Sunday, 17 September 2017

Lawyers as Politicians, Anyone?

I have very little faith in politics and no experience with lawyers ( touchwood!) to make up my mind on them yet! The previous paucity of trust stems from a purely personal distrust emanating from years of nursing the middle class hang up - 'Do as you say and say what you do!'- something that politicians don't have the liberty of doing- especially nowadays, you never know where the next twitter lynching is hidden! 
It was the coming together of Politics and Law on stage that  made me accept the invite for the launch of  Courting Politics- Shweta Bansal, EBC. The book etches out the life and times of nine Lawyer luminaries who have raised the bar (pun unintended) in the political sphere. Bansal in the tome, charts out the individual journeys of these men. She doles out in her conversational manner of writing, snippets into the personal, professional and political crests and troughs in their lives. 

The glaring absence of a woman in this august company is lamented by Fali S Nariman in his Foreword to the book and rightly defended by the author in the Introduction. The inter woven themes in the book are intriguing. Can the political identity of a lawyer sunder itself from the party's ideology, in a manner of speaking? Can the two passions be seen as disparate in their own right and allowed to remain so? Is there a stepping on one's toes while doing either of the jobs? 
The men she chooses to talk about are not without faults. The writer doesn't hold back from getting her hands dirty with that nitty-gritty of their illustrious lives. In her own admission, keeping up with her subjects' busy schedules, mandated her doubt that the book will ever see the light of day, before she says au revoir to life!  I ask Shweta how generous were the men in giving her face to face time to chisel her word heaps. ' Oh! They were more than just that- I could talk to them and garner many details of their lives' 
Legal eagles all, the author makes a note of their stellar cases that they made a name for themselves in ranging from the nonagenarian- Jethmalani's KM Nanavati v. State of Bombay which was an archetype of a greek tragedy as it were to minister  Ravi Shankar Prasad's - who she rightly grants the epithet- The Lawyer of lord Rama! She delves into the culinary choices of the lawyers too and doesn't spare a mention of their pet peeves too. She dextrously glides the conversation into an outlining of their many high and lows. She draws out in the chat with the lawyers their mantra of treading this thin line of public life with a legal one and of course not to forget the personal too! I ask her if she had to tone down her language to ensure a greater reach of readers and she agrees, 'Yes, I was conscious of avoiding legalese and jargon to make it palatable, however the subject was such that it didn't require all that tweaking.' 
Yours Truly- Courting Books 
Glib talkers and erudite, wise saws gliding off their tongue, the book launch at the historical Bikaner House in the capital saw a back and forth of political sparring and as also a healthy banter amongst the lawyers. The book is immensely readable if you're interested in this aspect of the men who are already quite popular and am gauging, harbour ambitions of a memoir. Don't go about looking for instances of literary gems, instead go looking for the truth that lies bared in Bansal's simple yet engaging lexicon. 
The book is fraught with pitfalls of a simplistic narration at times and also of excessive reliance on the grandiose subjects' aura. The author in her debut novel however, chooses an ambitious theme- one she does full justice to, considering she's an experienced lawyer herself.
Bansal's tying up of this political and legal thread in the lives of these men is commendable however this is a classic case of a deserving writer becoming a blurb amidst her subject that command headlines. I wish there were more sound bytes from her at the panel discussion. I wanted to hear more of her at the launch as I knew I'd get to read about the lawyer-politicians in the book!
Her next book she tells me is going to be a  non-fiction too, one that I am looking forward to reading because of her and not because of who she is writing about. More Power!      

Courting Politics
Shweta Bansal

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Of History and a Sense of it

