Category Archives: Mumbai

Mumbai Diaries: Kala Ghoda Art Festival 2013

I heard about the Kala Ghoda Art Festival, which is held from the first Saturday in February till the next Sunday since the last 15 years, only last year! At the time, I decided that I would visit Mumbai for the next event, and sure enough, I made my way to the city for the 2013 edition of the festival.

I have to say that it was an interesting experience. There were some lovely public art installations, and of course others that left me cold.

Some of the installations were quintessentially Mumbai. Like this one:

Dhanda, Kala Ghoda Art Festival 2013

Dhanda, which means “business”, depicts the Mumbaikar’s search for business opportunities and the difficulties that people face to earn their daily bread. The letters of the word look like high-rise buildings, with the small letter “d” representing the BSE building. The hustle and bustle of Mumbai’s lifestyle is depicted through the use of contemporary warli art.

And the Dabbawala:

Dabbawala, Kala Ghoda Art Festival 2013

Mumabi’s dabbawalas (lunch box carriers) are the heart and soul of the city. About 5,000-odd dabbawalas have been in action for over 125 years, delivering nearly 2,00,000 lunches every day. This installation, showing the dabbawala carrying Mumbai on his head, is an ode to this almost always uninterrupted service.

Other installations were quirky, like this awesome Vespa, depicting the Italian scooter as the bug from which it drew its design inspiration…

Vespa, Kala Ghoda Art Festival 2013

…and these cool spectacles, a fun way to illustrate Mumbai as the city of dreams.

Spectacles, Kala Ghoda Art Festival 2013

There were some thought provoking installations, like Sanyyam. Shaped like a tortoise, its appendages have been replaced with human sensory organs like the eyes, ears, hand, foot, nose and lips. It serves as a reminder for us to be aware of and in control of our senses.

Sanyyam, Kala Ghoda Art Festival 2013

And The Shelter Tree – a commentary on the social evils – mainly against women – that most people turn a blind eye to. What I liked about it was that the “leaves” on the trees were grey and infected, which people could replace with a green paper leaf and take a pledge to be the change.The Shelter Tree, Kala Ghoda Art Festival 2013

In addition to the public art installations, there are a number of workshops that are held every day. I managed to attend just one – a workshop on stain glass painting, conducted by Mamta Vora. She showed us some interesting techniques to create faux stain glass, and one that took everyone’s breath away – marbling a glass. At that moment, my friend and I decided we had to do a cooking and craft weekend sometime soon. And we already have some fun crafty and DIY ideas that we want to try!

We wanted to attend a cooking workshop by Pooja Dhingra from Le 15 Patisserie, but sadly, despite reaching the venue 30 minutes early as mentioned on the site, they ran out of space and we were unable to attend it.

There are also plays and music, heritage walks and art stalls and paintings. It’s hard to be able to do everything that you want to over a weekend, partly because of the huge crowd that descends on Kala Ghoda, but it is a festival that you should attend at least once.

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Mumbai Diaries: Exploring Colaba and Fort

Mumbai Diaries: Exploring Colaba and Fort

When you think of Mumbai, you think of traffic jams and teeming slums, of roads chock-a-block with people, of sultry humidity and general chaos. You think of Bollywood and industrial tycoons, of the super rich living alongside the poor, of a city that never sleeps. But if you thought that this is all there is to Mumbai, you’d be wrong.

Old_Church_Mumbai_India

A graceful arched window of a Church in Colaba, Mumbai, India

There’s a softer, gentler side to the city as well – tree-lined roads, mansions and apartment buildings that speak of old money, and a blend of Gothic, Victorian, Art Deco and Indo-Saracenic (a blend of Islamic and Hindu architectural styles) architecture. And nowhere is this more evident than in the Fort and Colaba area in South Mumbai.

