Are We LOST?

I’d written the following piece as a column of mine in the DNA some time back. I thought it would be quite relevant to share it here on my website now that it is long published. It is an article that points a lens at a possible Identity Crisis we are in. It examines the question, Are We LOST?

Circa 1992. I enter the ‘common room’ in my boarding house at Doon and put a Bhimsen Joshi cassette into the decrepit but still surviving Philips Powerhouse music system. As Jago Mohan Pyare sounds through the speakers the rest of the boys playing TT, carrom, chess, or generally lounging around, cringe. They stare right at me, judging, pronouncing me awfully ‘uncool’. And while that wasn’t all the lads at school, I shamefully admit that it was the majority. That’s when it hit me. As Indians, we are in a phase of ‘identity crisis’.

Why am I talking about it in this column? Because it is a crisis that perhaps manifests most vividly through peoples’ choices in Films, Books and Music. And because I am also an educator who interacts with children across all age groups, I am deeply saddened to share that not only does the crisis continue, it has grown to epidemic proportions! We are just NOT a proud people. We define ourselves mostly through Western Culture. If my generation did not know and watch the popular American sitcom ‘Friends’, we weren’t cool enough. If today’s youth does not know or claim to love shows like ‘Stranger Things’ or ‘Breaking Bad’, its just not going to cut it. Binge watching Netflix is IN, watching wholesome Hrishikesh Mukherjee, OUT!

I am not for a moment pretending or propagating that I am, or that everyone else should be some nationalist prude. What I do certainly feel is that there is a paucity of national pride. Amidst all the noise and sensationalism of patriotism, Hinduism and nationalism that is defined by illogical and banal yardsticks that we all know and I don’t feel the need to delve into; we have genuinely ‘lost’ our Indian-ness.

The films we want to watch, at least urban India, are Hollywood blockbusters. The books we want to read are International Bestsellers rather than Indian books in Indian languages. And the music we want to listen to is ‘Gaga’ instead of a beautiful Raga, or ‘The Weeknd’ instead of Bhimsen!

I wonder what has caused this shift. What is it that makes us so terribly uncool to ourselves, if we subscribe to, and openly admit loving anything culturally Indian? Is it a pilfered morality of an urban elite that now all strata of society feel compelled to adopt? Why can we not strike a healthy balance between ‘Ishqiya’ and ‘i Zombie’, between A Suitable Boy and Confessions of a Shopaholic, between Indian and International?

Countries celebrate, venerate their artists, dedicate tombs and statues to them. And we drive ours away. From painters to musicians, writers and film makers; Indian culturists have sought refuge in the warmth and appreciation of foreign shores for decades. I suspect it is this dichotomous combination of people being too ‘cool’ or too ‘touchy’ for these artists’ expression!

To me, all it reflects is a huge identity crisis, that we must do our utmost to stop, by exposing our children to the myriad of mesmerizing Indian art.

Bistro Quaint – Nestled In Goodness!

Cafe Quaint at the Jawahar Kala Kendra has served as a huge respite for both Anuja & I. It does our kind of food, yummy, low-on-spice yet high-on-flavor (a concept that seems lost on the vast majority of Jaipur), in a setting that is the right mix of cafe & homey, just right! Naturally then upon catching rumblings of a possible addition to the line-up, we were rather excited.

Bistro Quaint threw open its doors about a week back. Anuja and I, with our mum and daughter made it there to lunch, just yesterday. For those familiar with the city, the Bistro sits in the heart of Jaipur’s toniest – C Scheme, just a stone’s throw from Governor House in Civil Lines. Occupying part of the first level of an upscale designer collective called Studio Hermosa, Bistro Quaint has neatly positioned itself, both in terms of a strategic catchment as well as moving slightly further-up the culinary ladder.

Appropriately, the valet dispenses with automotive duties and one is ushered up the tiled stairwell from within the boutique store. The delightfully appointed, albeit narrow passage reveals the Bistro.