India- its past, present and future has been a fertile inspirational ground for many a writer. Part of it has to do with the the expanse of the land- topographically and also in its complex cultural manifestation, played out against the mercurial technological advancements globally and locally. If you have been following Dr Shashi Tharoor’s writings on India- a subject he has written copiously on- you’d know that he rarely writes purely as a historian. His perspective is more of an observer and a commentator, recorder and reflector on the goings-on in the country. The author, politician, and former international civil servant, blends in his books, erudition with experience as he charts the flux,  evolution, growth and future of India in his non-fiction repertoire. Many of his books also stem out of his previously written articles, opinions pieces in the the media- expanded and updated for recency.  The Elephant, The Tiger, And the Cell Phone: Reflections on India - the Emerging 21st-Century Power (2007), India Shastra: Reflections on the Nation in our Time (2015), India: The Future Is Now (2013), Pax Indica: India and the World of the 21st Century (2012), are some, amongst many other such books authored by Tharoor. They echo the changes the country has gone through from time to time, muse endearingly about the peculiar Indian-ness of Indians, mull over the co-existence of technology and tradition, and also indicate India's position in a rapidly changing geopolitical and economic scenario. 
Before you quit reading any further, let me give a disclaimer! This background of my own reading, was necessitated by the fact that in my last read of his writing- ‘An Era of Darkness’ the author writes purely as a historian for the first time.  The book that stemmed out of a 15 minute Oxford Union Debate speech that went viral – is an exhaustively researched refutation of the imperial apologist’s arguments and claims of the empire being a benevolent and an empowering entity.  
This three-thirty pager, takes the bull by its horns and decimates the traditional strongholds of the Raj defenders– the Railways, the education system, ‘the free press’ to name a few. He cuts through the benevolent pretensions of the empire and seeks to establish the greed and personal (here the empire’s) gain through neatly cut chapters ranging from ‘the Myth of Enlightened Despotism’ to ‘the Divide and rule policy’. He does acknowledge the inherent fissures in our country's hand-me-down laws such as the caste system, at the same time, making a case for the empire's devious strengthening of these rifts by the self-serving designs of the colonizer. 
He exposes the anatomy of exploitation down the years, supporting it with facts and figures right from the conquest of India by the East India Company to post colonial imperial amnesia.
Read the book if you are not daunted by the gargantuan task of keeping history, as it were – replete with dates, quotes and references. Read it also if you need academic reasoning for your vague aspersions on colonial powers that ruled the country.  Read also objectively, sundering emotion from rationale- as a literay piece. But not without the author’s disclaimer, ‘I do not seek to blame the British for everything that’s wrong in my country today.’ More so in today’s times than ever before!    

An Era of Darkness 
Aleph Book Company 

Friday, 11 August 2017

Long Weekend Leisure

As I pack my bags for another sojourn- I write about my last week's travel shenanigans. Long weekends start when you reach the end of Gurgaon's noxious-air on to NH 48. This one was made extra special as we were travelling as a family of three sisters, three kids and one set of parents! The fact that we were celebrating 75th of our dad's, was what made the trip even more eagerly awaited- also one sibling had travelled for the three-day visit, all the way from Singapore-  another reason this had better turn out well! Pressure!
A panoramic scene of the fortress and beyond

After zeroing in on the location, after a lot of back and forth, we hit upon Tijara Fort, Gram- Hasanpurmafi, Tehsil Tijara, District Alwar, Rajasthan - one of the 23 properties of the Neemrana chain of hotels- also a recent one.
Tijara- A Treasure Tucked Away...
Tiajra is a 19th century fort which has been restored and revitalised over a decade. The suites and rooms have been named to honour India's leading painters, designers, and aesthetes. Tijara Fort-Palace's seven terraced gardens have been compared to the Hanging Gardens of Babylonia - one of the Seven wonders of the ancient world – and the ruins to Machu Picchu! Most rooms offer views of the Aravalli ranges & countryside. Some overlook the Hawa Mahal, the hanging gardens & the pool. Ours had a vantage point of the Date tree lined plains below!
The Camelcade!

Holed up in the Hotel!
The hotel does not have in-room televisions and does not offer room service. The intention to disconnect from technology is there but what would one do with uninterrupted panoramic views that the hotel offers - but capture them in selfies and non-selfies(if theres such a term !) So you will find hotel guests clicking away to glory! and why not!
There are activities on demand at the hotel that include Camel Ride  Billiards,  Badminton, Table Tennis, Spa and of course lazing by the pool- a poor substitute to a beach, but heck bring out your beach dresses and kaftans- swim we can, later! Also, enroute the short drive from Delhi to Tijara (2.30 hrs!) one encountered  traffic jams of a different kind and bumpy roads in patches!

