Sunday, 21 December 2014

Innovations in sanitation (The Thumbprint, 22 Dec 2014)

UNICEF activates talk on sanitation

December 22, 2014


Open defecation is a major socio-cultural problem in India. Almost half of the population (about 595 million people) defecates in the open, contributing to severe health complications, especially in children. This is a problem which has caste, class and gender implications; and more than anything else, requires behavioral change. In an attempt to communicate this, as well as to showcase how through minimum resources innovations can provide solutions, the UNICEF organized its Activate Talk on “Innovations to support ending open defecation” on 18 December 2014 at Alliance Fran├žaise, New Delhi. The Talk was moderated by writer and columnist Nalin Mehta and the panelists included Aruna Rajoria from the Government of Assam; Swami Chidanand Saraswati, co-founder of the Global Inter-Faith WASH Alliance; Anshul Tewari, founder of Youth ki Awaaz; and Sonal Kapoor, founder of Protsahan. David Mcloughlin, Deputy Representative, UNICEF India gave the opening remarks.


The Talk began with the screening of a short film on the UNICEF campaign that talks of taking ‘poo’ to the ‘loo’ (watch the video at The ‘poo2loo’ campaign uses quirky, informative and humorous language to connect with young people on social media. It shows ‘poo’ touching everyone and reflects upon the kind of community one lives in. One can read more about this campaign at In the opening remarks, a UNICEF representative emphasized the catastrophic situation that open defecation subjects disadvantaged children to and spoke of UNICEF’s role in seeking to create advocates who can speak against this practice. The next step, he said, is creating partnerships that would bring forth a social movement where everyone will see toilet use as a basic right.

Anshul Tewari, citing examples from Youth Ki Awaaz, exhorted the power of social media platforms in exercising pressure upon the government to translate its promises into reality on ground. Where traditional media generally ignores the youth’s voice, he said, social media can allow the youth to participate in important social debates. And in this regard, he raised the pertinent concern: Are we engaging the youth enough?  

Sonal Kapoor, in her talk, suggested that the approach to tackling social problems is to devise ways whereby the people who are part of the problem become a part of the solution. She spoke of how at Protsahan they work with underprivileged children who have never been to school and make them the ones to create stories and tell stories before their communities as well as across communities. Sonal implored that serious issues need not have serious approaches. That approaches can be fun and innovative. Like how Protsahan uses design, art, digital stories, photography and cinema to foster creative education and sustainable livelihood amongst the underprivileged.

Swami Chindanand Saraswati is perhaps the only holy man who has elevated toilets to as important a status as temples. He spoke of his personal journey, how the sight of men and women easing themselves by the side of roads standing up every time a car passed by caused a shift in him and he began the ‘temple to toilet’ movement. “Let every Guru become a Green Guru,” he exhorted. Applauding such an effort, Nalin Mehta added, “Those who worship the creator need to now take care of creation.” UNICEF provides technical support to this movement and, prior to Swami Chidanand Saraswati’s talk, screened a short film about how Faith leaders have the power to guide followers to live clean, hygienic lives.

Aruna Rajoria spoke of a simple innovation in Assam to encourage children to wash their hands before mid-day meal in schools. They have installed a pipe with about 12-14 hand-washing points thereby turning a mundane school routine to a fun activity as children wash hands as a collective exercise. She said that such an installation in a school costs INR 10,000 and two soaps are donated to the school by each parent. This small habit has spearheaded a behavioral change and the government intends to scale up this operation from 100 schools at present to 10,000 schools in the coming year. Aruna also narrated an interesting story that shows how this exercise can also shape the perspective towards hygiene and sanitation in general. In one village in Assam, a father had almost turned the toilet into a temple because it was the most beautiful and grand building in his compound; and continued with open defecation. The little daughter, who has been a part of the hand-washing programme before mid-day meal in school, had prevented him from doing the same!

It was heartening to see a few school children in the audience besides representatives from various organizations. A few more representatives from the government in the audience would have been desirable considering the successful innovations that were being talked about. They need to be replicated at a wider scale, which can only happen with the support of the government.

The UNICEF Activate Talks are an advocacy tool that coincides with the 25th anniversary year of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It upholds the spirit of innovation and includes a series of dynamic events and seminars around the world with experts, innovators and thought-leaders.  

- See more at:

New telly show on ancient cuisines (Deccan Herald, 21 Dec 2014)

Rare recipes uncovered

Juanita Kakoty, Dec 21, 2014,
Telly Show
original Jock Zonfrillo on 'Nomad Chef'

For those who are interested in ancient cuisines, in harvesting their own ingredients, eating a seasonal diet and cooking traditionally, this month offers a new experience with TLC’s Nomad Chef. Celebrity chef and host Jock Zonfrillo says, “In Nomad Chef, you glimpse into a few of the remotest communities in the world from the comfort of your armchair. These are places not accessible to many tourists. So the journey has been a hands-on experience and exciting.”

