Saturday, 28 September 2013

Car vs. Wild on Discovery Channel (Deccan Herald, 29 Sep 2013)

Go on a wild ride

Juanita Kakoty, Sep 29, 2013 :
Telly talk
“It was a lot of fun riding around the difficult terrains of Mexico, chasing targets and getting to know each other,” relate Gary Humphrey and Bill Wu, who team up for the exciting new series by Discovery Channel, Car vs. Wild.
The duo is seen putting all their experiences and skills into use, as they drive through the savage landscapes on their four-wheeler Ruby. “Discovery attained Ruby and she is 12 years old,” Bill says, “She is a very simple car; something kids will be driving to school in America. Very simple.” In that case, one would wonder wouldn’t it have been difficult navigating Ruby in the harsh terrains? “Oh, it was very difficult,” reveal Bill and Gary, “She took a lot of beating. We can’t believe that she took such a lot of beating and never failed!”

This is what Discovery Channel has to say about Ruby, “With a 2.5-litre four-cycle engine, even rapids and rivers can’t drown Ruby’s spirits, thanks to her expedition snorkel and, in a punch, keeping the water out of her engine is Vaseline and even tequila for when times get tough, all the while still managing to look good in her 32-inch tyres and roof rack. As a key member of Bill and Gary’s team, Ruby drove up North America’s highest volcano — Pico de Orizaba. In the Pinacate lava fields of the Sonoran Desert, Ruby traversed razor sharp lava and the crumbling earth to reach a volcanic peak never driven up before. Even the dense jungle, deadly creatures and waterfalls of the Veracruz Jungle weren’t enough to bring Ruby to a halt.”

For instance, in Baja, when Gary and Bill trek to a remote valley that has no name and has never been entered by a vehicle before, they had to cross the treacherously unpredictable Rio Hardy that runs 26 km along the Mexicali Valley to get there. With waters too deep to ford, their only hope was to partially sink Ruby and pray that she could go the distance.

Catch Gary, Bill and Ruby in the 10-part exciting series, Car vs. Wild, every night at 10 pm on Discovery Channel, as they work their way across the volcanic belt and craters in Veracruz to the suffocating, dense bush of Orizaba till they reach their final destination.

One can see them take on the Sierra Juarez mountains in southern Mexico at a staggering 1,800 metres above sea level, follow a Native American foot route to a sacred rock platform, trek to a valley in Baja so remote that it has no name and has never been entered by a vehicle before Ruby, leap down a waterfall to the depths of a jungle bat cave, and engage in practical manoeuvres. Bill and Gary say, “The hardest adventure was chasing the altitude record — climbing over the 14,000-feet-high southeastern Pico De Orizaba Mountain, the tallest in Mexico. To chase that we had to lose a lot, including all our safety equipments. It was one mean survival feat!” Yet they say, “Those 64 days were great fun! And Mexico is a really cool place. We tried a lot of different techniques along the way, and we are really proud about them.”

Bill and Gary are not new to adventure. Gary is ex-SBS (water-based SAS) and has extensive safety, expedition, military and off-road training. He has driven off-road in all environments from deserts to jungle to ice; and has lived and hunted with indigenous people. He has been used behind the scenes on numerous risky productions. He took BBC News Night through Libya and organised with the Top Gear producers the last three Christmas Specials for the BBC — North Pole, crossing from the Amazon to the Pacific and Iraq to Bethlehem. Very recently, he organised and filmed a No Reservations show with Antony Bourdain, through Iraq and Turkey.

Bill Wu lives cars; he owns five Hummers, a Lamborghini, a custom jeep and a Shelby Terlingua track car. He’s a constant at the Gumball rallies, the Traga Trophy, the Bullrun, etc., and has made headlines for winning Best Reactions Time in 2009 Gumball and coming runner-up in 2009 and 2010. He’s also a champion drag racer and competes around California in rock-crawling, dune racing and autocross. And in Bill’s words, “I am a hard guy. It’s about doing stuff not done before, doing things differently. For me, to make a living driving around the world is a dream come true. I want to showcase to people what fun it is do this! I am sure there are many who would want to do what I am doing.”

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Hari and Sukhmani (Deccan Herald, 15 Sep 2013)

A musical journey

Juanita Kakoty, September 15, 2013, DHNS:
Sound survival
Dynamic duo, Hari and Sukhmani, have taken their eclectic folk-electronica tunes across the globe. Juanita Kakoty talks to this talented pair about their latest stint with the show ‘SoundTrek’
The young and ambitious duo, Hari and Sukhmani, seek to take Punjabi folk music from the yesteryears into the future, from New Delhi to New York City. One can catch them on SoundTrek, the travel-based music show on Fox Traveller. The show has been presented as ‘the ultimate Indian jam session on Indian television’ and airs every Thursday and Friday at 10 pm. Breathing freshness in how ‘travel’ is viewed, Fox Traveller brings to the audience an exhilarating mix of styles, cultures and personalities; a cross-country journey which merges different music genres.

