The photographs in the envelope

It was close to noon sometime last week. I was at work and wrestling with some pending bills, my least favourite task in the world.

“The morning mail’s here and there’s a packet for you,” announced G, my office assistant as she came into my room and handed a medium-sized envelope to me.

“Personal or official?” I asked, glad for the distraction.

“I think it is personal,” said G as she turned to leave.

“It is. And I know what’s inside too,” I said when I saw the return address on the envelope. “Go, get the others. I think all of you will like to see this.”

Within minutes my office team had gathered gathered around my table and the envelope had been cut open and its contents spread on the table — lots and lots of photographs of my family, many of which I was seeing for the first time.

Photos, memories, stories, Black and White

“So many photographs!” exclaimed a team member. “Someone in your family must have been very fond of photography.”

As we went through the photographs, I told them of the two photographers in the family who had taken the bulk of the photos. I also shared the memories and stories behind the ones I could recognise, and how the photographs in the envelope came to be sent to me.

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How “Happy to Help” Vodafone misled and lied to me

Vodafone has been my mobile phone service provider for almost 13 years now. It has not always been a smooth relationship, but I have never felt the need to shift to another service provider. Until recently.

It all began my recent trip to Uzbekistan. This was a 10-day long trip and while I could have lived without a phone during that period, I knew that I would have to connect with my mother at least once a day by phone. They weren’t to be long chats but just a quick hello to re-assure her that I was fine, and for me to know that she was fine as well.

I knew from prior research that all the hotels I would be staying in had WiFi and while I could use that to access the internet, they were not supportive of WhatsApp or Viber calls. My mother is not text savvy, so I could only connect via phone calls.

Ideally, I should have used a local number to keep in touch with my mother. But my smartphone has a micro-sim and it is a pain to remove it and put it on. Just the thought of changing the sim was enough to make me decide on using my regular number with an international roaming pack provided by Vodafone. My brother, who also has a Vodafone cell connection, used one of their international roaming packs and was quite happy with it.

Unfortunately, my experience turned out to be radically opposite to his. It turned out to be a saga of misleading information, lies and obfuscation from the moment I contacted Vodafone at around 11 am on 16th September 2015 on the eve of my departure to Uzbekistan. The very “Happy To Help” Vodafone extended their customer service support in a way that doesn’t do what they promise in the picture below.


This image is from a Vodafone site. Do click on the photograph for the source.

Presenting the entire experience in the form of a timeline.

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Mumbai Lens: Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus

The grand and Gothic-inspired building of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai is awe-inspiring at any time of the day. But when this UNESCO-listed world heritage site and the headquarters of Central Railway is lit up, it is simply stunning. Do click on the photograph below to see the details.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, CST, Victoria Terminus, VY, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Monument, Central Railway HeadquartersI came across the CST building, all lip up, a couple of Saturdays ago. It was around 7.30 pm and I was in a cab, homeward bound when suddenly CST appeared glowing like a jewel. I was lucky to get the red signal, which meant that I had time for a couple of quick photographs with my mobile phone, before the traffic surged ahead.

While I love to see monuments lit up and showing off their architecture, I really wish the colours are subtler and nicer. I found the pink and blue colours that light up CST quite garish and geared towards grabbing your eyeballs.

What are you think? Did you like the colours of CST? How do like your monuments lit up? Subtle? Eyeball grabbing? Thematic?

Do tell. :)

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Mumbai Lens is a photographic series which, as the name suggests, is Mumbai-centric and is an attempt to capture the various moods of the city through my camera lens. You can read more posts from this series here.

Mahisasuramardini: The slayer of the buffalo demon

Today is Vijaya Dashami or Bijoya. Today is the day when the Goddess Durga defeated Mahisasura or the buffalo demon, after a fierce battle that lasted 9 days and 9 nights. After killing him on the 10th day, Durga came to known as Mahisasuramardini or “she who killed the buffalo demon”.

Durga, Mahisasuramardini, Hindu Mythology, Indian Art, Indian AestheticsThe story of Mahisasuramardini (which you can read here or here) is perhaps one of the best known in Hindu mythology, and its associated imagery is one of the most recognisable.

I was introduced to the story of Mahisasuramardini by my grandmothers, and also my mother’s recitation of the Mahisasuramardini Stotram. Like most children of the 1970s, I was introduced to the popular imagery of Mahisasuramardini through Amar Chitra Katha’s “Tales of Durga” (see picture on the left).

It was this image of Mahisasuramardini that stayed with me till 1997 when I visited Mahabalipuram. I saw Indian sculptural art in a ‘natural’ setting for the first time, including this depiction of Mahisasuramardini. That was when I realised the immensity, beauty and power of the narratives I had heard and read from the time I was a kid.

That visit also marked the beginning of my interest in Hindu mythology expanding to include its representation in classical Indian art. And Mahisasuramardini fascinated me like no other, which, thanks to my travels in India, I came across in Aihole, Ellora, Patan, Vadnagar and Nalla Sopara. Artiistically and stylistically, each one of the relief sculptures were very different, and yet unmistakably that of Mahisasuramardini.

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The Mizdahkan Necropolis: A city for the dead

About 20 km west of Nukus and past the town of Khojayli on the way to the Uzbekistan-Turkmenistan border crossing, is Mizdahkan. An ancient and vast necropolis, Mizdahkan is spread over three low-lying hills, covering an area of approximately 2

Mizdahkan appears rather suddenly in an otherwise flat landscape. One moment you are driving past Soviet-style blocky constructions separated by vast stretches of emptiness. The next moment there are thousands of graves, tombs and mausoleums stretching away from you and into the horizon. Even though I had seen online images of the Mizdahkan Necropolis before my visit their, their appearance was still unexpected and a little unreal. I actually confirmed with the driver that it was Mizdahkan !

A low boundary wall separates the necropolis from the road, and like the seemingly unending graves it enclosed, this one too seemed to stretch on without a break. Just as I was wondering where the entrance to Mizdahkan was, a partly open blue door appeared on the wall. It was the entrance to the city of the dead, Mizdahkan.

Once inside the blue doors and after the initial look, the first thing that struck me was the different ages, styles and types of tombs — from unmarked graves to those with gravestones to plain tombs to elaborate ones to well-preserved ones to those falling apart… they were all there.

Mizdahkan, Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan, Necropolis, City of the Dead, Ancient burial site, travel, Central Asia, Culture Continue reading

Art in the Desert: The Savitsky Collection at Nukus

I love museums and they are an integral part of my travels. The trip to Uzbekistan was no different and I visited quite a few museums there. In the case of one museum, I took it one step further — I added one destination to my Uzbekistan itinerary, only because of that museum.

The destination? Nukus, in the remote Karakalpakstan region of Uzbekistan. The museum? The Karakalpak Museum of Arts, which houses the Savitsky Collection.

Karakalpakstan Museum of Art Savitsky Museum Nukus

The Karakalpakstan Museum / Nukus Museum which houses the Savitsky Collection

The story of how this museum (known locally as the Nukus or Savitsky Museum) came to be is straight out of a “believe it or not”. Like most stories, it has:.

A protagonist: Igor Savitsky, an artist
An antagonist: the Communist Soviet government
A supporting cast: Several artists from Uzbekistan and Russia
A location: Karakalpakstan

Our story begins in 1950, when Igor Savitsky (1915–1984) joined the “Khorezm Archaeological and Ethnographic Expedition led by the world-famous scientist, Sergei P. Tolstov” as the artist for the expedition. Continue reading