Crafting the crowning glory

Najeeb Ur Rehman, whose hands have created magic with the locks of hair – be it the 89 models in the Miss world contest – 1996 held in Bangalore,  the cast of Monsoon wedding or the likes of Sonakshi Sinha, is a walking wikipedia when is comes to one’s coiffure.

He comes with a goldmine of experience, working with stylists all around the globe like Anthony Whitaker, Robert Seah, Tyler Jhonston and Tracey Hayes among others. A recipient of the Queen’s cup, one of the biggest hairdressing awards worldwide, in two categories – ‘ Best hairdressing’ and ‘ Best evening hairstyle’, Najeeb hides his achievements behind a veil of modesty, as he expains about the trends and texture that vary across India.

How do you trail the hair trend as we go from South to North?

Of course, there is change in the texture and tone, but when it comes to people accepting fashion, I find they are all similar. I have observed that when it comes to medium to lengthy hair, women mostly go for straightening. Most opt for shades of brown for colouring, but talk about darker shades, then there is a lot of inhibition – be it South or North.

Is there any peculiar trend that you noted in Chennai that sets it apart from the rest?

In Chennai, women mostly plate their hair or use bands. It is understandable because of the high humidity.  The wavy hair frizzes out by the end of the day.

Any solutions?

Yes, there are solutions to leave it open. It requires a change in the regime. A change in the usual shampoo and conditioner that they use. I would personally suggest Bonacure smooth and shine shampoo that works for coarse, unmanageable and dull hair. The styling products such as the Shwartzkoff’s Osis magic anti-frizz serum also would suit the Chennai hair.

How do you decide on which hairstyle suits each individual?

There are five kinds of shapes when it comes to a face. The hairstyle must complement this shape and profile of the person. For example, for those who have high cheek bones, wispy bangs in the front can help hide it. For those who have broad foreheads, I would recommend fringes and those with small foreheads, a puffed up hairdo would suit.

All this also depends on the comfort of the person of course. The customer’s suggestion is also taken into consideration.

So did you do the looks for Sonakshi Sinha in Lootera?

No, but I have worked with her for a launch. She has a broad forehead, so I went for something loose, with a few strands falling forward.

Have you worked with anyone from Kollywood?

Unfortunately, not. But I did meet many in the Bangalore fashion week recently.  I met Vijay and Rajinikanth and many others, whose names I forget now. Very nice people, I must say. I would to do hairstyles for them for some project in future.

The article was previously published in The New Indian Express. Check out –



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 –


Slum at Jafferkhanpet – yet to rise from ashes

As youngsters flock the Udhayam theatre under the hoardings of Rajnikanth, unperturbed by the amount they have to spend to purchase a ticket, a locality of 1500 homes and  6000 slum dwellers hides itself silently opposite to the theatre equally unperturbed by the celebrations- be it release of a movie or birth of baby Jesus.

“Entertainment?” chuckles Oliamma, a 70 year old housemaker, glancing at her two granddaughters who immediately blush and run outside. “With Rs 4500 per month, we hardly can afford the basic necessities for six of us. Cinema is out of question,” she adds.

Oliamma lives with her husband, a son, a daughter and two granddaughters.

She has been living here for 26 years. Majority of the people settled here are from Salem and others are from Villipuram and Dindivanam. All of them are daily wage earners or contract workers who are into domestic and construction work.

Oliamma’s son is an auto driver, who like many others in the area has bought an auto for loan and is liable to a payment of Rs 150 as rent everyday. Her daughter is a domestic worker.

“I wish I could work as well,” Oliamma says. “No one wants to hire me because I am old,” she complains.

The house, measuring hardly 50*50 square feet chokingly accommodates one bed, a TV, a heap of clothes, buckets with water up to the brim now layered with dust, two school bags and steel utensils. The narrow space between the bed and TV acts as the study room, the kitchen as well as the dining room.

Oliamma sits down with two bunches of spinach and starts chopping the leaves.”The prices of vegetables and rice have increased so much,” she cribs. “What is the use of holding a ration card or a voting card. No one cares.”

After the fire breakout in August last year that left the slum in ashes, the families had to spend their own money to build things from scratch. The Government, they say, did not give them a penny.

The residents are neither aware of any Government schemes nor is there any representative appointed to question the Government for the compensation or subsidies they deserve. None of them has approached a slum Development Board yet regarding any queries.

Though the Government sets up free medical camps once in a year, the medical facilities in times of need is deplorable. This is evident from the sight of Oliamma’s husband curled up in the corner of the bed, deep in thought. He has been unable to walk for past three months.