Cow girl in the mirror!
Breathe Deep!
Relaxing ambience, laid back pace and a quiet charm of history in the fort receives you much before the front office executive. Vistas spread across your line of sight as unappreciated jewels in the sand. You take a moment to capture them and insta story them- but No connectivity! There, welcome back to a time when you enjoyed a holiday for your own sake. There are patches where you can still smuggle, cheat, internet moments- but largely you remain in the quest of signal!
Things not to do!
If you're the outdoorsy kind, this place isn't for you- though you could still do a lot of sightseeing, or hop across to Fort Neemrana to satiate your adventure streak, if time permits. Start with a tour of the fort itself then move to other places of interest in Alwar District - which is mind you - quite a drive away( an hour plus). There's Tijara Jain temple, Suraj Mukhi Kund,  Bhatari (Former Ala-ud-Din Alam Shah Tomb in Tijara), Alwar government Museum Palace Museum in Alwar,  Alwar Fort City Palace,  Bala Quila  Vijay Mandir Palace,  Neelkanth Temple, Hanuman Temple,   Karni Mata Temple, Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri ... phew! and Sariska national Park and  Bhangarh fort...
But be warned- its a long weekend you've gone for, not a week! So ration your time well...
The long and short of it
Jungle Safari much?
We ventured out to the Bala Quila in Alwar in search of the museum but were greeted by eager jungle safari guides and we soon whisked away in a modified off-roader! Off season jungle safari saw us spotting Peacocks and more peacocks! Sambhars added to the intrigue I must say! The museum, we were told was shut and parts of the fort under renovation amidst visible signs of habitation within the fort precincts- such is the state of heritage buildings!

Bala Quila Courtyard -Padharo Maare Desh

You exit the fort's majestic gates but not before catching a glimpse of the entire Alwar town through its port whole of a window!
An eye on the town

Long weekend holidays are to rejuvenate and relax and that's exactly what we did- a spa treatment at the Tijara Fort property - Balinese one at that! An infusion of orange and lavender and the massaging  techniques of applying the right kind of pressure made up for the horrible culinary options in dusty bazaars of Alwar town earlier that day.
Amidst the three-day quietude at the heritage hotel's Arpana Mahal- our abode, there were flashes of a cultural show by Rajastahni artists- not sure of their authenticity in being true to the musical traditions of the state as the Manganiyars and the Langas are- but an evening worth spending with the kids as they joined in the revelry in the end!
The hotel I suggested, could do with a small library to pass time and also a more proactive training intervention with the staff. There was hospitality and a warmth spread across the faces of the helpful staff but not necessarily a consistent one across verticles.
We started out from the Hathi Mahal -the reception area of the Fort, but not before clicking a few fancy, yet shaky Instax polaroids.  Not before also, keeping a part of the Rani Mahal, as captured in water colours - sketched in my heart! Enjoy the long weekend and tell us where you're headed!
A beauty I say...

