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...