There is a sense of rage and disappointment in those eyes. “They(ESI hospital) turned me away,” he says. “They told me to visit the Royapettah Government Hospital. How would I even manage to catch buses to reach there with this ailment,” he adds.

Getting a checkup done is a major challenge for the residents here. Many end up staying put at their homes instead of getting medical advice from the doctors.

Unmindful of the distance and the lack of comfortable transport to the Royapettah hospital, the staffs of the ESI hospital, which is right beside the slum, shoo away the patients.  There is little clarity to the reason behind this.

Common cold and fever are rampant due to the poor maintenance of sewage flow. The sewage lines remain uncovered and the blockages present a nauseous scene rendering the stench unbearable.

While all this does paint a deprived picture, what is ghastly is the provision of toilets. There are four toilets maintained by the corporation for 6000 people in the slum, two for gents and two for ladies. With the shocking ratio of toilets to the strength of people, the fight for the use of toilets can be expected. But, the toilets remain unused most of the time, sometimes ever for days together.

A charge of Rs 5 per head for one time use of toilet explains this mystery.

“I have never used the toilets even once,” says Oliamma defiantly. She has innovatively extended her house a bit to have her own private washroom. So have other households. The young ones do not have to restrict themselves even to this space. They defecate in any open space available.

Oliamma’s two granddaughters are each 10 and 12 years old. They go to a nearby corporation school which has classes up to twelfth grade. The school charges Rs 359 per year exclusive of the learning materials. The mid day meal scheme does not function here. The uniforms handed out to students are hardly their size and are usually faded or torn.

The standard of education is poor. Children are taught subjects which are much below the syllabus they ought to learn.

But, for Oliamma it’s not the expense which bothers her. It is the stretch which her kids have to walk from her house to the school. Though the distance is meager, the children find it hard to cross the busy main road to get to their school. They have to wait for hours as there is no signal to stop the vehicles at this point. Nor is there a provision for pedestrian crossing.

There have been cases of accidents in the past. The risk however, has been constantly ignored by the government.

Despite the challenges, the two kids at Oliamma’s place seem to like their school. The younger one says that she wants to become a doctor and the elder on, a teacher.

Like every child grown in the slum, their aspirations would stay alive till they complete their schooling. The financial crunch in the family would either force them to get married or find work to support their family.

A marriage here is equivalent to taking a plunge in the sea of debts. The total charges for a marriage come to Rs 50000, which a family acquires by taking loans. Unable to pay, this burden gets carried over to the next generation.

With the new set top box norm, Oliamma had to spend Rs 2500 to set up the sun direct. Now she regrets her decision.

“The next day after I installed the set top box, it began to rain and TV stopped working,” she says. The thatched roof does not help keep their house rain proof. A single rain doubles their expenses as all the electronic items are destroyed and so are the books and the bed.

The free electricity provided to them is then of little use.

One thing which the residents here are thankful for is the supply of water. There are seven tanks around the place which supply clean metro water.

Oliamma, however, has not lost faith in the future. She makes it a point to visit the church every Sunday. There are two churches and two temples in the vicinity which never lack worshippers.

The faith they have, more than the Gods, is towards the Government itself – to hear their grievances and address their problems.

“Who else will we go to,” sighs Oliamma as she walks away to wash the vessels.


PS The slum which is written about is located in KK Nagar, Chennai, right opposite to the Udhayam theatre. Around 500 houses were gutted here by the fire last year in August.


Palm oil causes friction in Indonesian Forests

If the Middle East is the treasure grove for fuel oils, the South East is for the palm oil. Indonesia and Malaysia, which are the major players in the production and export of palm oil, in their process of oiling economy with the tons of palm oil produced every year have been destroying major chunks of forest area to grow the money minting palm trees. This, according to a report by Greenpeace (2012), has been contributing significantly to the Green house gas emissions, thus fueling the much feared Global Warming.

Forests in Sumatra destroyed for palm oil cultivationPicture source :

Forests in Sumatra destroyed for palm oil cultivation
Picture source :

Check out the infogram which uses the data of the the increasing quantity of palm oil import to India, which is met by the increasing palm oil cultivation in Indonesia, the resulting depletion of forest cover in Indonesia, and the increasing CO2 emissions.
When the forests are cleared and the peatland drained to establish oil palm plantations, huge amounts of Green house gases are released. The graph accurately brings out the increasing trend of land dedicated to palm oil cultivation between the years 2000 and 2006 from 4 million to 6 million hectares , which is directly related to the decreasing percentage of forest cover in Indonesia from 54 to 47. The decrease in forest cover unfortunately is a major cause for the co2 emissions which recorded an increase from 1.2 to 1.5 metric tons per capita during that particular period, thus establishing a causative effect between increasing palm oil cultivation and global warming.