Travel & music

“We were approached by blueFROG who are producing the show,” say the duo about their association with the show. “We haven’t travelled to any place for the show. We only shot in Delhi. But we did get to ride around town on our motorcycles, which was fun, and met some nice people. We were asked to choose one of our previously produced tracks. It’s a cool collaboration with a brass band.” 

They say they were most happy with their stint with SoundTrek, but in a jocular vein add, “Although we wish we had travelled to a more exotic location!”

Hari and Sukhmani are from Chandi Town (Chandigarh) and they combine eclecticism with a curiously contemporary take on traditional folk songs from Punjab. They blend folk music with electronica. “We say long live Punjabi folk! Chardi kala! We will keep making our small efforts to keep it alive.” And about response to Punjabi folk music and their kind of fusion, the duo shares, “The response is always fantastic. It’s good music, and if presented well, you can’t go wrong with it.”

Sukhmani Malik is a trained Hindustani classical vocalist from the Rampur Gharana and has a voice which is dense with character. Hari Singh is a producer and an audio engineer. “We met through a common friend. I guess the time was right. I had just finished my travels in Europe, Hari had also returned from Manchester, and we were both looking for work!” says Sukhmani.

And since December 2008, Hari and Sukhmani have been touring nationally and internationally, having performed time and again in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Amritsar, Udaipur, Lucknow, Benaras, Goa, Jim Corbett, Manali, Mussouri, Shimla, Sydney (Australia), Wellington and Queenstown (New Zealand). Their charisma and demand has also been growing in the wedding circuit. The duo has also made music for feature films like Deepa Mehta’s Videsh and Heaven on Earth.

Apart from Hari and Sukhmani, SoundTrek features other musical geniuses like the MIDIval Punditz, Lucky Ali, Advaita, Parikrama, Ranjit Barot, Avial, Indus Creed and Soulmate to name a few. The show takes the audience to popular Indian destinations like Ladhakh, Goa, Hyderabad, Delhi, Mumbai, Auroville, Kerala, Shillong, Calcutta, Varanasi, Kalimpong, Maheshwar, Srinagar, Orchha and Udaipur. And in these journeys, the musicians try to find the best local talent for the biggest jam session of their lifetime.

A fresh take

The show holds a lot of promise because it is being produced by pioneers in the field of music — blueFROG, a revolutionary integrated music project that consists of the country’s premiere live music performance clubs. Artistes from all over the world have played at the blueFROG clubs, including John McLaughlin, Earl Klugh, Richard Bona, Angelique Kidjo, Trilok Gurtu, Zakir Hussain, Anoushka Shankar, Gotye, Deep Forest, as well electronic music giants Skazi, Armin Van Buuren, Shpongle, John Digweed, Sasha, Nick Warren and Infected Mushroom.

SoundTrek will present the experiences, musical and travel, of the musicians as they interact with storytellers, qawals, boatmen etc. The show will run 18 episodes, which will feature 18 bands, 18 journeys and 18 unique collaborations. Hari and Sukhmani are quite excited about their stint with SoundTrek and they also look forward to future projects. 

“Next level is to keep the originals coming as well. Songs on iTunes, hitting international festivals etc. Sky is the limit!” is what they say signing off.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

tea garden memories

The sight of quaint tea bungalows nestled in the midst of tea gardens is perhaps what started my romance with tea gardens and their bungalows even as a child when we took road trips to upper Assam. As dad drove the car to Duliajan, Golaghat, Jorhat, Tinsukia and Sibsagar during our school vacations, the tea gardens that lined the road on both sides created a romantic sight (all the more when it drizzled) and fueled my imagination. I would spin my own tales of who lived in those bungalows and what must be happening inside one of them just as we passed by. Me and my brother always waved to the workers who would be plucking tea leaves by the roadside, baskets hanging by their heads. They were charming: the sights of tea gardens, bungalows and the busy workers. An aunt of mine would joke to me, "We'll have to look for a tea manager for you when you grow up!" And I would be pleased as dreams of spending a lot of time walking around the estate, being the mistress of a beautiful bungalow, and learning the jhumur from the workers came to me! I thought that would make a wonderful life.

I never married anyone from the tea gardens, nor did I end up working in one. But I did get to spend time every now and then at the tea gardens where relatives were posted. And the experience lived up to my expectation of tea garden life, although many tell me that it is a lonely life. So years later, even with the disturbing news about violence within tea estates as many tea managers lost their lives to mob fury, the romance of the tea gardens remains alive for me. Maybe it is because of the pictures they painted for me when I was a child. And maybe because I want the romance to stay alive.

Here I post pictures from a trip in 2011, visits to my relatives at two estates - SESSA and THANAI. I know I need to take more pictures of the tea estates!

 inside the compound of the manager's residence at SESSA Goodricke Tea Estate, located in the Dibrugarh district of Assam. The garden was first planted in the year 1897 under the British India Tea Company and derives its name from the river Sessa which flows around the estate's western northern and partially eastern boundary.

