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.”

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...