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Unveiling the Drama Queens

Lipstick Under My Burkha's, initial reception exposed the hypocrisy of the times we live in, where gender  parity is far from a palpable reality. This battle is not new, especially in the arts and culture scene where women were extraneous or erotic aspect of the dramatic piece.  Drama  Queens, Women Who Created History on Stage, Roli Books, by award winning Veejay Sai's maiden 195 page venture, paints the troughs and the peaks, the rise and the decline and the shining and the fading of ten women actors  on stage starting from the early 19th century. 
Drama on The Insider Instagram 
'Woman of Substance' may be the most googled phrase when it comes to the umbrella and oft misinterpreted term, feminism ( perhaps 'nepotism' might topple it now on a generic search), we take for granted the struggle women have had to undertake to make their presence acknowledged, let alone follow their passion. A topic such as this gains increased relevance, when dumbing down of women's voices, equating feminism with extremism of fatal kinds and twitter wars and hatred against gender is spewed on social media, as a norm. After 70 years (and counting) of independence, gender politics seeps surreptitiously into the dialogue and discourse on life! 
Veejay Sai has done a yeoman's service to the cause of gender parity in theatre, by carefully constructing the life of ten pan India,  female theatre actors, whose lives and times, hitherto remained un-excavated. The erudite, theatre actor, playwright, historian and Director  Girish Karnad, in his insightful foreword has outlined the theme running across the book and in the lives of these Drama queens on stage- that, men were the performers, women the sensuous distractions. Period! 
Veejay Sai, in his aim to piece together the tattered parchment of these actors' lives, draws inspiration from the connotation of the word 'Drama' and employs the metaphor to lend gravitas to the meaning and validate their contribution to the inclusive theatre practices that were to follow. 
Kumbakonam Balamani, Tarasundari Devi, Munni Bai, Mukhtar Begum, Hirabai Barodekar,  Malavalli Sundaramma, Jahanara Kajjan, Moti Bai, Rushyendramani, and Thambalangoubi Debi, find space in the the Sai's map. Book's coordinates are staggering- right from bengal to Maharshatra to the Hinterland of Bihar to the oft missed North-East, through this coverage, he manages to represent all the languages that theatre existed in, in the days of the yore. The struggles of the actresses are also bound by similar tribulations each one faced, including the societal resistance against acceptance on stage and in social life. 
Sai in the book assists us to relive the lives lived by these fearless females, much before the visuals on the screen hit the arts scene. The book offers snippets of the tribulations faced by mothers of the actresses who sometimes cooked meals at an ustad's house for barter of music lessons for the daughters, and recounts the running out of favour of the nawab's and the feudal lord's patronage. 
It is a seamless tying of patterns and stereotypes that women on stage and in the arts had to face, the visuals garnered from painstaking research add to the literal topography of the world that these women inhabited. 
With a technicolour cover juxtaposed against black & white pictures of the women protagonists of Sai's script, the book entices you into plunging into the world of the author's inspirations, even though you aren't a theatre afficionado. I know I am not!  

Genre: Non-Fiction/Biographies &Autobiographies
Publishers:Roli Books
Price: 556/-

Friday, 21 July 2017

Inside Shah's Shenanigans!

A memoir is a delicate genre to choose reading, you succumb because you are interested in the author's life, at the same time, can't guarantee the author's deftness at writing, to sustain you through the passage of pages. Unless of course it is of a writer, even then, can't be sure these days!
So, with trepidation, I gingerly picked up Naseeruddin Shah's memoir, And then One Day, Penguin India. The author makes no bones about the fact that he started writing as a way to pass time during a tedious Hollywood movie project, wrote something, forgot about it, wrote some more and lost the pen drive etc etc. You get the impression of a 'low threshold of boredom' in Shah at the very launch of a couple of pages. What is heartening is the revelation that it's not ghost written so what you see is what you get- His life imitating his pen!
A peek inside Shah's world, spanning decades and topographies as varied as Sardhana to Mussoorie, Nainital to Ajmer to Aligarh and finally to Mumbai. Phew! Keep up with the changing pace of his life. The memoir as the name goes 'And then One day...' to me stands for the interest Shah had only in storytelling, the act and the drama on stage. It is a coming of age story of a brother who always felt being under the shadow of his societally sound siblings, one an IITian the other an Army officer. And then One Day is self=-recounting of the  life of an actor, a heretic a footloose and fancy free soul who was fascinated by acting and being on stage in theatre. A stumbling actor who would go through the rigours of 'making it big' in the film industry to being regarded as the greatest 'Art' cinema actor to being mistaken many a times for another actor like Om Puri. 
The pages take you through the journey of Shah's struggles of coming to terms with commercial cinema and doing it for the money. The ride is as shaky as the Standard Herald he manages to purchase sometime in his career- guaranteeing no safety only adventure, sometime of the afire of sleeping on the footpath or parks in Mumbai! Replete with its ups and downs, his love-hate relation with his father and the fond memories he has of his mother. It indeed is a roller coaster ride when you see Shah admitting to guilt, doubt, greed and lust- unabashedly.
The loves of his life also find mention, actually much more than that, in sections of the book. Breaking the stereotype seems to be the thread, binding his life and love. Be it in being love with an older woman of the world in Aligarh as a 19 year old or fathering a child at a young age and feeling resentment towards her at the same time! Or be it finding love in Mumbai - in Ratna Pathak, who he calls the 'anchor of his life', this forms a background, albeit an important one in the book.
Shah makes an admission of being instructed to cut out the slang, the swear words and the exclamation marks but he includes them nevertheless, with such an eclectic mix of drama, action and emotional journey of  life, I suppose they theses came organically- and what's a memoir if not an honest one!
Not a literary masterpiece, and not having pretensions of one too, the book leaves you better informed on the actor's life and times but disappointed in his over simplistic writing canvas. Sometimes wordy, at others casual and blasé about writing about his own self. While reading the book, make no mistake, you will be judging Shah mentally and also making notes on his life's choices. He makes no bones about his escapades and lays himself bare to a reader's examination. As a writing piece it is a spouting out of topmost in his mind- 'Getting it out of my system'. Hard hitting and brutally honest, it stays in the reader's system much after it's consumed.
And then One Day 
A Memoir
Naseeruddin Shah
Penguin, India 