Talking of food as his passion, Jock Zonfrillo continues, “I am half-Scottish and half-Italian, and I grew up with rich food memories and traditions. I have always believed food has healing powers and this is the core of my food philosophy.” Jock’s formative years were influenced by his grandfathers. His Scottish grandfather was a beef and arable farmer while his Neapolitan nonno instilled in him a passion for superior-quality ingredients and a love for great-tasting food. 

The best thing about his profession is, “I get to learn a lot.” The show has been enriching because it has helped him discover ancient cuisines and their origin. “I crave to know about the origin of every dish I encounter.” “While shooting for Nomad Chef in Ethiopia, I got to know that people there eat raw cow’s stomach, which is their traditional Christmas Day food,” he recounts, adding, “But the major crux of the show was to learn the technique and native ingredients.”

Reminiscing about his association with the series, Jock Zonfrillo says, “When I got a call for the show, I was reluctant. But when I realised the show is based on my philosophy of food, the offer was hard to reject. There was a lot of research that went into it. We wanted to make a show that was interesting with a remote element added to it. We aimed to bring out a strong food-related survival culture.”

Packing nothing but a knife roll and a ready sense of adventure, Jock embarks on a journey to some of the most remote communities in the world, like Ethiopia, Japan, Australia, Faroe Islands and Vanuatu. Persuading the locals to share their knowledge of food with him, the viwers can watch Jock hunt, forage, harvest and cook with everyone, from the Amazonian Indians to Ethiopian highlanders. He pays homage to the culinary know-how and culture of these communities by reinterpreting the inspiring elements of cooking back at his restaurant in Adelaide.

Jock asserts that “the cuisines displayed on the show differ from each other. With each episode one is amazed by the fact that there are people to this day who consume fare that is made from scratch, use native ingredients and cook in a singular way. All this holds strong cultural significance. Nomad Chef will bring to people the food habits and customs of various countries.”

The show airs every Saturday and Sunday, at 7 pm.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Need for toilet hygiene education in India (The Thumbprint, 16 Dec 2014)

(my piece for The Thumbprint, 16 Dec 2014)

The need for toilet hygiene education

December 16, 2014


By Juanita Kakoty

I fully agree with Nitya Jacob who responds with “But do these figures add up?” to Narendra Modi’s speeches about how many toilets will be in place by 2019. In his article for The Guardian, titled, ‘Chain reaction: India needs hygiene education as well as new toilets’ ( Jacob raises the pertinent point that it is not just building toilets that can ever be the solution in India for better hygiene, but there is an urgent need to tell people how to use toilets and why it is important to use them. And as I see it, although this is a major concern in rural India, urban India is no less.

In 2000, I had visited the Marwar region of Rajasthan as part of a team from Hindu College, Delhi University for an educational trip. We were in our final year of the BA Sociology program and were taken there for a field study of the social system in place. Amongst many things, we observed the prevalence of open defecation in the area. All the villages we went to had households without toilets. We were asked to ease ourselves out in the sand. The women in the villages suggested we follow their norm and do it before sunrise or after sunset. Those ten days, I don’t know how, but I did not crap! And passing urine was kept to about two-three times a day. In fact most of us from the team went about with our bladders bursting! Every time we thought of easing ourselves, we would be overcome by great shame. We were there for only about ten days. And we felt sorry for all those women who lived this shame everyday of their lives.

It’s not just Rajasthan, open defecation is a practice in almost every part of India. One only needs to be on a train early morning to see where most Indians go. Building toilets for them, therefore, is noble. It has been documented quite frequently how villagers cannot afford to build toilets in their homes. They would rather go out. So building toilets for them has been a project for many NGOs, and now the government has made its promises. But on the flip side, it has also been documented how the toilets that are built run into disuse because they become incredibly dirty. Women of the household might continue using these dirty toilets and risk health hazards, while men go back to the practice of open defecation. This means that educating people about the need to and how to keep their toilets clean should be a major programme. And this should involve not just the women who are mostly responsible for sanitation and hygiene issues of a household, but also the men. In villages this is a challenge that must be met because a household consists of several people, over several generations. And toilets often fall into the category of least pressing amongst their existential concerns.

