Along the Alps, up the Mont


The glass doors open. There is a gush of white. All you see is mountains for eternity. Snow covered mountains with a blinding sheen. Like folds of a gown, with creases at certain instants and smooth satin left to flow in certain others, the white princess spreads her beauty as Mont Blanc in the Alps, and as a series of acrylic paintings in the Art Houz.

A surprisingly refreshing addition to the previously noteworthy collection of the artist, the paintings seem to shout out the versatility of A P Shreethar with his strokes. One could imagine how his brushes would have tickled the surface of the canvas to bring out the glistening silver of the pinnacles, or scumbled over to produce the moonlit shadows of majesticity.

The paintings, which adopt the unseen style of ‘14-layered realism’, as the name suggests, appear real to the point that the click of your sandals on tiles begin to sound more like the sound of gumboots on the crunching grass on a misty morning. You check for the misty breath and run your fingers to feel the gooseflesh.

A long focused look gets the 3D effect of the paintings on to your head and you begin to imagine the ice slowly melt from the caps, unveiling the rusty wrinkles of rocks. You tend to wait a little longer for the white blots of cotton clouds to move, so that the summit is seen or even extend a hand to touch the snow that has slowly smudged its way down like a semi-melted vanilla scoop.

The 20 odd paintings from the collection of 121 mountain themed paintings of Shreethar come as a prologue to his work on the subject, which he plans to pursue for the next couple of years, visiting La Princess Blanche himself.

At the inauguration of the seminal collection, Franck Priot, COO and Deputy Director General of Film France, apart from establishing the obvious connection that the paintings held with France, also draws out a common thread between an artist and a film-maker. The first step in producing a cinema, Franck says, is to bring out the photos, where it’s all about creating stories based on shapes, voice and figures of those seen for real. “It is true and not true at the same time,” he adds.

This takes one revisiting the golden contours of Mont Blanc in one of the paintings. It has neither the malevolence of grayish blue, nor the mystique of white. Almost like discovering a burning pile of woods amidst the accrual of ice, the painting brings out a sense of warmth. “…So solemn, so serene, that man may be … But for such faith with nature reconciled…” Shelly was so right.

The article was previously published in The New Indian Express. Check out –  http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/c/1355206

 

Bitten by poisonous power


A psychedelic  king. A self-obsessed master. Adorned with a varnished cleverness along with his shiny sword, Tughlaq is a prototype of what a ruler shouldn’t be. Bringing him on to the stage would have meant an arsenal of witty dialogues, emotions and a battalion of characters, who match up to his wits – a venture which The Madras players nailed to the smallest of punctuation.

Directed by Vinod Anand, the play begins with a man, who is a former priest at the mosque, and his grandson discussing about the state of affairs in the country as normal citizens do. Both of them have diversified opinions about the Sultan, and this debate ropes in the audience to the India under Tughlaq, giving them the freedom to unpuzzle their own master.

The impression of the king, ‘The victorious. The mighty. The majesty of the palace, Muhammed Tughlaq’ is etched with each announcement passed by the messenger who walks on to the stage from amidst the audience, making them fight the urge to stop him and ask, what else is the news?

So, now the king wants the capital to be shifted from Delhi to the Hindu-dominated Daulatabad. While the king attributes this move as an initiative to cement the unity between Hindus and Muslims, it is later unearthed as the work of his shrewd and twisted mind – that which would make him powerful and his subjects weak.

While Tughlaq sits with his chess board, self congratulating on his brilliant moves and mounting up the already spilling pride, there are talks about him ‘being a disgrace to Islam’, of killing his parents for power and city being polluted with acts of deceit and impersonation.

The insanity is shone in the eyes – an almost deranged outburst by the king in front of his step mother, politician, Najeeb and historian, Barani, sets the pace of the plot to a spinning speed. The king could no longer be ignored as an insolent fool, as he lays one of the most impressive yet criminally motivated web to bog down Imam-ud-din , the man who spreads the news about his role in his parent’s murder,  soothing him with his sugary words and well camouflaged motives.

While Najeeb’s paralysed arms and remarks about Hindusim ‘talking about the soul when the world cried around’  made him an unforgettable character, manipulating the king in every step, Barani’s almost pious and calm attitude was like a beam of goodness on stage.