Beautiful. Simple yet sophisticated. Easy yet elegant. Comfortably classy. The ambiance is inviting, the decor, modern while referencing the classical.

 

The space offers seating for about twenty and additionally, has a small but utterly charming balcony section that offers a few alfresco lovers a sweet spot.

To the best part… The food. The menu is simple. It is reminiscent of Cafe Quaint though it has been supplemented well by some newer, exciting options. Perhaps the most welcome addition is a dedicated Vegan Menu. Not only will this appeal to a growing number of Vegan diners and people with increasing food-allergies, it is also a masterstroke in a city where a large number of people favor vegetarian food.

We ordered a bunch of things. A vegan Pesto Penne, a vegan Avocado Tartine,  some Waffles and a Four Cheese French Toast.

Everything was quite delightful. Attributes that one always appreciated of the food at the cafe – Freshness, Lightness, continue, with an added dash of culinary sophistication. For us though, the scene-stealer was the French Toast. Ayesha and Twinkle, the tour-de-force behind Quaint, have elevated this humble European staple to an altogether higher level. The secret, the Brioche that they bake themselves.. The heavenly bread makes each bite into the French Toast a momentous event. An absolute must-have.

Although we didn’t get a chance to sample dessert, the home-made Sorbet and Gelato beckoned, big time.. Next time..

Bistro Quaint is such a welcome addition to Jaipur. And though it seemed a tad more expensive than the Cafe, the quality of food, the variety of dishes, the ambiance, and the location of the place itself make it all worth it.

I suppose for Anuja and I personally, what is most admirable is the two ladies, Ayesha & Twinkle, both of whom, to us, are emblematic of a new generation of brave, driven, motivated, go-getters who are changing the mundane culinary discourse of the city. We always wanted to do it, never had the gumption. It is so incredible to see that Ayesha and Twinkle do 🙂

While we Wine & Cheese, the Arts Bleed!

Watching an interview with the Director and Lead Actor of the film Manto, I sensed my own expression change from delighted to indignant. Nandita Das and the brilliant Nawaz informed the interviewer that Manto is in fact, the first film based on a Writer from the subcontinent. The FIRST! Isn’t that a crying shame?

Is this not symptomatic of an inherent divide that exists in our society? Let me give you an example of my own observations in this regard. The space between the old cafe at Jawahar Kala Kendra and the relatively new Cafe Quaint in the same establishment isn’t confined to just ‘one floor’.  People sitting on the ground level seem to be infinitely more engaged and concerned with real issues that plague the world. They are the artists, the thinkers, the sayers, the storytellers, the speakers, the truth-seekers. Unfortunately, they are NOT the opinion-makers. Because opinion in India is fashioned not by fact-seekers but rather by the money-makers, the kind that DO NOT sit on the ground-level eatery at JKK. They’re the ones who visit Quaint on the first floor. Before you think I am deriding a people out of some prejudice, I too, am part of the latter. Ever since the ‘plusher’ eatery opened, I haven’t even had a whiff of the old coffee house! And so, we ‘influential’ lot, that pretends to be concerned with the world’s problems and with a society’s sickness, ONLY pontificates. Our ruminations must be cossetted in luxurious ambiance, bathed in lush light, showered in the right mood, accompanied by a glass or three of the finest, not realizing that as we take tender delicate petite bites of the hor d’oeuvres, it is in fact the very fabric of our souls that we are nibbling away at.

Why else have we the elite not been able to ensure that our Artists & Storytellers have cities, towns, streets, buildings named after them? Why else does India shun our own greats, a list so long and shamed it is embarrassing. Why else do these artists & creators adopt other countries and nationalities? Why else do we the opinion-makers never seem to discuss what REALLY matters, sweeping all our dirty secrets under beautifully hand-woven carpets?