Coming to the issue of keeping toilets clean, personally, even in urban households, I have seen that it is invariably always the women who clean the toilets. Men of the household simply use them and often are in such hurry that they even refuse to flush after they use the toilet! How qualified or educated one is doesn’t matter here. Going by how things are in India, it is important that toilet hygiene occupies a crucial place in all education programmes, be it within families, in schools, or through NGOs and the government. It has to be drilled from early on that toilets should be clean, that dirty toilets mean bad health for life. In the villages of western Uttar Pradesh, men and women have complained to me of stomach ailment because, they claim, ‘Giardia’ live in the waters of this part of the country. Giardiasis is a common waterborne parasitic infection caused by Giardia in testinalis (a single-cell protozoan). This infection can result in diarrhea, cramping and an upset stomach. People become infected by drinking or swimming in contaminated water, coming in contact with the feces of an infected person or a contaminated surface, and Giardiasis occurs most frequently where contaminated feces are out in the open or can spread easily. People can also spread this parasite if they do not wash their hands properly. In western Uttar Pradesh, people are living with the idea that ‘Giardia’ is in their waters and they cannot do anything about it. Sadly, nobody here is talking about toilet hygiene as a measure for prevention.

The author is a member of The Sanitation Scribes
- See more at:

Saturday, 22 November 2014

RunWithMelia: A half marathon for the elderly in Delhi!

About a decade ago, when I was still a student at the university, I was traveling by train to Guwahati from Delhi for a short break. The train ride was largely pleasant except for an old woman who tormented me with her sorry constitution as she coughed and wheezed and spoke of how she was languishing on account of old age. The rest of her family (she was traveling with her son, daughter-in-law and two naughty grandsons) mostly ignored her coughs and wheezes, so I took it upon myself to mourn with her about the perils of ‘old age’. And then she revealed her age. Sixty two! She was only sixty two, my dad’s age then! And what a sight this frail, bent woman made in comparison to my robust dad! Dad is seventy two now and is still vigorous, enjoys trekking every once in a while, never skirts his evening walk, does gardening, shops the household’s vegetables, meat and fish by himself, relishes his evening peg, plays the violin and the keyboard, and does what not! Post-retirement, life has never been a drag for him. He remains a great inspiration.

Hence, when I heard about the RunWithMelia campaign, a half marathon only for senior citizens, organized by Melia First Citizen in association with AirTel, I jumped with joy! You can participate in this half marathon only if you are 55 years of age and above! Isn’t that awesome? Especially in a country like India where we need to look at and deal with old age differently. It’s time we realized that age is in the mind, and that there can never be the right age to grow old. No matter how old one grows, one should never stop living.

For details about this half marathon, which will take place on 23 November 2014 in Delhi, you can visit

Here I would also like to applaud Melia First Citizen’s ( vision and engagement with senior citizens. Melia First Citizen is a world-class luxury retirement community within a 17.5 acre suburban residential project - The Melia. The thrust is to allow senior citizens to reinvent their retirement years, their leisure years. It is conveniently located at Delhi NCR, a short drive away from the Golf Course Extension Road in Gurgaon at Sector 35, Gurgaon Extension (Sohna). Melia First Citizen has been conceived and designed by Group Silverglades, one of India's leading boutique real estate developers.

(Note: Group Silverglades has been credited with creating benchmarks of excellence with some of the most admired and iconic landmarks in North India. The Laburnum residences and Classic Golf Resort in Gurgaon in collaboration with ITC, The IVY residences in Gurgaon and Tarudhan Valley Golf Resort - India's first gated golf community, are just a few of them.)
Overlooking the Aravalli range, Melia First Citizen offers a limited set of luxury senior-living homes as an ideal retirement haven. It has been designed such so as to promote a vibrant, energetic and happy elderly life with facilities like swimming pools, games parlors, jogging areas etc. At Melia First Citizen, the idea is to bring out the elderly from the notion of a dull and boring ‘old age’ and present them with new avenues for a vibrant lifestyle. Through RunWithMelia, Melia First Citizen is promoting positivity and adventure among the elderly. Such an exercise definitely needs to be encouraged.

Friday, 14 November 2014

'The disappearance of wooden buses and in the name of God!' (my short story published by Writers Asylum)

Thank you Writers Asylum for publishing my short story 'The disappearance of wooden buses and in the name of God!' 

Synopsis of the story: It captures funny incidents around the issue of public worship in Beltola, an area in Guwahati. And along with the incidents, it captures the change of character in Beltola over two decades.

