Monday, September 17, 2012

There has been a hiatus on activity at this site !<span class="fullpost"> Interests have changed, topics have lost their relevance, whatever. We are never short of issues to talk about thoug, especially in India. So I thought it appropriate to revisit this page, and after much re-eductaion on the technology of it, have managed to perform CPR on it with some degree of success. However, the continued longevity of our blogsite will depend on how much interest and participation can be regenerated.  Let me see if I can re-kindle the old flame !


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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

My Martin Luther King moment

Many journalists have had their Obama moments, sometime last year. I had mine a couple of months back when Mike Patel – a prominent Indian American hotelier from Atlanta - called to tell me that he had lined up an exciting interview for me – with Martin Luther King III, who was in Delhi. It was a Sunday morning and I was somewhat zoombiesque having worked till late the previous night. However, the fact that I was actually coming face to face with what for me is history, had me in quite a tizzy and I was off for the meeting – at a Delhi hotel – within less than 15 minutes.
The fact that I was to meet the son of Martin Luther King Jr – so soon after Barack Obama becoming the prez of US of A made the Sunday even more special. It was a good interaction and MLK III took time in responding to all my questions at length – in fact we spoke for almost 45 mins and discussed wide ranging issues such as the challenges before the new Prez, poverty in America, civil rights, racial discrimination and Mahatma Gandhi’s thoughts and ideas which had so much influenced MLK’s father.
I’ve met and interviewed key Indian-American members on the Obama team – Vivek Kundra & Aneesh Chopra, before of course their current assignments. I’ve even interviewed Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal on phone – but MLK III, believe me, was a very special interview. And that despite the fact, that it wasn’t exactly the kind of interview that would make it very big on our business newspaper.
My President Clinton moment was somewhat unusual too – when I shook hands with him at the Chatwal wedding in Delhi some years ago. In fact, I’ve met another POTUS – Jimmy Carter – who was in Delhi for a Coke foundation event – there too was an Indian America link - Dr Sue Sehgal, Founder & President, Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Partnership Foundation. None of us had got anywhere near President Bush when he visited Delhi – I guess now I’ll have to keep trying to get the big one – an interview with BHO himself!!!!

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Monday, August 04, 2008

To Didimum, with love

My grandmother Joyasree Sen would have been 100 if she was with us today. But that was not to be. This is a tribute to her, from a collection of essays that family members have put together for her 100th birthday.

She was a daughter of the Bengal Renaissance – with many of her family members, including grand-uncle Rabindranath Tagore, as the stalwarts who provided the intellectual ammunition that helped in creating modern Bengal as we know it today. Joyasree Sen (nee Tagore) was born and grew up in an era when history was being carved out in many different ways and the young Joyasree was influenced, we have heard, by various social and political movements of her times. She was sensitive to Communist thought and, not surprisingly, Brahmo philosophy had a very early and deep impact on her. But the biggest revolution in her life was probably standing up against the wishes of her genteel and well-known family members and marrying Kuloprasad Sen after a two-year romance, when she was just 19 years old.
Girls from the Tagore family – during Joyasree’s youth - were pioneers in women's education and socially ahead of their times. But not many of them, perhaps, had the courage to fall in love with someone who was not socially or economically their equal and marry despite family pressure. Joyasree and Kuloprasad’s wedding was historic, with Rabindranath as the Acharya or the Brahmo officiating priest. Later, he also composed and dedicated a poem to the two of them as a gift for their wedding anniversary when he was visiting them in Meerut. Joyasree did not show off about such things. As author Chitra Deb was to say in her book, Thakur Barir Andarmahal: “Joyasree is reticent in talking about herself”.

Joyasree’s striking good looks were visible even when she was a child and later in her youth she came to be known as one of the most beautiful ‘Tagore girls’. But quite characteristically, vanity was never one of her vices. It was probably her graceful demeanour, flawless and fair skin, stately bearing and classically well-etched out face that attracted the attention of one of the best-known painters of her times – Nandalal Bose. Joyasree was to be the muse for one of his paintings, where he depicted her as Goddess Saraswati playing the Veena. She was at that time a shy, young girl in her 20s and had patiently posed with her musical instrument, while the already well-known painter created his masterpiece.

Joyasree and Kuloprasad’s romance and their marriage was a fairytale that all of us have heard so much about. She was Mrs K.P. Sen and the significant other in the relationship – but in many areas, including running her household and bringing up her children, she also held her own. She was the mother for all seasons. Mother of triplets and her two elder sons, grandmother and great-grandmother – Ma, Dondon, Didun, Didimum and Boro-Didun! She was often found ministering to the needs of her children and grandchildren who were ill.