There run two parallel universes within our world. One of the Artist who finds the truth, however heinous and ugly, and tells it. Just like Manto, the artist, even today, holds up a mirror to society. But we, the trend-setters and jet-setters of society do not want to acknowledge our reality. We want to embellish, correct that, entirely skew the truth using layers and layers of ‘selfie filters’ that we don’t only apply to photographs but indeed to our entire lives. We want to see ‘pretty art’. ‘Why should art not please the eyes when it’s primary function is to find pride of place in our swanky new homes and offices, especially hand-picked by our fashinable interior decorators?’ This IS the maxim. THIS is the rudimentary, perfunctory, convenient and ‘likable’ definition of the Arts that we have come to form. One that dilutes the very essence of art. One that kills its reason to exist.

Being in our positions of power and influence,  we have perpetuated a similar dilution across the landscape. Our music is now a filtered-down, weak, soul-less expression of similarities. Our films tend to pander to our most abridged feelings. Our stories glorify the banal and sidestep any meaningful life-essence. In this fancy overcrowded factory that absolves us from any deep reflection, producing instead brands that become the talking-point; we have created a fake world that is both intellectually-limited and presents a severe paucity of truth. I dare say, very soon, we will have canvases hanging with just the Brand Name of the ‘coveted’ artist on our walls!

While Wine and Cheese is all well and splendid, it seems to have cost us dearly. What we value has changed dramatically. Who we value has shifted diametrically. In the process, we have displaced the real heroes of our times, our Artists. We have lessened ourselves for having done so. As Indians, we have done a huge injustice and disservice to our own history, one that used to celebrate, venerate, our creators.

‘Celebration’

A band does not define a bond

A day does not make you belong

A tie ought to go beyond
An obligatory duty to which society must respond
Many days that ‘celebrate’ seem so wrong
Relationships ought to be more strong
In rehearsed & staged norms
Reflections reek of an inherent hypocrisy
Superficiality adorned
A couple, a gender, a brother-sister, conned
Slighted by the world’s assigned expression
The vast majority, tragically, plays along!

Liberty

I left in haste

That hateful place

Decades, chased

A taste, for distaste

Talents, gone waste

Negative space

A bitter paste

Nothing aced

Barely braced

Poison-laced

Hauntingly traced

Outpaced

A fallacy showcased

Now, finally, emplaced

A freedom, chaste!

That Funny Feeling…

Like Coffee-Mug rings at the table

Wishing never to break the pattern

Without explanation, beyond logic, it happenes…

That funny feeling presented itself to me, unannounced, unplanned for, uninhibited, with little warning, for a third time, some fifteen years ago. If you feel you have a choice, you probably DO. If you are compelled to act, then you KNOW. The magnetic pull of the feeling is undeniable. It jostles for every ounce of your attention, vying for every second of each minute.

You know how, when you turn on the shower in winter-time, and the water from the water-heater usurps the ‘cold’ portion of your tap? The feeling is like that. All consuming. You know how when you need to write an exam that you’re not prepared for and your mind is clogged with no other thoughts? The feeling is like that. Omnipresent. You know how, at the first hint of monsoon rain, the peacocks don’t stop dancing? The feeling is like that. All pervasive.

A delectable feast with contrasting flavors, rich textures, layered nuance and though surprising, challenging even in the beginning, ultimately, completely, absolutely satisfying. Satiating a soul that you realize later, hungered for something that wasn’t quite known, wasn’t very clear, wasn’t  clearly defined.

That funny feeling came to me some fifteen years ago, and hasn’t left me, even since 🙂

A Matter Of OPINION

The Education System in India seldom asks a student for an opinion. At home, the scenario isn’t wildly different. Because we are brought up in a society where we have almost NEVER been compelled to THINK,  we are becoming a people of blind-doers, not of inventive, free-thinkers. One might contend that this is fine, that to have an army of people who ‘follow’, suits many. And that wouldn’t be incorrect. From our morality to our value-systems, our beliefs political and religious, it is ALL inherited. Without question. With unwavering faith invested in a way-of-life that we have never even bothered to explore outside of!