An excerpt:
"In the early Seventies, when Father shifted to Guwahati with Mother, the city moved very slowly. It had a sweet laziness about it. People were still taking their siestas in the afternoon; in fact many came home from office for siestas during lunch break. People were still leisurely walking or cycling to their destinations. Even the few cars around seemed to clamber down the roads, potholes and all, at their own sweet pace. Electricity cuts never deterred the spirit to relax, sleep, eat or have fun. The summers somehow were not that fierce then. And even in those days, Guwahati was ‘big’ for any city or town in India’s northeast. My parents were the tenants of Anandi Bordoloi at Silpukhuri, who was related to Gopinath Bordoloi, Assam’s first Chief Minister in post-Independent India. Anandi Bordoloi had played a big role in establishing the Mahila Namghar at Silpukhuri. The first time I went there, many moons later, I was stunned by the absence of men at a public worship space. Women clad in white mekhela-chadarswere officiating the prayer meetings and managing the accounts of the namghar. This is where Mother’s weekly visit to the namghar began, although I have never known her to be a strictly religious person. She and Anandi Bordoloi would walk down to thenamghar, which was only a few steps away from the house; the elder woman walking authoritatively alongside Mother, who looked more like a disciple in the shadow of a reverend one. As I come to think of it now, she went there perhaps to break the monotony of her dull life. Eighteen years of age, Mother had just been uprooted from her social life in Dibrugarh. She was one of the reputed beauties from the Baruah family of Milan Nagar; Father was a hot-blooded Bhuyan from Khaliamari, who bore both the Khaliamari Bhuyan aura and temper well. After the wedding, she stayed with her in-laws for about four months before Father brought her to Guwahati, where he had a junior engineer’s job at the Irrigation office in Chandmari. At Guwahati, she discovered the alcoholic in her husband and spent several sleepless nights of enduring the husband’s alcohol induced aggression and abuses. The next morning he would lie at her feet and ask for forgiveness. Days went by and Mother’s confusion over Father’s behavior drove her to depression. She would shut herself in the house after Father left for office in the morning and worry about her fate, a worry that in some time became a wound that ceased to ache. Her landlady Anandi Bordoloi noticed she was not going out at all. “This is not good for you, staying in the house all day like this,” she once told Mother when it took Mother exactly twenty minutes to open the door when Anandi Bordoloi rang the bell. And when she opened the door, she looked like a beautiful goddess who did not care how she looked anymore, with an expression that could have very well proclaimed her dead. “Get ready, I am taking you to the Mahila Namghar,” Anandi Bordoloi declared; and that’s how Mother started going to the namghar. Here, she found other women who took an interest in her life, gossiped with her, made friends with her. She looked forward to every Thursday afternoon when she could spend two-three hours at the namghar, listening to and taking part in stories while munching on the Lord’s prasad which included sprouts, fruits and payas made of milk and rice. It was here that life finally made some sense to her through the shared devotion that the women practiced, which was enough to make her forget about the trifling sorrows in life.
She was only beginning to enjoy her new-found sense of self at the namghar when, in the Eighties, I was about ten years old then and my sister three years younger to me, Father managed to buy some land in Beltola, which happened to be the outskirts of the city those days, and built a two-room house. We soon shifted when the house was ready and as we made the journey from Silpukhuri to Beltola, our hearts sank as we left the charming sights of the city behind. The closer we got to Beltola, the further away we went from the city lights and fancy marketplaces. We had arrived at a place where ‘slow’ got a whole new definition. Beltola seemed like a vast expanse with a few houses and fewer shops strewn across; and everybody seemed to move in slow motion, even the ones cycling their way to someplace. Nobody ever seemed to be in hurry."

Ipshita Misra on kathak and her legendary family (Deccan Herald, 2 Nov 2014)

Born to dance

Juanita Kakoty, Nov 2, 2014,
Stepping it up
Coming from a family of legendary Kathak exponents, Ipshita Misra has dance in her blood. The young dancer talks to Juanita Kakoty about her relationship with the dance form & sticking to traditions. Dh Photo
Ipshita Misra, scion of the Lucknow Gharana, carries quite a legacy. She is the granddaughter of Pandit Shambhu Maharaj, niece of Pandit Birju Maharaj, and daughter of Pandit Krishna Mohan Misra and Vaswati Misra. She is from a lineage that boasts of seven generations of Kathak stalwarts; hence, becoming a Kathak dancer was never a conscious journey because, as she puts it, “The moment I opened my eyes, I saw Kathak all around.” 

This exposure groomed her consciousness from an early age. “I’ve grown up seeing my parents, uncles and aunts engage with this dance form. As a child, even when I had not started any formal training, I learnt just by seeing them; I absorbed what I saw.” And the fruit of such inheritance is that Ipshita was only three-and-a-half years old when she performed on stage for the first time. It was at the Kamani auditorium in Delhi, in front of cultural icons from the world of classical art and music. “I performed at the Parampara Festival, which is conducted by the Lucknow Gharana. And following that performance, there was a time when this festival would start with my dance recital. I was a child and would be scared before a performance, but once on stage, all that fear would dissipate and I would just dance and dance.” Yet, she admits, she has had a normal childhood where there wasn’t much ruckus about training and practicing. “As a child, I loved to play and sing and be naughty! I love to be like that even now.”  

