An open letter to KGAF heritage walk organisers

Dear Kala Ghoda Arts Festival’s Heritage Walks organisers,

Greetings from a participant in your 2014 Heritage Walks :)

I almost ignored the Heritage Walks section of the 2014 edition of the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival (KGAF). Not because I suspected the quality of the programmes (they are always good!), but because my previous experience with your Heritage Walks was not very nice.

It was in 2010 (or maybe 2011), when I participated in two walks — (i) Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) and (ii) Ballard Estate. The CST walk called for registrations via email for 30 available seats; and I was lucky to get one of them. When I arrived at the meeting point outside CST on the day of the walk and at the appointed time, I found a large crowd gathered there. Most of them had not registered and were determined to be on the walk one way or the other. And they succeeded as your people were just not able to turn them away. This meant that we ended up as a pretty large group and I barely got to hear what the guide spoke.

The Ballard Estate walk turned out to be even more chaotic. This walk had no pre- registrations and interested participants had to just up at the World War I memorial in Ballard Estate at the appointed day and time. About 150–200 people turned up that day for the walk. I left 5 minutes into the walk when I found that I could neither see the tour guide nor hear a word of what she spoke.

Thereafter, I restricted my KGAF participation only to the events on Rampart Row every year. Till I came across these words on your website with regard to the 2014 Heritage Walks.

Participants are welcome on FIRST COME – FIRST SERVE [sic] basis… (Maximum people – 50 on first come first serve [sic] basis)…
Note: Only 1 token would be handed over to one person. No email registrations would be accepted.

The “First come – First serve” [sic] and the “Maximum people – 50″ clinched it for me. After choosing which ones to go for, applying for time off from work, and reaching well in time to stand up in the queue for the registration tokens, I managed to participate in 5 Heritage Walks and Tours at the KGAF 2014.

Every heritage walk revealed yet another interesting aspect about this beautiful city of ours. Unfortunately, every heritage walk also revealed how much things had not changed with regard to organising and conducting them. The words on your website just remained mere words and didn’t translate into action.

Let me elaborate with details from each walk:

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Of music and memories in Pune: 22 years on

It doesn’t take much to trigger off old memories. Take for instance the invitation I received to attend a classical music concert by renowned flautist Milind Date at the Gandharva Mahavidyala, Pune.

The invitation took me back to the time I was studying in Fergusson College (Pune) where Milind and I were batchmates with some common classes and practicals.  We were not close friends or belonged to the same ‘group’, but were more of acquaintances with some common friends. All through college, I had no idea of Milind’s music and got to know of it only in my third year of college. How I got to know is a story worth sharing, but I request for a little patience from you.

Milind and I re-connected many years after college when I joined Facebook in 2007 and over the next few years, remained in touch via Facebook. I followed his concert announcements and tours and listened to the snippets that he would share, but never managed to meet him or make it to one of Milind’s live performances. The invitation was a chance to remedy that. :-)

The invitation was doubly attractive as it was taking place at Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, where I learnt Hindustani Classical music. Every Wednesday morning, for 2 years, I attended vocal music classes before college. I loved everything about my music school — my guruji, the traditional architecture of the school building, the cool whitewashed halls and dhurrie-covered floors, the music rooms lined with tanpuras, sitars, harmoniums and tablas… Those musical mornings were magical and after a world filled with Bihag or Kaafi or Yaman or Patadeep or whatever raga I would be learning at the moment, it would be difficult to concentrate in my college lectures.

In other words, it was musical heaven and one that I had not visited in 22 years. And after I receive the invitation, I could not wait to visit it again after all this time. So that Wednesday in January, I took the afternoon bus to Pune to arrive well in time for the evening concert.

You know that feeling when you are about to meet someone or return to a place after a long time? That feeling of mounting excitement? That’s what I was feeling when I got off the rickshaw and walked towards the entrance to Gandharva Mahavidyalaya.

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A contest “interview”… and some afterthoughts

It all started with a tweet about a photography contest organised by a hotel chain. A friend tagged me with the suggestion that I participate. This was about 6-7 months back and after thinking about it for a couple of days, I decided to participate. I submitted the requisite information, uploaded 3 photographs, and for the next couple of weeks followed the other entries submitted for the contest.

After a month, I lost interest in the contest as the organisers had not kept to the original deadline and there was no information as to when it would end. As the weeks went by, I soon forgot about the contest. So imagine my surprise when I got a mail from the contest organisers last month. The mail said that I had been short-listed as one of the contenders for the finalists. And since I was required to connect on a telephone call with them for a brief discussion, would I please share my contact details and suggest a convenient time for a representative to call me?