Monday, 17 July 2017

Inside the Working Woman's World!

As a working woman (is there such a thing as a working man's issues? No right?), our issues concern me deeply and are unfortunately here to stay! Patriarchy and misogyny coupled with an unsupportive work eco-system make it a doubly hard for women to shine, stay safe and work just as any other person! 
When Swati met Sairee!(Couldn't resist that!)
I was recently at the SHEROES Summit 2017, Delhi, India’s largest forum for women professionals that deliberates upon potential and alternative work opportunities for aspirational women- spread across a day. 
Here are my top takeaways from a day well spent! Also read on to my chat with Sairee Chahal, Founder & CEO, SHEROES as I ask some probing questions! If you are a working woman, you need to read this!
Tech Future!
Technology ensures a sustainable work-life balance for women who are unable to be a part of a full-time organization as well as for those relying on self-employment. Case in point, me! Cashing in on this Sheroes has built an app that reaches out to women in distress and also a programme called MARS where support, mentorship and networking form the base of a progressive #FutureOfWork for women! 
Remote Working!
The concept of remote working has grown exponentially and how! I meet Flexi moms all the time especially in our Army fraternity. Employers have also begun value the contribution of remote and flexi work owing to Cost to company benefit, also it is definitely a win-win situation. 
Keep the conversation Going!
We may not be all there yet, but chatter on women's issues must go on! Sometimes, all you need is a kindred spirit and helping hand and a compassionate ear. So community and the Circle of trust that Sheroes Summit heard a lot of makes complete sense to me. So join in! Have a look at mine on Twitter around the working women's issues chat!

#FutureofWork is Logic with Technology!
Not my coinage but Faisal I. Farooqui's,  interesting take on the panel discussion on #FutureofWork! Also agree whole heartedly with Priya Krishnan CEO Founding Years Learning Solutions, when she said that being a career woman and having  a family are not antithetical forces! Oh yeah!
L to R)Priya Krishnan,CEO,Founding Years Learning Solutions;Emilie Moulard,MD Medela India; Faisal Farooqui,CEO,; Mishi Choudhary, Founder,Software Freedom Law Centre;Vinati Kastia, Partner AZB and Partners & Sairee Chahal, Founder & CEO SHEROES
Going Live now!
Networking Ahoy!
No man or a woman is an island unto self! Period! Networking, exchanging notes, staying connected and exchanging experiences and reaching out to fellow women workers is the way forward for sure! Therefore a packed hall at the Sheroes Summit where interesting stories were being exchanged an also Hi-Five's!Thanks to the ebullient emcee of the day!On the sidelines of the summit- I caught up with Sairee Chahal, Founder & CEO Sheroes- Excerpts:
Me: So this talk of women's safety, security and sustainability of work is more in the corporate world- where shocks are insulated? what's your take?
Sairee: Yes and no! There's a lot of new addition SHEROES which is supported by an ecosystem of 300 partners and over 15000 companies. The new helpline and apps and programmes are to empower the grassroots worker as well ...SHE, SEW(Support Every Woman) MARS and AskSHEROES  are some social products that that augment deep tech changing the gender parity numbers! Plus you can reach out anytime!
Me: Do you think this need to look fr support outside the familial precincts is growing because of the breakdown of the familial system?
Sairee: I think so and the more alone we are the more support we seek. 
Me: Do you think there can be a forced sensitisation towards working women's issues?
Sairee: No I think if a long lasting, effective change has o be brought in the work ethos and space, it has to be organic and broad based. I feel technology and a continued dialogue about the working women's space is the future!