Gateway of India, Mumbai, India

Gateway of India, Mumbai, India

We started our exploration of this area from the Gateway of India and the Taj Hotel after a hearty brunch at Le Pain Quotiden. Built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary, the Gateway of India is a fine example of Indo-Saracenic architecture. Many elements of the arch and the design of the windows are derived from Islamic architecture, while the pillars are reminiscent of Hindu temple design. We were lucky to find the area relatively less crowded, which gave us a lot of time to take pictures and generally explore the place.

Taj_Colaba_Mumbai

The iconic Taj Hotel at Mumbai, adjacent to the Gateway of India

From there, we started walking along the lane behind the Taj, with our necks craned upwards looking for interesting window and architectural details. The road is tree-lined and quiet, the buildings are old and regal, and for a while, you can almost forget that you’re in Mumbai – it could be any old European city.

Old_window

An old, elegant window perched above a busy, bustling street in Mumbai

We traversed a path through Colaba, Colaba Causeway and Fort that day, with no real fixed agenda. We were just a couple of walkers, roaming around the area and exclaiming over the architecture. Why we were in architecture overdrive is still a bit of a mystery to me, but that day all we had eyes for were windows and doorways and turrets and spires. Maybe it was the juxtaposition of those old, elegant buildings with the bustling metropolis that had grown around it – but the memories I took away were of an older, more genteel Mumbai than I remembered from my stay there 10 years ago.

Colonial_architecture_modern_life

An old colonial building that now houses a cool junk jewelery store – Aquamarine. Mumbai, India

Of course, being girls, our trip couldn’t be complete without some shopping now, could it? There’s no better place to pick up cheap nick-knacks than at Colaba Causeway (in that area, at least). You’ll find some excellent junk jewellery, footwear and leather goods at prices that will delight your pocket. If you are on the look out for something more exclusive, make your way to Aquamarine at Colaba, which stocks some really cool (though pricey) junk jewellery.

“He looked normal”

…has to be the biggest cliché in recent times. It’s the phrase that is bandied about the most when anyone talks about a terrorist – be it “baby-faced” Ajmal Kasab, who was given the death sentence yesterday for the 26/11 attack on Mumbai, or Faisal Shahzad, who was arrested today for the failed bomb attempt in New York.

According to an eyewitness,

“I never doubted that he [Shahzad] could be a terrorist because he was a very normal looking guy. He was holding his passport and sitting there, we could never have doubted him because he looked so normal”

Why, I ask, should a terrorist not look normal? After all, a terrorist is a “normal” human being whose mind has been “abnormally” twisted by fanatical individuals. He wouldn’t be roaming the streets with horns and a devil’s forked tongue!

But things certainly are scary out there, ‘cause seemingly well-to-do individuals are being turned by the fanatical outpourings of a handful of individuals who twist religion and spew hatred for “the other,” with delusions of world-wide dominance, at the altar of which innocent souls are slaughtered.

(image courtesy onegoodthing.net)

A tale of two cities

I came across this set of really cool articles in Open magazine, a relatively new weekly news magazine, that talk about reasons why Bombay hates Delhi, which is countered by why Delhi hates Bombay, and both these articles are then countered by the rest vs. Delhi and Bombay! Pretty interesting reading this.

I especially loved the one on why Bombay hates Delhi — maybe because I myself come from that side of the country — a lot of points made me say: “Yes! That is so true!” Sample this:

Space is not compressed here. Everything is far from everything else. There are real gardens where you do not see the exit when you stand at the entrance…Homes have corridors, and they are called corridors, not half-bedrooms. Yet, Delhi has a bestial smallness of purpose.

And a narrow mind — especially Delhi men!

Those men there who drive the long phallic cars, sometimes holding a beer bottle in one hand, there is something uncontrollable about them…What is the swagger about? What is the great pride in driving your father’s BMW, what is the glory in being a sperm? And what is the great achievement in stepping on the accelerator? It is merely automobile engineering—press harder on the pedal and the car will move faster. Why do you think a girl will mate with you for that?

Probably because of their “don’t you know who my father is” mentality. Power is everything here, with almost every second person claiming to be related or acquainted with a politician or a high-ranking police officer.