This young dancer, who practices alone but often goes to her parents as well as to Birju Maharaj for guidance, candidly confesses, “I love to learn, but I don’t like to teach.” She started formal training with her mother, Vaswati Misra, and then went to her mother’s guru, Rewa Vidyarthi, for training. Speaking about her uncle Birju Maharaj, she says that they share a warm relationship. “I often show him what I have been practicing and he makes corrections and follows up. I love visiting him. There is so much to learn just by listening to him. We discuss songs, his poems. He is also a good artist; some of his paintings are amazing.”

Flexibility & spontaneity
Talking of a memorable experience in her life, Ipshita remembers the time she performed a composition with her parents. “That was unique because my mother’s and my technique are almost the same. But father’s is different; it is more rooted in the traditional methods of the Gharana. His movements are in straight lines and the rhythm is fast-paced. While our movements have more of moulds; and we dance in slow, medium, fast rhythms.” She enlightens me about Upaj, a ritual that marks the beginning of a Kathak recital. “Upaj is improvisation. It is a spontaneous rendition. Upaj is neither composed nor rehearsed. I love it. It brings a great sense of freedom. Upaj is followed by Thaat, where the dancer comes to a pose with composure, which is then followed by Aamad, which literally means ‘to enter’ and the formal composition begins.” 

Ipshita continues, “What freaks me out is the kind of Kathak we get to see today. Contemporary Kathak comes on TV too; and I personally don’t like it. I feel one should not tamper with the basics and the essence of this dance form.” Listening to her, I could not agree more: Why contemporise Kathak at all, considering the flexibility and spontaneity Upaj allows? 

Ipshita performs her own compositions mostly, but has also performed her mother’s compositions. She says it is amazing how her father strikes a rapport with the audience and his accompanists when on stage. Ipshita, who loves to perform on thumris, says, “I try to emulate it.”  

Future dreams

Ipshita’s mother is currently running the Pandit Shambhu Maharaj Kathak Academy at New Delhi’s GK-2 neighbourhood. She says she has dreams of making this institute a much larger institution. “I want a building with not only classrooms, but also an audio-visual room where one can watch old videos of stalwarts, can read about them, hear about them, and their techniques. Because the more you listen, the better it is for a performer.” This dream resonates with the influences from her childhood. “I have never seen Pandit Shambhu Maharaj perform in person; but I grew up watching his videos at home. And that quite shaped who I am today, my dance.” She also wants to add a practice room which could somewhat give the feel of being on stage, to remove stage-fright in youngsters. As the conversation comes to an end, Ipshita, who is a member of Dhwani Repertory that preserves traditional dance and music, says, “Dance is my passion, my love. And I would only be glad if I could make people happy with my dance; if I could aid in preserving and making available the documentation already available on stalwarts from my family.”

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Wild Grass and Villages in Kaziranga

This is a photo-essay that seeks to capture the beautiful sights around Kaziranga from a recent trip made in October 2014. The Kaziranga National Park opens on 1 November every year. So it was a trip minus the National Park; but not less delightful in any way.

We arrive at the charming Wild Grass Resort at Kaziranga after a 5-6 hour drive from Guwahati. Manju Barua, the proprietor of Wild Grass, considerably shaped tourism in Assam by introducing the concept of eco-tourism with this property in 1989. Manju Barua, along with his son Maan Barua, frontman Kamini Barua and an efficient staff, has been successfully maintaining standards at this resort for the past 25 years now.  

At Wild Grass, nature is neither groomed nor preened.  

One can just sit and stare away at Wild Grass. Even that is so relaxing!

Wild Grass: Where the hand-crafted antique-feel furniture and decor blend with the vibrant nature around.  

That little red house on the steps is where pickles are stored. 

The dining area at Wild Grass.

Loved this quaint desk at the dining section.

Palash Bora, 36 year old ornithologist employed with Wild Grass, took us on a bird-watching tour around the Wild Grass campus, the nearby Bocha village and the Hathikuli tea estate. He told us that Wild Grass has about 85 species of migratory and non-migratory birds. We spotted several varieties of exotic birds that day.  

The homely guest accommodation at Wild Grass.

The inviting room!

At a corner of the Wild Grass campus.

We then made our way to the nearby Bocha village to spot more birds.

A house at Bocha village where orchids were in bloom.

A pretty house at Bocha village.

Bamboo bridges in Assam's villages. At Bocha Gaon.

When we reached Hathikuli tea estate, early in the morning, we were greeted by the sight of men and women with baskets behind them, on their way to pluck tea leaves.  

Later in the morning, we rode an open jeep to the nearby villages.

A house at the Doinang Sildubi Borbil Mishing village.

Pretty Mishing mother-daughter duo in the village.

A woman holds her child and prepares the warp for the handloom.

A Mishing woman working on the handloom she prepared herself with bamboo sticks under a Saang Ghar (an elevated house).  