Keep the conversation going ladies! 
The Summit will travel to Mumbai (15th July), Bengaluru (29th July), Kolkata (5th August) and Chennai (19th August).

Saturday, 8 July 2017

The Insider Travel Staples!

I like a routine on a holiday... there I said it!  Not for me the laze-all-day siesta that extends into a snooze and then a slumber. Neither for me are the watch the sea ebb and retreat (there are those moments too) frames that translate into days and nights of repeats. 
I got my Travelin' on! 
Exploration on foot, taking the back alleys and avoiding a 'tour guide' is more my thing. Largely a schedule kind of person but definitely not a package huffing and puffing and catching my breath and sightseeing in between kind of  tourist too! Of course a bhindi tourist sometimes but no trying to catch hold of the Sun, lifting the pyramid or caging the Taj Mahal in your hands kind of memories in pictures!  
Back from one such holiday in the hills and preparing for another one in the deserts I thought of mulling over what exactly do I want out of my holidays that'll help me zero in on that perfect getaway that eludes us! 
So in the long list of listicles, here's another one! My travel staples!
I mean in food as well as around me- Nature. Walking on the grass barefoot, soothing the eyes with the abundance of Pine, Cedar as we descend down to the Annadale erstwhile Polo and now the golf Course in Simla. Winding roads, music and stopping at the many fresh waterfalls- enroute is definitely my thing! Hydrangeas- deciduous or evergreen are a thing of beauty-they are rustic in shape and appeal. Not the dainty Wordsworthian Daffodils for me but the robust bunches of this flower, any day! 
A drive into the mountains!
Now this should be topping the list, but its thereabouts though! What's behind, what's passed and the past hold an immense fascination and one that I like to peel off layer by layer. Be it the now Oberoi Cecil Hotel which was The Faletti's hotel with an atrium that looks at the stars or the Gaiety Cinema at the Mall and the Christ Church at the Piazza -The ridge, all fascinating vistas of the colonial past! 
The Grand facade of the Oberoi Cecil-Faletti's Hotel earlier
A visit to the Viceregal's lodge - built by Lord Dufferin was one such takeaway- revisiting the now IIAS (Indian Institute of Advanced Studies) and gaping at the black and white pictures and capturing their colour in mind when the all important meetings etching out India's partition modalities was a reality- is something that gives me goosebumps still! 
Lady Dufferin, was amongst the few vicereines who found the lodge lovely! 
Or catching a glimpse of the life in the seat of 'Power and pleasure'  in Kiplingspeak  was rife with scandal, soirees and strategies! especially in the 'Season'! Oscar Wilde and George Orwell amongst many other notable critics of Rudyard Kipling have pulled up the writer and journalist on many counts and accounts. However,  Kim may not be one of my favourites or for that matter the many idioms he coined 'The White man's burden' or 'East is East' but chancing upon his lines on Simla hills in the heritage property we were staying at was priceless. Whatever be his place in the literary and cultural map, Kipling caught the essence of living in the hills replete with social intrigues, physical bounds and political and military ambitions.  See for yourself! This is a nugget I say!
Elfie at The Taj, Chandigarh
Epicurean me absolutely loves the gorging that couples any vacation but and that's a big butt! Therefore I like the food to be healthy- read baked, roasted, parboiled, grilled and steamed! Raw would be the best, if I could! Also coupled with this I confess to being a steam, sauna junkie! Yes i did it Shimla too. In chandigarh on our way back to the sweltering plains, I made full use of the Steam and of course swimming at night at The Taj, and promptly registered a complaint on the lack of hygiene with maintenance at the facility! Hopefully it's now been rectified! Why forget health when on a holiday- what say? 
These are my pets and pet peeves on a holiday! What are yours? 
Also read my Review of the Ramgarh Heritage Palace Hotel - Now to Rajasthan!