My initial reaction was to send a polite response saying I was not interested. But I do not like leaving things half done and felt that I should see the process through. Besides, getting “interviewed” for a photography contest was a first for me. I mean, I have been interviewed and grilled for scholarships and jobs, but this was… well, intriguing. So, I wrote to them with my contact details. I had received the mail on a Saturday and on Monday I was leaving for one of my travels for 5 days. In my mail, I requested the organisers to contact me before Monday or after I returned from my trip the following Saturday.

I got a call from a representative of the organisers the very next day, that is Sunday. After the initial, usual pleasantries were exchanged, and the disclaimer that I was only a contender for one of the final spots and not a finalist was conveyed, my “interview” began.

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Discovering Outsider Art

Outsider Art, Museum Dr. Guislain

“Dying Papa”, by Tim Brown. Oil on Wood

The man lies rigid on a bed. Or is it a bench? There is no mattress on the bed/bench, but there’s a pillow under his head and another, flatter and smaller one, under his feet. The sheet covering him is too small and his feet stick out. The lights above the bed/bench cast sickly grey shadows on the walls, that appear to hover over the man. Are the shadows angels of death, I wonder?

I am drawn to this compelling artwork titled “Dying Papa” by Tim Brown, one of the many artworks on display at the exhibition on “Breaking the Chains of Stigma“, at the Institute for Contemporary Indian Art, Mumbai. This first-of-its-kind exhibition in India, which presents a global overview of mental health and a selection of “Outsider Art“, has been conceptualised by the Museum Dr. Guislain of Ghent in Belgium (and brought to India in collaboration with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and Janssen Pharmaceuticals).

The information given along with the above artwork says that Brown (b.1923) is an African-American who grew up poor in the religious, rural and segregated South of the United States and worked in menial jobs. Brown started painting when he realised that he had no visuals from his childhood to share with his children. An untrained artist, Brown painted from his childhood memories on rough wooden boards or planks. After Brown’s wife died and his children left home, he withdrew from society at large and preferred to communicate with the outside world only through his paintings.

As I read this information, I realise that I have just been introduced an unknown and new genre of art (for me, that is) — “Outsider Art” — and one that sounds exciting ! But what  exactly is this Outsider Art? A walk through the exhibition acquaints me with this genre and how it has developed over the years.

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When I met a book cover

The best part of travel is the unexpectedness. No matter how much researches or reading one does in advance about a place, there is always something unanticipated to surprise the traveller. I always delight in these unanticipated surprises that get thrown my way and sometimes these surprises are so unexpected that it is difficult to even describe the feeling. Something like this happened when I visited the City Palace of Udaipur earlier this year.

But I’m getting a little ahead of the story, so first a little background.

Color by victoria finlay

About a year back I read a book that I can safely say enriched my life-like no other. It was Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay, which traces the history of how natural dyes, paints and colours were made for a European artist’s paintbox. The book is full of stories, anecdotes, histories and adventures inspired by the human quest for colour. (I highly recommend that you can read my review of the book here.)

To say that I liked the book is an understatement and I have lost count of the number of times I have read it. However clichéd it sounds,  Color… opened up a deliciously new world before me and one that I continue to explore every single day in art, but also in textiles, interior design, music, porcelain, and craft. For me, Colour… was as perfect as a book could get for me.

The beautiful book cover, which depicted a stained glass window with panes of different coloured glasses, was an apt choice for the book. But the book gave no details as to where the window was, and even though it looked Indian, I knew that this window could be anywhere.

When I entered the City Palace of Udaipur that February morning, I was looking forward to seeing the Maharana Pratap artefacts, the Mor Chowk, miniature paintings, some wonderful views across Lake Pichola… I had an audio guide with me which gave me the perfect opportunity to explore the Palace at my pace. When I reached the Amar Vilas,  a large breezy courtyard on the 4th or 5th storey of the City Palace, nearly 2 hours later, I decided to take a break and sit for a while on one of the many benches laid out there. As I looked around, I saw the multi-coloured shimmer of a large stained glass window across the courtyard.

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Vishnu’s new avatar ?

Popular perceptions are funny things, especially in art.. You don’t realise how deeply entrenched they are in your mind till you see something that is different. So much so that it forces you to re-look and re-imagine the perception in a new context. No matter how much of an open mind I keep and think I am aware of internalising popular perceptions, I am surprised every now and then. This blog post is about one such incident.

It had been a regular day — there was nothing special or extraordinary about it. Just one of those ordinary days. As I got off the bus from work that March evening, fond thoughts of spending the evening with some music, popcorn and books accompanied me as I walked home. As I passed the local vegetable market, I saw a large tableau set up by a local organisation, which depicted Lord Vishnu reclining on Sheshanag in his characteristic pose.

Lord Vishnu. Sheshanag At first glance, the tableau looked normal and I would have passed it without a second glance if I hadn’t looked at the face. And that’s when I stopped !

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