Pretty Mishing girls in the village.

Village boys. They asked us for ten rupees to buy chips from the store at the mouth of their village. Am sure their mothers would have given them a good spanking had they heard them :D

An egret (bogoli) perched on a cow. And I taught my two and half year old daughter to sing "bogoli boga phut di ja" - the song i grew up singing every time we spotted egrets in the fields.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

My short story 'The Hand, the Elephant and the Lotus' (published by Writers Asylum, 7 Oct 2014)

My latest short story (fiction) 'The Hand, the Elephant and the Lotus' has been published by Writers Asylum. 
Synopsis of the story: The story narrates how the 1996 Assembly Election in Assam affected a few lives. 

An excerpt: 
"For many years I heard Father and the other men and women in the family talk only about the Elephant and the Hand, criticizing the Hand when it was in power and speculating the chances of the Elephant coming to power in the next election; and then criticizing the Elephant when it finally came to power, at how it had fallen flat on its promises. But in 1996, before the Assembly election happened, there were talks about how disappointing both these parties were and that only a radical change could rescue Assam. Father now spoke about the Lotus as the messianic political party that could cleanse the Bangladeshi epidemic and save “us” from the “larger goal” of turning Assam into an Islamic state and merging it with Bangladesh. To this, people like Rehmankhura, father’s childhood friend who now lived close to our house in Guwahati, would not really know what to say. His family had moved over from Bangladesh, then East Pakistan, when the partition had happened. Even during those times, as it is now, the border between Assam and Bangladesh was porous. In fact, there was no Bangladesh, there was no Assam. It was one huge land where people of all religious faiths, castes and tribes lived. So at times like this when Father spoke about the need for a Hindutvaregime because soon “our” people “would be reduced to a minority position” by the “Moosolmaan”, unmindful of Rehman khura’s presence in the gathering, he would keep quiet. All these years of friendship and it seemed Father never registered the fact that Rehman khura was but a “Moosolmaan”."

Read the rest of it at

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Street Food in Old Delhi (Deccan Herald, 12 Oct 2014)


Savouring old Dilli

Juanita Kakoty, Oct 12, 2014, DHNS:
Chandni Chowk is a street food paradise that tantalises taste buds. (PHOTOS BY TANUSHREE BHOWMIK).
Walking down the crowded lanes of Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi,  Juanita Kakoty samples the sumptuous fare that tickles tongues and pleases palates.

The charms of Old Delhi lie not just in the dilapidated havelis that speak of the glorious days they once saw, or in the unending rows of shops showcasing exquisitely embroidered dresses and jewellery, but also in the aroma and sights of food in every nook and corner. 

The kebabs and biryanis of this walled city have stolen the hearts of many since times immemorial; but what has also been captivating the food connoisseur for a long time now is the wider range of street food in this part of Delhi.

A walk with Tanushree Bhowmik, a food blogger who conducts food tours around Old Delhi, one Saturday morning was unique, because it did not include establishments and steered away from the much-documented Mughlai cuisine of the region. She suggested visits to the smaller vendors whom she claims to have discovered through “trial and error”. 

Taste test

We arrived at the Chandni Chowk metro station by noon, where right outside was 45-year-old Rajesh selling chole kulche at Rs 20 per plate. The kulcha (made of flour and steamed) along with the chole (green peas sun-dried and boiled) was absolutely non-oily. It was the garnishing as per the customer’s tolerance that spiced this dish up. One can catch him from noon till 4 to 4.15 pm. 

A few steps away from Rajesh’s cart sat Shripad Bhardwaj on a stone, making tea by the roadside. He sells tea at Rs 10 per cup and we sipped some nice adrak (ginger) chai here, which seemed perfect after the chole kulche. We then took one of the lanes that came out to Natraj, a much celebrated chaat spot.

There, at a little stand on the pavement between Natraj and the Central Bank of India, Sonu Sharma was selling rabri faluda at Rs 50 per glass and kulfi faluda at Rs 40 per glass. We tasted some refreshing rabri faluda (faluda is a cold beverage; rabri is the cream derived from boiling milk and sugar for long hours) here while gazing at the majestic Sheesh Ganj Gurudwara up ahead. 

Right down that lane was Bishan Swaroop’s chaat stall where Tanushree asked for kulle ki chaat, although it was not listed in the menu. “It is better here than in Chawri Bazaar,” she told me. We stood there as Swaroopji cut a boiled potato into two halves, scooped out the middle of the halves and stuffed it with boiled sun-dried green peas. 

He then garnished it with spices (he asked us “medium masala” or “strong masala” and we opted for medium) and a few drops of lemon. This nice tangy chaat is great for health freaks as well as for those not scared of spices. At Rs 30 per plate, it actually could make for a great healthy meal.

