Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Staircase Of Pornography

When a friend of mine from the US visited us in March, one of the things we thought would be interesting to show her in the city was Bangalore palace. The tour within the palace is well arranged with recordings and headsets that come with exorbitant entree fee. 

After taking a tour of almost an hour looking at beautiful paintings, pictures, king’s hunts, courtyards and darbar one has to descend a flight of stairs. And here the walls are filled with obscene images and paintings of women. My friend was very offended by this sight and later at home when we had a discussion about this, she expressed her feelings. Art and nudity have always complimented each other. May it be, Aphrodite of Cnidus, Michelangelo's David or Leda and the swan by Leonardo da Vinci or some of the famous paintings by Ravi Verma; they are less about nudity and more about elegance, beauty and perfection. But this was not the case in the staircase at Bangalore palace. The paintings were very erotic and represented more sexual aspect of a body than its perfection and elegance; neither were they an impressive work of brush.

We also discussed about a party that my friend had recently visited in the US where an artist friend of hers was displaying body art and which was mostly a work of art than any act of obscenity. 

Hence what becomes more important about a painting or a photograph is the expression and body language of the subject and of course the intention of the artists.

And why are these paintings in the palace? It is such a bad representation of art in a country that has nurtured great artists and work and that too in a place where we showcase our heritage to rest of the world.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Mumbai – A City That Never Sleeps.

Several years back when I first visited Mumbai, though I was impressed by some of the attractions I was more frustrated by the flooded local trains and crowded streets. After that I never visited the main city. Whenever I would visit my sister in Panvel, I would prefer to drive out of the city. But as I grew up from that image of an 18 year old to a little more traveled 32 year old my interests and perspectives changed about travel. I no longer want to visit cities or places but actually live it like another inhabitant. 

This trip to Mumbai was not planned, it was meant to be more of a flow of events along with my sister and her family.

How could one summarize a city in 4 days of stay? But every small experience is still a worthy information. So here I go –

Food –

Being a food lover, I had a hidden agenda of trying every favorite Maharastrian and Gujarati food in the place. So as soon as I landed the first thing I requested my sister was to take me on a food hunt. I had already listed my favorites – “Khandvi”, “Aloo Aadi”, “Dabeli” and “Vada Pav”. So on the first evening in Mumbai, we did just that; relished over my favorite Khandvi, tried the delicious Dabeli. Next day, we tried some more of Khandvi, pani poori, Dahi Poori and Vada Pav. Pani poori in the north has its own unexplainable, distinctive taste than from that in the south. I willingly abandoned my health conscious and exercise freak thoughts during this vacation. After all, these are the times for which I actually exercise daily. :-)
My sister Akki prepared a few Maharastrian cuisine – Kichidi, Khanda poha, saboodhana vada and Saboodhana kichidi. 

During a small get together party at Bhelapur, where some of our relatives gathered for a dinner, we tried some tasty mouth watering srikhand and my cousin's children suggested a kulfi falooda which was very nice and flavored.

On our Mumbai night drive, we stopped at Chembur around 11:30 PM and had pav bhaji and khanda pav. 

Transportation –

Despite the weather one thing that I enjoy the most in Mumbai is traveling by local trains. It’s a paradise for people who love to observe interesting characters, personalities and incidents. A lot of things happen in there. So when we finally decided to go to Mumbai main city, I had only one condition – Local trains. 

The train journey was fun. As Panvel is the starting point for harbor line, thankfully we got some empty seats. I find the local bus and train passengers extremely friendly in any city. Eleven years back when I traveled for the first time in the BTS buses of Bangalore; one inquiry about a destination had several mouths to answer. Some of them even fought over the directions. Recently in Guwahati too the localites were very helpful. People in Mumbai too are same, they directed us to proper trains or stations and once when we boarded a first class compartment without being asked some of them sensed our mistake and prompted us back to the right compartment.

To travel within the city we choose taxi rather than buses, which made things very fast and comfortable. Our train took us from Panvel to Wadala. A taxi took us to Siddi vinayak at Dadar. The taxi driver had a good sense of humor. When I identified the new pillars being constructed as for the metro rail he said – “Aap bahut time baad aye kya is taraf, ye tho do saal se ban hi raha hein.” Translates as – “Are you driving through here after a long time? It’s being constructed for almost two years now.” (Involves a pun that it’s taking too long) He was also keen on knowing the taxi fares at Panvel. This driver was similar to the kind of auto drivers that I come across in Bangalore who enjoy conversing with the passengers to keep them engaged.

At siddivanayak cameras are not allowed. So I had to wait outside until Akki and Preethi had a quick mukh darshan of the main deity - Ganesha and I followed next. Though being a week day it was very crowded but the mukh darshan is very fast. This darshan will not let you view the idol from around 200 meters away; good enough for lesser devotee like me. :-)

Another taxi took us to Mahalaxmi temple. Just when I was thinking that the taxi drivers here are nothing like majority of Bangalore auto drivers who try to fool tourists, we encountered one such character proving that circumstances and behaviors affect people equally in every big city. He took us through long routes, offered a ride on varli sealink for some price which we declined as we had plans to visit the city during night. He even lied to us that Mahalxmi temple would be closed now and so we could take the ride. When nothing worked he finally demanded a wrong fare which we got verified by the chart though.So like in every big city even Mumbai had few taxi drivers or auto drivers or people who cheat tourists. Of course every city has a blend of various kinds of people and as the class differences grow, one hunts the other.

Mahalaxmi temple was reasonably relaxed and we finished a quick darshan. I wanted to visit Haji Ali but it was closed due to high tide.