 Putul mama, the manager of the estate, recounts stories from his garden days. and for this bungalow he says that the original quintessential heritage tin-roofed structure was demolished by a fire years ago, and in its place this RCC building was built.

 a tour around the estate.

 inside the factory where tea is processed. my husband Nadeem poses here with Putul mama, the manager of the estate and the young assistant manager. It is here that Nadeem learns for the first time about 'Garden Time'. he noticed that the clocks in the factory were running an hour ahead of the usual Indian Standard Time. "This is to save daytime for the workers because the sun rises and sets much early in this part of the country," explained Putul mama.

 this is what you see right at the entrance to the estate. captured from a moving vehicle, hence a little blurred.

 moving on to The Assam Company Limited's THANAI Tea Estate. the manager of the estate, my cousin, informed that the Assam Company Limited boasts of being the oldest player in the tea industry. It is the first ever tea company in the world, established in 1839 by a deed of the British Parliament. not only that, it is also the first company in the world to establish tea gardens and export tea.

 chatting up with Rubul da, the manager of Thanai Tea Estate and his family in the first floor veranda of their bungalow.

 the fascinating 'blue' guest room in the bungalow.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Lewes, the town I fell in love with!

Lewes is undoubtedly the town that made the most impact on me. It touched my soul. During my 14 days' stay in England, I kept going back to it. I often took the train from Falmer (close to University of Sussex where I was staying) to Lewes, a 7 minute ride, and walked through the charming lanes to my heart's content. 

Lewes is an ancient town and is the county town (main administrative point) of East Sussex. The Greenwich Meridian runs through its western part. There are several historical attractions that lure the tourist to Lewes; but for me, Lewes was all about my walks around it - and I'll always remember the calm spirit of the town for keeping me company in those walks. This photo-essay is an attempt at narrating why I fell in love with Lewes.

 the Lewes railway station, operating since 1846

right outside the railway station is this flower shop, and i really liked the idea of a flower shop by the station. what a pretty sight it made for the travelers.

 i took a right from the station and walked into the town.

 at the town centre, there is the Harveys Brewery shop. Harveys  is a local brew and Harveys Brewery is the oldest brewery in Sussex dating back to 1790! Lewes is home to Harveys Brewery. there is this story that in 2000, there was a massive flood in the town and the liquor brewed for a week or so longer. that stock was released and became popular as 'extra strong Harveys' :)

 the town centre

  the charming old alleys of the town. mesmerizing.

  walking around Lewes...

  Fitzroy House, former memorial library to honour Henry Fitzroy, M.P. for Lewes (1831-1860) built in 1862 by his widow.

  as i walked the lanes of Lewes...

  i fell in love with the structures...

  this is when i, with a few friends, went from Lewes to Glynde, climbing and going down the Hills. the popular expression for the exercise that we undertook is "down the Downs". the 'Downs' is a range of chalk hills across the south-eastern coastal counties of England.

  i was delighted by these beautiful cows that were grazing around!

 we crossed one private property after another, which by the way is open to public access in England, as we went down the hills to Glynde.

 the mound of stones mark the number of passers-by who went this way, down the Downs.

 the small town of Glynde gleamed below. Glynde has a few houses and just the bare essentials to qualify as a town.

  the only pub at Glynde where we descended after coming down the hills. the pub still holds the old-world charm of the English character as much as the town does. Glynde could easily be one of the locations where the TV series Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot was shot!  


Monday, 2 September 2013

In and around Brighton

I made this trip in 2011 but it is still fresh on my mind. London was a bit disappointing because when I reached there I thought it wasn't much different from Delhi, ironically though because Delhi has been home to me for more than a decade now and a place I seriously have come to love despite everything. But friends told me that had I lived in London for a few days, it would have also grown on me like Delhi. Anyways, I am glad that I didn't have to stay in London and spent my days in and around Brighton, savoring the beautiful Sussex countryside. In an earlier piece (Charming Countryside) for Deccan Herald, which one can read in my blog here, I had written about beautiful Brighton: places to see, be and savories to taste. Here, I would like to post a few pictures from in and around Brighton, like a photo-essay.

 one of the lanes in the marketplace, Brighton

 an old building and a new building exist side by side, Brighton

  in front of Brighton Pier

 Brighton Pier and a beach of pebbles not sand

  inside Stanmer Natural Park. this is private land but accessible to the public like most private land in England

  at Falmer village

 this is the oldest pub in Brighton

  there are many such Indian restaurants all over Brighton and London

  prawn cocktail at one of the oldest pubs in Brighton, Browns

 around Brighton town

 This is when Alan invited me over at his place for dinner, at Moulsecoomb. After the world war, a slum had emerged here. The local authorities created this wonderland to rehabilitate the slum dwellers in the 1950s. Now, most of the houses have been bought by people coming in from elsewhere like Alan, who works at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex; the rest however are still maintained by the local authorities

 this used to be a slum! Moulsecoomb.

  dinner at Alan and Sandy's house in Moulsecoomb

  Alan and Sandy's home at Moulsecoomb overlooking Brighton town

  the quaint Falmer railway station close to the University of Sussex

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...