And even though, the story of Kuloprasad (Motru) and Joya (Joyasree) together has been told and retold, she lived for more than 20 years without her husband after his death, independently and mostly happy with herself. Though she started off by choosing to live alone because she wanted to keep Shesher Kobita the way he would have wanted it to be kept, she then went on to carve out her own independent existence, which was what Shesher Kobita then came to represent for most of us.

It would have taken great courage for an aged lady, who had never been alone before, to pick up the pieces and to carry on, which she did with great fortitude. She was the new age granny, who knew her Swiss chocolates and played a game of Scrabble with her youngest grand-daughter to chillout. She took all the relationships that her children and grandchildren entered into in her stride and was always understanding and supportive. She even advised a granddaughter to remain single because she felt that was best for her. A voracious reader who enjoyed Sidney Sheldon as much as she enjoyed Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Joyasree also deeply appreciated music and turned to Tagore's songs for peace and solace. She even selected her favourite songs, which were to be sung at the 'sokh sabha' after her death!

It was Joya’s garden which bloomed for all those 20 years after Motru passed away; it was her friends of all ages and social groups who visited her and kept her company. And, of course, it was her close and extended family members for whom she was a focal point. On her 95th birthday, when Srila (her eldest and favourite grand-daughter) had organized a birthday party, all of us who had gathered in Shantiniketan had made a wish – that we come together with her again on her 100th. Sadly, that was not to be and Joyasree fell short of a grand century by just three years. But we are now bringing out this book together – and we hope that she lives on in this effort that we are making together as a family, to remember her and capture our memories in print.

Ishani Duttagupta
New Delhi, June 2008

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Gangotri: The old order and the new and an ode to immortality

Each journey, for me, has a meaning – besides the beginning and the end. Each journey is life-changing, I think, in some way or the other. And this one of course, was a bit more than just another journey – it had many more layers of meaning tucked away into it than many others. So to start with, it was an adventure trip that I had been planning with my nephew Rahul for a couple of years. It was his first trip to the Himalayan heights and not surprisingly, he spent a lot of time chalking out the details and putting together his gear in London - where he lives. Well, Himalayan high altitude may be new for him, but camping and meticulously planning out the details of our trek to Gaumukh (3900 metres) and hopefully beyond that to Tapovan (4450 m) was something that he did with a lot of enthusiasm and ardour. In fact, I found myself increasingly caught up in his youthful enthusiasm as the dates neared.
As for me, Gaumukh was the pilgrimage that I was hoping would perhaps provide some of the answers that I have been seeking for a couple of years now. It was for me another mile on the journey that has taken me to Haridwar, Rishikesh, Pushkar, Benares, Dakshineshwar and Amritsar. Now that we’re back, and as I take stock of whether I have my answers or not, I know that I have some - while others still linger on. As another trip to the Himalayas – which for me is my spiritual home – this was long awaited. The rugged and extreme Garhwal was a region that I had not really encountered before, except for a much less intensive trek to Har-ki-dun. That too was a journey with depth - with a childhood friend who has always been there for me. Back to this one - perhaps it’s fitting that the toughest Himalayan terrain was left for what could well be my last trip to the rugged heights. The experience – in terms of geography and pushing the physical envelope was everything it promised to be. From Gangotri to Bhojbasa and further on to Gaumukh, the glacial snout which is considered by us Hindus as the birthplace of our holiest of holy rivers – the Bhagirathi and the Ganga – provides the most complete range of features that one can hope for. From glacier walks to crossing mountain streams and walking on scree and terminal moraine and even dodging rock falls – the scenery does not disappoint even for a moment. Besides the thrills, the landscape is intensely beautiful too – as one walks along the river bank with the stately Shivling and Bhagirathi peaks for company. There are the chir pine forests of Chirbasa and the Bhuj trees along the way. One runs into company in the form of the mountain goats or the Ber, as they are locally called.
But for me, the trip has taken me beyond just the Himalayan grandeur that was the passion of my youth. Rahul – who the hill folk have decided to call my ‘bachcha’ - much to my delight, did come up trumps. And even though I’m exhausted and can’t even imagine making it to Tapovan – he does it with a fair degree of skill and competence, despite his status of a first-timer. He has braved the steep gradient, the height gain, the lack of oxygen and of any defined paths. And most important, he has enjoyed every bit of the adventure and will probably come back again for more. Besides, along the way to Gangotri & Gaumukh, Rahul also developed a taste for simple Indian food such as chapatis, the delicious pahari rajma and alu paranthas - which my dearest friend Alka, a skilled mountaineer, who's been on many tough expeditions, feels is the best cuisine to tackle Himalayan journeys. And my 'bachcha' has also passed the test of ferrying his own load during the trek, something that I've always failed to do.And while maintaining his composure under pretty extreme conditions, he was only ruffled a little bit when some ugly red scars mysteriously appeared on his forearm at Doon School - at my friend Purnima's home, after we got back to the plains. Probably ruptured blood vessels from a scratch he got from his rucksack or heat rashes. Anyways - nothing that the magic neosporine powder from the little white bottle with a blue cap couldn't take care of!
As for me, I was thinking of my father throughout the trip – in fact, it was a journey made for him in many ways. As I sat on the rocks near Gaumukh with my feet dipping in the freezing waters of the Bhagirathi, I knew that he was definitely there in my life, even though death had taken him away from us forever.
And as I helped my ‘bachcha’ pitch his Summit Series tent at Bhojbasa – battling as we did against the snow-storm, I knew that it didn’t really matter, if I could not ever make it to such heights again. There were the signs of immortality strewn all around me. And I just love to drink it in and absorb it. The Himalayas are eternal and so is life – that’s the biggest takeaway from this journey! And then it's not really a surprise or hardly a coincidence, when soon after our return to Delhi via Uttarkashi and Dehra Dun - my cousin Srila (my Bachcha's mother) sends me a photo of my parents which is one of the best recent ones that I've seen of my good-looking father. The photo must have been hidden away in her albums and she must have suddenly chanced upon it. For me, it certainly eases the degrees of separation and brings back my father much closer to me.
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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Dilip Gupta - my Madhumati connection!