Delhi as a centre of power is an inheritance, a historical habit. An unbearable consequence of this is the proximity of easy funds for various alleged intellectual pursuits which has enabled it to appropriate the status of intellectual centre.

There is much weight attached to the imagined sophistication of talk, of gas. It is a city of talkers. There is always The Discussion…[there is] a meaningless aspect of Delhi’s fiery intellectuality, and also laid bare the crucial difference between intellectuality, which is borrowed conviction, and intelligence, which is creativity, innovation and original analysis…Delhi [suffers from a] mental condition which is incurable—a fake intensity, a fraudulent concern for ‘issues’, the grand stand.

You can read the entire article here.

Of course, there has to be a counter to this rather dim view of Delhi, though I must admit that I thought it wasn’t as convincing. Starting with a debate of fame vs. power, the article then meandered to Bombay being a city of dreamers…

In this city of people looking up without looking around, dreams are what matter. It is evident. The stock market, ad industry and Bollywood—whichever way you stack them, they make for too little reality.

…and then dissed Bombay for holding candlelight vigils, which, by the way, are now de rigueur in Delhi too!

When reality does sink in, all of Bombay responds as only Bombay can. Scented candles and designer dresses make for a procession of the fifteen thousand. Affronted as they are with the politicians and politics of this country, they ‘decide’ to teach the rest of us how things should be done.

The article touched upon the casteism, which sadly, is rising in Bombay, but the reason for the rise is power — political power. It’s a brilliant strategy if you think about it, but then, that is an altogether different discussion.

You can check the article out here.

And then, there is the rest vs. Delhi and Bombay — one of the most hilarious, ironic articles I’ve read in recent times.

The article starts with a tongue-lashing on Delhi and Bomabay having to “kowtow kowtow to the fickle ways of the Bombay and Delhi weather,” and goes on to slam the efficient public transport in the two cities.

I utterly abhor the temerity of auto drivers from Bombay who, without exception, consider me unworthy of charging whatever grabs their fancy. What’s worse, they choose to take the high ground by being scrupulously honest about the whole business of taking me for a ride…Whatever happened to good old things like indecency and respecting what the customer can be ripped off for. It’s what I’ve come to expect and grown comfortably used to in Chennai. Why shock me senseless with your conscientious ways?

Delhi’s metro isn’t spared either!

For starters, what’s so great about offering an efficient and clean Metro Rail service when one can be pampered by the timeless pleasures of waiting for one to materialise and, in the meantime, making do with a service that’s considered frequent only by people who haven’t seen much better. Efficiency, I tell you—so over-rated and so unnecessary.

And then you come to the heart of the article — love.

Speaking of love, the thing about it, it’s easy to dish out in copious quantities when the recipient is a less fortunate soul, or city, worthy of pity.

And since Delhi and Bombay are not…Though,

Scratch the surface and you’ll find few people really hate Delhi, Bombay or the people from these great cities. What they are is jealous. And that’s what they hate. Happily, it’s okay to feel this way. I call it the ‘Australia syndrome’. Meaning what? Meaning this. So long as Australia were well-nigh unbeatable at cricket, it was eminently more comforting to hate them…Beatings apart, what’s not to hate about a country that’s so beautiful, so sunny, so clean, so spacious, so prosperous, so efficient, so livable (mostly) and, worst of all, possesses a cricket team so goddamn hard-to-beat? Naturally, the only option one had, since one couldn’t surpass them at anything important, was to hate them. Call them self-centered. Arrogant. Uncouth. Loud. And the like. Echoes how the rest of India feels about Bombay and Delhi, doesn’t it? Case closed.

You can read this gem of an article here.

The war on Mumbai

On 26 November, terrorists struck India’s financial capital — Mumbai — in one of the most brazen attacks ever seen in India. They entered the city through the sea route, striking at the Victoria Terminus, Leopold Cafe, and Cama Hospital first. In this first strike, the nation lost three of its best police officers — Anti-terrorism squad chief Hemant Karkare, encounter specialist Vijay Salaskar and Additional Commissioner of Police Ashok Kamte.

