Thursday, 31 March 2016

The Bora family house and whispering woods in Chamba

I am just back from a fabulous holiday in the hills, thanks to my cousin Roshmi ba (Urmi) and her husband Chanakya Bhindo. Their family home at the picturesque Badshahi Sthall, higher up Chamba town, nestles in the midst of whispering woods, surrounded by the Himalayas as tall as the sky... A quiet town, sparkling in the sun's rays and fresh as fresh can be. Here are a few pictures from that trip.

We went to Chamba in Uttarakhand from Delhi by road and reached the Bora family home at Badshahi Stall late in the evening. The next morning, I woke up as fresh as my little daughter here :) I made her pose for me as soon as she opened her eyes in the morning!

Then I stood at this balcony and gazed at the beauty all around.

A nice place to sit and relax...

My daughter Zaara with the gracious host, Chanakya Bhindo.

And it's only in reflections that we see how the world merges :)

From one end to the other...

The space below the stairs most optimally and gorgeously used. 

Chanakya bhindo, I have always maintained, might be an architect, and a very good one at that, but would have made an even better chef! Here he is seen working magic in the kitchen.

That's some awesome sweet cinnamon bread from Prakash (a store that exists since 1928) at Landour, and Chanakya bhindo had made some spring onion raita (which was surprisingly very good; I was quite skeptical about it!!!) to go with aloo paratha for breakfast. And of course, this is only the beginning to the glorious dishes he made through those five days!    

Walking along the lanes of the five pretty cottages at Badshahi Sthall. 

A view of the cottages.

Zaara is happy to find herself a swing.

All set to explore the woods...

But before that, a photpgraph with Roshmi ba :)

The paths around these parts...

The Chamba sky. Clear. Blue. Sparkling.

Counting life's blessings ;)

Red red sky just before dusk

The house glows like embers in the dark...

Father-daughter. Ruhee and Chanakya bhindo.

Zaara finds herself friends and spends her Holi with them

Holi Hai!!!!!!!

Zaara, Arjun and Piu

Zaara and Ruhee. Holi girls.

The caretaker, spinner of tales, Unniyal ji.

As the day comes to an end, Zaara sits and watches cartoon on TV...

This is near Dhanaulti. Dhanaulti is just one hour from Badshahi Sthall.

Roshmi ba and I, too happy with the hills, too happy to pose :) 

Ustad Iqbal Ahmed Khan, Khalifa of Dilli Gharana (Deccan Herald, 20 March 2016)

Nurturer of music
custodian of Dilli gharana Ustad Iqbal Ahmed Khan
I’ve been god-fearing from the beginning. And I am grateful to him that I have been lucky,” is the first thing Ustad Iqbal Ahmed Khan says, sitting in the small room of what constitutes the Ameer Khusro Institute of Dilli Gharana on Ansari Road in Old Delhi. The classical vocalist wears, as usual, a sherwani.

From the walls of the room, the giants of Dilli Gharana, who are framed in photographs, look at us. Pointing at a photo, he says, "That’s my guru and father Ustad Chand Khan Sahab. He didn’t have a son, so he adopted me.” In another photo are his father-in-law, Ustad Hilal Ahmed Khan, and his biological father, Ustad Zahoor Ahmed Khan, "sons of Ustad Chand Khan’s younger brothers.”

Few are as blessed as this singer who was born in the lap of music and into a family that has defined Indian classical music for centuries. But, as he says, although music is a legacy gifted to him, it did not come easily. "I have served not only music all these 60 years, but also my teachers, with whom I have spent most of my waking hours - responsive to their emotions as well as to the nuances of singing they have taught me.” He says his biggest support in life has been Zohra Khan, his wife, with whom he has grown up.

Mausiqui Manzil

Iqbal Ahmed Khan was born and brought up at Mausiqui Manzil, a 200-year-old building in Old Delhi, where he lives with his family now. "Artistes from all over the world came here to meet the then Khalifa of Dilli Gharana, Ustad Chand Khan Sahab. They either stayed with us or at the Haji Hotel in Jama Masjid.” He is the current Khalifa of the centuries-old Dilli Gharana of Indian classical music.

It’s here that he heard the great musicians of his time, and grew up with an understanding of the taans, surs and taals. "It was a privilege. In 1961, Bhai Lalji Lahorewale visited us. So we had a mehfil. He was one slim man, must have been 80 years old. But he sang effortlessly! Senior artiste Qadarbaksh Khan sang the bandish Nevar Ki Jhankar in Chhayanat raga for us. My father asked me to concentrate on how he rendered it. I still remember it.”