To me, this is the root of many evils. Patriarchy, a complex issue that can’t possibly be shrunk into a few sentences, certainly thrives because of this NO-THINKING statute. As does a slew of personal ideology, be it education, vocation, one’s life-partner & marriage…. The list is ENDLESS.

The result is tragic. The result is a society that feels crippled when asked for its opinion. A people who’s most fundamental, and most permanent decisions are made on the basis of a tiny set of choices, that too, by someone else! What we will study, what we will wear, how we will behave, what kind of work we will do, whom we will marry, when and how many children we will produce – EVERYTHING is decided by a person apart from the individual who’s life it is  (or was, until a few minutes of his/her birth)

When I am teaching and interacting with young people, I am struggling to get them to THINK. It is frustrating. Annoying. Debilitating even. But try I must. I have made it one of my life’s missions to instigate thought. Although it looks like an unending and arduous road; that people NEED to THINK, isn’t a matter of opinion.

Paint A Written Picture of YOURSELF!

One of the challenges I face all the time while teaching, is to try and get students to Write about themselves. It is vital that in order to DIFFERENTIATE themselves from one another, young people know how to write about their individual, unique journey, qualities, talents and such. Not only do I teach this in class, I also recently dedicated one of my weekly columns “A Word To The Wise” in the Times of India’s (Newspaper In Education) NIE, to this area. Since it is already published, I thought I should share this particular article because many found it useful, and hopefully you will too 🙂 So here goes:

AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL WRITING

As students, there will be many instances where we will be required to share an insight into our unique interests, achievements and future plans. This information will be required at the time of College Admissions, when seeking Internships at various Companies, and even when we finally seek Jobs. It is therefore always a good idea to get some practice in writing about ourselves, and to keep a general piece of writing about ourselves, ready to be modified/tweaked/updated when the need arrives. Welcome to Profile Writing.

In order to write an effective Profile about ourselves, we need a few things:

  1. Introspection – Think about and jot down (in point form) two to three primary interest/passion areas. They could be completely different from one another (soccer, accounts, music) or allied (DJing, Music Production, Music Events); that doesn’t matter.
  2. Achievements – Also make a point-wise note of achievements in each of those areas of interest.
  3. Realizations – At times, an experience of one thing leads to a realization. For example, while DJing, you might realize that you want to make your own music. Jot down those kinds of realizations.
  4. Future Plans – Make points about what and how you’d like to translate your passions into definite future plans. For example, a young DJ in grade 12 may want to study Music Production further in order to hone his craft.

The above is all the ‘prep’ you need to do BEFORE the writing can begin. Often times we make the rookie mistake of writing before research and thought-organization. This leads to our attention being diverted from the actual writing process because the mind is preoccupied with ‘what to write’, not ‘how to write’.

Once the above soul-searching has been done and noted in points, the writing process of a Profile can begin. There is no set word limit, but anything between 250-350 words is sufficient. Here’s a tried and tested format that never fails:

SENTENCE 1 – State who you are.

SENTENCE 2 – What you currently do.

SENTENCE 3 – Your pre-decided 2-3 Interest Areas

This constitutes your first paragraph, which ought to be in Present Tense.

PARAGRAPHS 2, 3 and 4 will be dedicated to writing about 1 Interest Area each. These will be in Past Tense because you will retrace how/when/where that specific interest began, how it developed, what your experiences & realizations were, and what you achieved.

CONCLUDING PARAGRAPH – This will be a sentence or two that will come back to Present Tense with one line about what you are currently doing in your interest areas, and a last line about Definite Future Plans relating to your Interest Areas.

An important recommendation – you should write your Profile in 3rd Person (as if someone else is writing about you) as well as in 1st Person (you are writing about yourself). This gives writing practise and lets you have two versions your Profile ready so you can submit the type that is required.