Another taxi took us to Hindhu matha road where we did some shopping. This place is famous for sarees and dress materials for women, sold at whole sale rate. It is similar to chickpet in Bangalore but only difference being that it is 3 times bigger.

Just when I thought that the similarity between cities ended another familiar behavior of taxi drivers connected them across the cities. No one was ready to take us to Wadala station as it was close by, just like the auto drivers in Bangalore. But there was one kind old man who told us - agaar koyi nahi aya tho aa jayiye, main avunga." (if nobody comes I shall take you there) And like he had told no taxi drivers nodded their head to our destination so we returned to him and he smilingly welcomed us and we reached the station.
The return journey was so rough that we had to literally blend in with the Mumbai crowd. It surely got us lot closer to the city and its people. :-)  And then there were common sights of people helping each other identify stations, offering seats, adjusting seats etc.

City & Life –

One evening we had a small get together party arranged by my sister at a hotel in Bhelapur. Couple of my relatives who live in Mumbai came there - My uncle and aunt, my mom’s cousin and his wife, my cousin, his wife and their two children. As there was no single table to accommodate us we had to split up and we sat with the youngsters – M and R….M is the eldest daughter of my cousin and has completed her CA and R is doing his engineering. It was interesting to hear their version of the city on how they enjoy different food joints, shopping areas and how safe it is to travel alone even at midnight. On the other hand Bangalore goes into deep sleep at 10:30 PM. My cousin narrated a story about how they found all restaurants closed at 11 PM on a new years eve in Bangalore. While here the city is literally awake all night. But I was yet to witness this statement which I always thought as an exaggeration.

Ganesh bhai had a school friend who works at a film studio in Karjar and looking at my interest in photography he thought I would enjoy the visit there. The film studio is owned by the famous art director Nitin Desai. After witnessing some candid moments between the two school friends meeting after a long time and listening to their interesting stories on pranks they played in school and how every teacher thought that nothing could be of them etc we took a tour of the studio.

The studio was filled with sets. Many famous films had been shot here including Jodha Akbar and Guzzarish. On that day there was no shooting but we did see a recently built set for a Marathi film called Ajanta which apparently is running under some controversies at the moment. So thus we got a glimpse of the major attraction of this city that like a magnet attracts thousands of people towards it - Bollywood.

The sets were very impressive but I could not help noticing loads and loads of plastic and fiber that cannot be reused or discarded.

People –

People from Mumbai represent almost whole of India. People from every part of the country are here, just like what Bangalore is going to be in a few years. 

As far as I have noticed, the people of Maharastra are passionate about three things – Marathi language, Shivaji Maharaj and Ganesha Festival. During our visit to the studio we were looking at the warehouse were they store art works and as we delayed by taking pictures at one place, Ganesh bhai and his friend waited long for us to get to the spot where sat an idol of Shivaji maharaj with a thoughtful look. There was a sense of pride in the two as they showed us the statue; statue of their most popular king.

In front of the statue was a Ganesha idol and we were informed about the most famous Ganesha at Lalbagh and the visarjan at Juhu beach. On the third day after Ganesh Chaturthi, as the devotees send off their Ganesha idols at Juhu beach, it creats a beautiful moment and scene; that I am yet to witness.

However one cannot deny the fact that Mumbai is situated in Maharastra where majority of people speak Marathi and like in every big city, there is always a clash between the localites and the immigrants. Mumbai too has seen some riots against UP and Bihar workers who they thought are stealing their jobs. MNS party tried to use this as their campaign strategy. However I was glad to listen to the two friends who dealt with this subject intelligently and more sensitively like the educated class in any city. They agreed that localites always expected white collar jobs but the hard work that these immigrants put on any kind of job is worth the appreciation. They also spoke of a Marathi film called “Me Shivajiraje Bhosale Boltoy”, that they believe helped dilute the issue and pointing finger at their own people. I have seen such riots in Mangalore against MRPL much before that city can be any big as Mumbai. Bangalore is not exception and so is any other growing city. What do we see int he US?

After all said and done, man needs to be passionate about something in his life. He has to take pride in his history and his values keeping in mind the present circumstances and present living conditions. It is important to be aware of the history but not repeat it. 

A night drive through the city that never sleeps –

I wanted to see the Mumbai blend with the night. We requested Ganesh Bhai who knows the city well to drive us there. It was very kind of him to accept. So we started at around 6 PM and reached Bandra reclamation area at around 8:30 PM after several traffic jams, Drive through busy streets of Dharvai famous for its leather goods (other than of course the slum). Deeksha’s mimicry kept us entertained throughout the drive. Bandra band stand was occupied with hundreds of love birds romancing by the main road. So we had to pick a descent spot for our photographs. The scene was breath taking. 

Next a drive on the newly constructed varli sealink and drove across the city to reach Nariman point. We reached marine drive at around 9:30 PM and I was surprised to see it as crowded as 6PM in Bangalore. The pathway was filled with families enjoying the sea and the night view. The crowd kept increasing. The drive around the city was fun and we passed through Victoria terminus, JJ school of art where my guru had studied.
We stopped at Chembur for some tasty pav bhaji in a restaurant that obviously is run by someone from Kundapura. By the time we had finished our dinner it was 12 AM and the restaurant was still crowded. After a tasty sweet pan we drove back home.

We reached Panvel at around 1 AM, driving through a busy traffic even at that hour of night on a weekday. I was bowled by the life in this city. It’s so very lively and active, of course for someone who enjoys night life.

And about the misconception that the quote was an exaggeration... that exists no more. :-)