And, he continues with another anecdote: "One of the visitors was the legendary rudra veena exponent Ustad Sadiq Ali Khan. He didn’t stay with us, but at the hotel. When he visited us every evening, he saw me flying kites. He wondered, in front of my father, if I ever do riyaaz. My father asked him not to worry, and said that the little one’s mind was at the session. Khan sahab started playing and at one point, deliberately went off tune. I turned around immediately and looked at him, still holding the string of the kite, and started chanting, 'You have gone out of tune!’ I must have been 10 years then.”

Lesson to remember

Along with music, his ustad has also trained him in humility and kindness. "When I was 12, I was admonished for impertinence at a gathering in Jaipur. It was already evening when I sat down to sing. My guru went for his evening namaz. Senior musician Hidayatullah Khan, about 70 years old then, played the tabla with me. Somebody told me that he could make singers go out of rhythm. I took it as a challenge and started a bandish. At one point, I sang in a manner that made it impossible for him to keep pace with me. He began to cry. A child had humiliated him! My guru, back from the namaz, slapped me in front of everyone.'Have I taught you so that you can insult your seniors?’ he thundered, and then asked the senior musician to forgive me.” He chokes as he narrates this tale.

His tales also reveal that the training sessions were extremely rigorous. He remembers that he was made to go through only two ragas for the first 24 years of his life as a singer. Puriya at night and Komol Rishabh Asavari in the day. And, how much has he been able to pass on to his students? He unravels a secret, "There comes a wave in time when an ustad reveals, like an epiphany, some nuance that is otherwise often inexplicable. This wave doesn’t occur twice. I have been able to give to my students as much as they have been able to receive.”

Friday, 11 March 2016

On Diya Naidu's work in contemporary dance (Deccan Herald, 28 Feb 2016)

Steps in self-exploration

Juanita Kakoty, Feb 28, 2016
Contemporary moves
Dancer Diya Naidu

Dancer and choreographer Diya Naidu sees a performance as a combination of self-expression and messages carrying universal appeal. Juanita Kakoty in conversation with the young artiste...
Award-winning choreographer Diya Naidu defines her work as “movement and dance-based contemporary performance”, which, at the moment, might seem to take a socio-political turn, but has, and always will, she emphasises, “be layered by spiritual and existential questions, and research.”

Although she has been dancing ever since she was a little girl, Diya thinks “finding contemporary dance was for me the beginning of really becoming a movement artiste. I loved training in jazz and kathak, but there was something about martial arts that always attracted me. I found the diploma at Attakkalari Repertory Company and auditioned mainly to train consistently in kalaripayattu. Here is where my body found the vocabulary it needed to truly express itself, with all the nuances and layers that make up contemporary existence today.”

Keeping at it

Reflecting on how dance makes her find herself, Diya says, “My first solo choreography was perhaps when I was eight or nine years old on a captive crew — my little sister and cousins — whom I bullied into performing in my homemade production. This was followed by many pieces over the years on school and college teams. But my first piece as a contemporary choreographer was a 20-minute solo called Nadir. This was made under the auspices of The Robert Bosch Award for Young Choreographers.” 

She tells me that Nadir was based on the idea of ‘aloneness’ in the urban context and the schizophrenic experience of being ‘isolated’ in the existential sense and yet being surrounded by noise, chaos and the stimulus of the urban jungle. “It uses movement, dance as well as film. This piece was a collaborative experience for me. I worked intensely with filmmaker Nimish Jain, with Shymon Chelad for music and light design, with Elan studio for costume, and with the Teichmann brothers from Germany for sound. This was my first work which let me explore who I was — not just as a dancer, but as a choreographer, too. It was the seed that shaped the existential, spiritual and socio-political space I am seeking to investigate today as an artiste. It made me a better performer, taught me to conceptualise, and forced me to articulate, research and hold more conviction in my ideas. It was cathartic for me in an emotional sense as it allowed me to creatively resolve and navigate certain questions and issues of my own. It made me address many bad habits as a thinker and creator of work, and insecurities as a performer.”

Her other works like Bardo Beings and Red Dress Waali Ladki have been equally well-received. Diya points out how she draws from diverse realms. Trained in bharatnatyam, jazz, ballet, kathak, physical theatre and kalaripayattu, Diya had worked with the Attakkalari Repertory Company for seven years, where, she says, she trained in the contemporary South-Asian vocabulary that is unique to Attakkalari and its director, Jayachandran Palazhy. Diya has also trained in yoga, put herself into as many workshops as she could, including mime, training for actors, contemporary, modern and somatic practices, and biodynamic craniosacral therapy.