One important thing to remember though. 1st Person Profiles can tend to sound a bit pompous. Lets take an example. Say I have written ‘Kartik was invited by the European Union to Moderate Literary Panel Sessions at the World Book Fair’ in my 3rd Person Profile. This sounds fine. But the moment I convert it to 1st Person, simply changing the ‘Kartik’ to ‘I’ does not work because you end up with ‘I was invited by the European Union to Moderate Literary Panel Sessions at the World Book Fair’. This sounds needlessly self-praising and does not reflect well.

It has a very simple fix. Shift the ‘onus’ (responsibility) of the praise in 1st Person Profiles from yourself onto another person/institute/organization. Therefore, if I make the same sentence ‘The European Union asked me to Moderate Literary Panels at the World Book Fair’, you end up with a sentence that provides the same information in terms of conveying achievements but does it a little more subtly and in a non-showing-off way!

If any of you would be interested in writing a Profile for yourselves and would like to discuss it in further detail, I look forward to hearing from you.

Lost In People-Pleasing

Hotels are trying to be more like Homes, while Homes are busy looking like Hotels! Ironic isn’t it? What on earth is going on?!?

Was a time when, growing up, home was not so much about its appointments, rather about a feeling. A warm, protective, friendly, familiar embrace. A space that represented an intangible yet entirely palpable sense of belonging. Respite from the world. Like a soul mate who understood you instinctively. A loyal, devoted, unconditional bubble-of-comfort.

I sometimes find nowadays that a part of the ’emotion’ has been replaced with ‘ornamentation’. The warm familiarity with grandiose but cold luxury. The home has become a means to an end. An end that is squarely defined by ‘others’ perception of the home-makers. It has precious little to do with a space that defines its inhabitants, a place that reflects their innate individuality, or an environment that addresses first and foremost, its residents. A growing number of homes seem to be divorced from their dwellers’ aesthetic, and their lifestyles. The ‘new’ aim is simple yet disengaged – LOOK, WE HAVE ARRIVED (as defined by society)

This tragic shift in priority has resulted in homes looking and feeling more and more like perfectly manicured hotel-suites. Opulent materials, lavish decors, outspoken choices; a reality that has led to less homes being individualistic, personal, peculiar, and beautifully imperfect, just as people are! Its now a format, a template, achieved by subscribing to this unwritten but rampant ‘look-of-affluence’ that robs a home of any sophistication, class, poise, and real, distinct identity.

Was a time when a home was a reflection of its inhabitants. A manifestation that mirrored the amalgamated ethos and philosophy of a family, a cohort.  A home WAS, painfully personal…

Fashionably Inclined!

Each time there is a new set of students I am due to interact with, I am filled with excitement, hope and enthusiasm. That this time it is several sets of current and fresh batches of Fashion & Design students at the much-respected ARCH Design College, is only adding to the real possibility of making a significant impact. And for an educator, this is in fact, the best-case-scenario.

Archana, the visionary founder of ARCH, had the foresight to evaluate her students’ education from a holistic standpoint. A Design School that excels in each aspect of its work, has been evolving over a near-two decade journey; to acknowledge the need, and seek help in bringing to their students, a Professional Communications Program that will manifest their talent, ideas and proposals into convincing, well-thought-out expression, is admirable in itself. Combine that with a basics-of-film-making workshop and you hopefully expose students to an ‘umbrella’ of self-expression that will only enhance and bolster their inherent  individuality. And to be entrusted with this task, is a matter of great pride for me, both personally as well as professionally.

Today, we embark upon this journey. An important journey. A crucial journey. Because an individual may be the world’s most creative Design-Thinker, unless that person can communicate that to the world, it is a gift, wasted. And so, I begin yet another chapter in my own journey as an educator, with cautious optimism, and an unwavering belief that we will, together, augment the skill-set of this wonderful bunch of students.