.

Their upcoming projects include Ramaiya Vastavaiya, a film by Prabhu Deva, where Jigar claims they get the chance to get into “that soft, romantic, melodious space again, since the film is a love story. It is going to be very different from the kind of music we have done for Go Goa Gone, which is mostly the non-commercial, parallel kind of music.” They are also working on the music for Maneesh Sharma’s next film with the Yash Raj banner, untitled yet, but featuring Parineeti Chopra and Sushant Singh Rajput.

When asked where he draws inspiration from, Jigar mentions, “It’s not just one particular source. It is about all the music you have been exposed to or you have grown up listening to. It could be a heavy metal band or it could be Ghulam Ali or it could be any music listened to the night before. But the fact is, you listen to some nice music and you want to make a nice song.”

Sachin Sanghvi and Jigar Saraiya met through composer Amit Trivedi. “I was working with Rajesh Roshan, and Sachin was doing his independent stuff with television serials and theatre. Amit had worked with me for Rajesh Roshan and he had worked with Sachin too for a while. So that’s how Sachin and I got to know each other, and once we met we clicked and there was no turning back,” affirms Jigar. However, he admits that there are challenges while working as a pair. But that is more than compensated by the positive factors. “There are times when I run out of ideas and Sachin comes to the rescue, and vice-versa. It is a great feeling to know that someone takes care of you on your bad day. We are each other’s critics, yet, at the same time, it is great to see how a tune made by one of us is taken forward by the other.” And finally, he asserts that, as a composer duo, it is wonderful to be with somebody “who is like-minded, shares the same pace and is willing to experiment”.

My short story 'Where is Arsalan Miyan?' in Himal Southasian on 27 April 2018

My short  story 'Where is Arsalan Miyan?' in Himal Southasian on 27 April 2018 Right in the middle of the sprawling Nakhasa Bazaa...