What follows is another set of absurd decisions by the king as he abolishes prayer and introduces the concept of silver coins. The audience sighs at his absurdity but remains seated with shock as the ones whom the king held close, die one after another – with the reason behind their deaths being even more appalling.

While Azeez and Aazam, the comic pair, might initially seem to be the dousers of heated arguments, their significance in the end is surprising.

While the bold music accompanying the stabbing of flesh, the chimes of the coins, and the red background lit during the bouts of anger, transforming into a divine green during the times of prayer gave an invaluable impact, the darkness in the end with Tughlaq resting his head on his knees succeeded in letting the waves of emotions settle as sediments, that which remind us of an unsatisfied life tortured by the fangs of power and guilt.

 

The article was previously published in The New Indian Express. Check out –  http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/c/1364916

 

Fleshing out the beauty in you


Over the years, the piercing trend in Chennai has shifted from its rebellious mode to being ventilation for self-expression, being repulsive and receptive at the same time.

They lit like stars in a constellation. As she speaks, a neat array of studs bordering her ears glisten, stealing our attention from what’s being said. She acknowledges the deviation by tucking the loose strands of hair behind her ears. A clearer view worsens the situation, as you sit in front of her – a cross-eyed gaper.

With three piercings on the cartilage and two on the skin of her ears , Anita Prem, a college student, is a connotation to the fine balance between the punk counter-culture and ethnicity. “I use rings and studs of black metal when in western wear and use the same in gold when in traditional,” she chuckles.

Unlike Anita’s case, wherein her parents were ice cool about her venture, it’s usually said to be a cold game between freshly pierced youth and fulminating parents.

“Fashion has no common sense,” fumes a parent of a teenager who got her navel piercing done recently. “I can’t believe she (her daughter) got a ring on her belly button, given her wails for a small blood test,” she said.

To avoid such peaks of blood pressure among her peeps, Ramya, an architect who has been sporting a ring on her navel for six years now, admits to having carried the secret in her bosom for months together when she had got it done in 2005. It weaves quite an interesting story of how she got caught by her brother, who was later coaxed to becoming her confidante, until the omniscient mom found the new ‘gypsy’ in the family.

So, when Tarun Kumar, owner of INK-the tattoo studio, Egmore says that today ‘parents are more concerned about the safety precautions’ than accepting the idea of a barbell or a hoop as a part of their children’s body, not many can subscribe to it. But of course, there are exceptions.

Yo Yo, B Boy instructor and dance crew head, says that his fellows were pretty excited about his corset piercing – a fad that is likely to invite the ‘ouch’s and ‘eugh’s of many. Imagine piercing multiple metal loops into the skin and threading zig-zagged ribbon through them. If that doesn’t make you wince in pain, here is another – a series of pins etched around the neck to form a perpetual necklace?

While Yo Yo admits to being of much visual interest on the streets, he says he is unperturbed by the ‘weird glances of babies and oldies’. SP Young Jesus, an actor and model, concurs with his point. But, who cares about his verbal acknowledgement, his Marilyn Munroe piercing – named after the starlet’s mole on the left side of her mouth – and Tragus piercing – piercing on the part that projects immediately in front of the ear canal – make a profound statement themselves.

The ears seem to be the playground for piercing artistes. Industrial piercing, which Naveen, owner of Irezumi studio, Nungambakkam, says is the trend now, has a straight metal piece piercing through two holes on the ear cartilage, giving it a caged look. If that doesn’t appeal to you enough, how about just expanding the ear hole in itself?

“Tunnels or spaces is the term for it,” smiles Tarun. “It is done by gradually stretching the skin using dapers,” he says, picking a cone shaped piece of jewelley made of fibre. However, he points out that unlike other piercings, the skin has to be stitched back once the flesh tunnels are removed. Will Adam Lambert’s glamtastic look lure the youngsters?

“Oh please,” cries Aafiya, who had cartilage piercing done after seeing her favourite star Orianthi Panagaris. “No more influence of stars. Though it was a prick for that moment, it took six months to heal for me,” she says. While there are many who give reflex flinches at the slight touch or a brush of hair on the pierced area, even after a year of getting it done, they seem to have no regrets and are happy to gulp down the pain.