Talking of her technique, she says, “Earlier, my process was much more physical with a focus on dramatic presence, movement quality and physical stamina and rhythm. At the moment, though these are still important to me, I have begun to seek a more integrated performance approach involving equal engagement with voice and acting skills. This means that I am grappling with ways to accommodate all these aspects into my being with harmony, ease and consistency.”

Diya is working on Rehem, a duet between two women that addresses their impulse of just being who they are as human beings and alive, not reacting to historical and current baggage of who and how a woman should be. There are other pieces of work in progress — Labour of Love: around the idea that love and hate come from essentially the same space, and Today, Don’t Insist On Leaving, a duet created with an older actor around the theme of ageing and the elderly. 

Ways are many

And there is so much poetry in the way she explains how she conceives her work. “Sometimes a piece makes itself — motifs appear in dreams, a dancer/actor catches your fancy as muse, a book transports itself to the movement realm during a daydream on a train, a suggestion takes flight in one’s mind, a theme is proposed as commissioned work and yet becomes one’s own. There are many ways to dream, write, paint and dance. What seems essential is to find a personal resonance and yet tell a universal story; to be specific and yet somehow open a window to something beyond that minuscule implication. And, above all, to try and play, explore and keep at it till something makes sense in the way the artist dreamt it into being.”

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Nadeem Shah Suhrawardy's Kahani Pandit Ki, a Dastangoi performance by Nadeem Shah Suhrawardy and Shankar Musafir (The Thumb Print, 7 January 2016)

Weaving magic through words

Nadeem Shah Suhrawardy and Shankar Musafir sat on the masnad, covered with a white bedsheet, two white bolsters on either side, in exquisite white Lucknawisalwar kurta, accessorised with striking blue Turkish caps. And right there, on 29 December 2015, at the Stein Auditorium of India Habitat Centre, the two young men appeared as if from some other world and wove a magical realm of storytelling as the audience sat there mesmerised listening to their Kahani Pandit Ki.
The storytellers were guest artists invited by the Sursagar Society of Delhi Gharana of music, which had got together a two-day event to celebrate the year as it rolled to an end, and welcome the new year. “The thrust was to take my own skill and experience to a different level in terms of ‘dastanic’ writing and performance, and the story just fitted the bill,” says Nadeem who has adapted a Rajasthani folktale into Hindustani oral storytelling, popularly called Dastangoi or Qissagoi in the northern part of the sub-continent. ‘Dastan’ or ‘qissa’ is a story and ‘goi’ is the Persian and Urdu term for ‘telling.’
‘Kahani Pandit ki’ is a quirky tale about the many, more than often contradictory, shades of human nature. With a tenor that is humorous, the tale raises several pertinent questions about the standing of a woman in society, greed and the pursuit of selfish interests. Through its central characters and the nuances of their devotion to the ‘Kuldevi’ – the village deity who protects, the tale moves into the domain of fantasies as it negotiates the contours of varied human emotions.
Talking of the performance that day, Nadeem says, ‘Kahani Pandit Ki’ has been inspired by one of the folktales by Vijaydan Detha. I have woven the dastan, or the story, around the same characters but have adopted a different course and climax, bringing it to highlight some pertinent questions about women’s plight and position in society.’
Nadeem Shah Suhrawardy has performed over a hundred dastans in many locations across India, as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan since 2010. But this is his debut production, which has been quite well received. He has also recently scripted a performative text on Faiz’s life and poetry, which he performed with his fellow storyteller Manu Sikander Dhingra at the South Asian University, New Delhi. Manu and Nadeem have been a formidable storyteller pair in the last five years, who have performed over a hundred shows in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
‘For me storytelling has to be a curious mix of narration and performativity, where both complement each other, and the nuances of the language used have to be demonstrative in both text and performance,’ elaborates Nadeem. He further says, “I listen to Zia Muhiuddin Sahab and Naseeruddin Shah Sahaba lot and am trying to bring into my delivery their finesse and voice control, as well as their command over pauses. Their art of storytelling seems so effortless. I totally admire the way they tell stories!”
Nadeem’s interest in Hindustani oral storytelling also stems from the fact that he teaches medieval Indian history to students in Delhi University. His fellow storyteller Shankar Musafir is an educationist with UNESCO who has penned a book on pedagogy for school education. He has been practicing this art form since 2014.Both made for an arresting pair on stage, exchanging energies and emotive and narrative prowess.


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...