Most of India’s palm oil is imported from Indonesia. The graph shows the relation between the increasing amount of palm oil imported over the years and a corresponding increase in the production of palm oil in Indonesia to meet the demands of palm oil across the world.

The major Indian Industry players such as Ruchi Soya, ITC, Britannia, Godrej and Parle, and few global corporations based in India, like Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), PepsiCo and Cargill must own up the responsibility to make sure that the palm oil imported is not derived by chopping down the Indonesian rain forests. Few global firms, like Nestle, have already boycotted the use of palm oil, produced at the stake of Indonesian forests. However, till date, no Indian firm has taken any steps to deal with the forest destruction for palm oil, according to the Greenpeace report, 2012.

Though the palm oil industry contributes to huge employment opportunities for the indigenous community and also contributes to the economy of Indonesia, efforts should be taken to make sure that any agricultural expansion is done in the deforested lands which are low in carbon values and biodiversity, which would help keep a check on the emission of greenhouse gases.

Data Sources: Greenpeace report June 2012, Oil world Annual 2001, Business Information focus 2010, World Bank report published in 2005,

Aiming 180

“Nope, that’s not a bingo,” he says, as he walks towards the board to remove the dart which I had aimed right at the bull’s eye. He chuckles as he explains how the laymen foolishly think that hitting the arrow at the centre makes one a darting pro.

Mr Vellupillai

Mr Vellupillai

Venupillai and his friend, Saravan Raj, started Café 180 last December 12th as a place to relax after a heavy schedule of designing and architectural brainstorm. What started as a place to have coffee and a chat is now a “darting lounge with a café attached to it and not the other way round”, as he likes to put it.

“Hold it at the tip, align your elbows straight, stretch your upper body forward and strike,” he says, while demonstrating the right move. Like a coach, he explains the points allotted for each segment. The uppermost circle doubles the points, the middle circle triples it. Drawing an imaginary line vertically down the number 20, he calculates – “Thrice of 20 is 60. If your arrow pins this patch thrice, you get 180.” That’s the highest one can get in a round, which gives Café 180 its name.

While I take a break to have my Café 180 frappe, Venupillai, his son and marketing head, play a round of the game.

I notice that he has aligned the various darts neatly on the table. He shows me the high impact ones, Torpido, Darrel Fitton, Dennis Prisley and Simon whitlock, like an excited kid showing his collection of toys. Acknowledging my confused look, he says, “They travel differently. Aerodynamics you see.” I nod.

“These,” he points at another set of dart accessories, “slim flight, kite, regular. They make the darts fly.” He then carefully fixes the plastic cap to the arrows and hands it over to me to try my shot.

With the new techniques, I realize that my shots seemed to have improved. To my amazement, he invites me to join the championship tournament to be held in April in the very same building. Without giving much time to process the thought, he fetches a membership form, which he hands over to me and says, “Rs 5800 only. You can play in any of the darting clubs all around the world.”

I learn that Café 180 and few other private clubs like Flying Barrels are divisions under Tamil Nadu Darts Association (TANDA), which in turn comes under All India Darts Association.

“The scene in India is still budding,” he says, disappointed. But soon lights up as he points out that theirs was the only club Association in India to represent World Class Darting Championships.

While the Darting club has a decent number of 62 members, and is still filling up, the restaurant wears a gloomy look, probably awaiting an expanse of the kitchen to add Chinese and Italian, apart from its Continental cuisine at present.

“We don’t advertise much. Then it becomes a matter of numbers. We talk about numbers only in the dart, not in terms of customers,” he smiles and continues to aim for his 180.

To watch a collage of pictures of Cafe 180. Go to Cafe 180

Spinning a fictional yarn

“Books helped me realize what literature was, my family helped me realize what story telling was,” says Anosh Irani, as he makes the audience realize the craft which he used to weave his works – The Cripple and His Talismans, Dahanu Road, The Song of Kahunsha to name a few.

Away from the spotlight and hundreds of hawking eyes, he sits by the lounge to sign his books with a perpetual smile. Dressed in a white shirt and black trousers, the contrast is almost depictive of his character – honest and open-minded.

“Without Bombay and India, I wouldn’t be a writer.” he says when asked about his days in India, where he spent first 24 years of his life and then moved to Canada to pursue a career in writing.

“I wouldn’t have any stories to tell,” he adds. His works mainly come out as snapshots of the childhood which he spent in Bombay as is seen in his novels and essays.

Anosh Irani at the LIT FOR LIFE programme . Photo Source :R. Ragu

Anosh Irani at the LIT FOR LIFE programme .
Photo Source :R. Ragu

Speaking about the bridge between the two countries Canada and India, he says, “What Canada gave me was the distance – Not only geographical, but also the perspective of being away from Bombay.”