The lead guitarist of Wolf’s Lair, Pharez Edward wards, who had a piercing below his lips earlier, however, says that it’s not the pain which turn’s him off, it’s the whole idea of it being conventional now, but immediately adds about his plan to get a permanent unique rod in his ears ‘that would define his personality’.

What remains unconventional is nipple and genital piercing. Though, Tarun claims to have done 400 genital piercing in the last 6 years, most of them, he says, have been for foreigners. Piercing on the tongue, tip of penis or clerotis, are apparently done for sexual gratification, he adds.

Naveen, however, without doubt says that when it comes to piercing, “Chennai is just a baby”. Well, probably a baby eagerly waiting for its first piercing to be done in pomp and splendour.

This article was previously published in The New Indian Express on the eve of The World Piercing Day, June 28.Check out –  http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/c/1364905

 

Growl like a tiger, bleat like a goat


Vasugi Ram Manohar is a professional story teller at Madras story works. She organises sessions for kids every Saturday, where apart from the narration of stories, kids involve themselves in creative craftwork. The following was a curtain raiser for one of her sessions. To keep posted about the sessions, follow Madras story works here  https://www.facebook.com/MadrasStoryWorks 

 

Buckle up those tiny shoes and sneak into the depths of forests. Oh there he is, the ferocious tiger seeking help to get his patch of land cleaned up. Console the ant-eater Armadillo and lazy deer as they walk past you after being rejected  for inefficiency in cleaning the tiger’s land. Give the diligent goat a pat on the back for systematically grazing the land free of grass. Kids, a major challenge here would be for you to imagine the tiger stripeless. Weird much?

‘How did the tiger get his stripes?’ is a South American folktale , which though may not give a scientifically befitting explanation to its title, is sure to impart a lesson that would remain with the kids. With the growl of tigers and bleat of goats, Vasugi Ram Manohar’s Madras story works would bring the animal characters to life coming Saturday, June 29, for the tiny tots aged from three to nine.

The mystery about the tiger’s stripes in revealed only towards the end of the story. The tiger, embrace yourself before you hear this, gets the stripes due to the wounds inflicted on himself while he attempts to break free from the stockade. But who built the stockade? The innocent and witty goat did. The tiger had termed him indolent in spite of him working hard in cleaning up tiger’s land. The clever goat had played his cards well, by faking a story about  apocalypse and having the tiger locked inside a stockade to teach him a lesson.  A symbol of valiance and power, the tiger did not rest until he freed himself from the stockade.

If you are trying to logically find the acceptable hero in the story, there is no right or wrong choice. Nor, is there a definite moral to the story. Vasugi says that children come up with fascinating valuable insights in the interactive session that ensues the narration. This time, Vasugi plans to conduct  crafts workshop after the event wherein the kids get to make tiger masks and more importantly mess up with colours and glue!

“Parents come to me complaining that kids are scared of talking in front of the class,” Vasugi says. The story telling sessions, she affirms, would help remove the inhibitions and enhance a child’s communication and presentation skills.

The article was previously published in The New Indian Express. Check out – http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/c/1364897

 

Going head over ‘heels’ !


 

Design your own or pick from the collection. Now, wear your personality on your feet with the custom hand painted shoes available at Azariaa.

Musings of a shoeaholic — Cinderella was outright careless. Sympathies with her wretched childhood, but she adandoning her little glass sandals like that? Not acceptable.

Ignore this with a laugh. But when a child pours red ink on her shoes to transform them to those magical red ruby sandals which Dorothy wears in the Wizard of Oz, or stitches up cardboard sheets to get those hooker boots of Julia Roberts in Pretty women, the obsession is evident.

What reinforces this camaraderie between girls and shoes now is the new range of hand painted ones, that is eccentric, loud and yes, customised.

“It requires courage to wear them,” says Shweta Patwari, Owner at Azariaa, the only showroom in Chennai that sells hand-painted shoes. “And the right personality to carry them with elan, because obviously you are going to get noticed wearing those,” she continues, pointing at the shelf, on which rest the pieces of art.

They are nothing like the strappy sandals that you find every second woman wearing, or the thongs sandals which you have abandoned in your attics. And, if you thought the Mexican Huarache, an overlap of straps running over the feet was the ‘in’ thing, or T-strap was the only solution for a chic look, you are in for a surprise.