Time for something sweet again after the chaat and nothing could have been better than the fresh rabri Govind Gupta was selling a few steps away from Swaroopji’s stall. The rabri comes from his home in Atras village near Mathura (Uttar Pradesh) by noon. 

Tanushree then took me through the much-feted Paranthewali Gali and we went down the lane where, right at the T-point, Virendra Nankhataiwale was selling hot nan khatai, fluffy buttery cookies made of flour, sooji, besan and ghee. He sells them at Rs 300 per kg and is there with his cart from 2 pm to 7.30 pm. I packed a good portion for home.

From there we took a right and came to a corner where 30-year-old Ayush Cholewale was selling chole kulche. “This chole is different from the chole we first had near the Metro station. It is cooked spicy and the USP here is the homemade green chilly pickle, whose recipe he will not share at any cost,” informed Tanushree. The pickle actually made all the difference to the dish! I had as many as my tongue allowed! To taste it, you’ll have to be there between 12 pm and 5 pm, and each plate is priced at Rs 20. 

A sweet treat

As we walked through Kinari Bazaar to Maliwara, we caught up with 58-year-old Girija Shankar who was pushing his cart full of kiwi fruits through the narrow lane. We lapped up some awesome kiwi chaat at a meagre Rs 10 per plate. 

Coming to Nai Sarak, we stopped at Kalka Sweet House, opposite Kothi Haji Ali Jan, for chole bhature that makes for good breakfast in many parts of North India. This place opens at 8 am and closes at 6 pm. The chole here was spicy but not hot; and 72-year-old M P Pandey told me, “We use 21 spices in our chole, which includes rose petals!” 

At the end of our two-hour long walk, I realised that street food could be hygienic too. “They have maintained standards for the two years that I’ve known them,” Tanushree told me, as we sipped the refreshing and quintessential Delhi drink banta (lemon soda masala) for Rs 15 at Ved Prakash Lemonwale near Town Hall.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Jimmy Chishi: Puppets with Naga motifs (Deccan Herald, 7 Sep 2014)


Play of shadows

Sep 7, 2014 DHNS
Fascinated by the art of shadow puppetry, Juanita Kakoty talks to artiste Jimmy Chishi, whose puppets have resurrected the folk lores from Nagaland

Fascinated by the art of shadow puppetry, Juanita Kakoty talks to artiste Jimmy Chishi, whose puppets have resurrected the folk lores from Nagaland.
I am not used to associating puppets with flat surfaces. So, when Jimmy Chishi showed me his shadow puppets, flat surfaces, I wondered if they could match up to those soft toy-like figures I’ve known as puppets. But what fascinated me were the motifs on these flat puppets and the beautiful craftsmanship. And then he showed me photographs from his exhibitions, and I was mesmerised. When light was thrown upon these translucent flat puppets, placed against a flat background, they became magical.

Holding a puppet inspired by the Naga folktale The Elephant’s Eye, Jimmy Chishi pointed out, “These visuals that you see here began with traditional motifs from Naga shawls, Tsungoteptsu (Ao Naga tribe) shawls to be precise. This is a shawl that has a black and white band; and what is unique about the shawl is that the band is painted with black ink as part of ritual-based painting, celebrating head-hunting. So, it’s a headhunter’s shawl. And the painting motifs are interesting. I started studying these, including other motifs like the tattoo marks of the different Naga tribes, the Phoms and the Konyaks especially. But, when I use them in my puppets, I bring my own interpretation to them.” 

Using Naga motifs
Jimmy is essentially a painter and sculptor. He developed an interest in puppetry when he was pursuing a course in Jamia Milia Islamia in New Delhi. What intrigued him was how puppets could be used as a form of communication. “The whole thing about making sculptures that move was happening for a while in India. And I felt, for exploring the Naga folk stories, puppetry could perhaps be one of the most effective forms.”

I learnt from Chishi that there has been no tradition of puppetry in Nagaland. “But there has been a tradition of mask-making, carved by warriors. And the only reference for them is the old photographs by Hameindorf, anthropologists, or those by colonial administrators. The photographs tell you that these masks were being used for some kind of performance. That is one factor that I thought could be brought in from a contemporary point of view. The visual could be used to explore folk stories and folklores in the present context. I thought youngsters might find this visual exploring of folk stories interesting and re-visit their folktales and folk traditions.”