According to Irani, place is something which should matter the least for a story-teller. “It’s all about writing a good story and how good a novelist you are,” says Vancouver-based novelist.

When I open the album I see pictures of coffins: finger coffins, arm coffins, toe coffins. It surprises me how much I do not know about this city. Tomorrow I might meet a midget who is ten feet tall, a butcher who sells newborn babies, a boxer who works as an anesthetist in a hospital by knocking patients senseless” – While these lines from his novel, The Cripple and his Craftsmen, portray a gruesome picture of Bombay, one wonders about the delicacy of issues which might trigger the alarm of Taboo, a much infested disease in India today.

Irani waves off such thoughts with a careless smile as he says, “It’s all a work of fiction. There is no question in portraying Bombay in a good or bad light.”

This aptly takes one to the comment which he made in the session back in the hall. He said, “Books that make you feel good are bad.” Not surprising that his surreal description attracts readers in vast numbers today.

Being a recipient of several awards and a nominee for many, he holds dear the idea of award ceremonies for literary fiction. “Visibility”, he says pointing at the shelves of short-listed books for Hindu Literary Award “is vital for any writer. Awards are important to get audience.”

However, when asked about his favourite pick from the short-list, he dodges the question with a smile and instead says, “When one writer wins, four others don’t and your heart goes out to them.”

This article was published in The Hindu – Metro plus – Nxg On March 13, 2013. Here is the link to the published version – Spinning a fictional yarn

TB cure initiatives lack patients

Less than one fifth of the population in India remains unaware of the free medical treatment provided by the Government for Tuberculosis( TB) as it continues to remain in the top spot, putting the other diseases like HIV Aids, Sexually Transmitted diseases , Malaria, Leprosy and Tropical diseases behind,  in killing the maximum number of people in India every year.

The president of India, Pranab Mukherjee, in his message on the occasion of world tuberculosis day ( March 24th, 2013) said that “ Since 1998, due to the successful implementation of the DOTS strategy; more than 14.2 million people across India have accessed treatment (for TB).”

World TB day - 2013 themePicture Source :

World TB day – 2013 theme
Picture Source :

However, according to a Knowledge, Attitude and Practices (KAP) study done by the Akshaya Project, though 37% of the people knew about 6-8 month treatment to cure TB, only one-third of them visited a health facility for seeking an examination.

While there can be several reasons for this inhibition, the poor financial status of the families cannot be excluded. Directly Observed Therapy- Short Course(DOTS), under the auspices of Government, provides for free tests. “This unfortunately, as is evident from the figures, is not availed by the people,” said Ramya Ananthakrishnan, Medical Director of REACH – an NGO working in TB control.

The free tests given in the Government clinics include Sputum microscopy, a gold standard technique, which uses a phlegm indicator. The patients are asked to spit out the phlegm and the infection is confirmed by spotting the rod-shaped bacilli, using the indicator.

However, “If the Lab staffs test your blood (Mantoux test) and say that you have TB, then you are being taken for a ride,” said Ms Ananthakrishnan. These tests only say whether a person is infected. It doesn’t concur the prevalence of a disease.

If the sputum tests appear positive, then drugs are administered for 6 to 8 months ensuring a supervised, uninterrupted treatment. The first line of treatment includes the drugs – Rifampicin, Ethambutol, Pyrazinamide and INH. If these do not cure the disease, the second line of drugs are given, which include the (Multi Drug Resistant) MDR-TB  drugs. These are to be taken for another 18 to 24 months.

TB is caused by the bacteria – rod-shaped cells called Mycobacterium – which spread through air, when an infected person coughs. This sets up home in ones lungs and later reaches other parts of the body through the bloodstream.

Rod-shaped Bacterium(causes TB)Picture Source :

Rod-shaped Bacterium(causes TB)
Picture Source :

Ms Ananthakrishnan in her presentation emphasised on the need to cover ones mouth while coughing in public spaces and on the necessity to dispose the sputum carefully to avoid spreading to others.

She added that special care should be taken if a person is a smoker, a diabetic or a HIV positive patient, since in such cases the immunity is low.

Debunking the idea of TB being hereditary, Ms Ananthakrishnan said, “ anyone can get TB”. Her best advice is to seek medical help in case of a two-week cough as that is a typical symptom of TB which is sadly ignored by many. Other symptoms include Pneumonia, Cavities, Diarrhea, Fibrosis, swollen bones or spine depending on the type of TB and the part it affects.

According to a WHO report, 2009, India carries one fifth of the world’s TB burden, recording a shocking rate of two TB deaths every 3 minutes – A data which supports the statement of it being the TB capital of the world.