The terrorists then proceeded to take two high-profile hotels — the iconic Taj Mahal hotel and the Oberoi-Trident — and Nariman House (also known as Chabad House) hostage. The siege, which lasted almost 60 hours, claimed the life of the rabbi and his wife, leaving their young son an orphan.

This latest and most brazen attack, which the media dubbed India’s 9/11, has horrified the nation. For three days Indians sat glued to their television, in mute horror, watching the drama unfold on television. We watched, helpless, as the terrorists set fire to the heritage Taj Mahal hotel, we cringed as we heard gun shots and grenade blasts ring out, we watched with bated breath as NSG commandoes engaged the terrorists, and we cried when we heard about the number of hostages who are killed, and as we saw some hostages released. Once it was all over, though, we became a nation angry. This time we will not call upon “the spirit of Mumbai.” This time we want to see political action. Platitudes will not work anymore.

But, this is India.

Politicization of the attack

On day 1 of the attack, leader of the opposition L.K. Advani said he would work together with the UPA government and not use this event as a political campaign point. The next day, he forgot all about his promise and the BJP released full page color ads politicizing the issue. Its leaders like Rajasthan CM Vasundhra Raje are using the Mumbai siege as a topic to gain political mileage.

Then we have other politicians that give a gem of a soundbyte. Sample this:

Some women wearing lipstick and powder have taken to streets in Mumbai and are abusing politicians spreading dissatisfaction against democracy. This is what terrorists are doing in Jammu and Kashmir. These are difficult times for the nation. In times like this we should unite in our war against terror and the Pak sponsored attacks rather than waging war against the democratic institutions.

This, gem of a quote was given by the BJP’s Mukhtar Naqvi, his view of the candle light vigils being held in Mumbai and elsewhere around the country condeming the terror attack.

Weak-kneed response

PM Manmohan Singh called for Pakistan to send ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha to New Delhi to present him with hard evidence about the involvement of Pakistani elements, including Lashkar-e Toiba (LeT) terrorists, in the Mumbai strike. After agreeing initially, Pakistan refused to send his over. Now, Zardari is saying that there is no evidence that the terrorists were Pakistanis, and even if they were, they are stateless elements and Pakistan can do nothing about it. This, despite India having given them evidence of ISI involvement in the attack. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to India was also make to placate India and to ensure that we do not take military action against Pakistan. If we do, their war on terror will be affected, as they are using that country as the base from which to launch attacks on Afghanistan.

Intelligence failure

The attacks also point to a total intelligence failure, with agencies initially claiming they had no evidence about the attacks. Later, though, it became apparent that they simply ignored the evidence that they did get. Fishermen had submitted written letters stating there was suspicious activity at ports. Fishermen in Gujarat also reported that Indian trawlers were crossing over into Pakistani waters, meeting trawlers there, and coming back into Indian waters without being arrested. After repeated requests to improve safety at the Gateway of India, stating the sea route could be used for an attack, one police van and two policemen were stationed in the area. On the day of the attack, this motley security was also missing.

All of this points to the fact that this attack couldnt have been carried out without political sanction. This is not to say that the politicians were involved in it, but just that they chose to ignore warning signs and ensure the saftey of civilians. The reason? Simple. Political gains.

Hostage stories

One of the stories that really stayed with me was related by a foreign couple who had come to India on a 1-month holiday. They were happy to be safe, praised the commandoes, and said that they had no plans to cut their trip short. Though the wife got teary while relating their terror while they were held hostage, her husband said that this episode would just serve as a road bump to their plans, they did not plan to give in to fear.

You cannot give into fear, or you let the terrorists win. When they are holding a gun to your head, that is the time to feel fear. But to let fear rule your life is to let them win. And I will not let that happen.

Isn’t this the mantra to live by?