Imagine the ‘peacock’ eye feathers imprinted around your feet or a fresh-blown ‘rose floral’ at your toe tips. If that’s too sassy, there are the subtle retro types – the ‘black and white’ collection or the ‘black lotus’ that has a single radiant lotus adorning the shoes.  Also, one can’t ignore the vintage style polka dots and the whimsical ‘candice’, an abstract beauty. These designs are among the 15 innovative ones which are available at Azariaa that has its brainchild back in Kolkata under the banner Spirited-soles, founded by Anis Salim.

“Each design is carefully selected amongst hundreds of different art-work and colour pallets,” says Anis. What follows is colouring on the rexine, based on the art-work. This is done using high grade acrylic paints that are applied and dried. The secret behind that glossy finish, he says, is a protective layer that is applied after the paint dries. This layer in turn makes the pair chip and water resistant.

The suave shoes, though can find its way to your home in two weeks by ordering online, Shweta says that it’s better if the customers actually touch and feel the shoes before buying it. “There is not enough awareness about this style. Though people want it, they don’t know whom to approach,” she adds.

Despite this bottleneck, she has sold more than 500 pairs since its opening in last November. The shoe brand has made its presence felt in Lakme Fashion week and Meena bazaar exhibition.

While you await the new themes on your wedges, pumps and ballerinas, brew ideas to make your own unique pair, and aloha! Spirited-soles would get them ready. Because, even they, like us agree with Carrie Bradshaw’s words in Sex and the Citysometimes it’s really hard to walk in a single woman’s shoes. That’s why we need really special ones now and then to make the walk a little more fun.

 

INFO

The shoes are priced at : Flat shoes – Rs 2,000; Kitten shoes – Rs 2,200; Stilettos (4 inch) – Rs 2,500; Stilettos (6 inch) – Rs 2,800

Contact them at https://www.facebook.com/azariaaclothing

 The article was previously published in The New Indian Express. Check out – http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/c/1335995

 

Lip-smacking culinary !


As the fresh slices of fish crack in the puddle of coconut oil, absorbing the racy taste of spices, the acidic taste of tamarind and citrus element of curry leaves, the aroma maps the place. The distinctive smell of a platter served at a Syrian christian family is an irresistible invitation, given the assorted dishes in their menu.

“There is not a single day when we don’t have non-vegetarian food,” says Sumita Verghese, 58, a malayali christian from Kottayam who came to Chennai in 1973. “Except for the Lentin season, of course,” she adds, while fervently mixing the ingredients for fish curry in an earthen pot. Sumita’s aunt, Aleyamma, is quick to add the significance of these clay pots– “The earthern pots apart from being a healthier option also helps retain the taste of the fish, unlike the metallic vessels which may undergo some reaction with the ingredients.”

The kitchen is alive and functioning right in the morning. It is surprising how, even today, despite the tight schedule, the conventional appams with either mutton or chicken stew is served for breakfast. An alternative would be eggs in their myriad forms – scrambled, poached or roasted. The lunch is another grand event. Kodampulli itta Fish curry (Fish curry using gambooge, a tamarind variety), Fish Molee (Fried fish cooked in coconut milk), Karimeen (Black Pearl spot that is kippered and fried) or Meen Peera (Crispy Nethili/Kozhuva or Anchovies fried in coconut oil) and Beef olathiyathu (Dry Beef)find their way to the dining table almost everyday. Along with this are the flavoursome accompaniments – Moru Kari, which has vegetables mixed in curd and Moru Kachiyathu, yellow seasoned buttermilk that doesn’t include vegetables. The only few dishes in the menu that are palatable by the vegetarian folks are thoran, a mix of vegetables with coconut and Mezhukupuratti wherein the vegetables are blanched in salt, turmeric and chilli powder and topped with oil. Must be easier to remember this way – Mezhuku refers to oil and puratti is smear in English.

“One of the striking features among Malayali christians is the style they cook the pork,” Sumita says, halting to taste her fish curry which now has now taken a deep brown viscous form. “It is only cooked as a dry dish, called Pork olathiyathu, unlike among the Goan christians who make gravies out of it,” she continues. The intake of pork among the families has reduced considering the health issues. Also, it is generally not preferred during marriage functions as people in a few regions, towards the South of Kerala consider it against their religion to consume it. “It is believed that when the Satan was being pushed away by the God, he landed on pork,” says Aleyamma animatedly, recounting an incident from the past when a group of guests walked away from the marriage dining hall on being served pork.