There are some people – who are no more – who one would have liked to have got to know better. In fact, there are times when looking back we regret many lost opportunities in interacting with them. For me, watching the movie Madhumati – by one of Bengal’s and India’s best known directors Bimal Roy – was such an occasion, which brought to mind an uncle, Dilip Gupta. He was the cinematographer for Madhumati and even won the Filmfare award for best cinematography in the year 1958 for it – incidentally the legendary Madhumati also turned 50 this year!
What I have gathered from trawling the Net – riding Google – is that Dilip Gupta or Jhunu Jethamoshai as I called him, was a cinematographer in Bollywood between the 1930s & 1960s and was director of photography for Prem Patra (1962), Jab Pyar Kisise Hota Hai (1961), Dil Deke Dekho (1959), Madhumati (1958), Yahudi (1958), Gotoma the Buddha (1956), Biraj Bahu (1954), Deedar (1951), Street Singer (1938/I)... aka Saathi, Street Singer (1938/II)... aka Saathi (India: Hindi title) and Devdas (1935).
Dilip Gupta was my father’s favourite cousin and my father, who was younger, drew a lot of inspiration from him. I remember a couple of family events, where Jhunu Jetha was present and Baba taking great pains to create an opportunity for my sister and me to chat with him. By then, he was aged and showed a great deal of affection for us – unfortunately for me, it just did not occur to me to sit and chat with him about the past and his exciting work as one of the early great cinematographers in Bollywood. Of course, I do remember my father and mother fondly remembering Mr Gupta and his wife and the happy times that all of them had spent together in Mumbai way back in the early 1960s. My father, who was a skilled and creative photographer – drew a lot of inspiration from his Jhunuda and it was Jhunuda who had introduced my parents to the famous Bimal Roy and his wife in Mumbai.
Mr Roy, of course, is among Bollywood’s great directors of all times and his extraordinary career as a director also coincided with a Golden Age for Bengali talent in Bollywood. P.C. Barua, K.L. Saigal, Salil Chowdhury, S.D. Burman and even Ritwik Ghatak have all worked with Bimal Roy on various projects. He started his career in Bengal with New Theatres but later migrated to Mumbai where he was to first work with Bombay Talkies and later to set up his own production company. Some of the most famous songs from Bollywood are from his films, such as Suhana Safar Aur Yeh Mausam Haseen from Madhumati (1958) and Mora Gora Ang Lai Le from Bandini. Music for these films was composed by the two legends from Bengal - Salil Chowdhury and Sachin Deb Burman.
Coming back to Dilip Gupta – I do remember an occasion when he had visited my grandparents’ home in Kolkata and had talked about a film that he was shooting on the life of Thakur Ramakrishna – the famous religious and spiritual leader of Bengal – whose teachings greatly inspired him. Since I was very young at that time, I didn’t have the slightest interest in asking him details about his work – again I look upon that as a huge lost opportunity. By then, he had retired from full-time work and was on a vacation in Kolkata from Mumbai. He along with his wife had spent quite a few hours with my grandparents on that occasion and it would have been the ideal time to talk to him about his work.
I also remember another occasion when I had met him – I don’t remember where this was – along with my father. The two of them had chatted about Jhunu-Jetha’s recent visit to LA, where he had spent a nostalgic vacation amidst memories of the time when he had gone there as a young student of the techniques of film-making. Again – had I listened their chat with a greater degree of attention, I’d probably have got a better understanding of the world of LA than I was to later get from my own visit to Universal Studios – excited at being at the Mecca of Hollywood, all by myself. In fact, my sister, with her artistic sensibilities has probably had far richer interaction with Jhunu-Jetha than me – she’s even visited him at his Mumbai home and had a glimpse of the Dark Lady – his Filmfare award for Madhumati!
I’ve heard from family members that one of Dilip Gupta’s daughters – my cousin – is now working at putting together a book on him with articles contributed by Hollywood greats such as Dilip Kumar and other material that she has with her on her father. I wish her all the best with this project and look forward to its completion.
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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Whole nine yards and beyond....!