Friday, 5 September 2014

My latest short story 'The Mona Days' published by Writers Asylum (4 Sep 2014)

My latest short story 'The Mona Days' has been published by Writers Asylum. An excerpt:

"Rakesh just couldn’t stop admiring Mona. The way she flicked her locks away from her pretty face with a slight jerk of the head; the way she stylishly held her cigarette between her slender fingers and let out the smoke from the corner of her mouth, head slightly bent to the side; the way her eyes slanted a little; how what she wore was always well-coordinated; how she looked stunning no matter what time of the day or night it was; and how she endearingly addressed everyone as ‘darling’. “Darling, please light my smoke.” “Darling, I have a bad headache. Could you kindly drive me to my friend’s place at Noida. You know how far away Noida is from JNU, and with this headache, I really do not have the strength to take an auto or a bus. Would you please, darling?” Rakesh knew of no one who had ever refused her. With such soft words coming out of such a lovely mouth, who could really?"

Read the rest of it at

On Pritam Ghoshal, sarod exponent (Deccan Herald, 24 Aug 2014)

Scintillating sounds
Juanita Kakoty, Aug 24, 2014, DHNS:
Sarod maestro Pritam Ghoshal
Thirty-six-year-old Sarod maestro Pritam Ghoshal’s musical journey shaped up the moment he had a tryst with Ustad Amjad Ali Khan. A glimpse of the master was enough to toss his nonchalance for music aside. 

He tells me, “I grew up in a small town in West Bengal and was interested not in music but sports. But as a child, I heard a lot of music since I come from a family of musicians. One morning, in 1992, my father got a sarod and told me that I’ve found a teacher for you and you have to play this. I went for the classes because my father was an authority figure. This is when I was about 14 years old; so, in a way, I started quite late. I trained with my first guru Shri Pranab Naha for three years. But I never 
practised at home; and I can officially disclose it now that I even kicked my sarod to get rid of it!”

Life & learning

The twist of fate happened when Pritam saw his future guru Ustad Amjad Ali Khan for the first time. “In 1995, there was an advertisement in Anandabazar Patrika that Ustadji was going to conduct a workshop. 

My father got interested and I applied. That was actually the beginning of my professional career. We were made to go through three rounds of tests in front of Ustadji’s senior disciples. Then he personally came; and I saw him. I was struck by his personality. I said to myself, you better practise hard now because this is the glamour that you can achieve!”

It was a momentous phase in Pritam’s life because, at the workshop, amongst the hundred young musicians, he was one of the five selected for the gandhabandhan ceremony, a ritual whereby a guru takes a disciple under his wings. “The ceremony happened to be on Rakhi Purnima on August 10, 1995. I was in Kolkata then and whenever Ustadji was not around, I practised with his senior disciple Debojyoti Bose. In 1999, I completed my graduation and Ustadji asked me to shift base to Delhi.”

Talking of Ustadji, Pritam says, “As a guru, he has never differentiated between his disciples and his sons Amaan Ali Bangash and Ayaan Ali Bangash. He is tied to his students in the guru-shishya parampara. He not only guides them, but also reprimands them when a note is played wrong. We go to his house and practise for three to four hours. At times, I would be practising downstairs and he would be listening from upstairs; and when I would tire and stop, his voice would come booming from upstairs asking me to play something again. He would call up his disciples and ask them how many hours of riyaaz they have put in. Only then would he ask us to go over in person.” 

And in a lighter vein he adds, “Sometimes when I had not practiced much, and I would still want to see him, I would lie and say that I’ve done riyaaz. But, of course, when he heard me, he would know immediately that I had lied and make me practise for extra hours.” 

Style of ‘gayiki’

Pritam informs, “If I am to associate myself with my Ustadji’s style, then we are from the Senia Gwalior Gharana, also known as the Senia Bangash Gharana. Bangash is Ustadji’s family name. The rabab — the parent of sarod — was first played by Mohammed Hashmi Khan Bangash, one of Ustadji’s ancestors. He was a horse trader in Kabul. His grandson Ghulam Ali Khan Bangash came to India, settled down here and modified the rabab into sarod.”

“There is an instrumental side to playing an instrument and there is a vocal or gayiki style,” he continues. “The Senia Gharana follows the vocal or gayiki style on the sarod. To mark a contrast, the instrumental style has been followed by Baba Allauddin Khan Sa’ab and his disciples like Ali Akbar Khan Sa’ab, Annapurna Devi, Pandit Ravi Shankar.”  

Developing as a musician

When I ask Pritam if he is working on his own style, he comes up with an important insight. “There are compositions in the raga, which we call the bandish. You can play the bandish, technically speaking, exactly the way Ustadji has; but you cannot exactly produce the feeling or environment he can. This is because your rendition is bound to have a personal touch. Ustadji has always said, the more you listen to, the more you will retain the music inside you. So when I listen to music, I don’t just listen to Ustadji. I also listen to Ali Akbar Khan Sa’ab, Bahadur Khan Sa’ab, and my contemporaries. So my ears are exposed to different styles; exposed to how one note can be expressed in various ways. This comes from listening to others and reflects in my renditions.” 

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...