Taste a morsel of fish from the freshly made Meen pattichadu, and you would bow to the oceans for providing you with these little aquatic creatures. A signature dish among the Syrian christians, this dish teases the taste buds with its hot and tangy taste. Gambooge is added along with water and the soft pieces of fish are added slowly into it towards the end. The dish is then left to simmer to get the desired consistency. The result is a plate of fiery red moist piece of fish, which adds a whole new taste to rice or tapioca.

What about spices? “Oh it is to be taken by default,” says Aleyamma. Their dishes are mostly spicy and ‘ginger, turmeric, garlic, chilli and  curry leaves are a must in most.’ Meanwhile, Sumathi brings a small green chilli, kanthari mulagu, which she says, is used extensively. The bird’s eye chilli, as it is known in English, shouldn’t be taken for its stunted growth. The piquant taste can almost make the hair stand up!

While it is gooseberry wine now, it was toddy then. Paani and Pazham, banana slices immersed in a sugary syrup of toddy, they say, is the standard conclusive dish in any Syrian Christian wedding. The absence of cakes, which have only gained popularity recently, was then filled by achappam, kozhalappam, Avalos unda and churuttu, all made using rice flour.

“In comparison to others, we have westernized our style of cooking,” Sumita says. “All the traditional ones are time consuming dishes. No one takes pains to make them now,” she adds. According to her, it is just a matter of few years before dishes like pidi become extinct. It is prepared by soaking the rice, powdering it and subsequently making small balls out of it. “It is famously called as dumplings,” she says, parallel setting the table for lunch.

The green leafs are spread. Before the steam wears off and the oil bubbles on the beef roast cease rattling, take a bite – a taste of mystique reveling in the rich tradition of malayali Christians.

The article was preciously published in The New Indian Express. Check out – http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/c/1335949

 

Seeing mediocrity as an offence


 

I wrote this SOP for one one of my talented friends who wanted to join the placement club in his college — an experiment which let me put myself in his shoes and write on his behalf. It was quite exciting, I must say. 

 

The world would have been a tragic place if Beethoven just composed the tunes for his ears or Picasso installed all his paintings in his storeroom. The journey of fame, as I know it, started with the product of their talent being thrown open for public consumption.

I can analogise this with the bottled up talent of the millions in our country, or zooming out, to the hundreds in our college. The Placement club, the most prestigious one as I see it, is that platform which helps the talent be put to use for the society.

Being a part of this club would help me practice the principles which I have always believed in – to negate the boundaries. Everyone can stay comfortable inside their cocoon, doing their bit and then nestling up in the warmth again. It requires a sense of RSVP, as I to call it – Responsibility, Sincerity, Valiance and above all Perseverance – to come out of the cocoon and fly.

It is this RSVP quotient, that I rank higher than the other conventional quotients and which I believe, would give me an edge over others in the selection process.

Narrowing this edge would be the stack of experiences which I have gathered by participating in activities beyond the routine and mandatory – be it in school or college.

In high school, I maintained a fine balance  between sports and academics and managed to retain a commendable performance in both. With a stable foot in each, I would say, I gained a peak in my efficiency graph by volunteering in the events organised in the college, which polished my communication skills, gave me a knack of time management, made me take pleasure in team work and  brought in a sense of ease when dealing with challenges.

With these qualities in the bag-back, my days in college, while exploring the nuances of engineering and its application, also eyed on enhancing my management skills. While sports remained as a perennial extracurricular, my interests further branched out to giving seminars, conducting workshops and coordinating events. I learnt how to convince people, how to sell an event for its  worth and above all, I learnt the congnizance behind making a person participate in what you have to offer.

It is at this juncture that I realised my ability at juggling multiple responsibilities with an equal amount of attention for each, which I ardently applied in my work life as well. Being elected as the best orator in the team and best employee of the quarter stand testimony to my efforts.

The opportunity of being a part of this club would not be just the first step, but a grand start to a career which I passionately look forward to.

And of course, RSVP.