This a tale of a traditional Indian Sari. The garment, which belongs to my mother, is far more that just a personal clothing item. Its warp and weft weaves together historical value of great significance.
More than a 100 years old, this sari belonged to my mother’s great-grandmother Gyanadanandini Devi who was the wife of Satyendranath Tagore (1842-1923) - the paternal grandfather of my grandmother Jayashree Sen, and elder brother of Rabindranath Tagore.

He was the first Indian to join the Indian Civil Service. He was also an author, song composer, linguist and made significant contribution towards the emancipation of women in Indian society during the British Raj.
After Satyendra Nath Tagore returned to Kolkata from abroad he had to leave for Mumbai for his posting in the civil services. He wished to take his wife (my grandmother’s grandmother) Gyanadanandini Devi with him. But a serious problem cropped up as to the dress the lady would wear while stepping out of her inner quarters. The solution to this problem came from a French tailor. He prepared an oriental dress for the lady.
Later in Bombay, Gyanadanandini ransacked the market for a perfect dress that would be fashionable as well as fit to be worn in the society. She appreciated the style the Parsi women adapted while wearing the saree. She emulated them and also mastered the use of petticoat, the chemise and the blouse. Thus she became the founder of the contemporary Bengali fashion for ladies. This historic sari belonged to her and was a gift from her to my grandmother's mother Sanga Devi, who later gifted it to my grandmother. It was a present to my mother from her mother during her wedding in 1963. The sari is a traditional Bengal Baluchari sari, which depicts scenes from the contemporary political and social life in Bengal through its designs. Baluchari saris, which have been now revived as a traditional handicraft from Bengal, also sometimes depicted scenes from mythology and Hindu gods and goddesses.
When my grandmother Jayashri Sen (nee Tagore) gifted the sari to my mother, she had also shared with her anecdotes about Gyanadanandini and her huge collection of beautiful saris. My grandmother was a favourite grand-daughter and had spent a lot of time with her grandparents and was deeply attached to them before she married my grandfather - Mr Kulaprasad Sen, who was the Post-master General of Eastern India when he retired.
I’m sure there are many other women such as my mother across India, who possess such beautiful saris which have such wonderful bits of history attached to them.
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Friday, June 13, 2008

Better to stay home!

Many Americans decided to stay home during Memorial weekend and not go on their usual long-weekend trips. I was delighted to find a new word that they had coined – STAYCATION. And it’s not just staying at home during long weekends – wheel-happy folks in the US are buying less SUVs and even choosing to travel by train. Obviously, the zooming oil prices are having an impact on everybody’s lives.

What is interesting is that, recession and high oil prices are forcing people in America to turn to thrift. In India, we’d always been taught not to waste food. When we were young, crass consumerism was by and large frowned upon. It was things like “don’t waste food” or “you don’t need any more clothes” etc. My grandmother had painstakingly taught me frugal values – she told me to try and keep my needs at a minimalist level.
But, economic liberalization brought with it the concept of ‘consumer is king’. And thus, it became very un-hip to not buy lots of clothes, not turn into foodies and not take foreign vacations. So the middle class in India went in for the kill armed with plastic money and bank loans to buy big houses and bigger cars. People who still wanted to keep their consumption at a minimum level were either looked down upon as not fashionable Gandhians or even condemned as Communist conspirators.
Seems like now the wheel has come full circle – with America teaching us to take Staycations and buy smaller cars. Besides helping us to save money for ourselves and reduce the overall oil bill, Staycations will undoubtedly help save scare resources for our geNext as well. Really hope that the Delhi-ites - with their passion for bigger cars, better houses and larger plasma TVs - are listening.
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