Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Spring moved into Summer so quickly.

I had taken these pictures on the 30th of MArch from our balcony. It heralded the start of spring for me. The end of the cold season.

The Mango tree in bloom

The tiny baby mangoes (ambade/avakkai), ideal for pickle making.

The tender green leaves of the Ashoka tree.
I was hoping to document the growing mangoes, but within a week it was too hot to stand outside in the glare of the sun. The temperatures touched 44C and taking pictures of mango trees was the furthest thought from my mind.

It seems that there was no spring at all this year in Delhi. Within a week we went from using room heaters to air conditioners!.

At least now the temperature is a little more manageable at 39C, so the brain is co-operating and being a little more efficient even during the daylight hours :)

Yodakin - Hauz Khas

2 Hauz Khas Village
New Delhi 16

Ph : 011 41787201 or 26536283

Yodakin is an offering from Yoda Press, for book lovers who are looking for more than just bestsellers and chart toppers.

Yoda Press is an independent Delhi based publisher focussed on non-fiction writing. As an independent publisher they had to struggle to place their authors in the big bookstores - who look at books as a purely commerical venture. Realising that other independent publishers also faced the same problem, they decided to work backwards and create their own bookstore where independent publishers and first time novelists could place their books and at least have a chance at reaching and audience. Yodakin is that bookstore. It also stocks alternative books, periodicals, music and cinema by independent publishers, record labels/musicians and filmmakers.

Yodakin stocks books from Yoda Press, Zubaan Books, Navayana, Tulika, Westland, Roli and Wisdom Tree among others.

They also offer Foreign Independents and books for children and young adults.

Set in the picturesque Hauz Khas Village, the store is small at 400sq ft, but this seems to be the norm for Delhi bookshops. It is well lit and yet has a cozy feel. There are a couple of bamboo modhas that you can sit on and browse before deciding to buy.

The store personnel are warm and friendly and don't mind you browsing.

If you are looking for alternative books or to make a new discovery, this is the place to go.

The store is open from 10:30-8:00 Wed - Mon and 2-8 on Tuesdays.

They do accept major credit cards.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Screening of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

I was selected to attend a Swedish Crime Fiction writing workshop with celebrated author Hakan Nesser on the 19th of April. Unfortunately, because of the Volcanic Ash eruption, he was unable to arrive in India and had to cancel all his lectures/workshops in Delhi and Bombay.

The Swedish Embassy quickly put together a revised schedule for the 2 days, but hearing a Delhi Univ Prof talk what she thinks an author is trying to say, is not the same as the author telling you about his thought process. While I'm sure the substitute speakers were very good, given my time constraints, I decided to utilise my time on more pressing concerns. The only exception was the screening of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo This was the Swedish version (obviously, the Hollywood version isn't due out until 2012 and they still haven't finalised a credible heroine for the role of Lisbeth) by director Niels Arden Oplev

I am a huge fan of the books and couldn't wait for part 3 (Girl who kicked the Hornets Nest) to come out. It was a huge relief that Larsson had a chance to detail Lisbeth's past in this book. It went a long way in explaining how her character came to be so complicated.

All 3 of Stieg Larsson's Millenium trilogy (they were meant to be 10 in the series, he unfortunately died after writing the 3rd book and they were all published posthomously) were made into movies last year in Sweden.

The audience at the Habitat Center were privileged to watch the first in the series, on a big screen (well medium sized, but still better than the largest tv)

Anyone who has read the book, will know that the story is dark and violent, so it came as no suprise that the overall setting of the movie was dark right down to the lighting. The only scenes that were lighter, were flashbacks from Blomkvist's childhood memories of Harriet Vanger.

This was a rare occassion when I genuinely felt that the movie measured up to the book. There have been a few minor changes to the story line with a few details from parts 2 and 3 being slipped into Part 1, but they are so minor, that no one can really object to them as they only help build the story, rather than detract from it.

It will be interesting to compare this version with the Hollywood version, when it comes out. The violence in this movie is measured, its more about what isn't shown, than what is shown. Lisbeth washing her mouth out with soap, the trembling of her hands as she lights her cigarette. The lighting, the pace, everything combined together wonderfully and brought the book to life.

The casting is excellent. Noomi Rapace has done such a wonderful job of slipping into the character of Lisbeth Salander, that there are supposedly talks of her acting in the US version too. It will be difficult for any other actress to slip into her shoes for this role. It's like she was born to play this part.

Lisbeth's first meeting with Nils Bjurman is nothing short of chilling. Inspite of knowing what would happen next, the whole scene sent shivers up my spine. Lisbeth could have been the inspiration for Elin Woods in the golf club scene.

The movie doesn't show anything dramatically obscene, but there is no mistaking what is going on. Menace is writ in each of those frames. I noticed, that female nudity was shown only when it was by her choice and never when it was against her will. Small details that added to her character.

The casting as I said before is excellent. The acting and direction brilliant. I would highly recommend this movie to anyone who loved the books and anyone who loves movies, even if you haven't read the books (yet)


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Walk to the "Soon to be Annihilated" Flower Markets of Delhi

The city of flowers is giving way to the city of flyovers!, so said the call to participants for this walk last Sunday.

Our Sunday morning sleep-in is sacrosanct. Husband will only wake up early if there is a cricket match being played on the opposite side of the globe or if we have to travel in the morning (even though we do our best to avoid travelling on Sundays)

A walk that would start at 6am, would mean waking up by 5am to reach the meeting point in time. Would it be worth the effort? Should we try to make it or not? What tilted the balance, was when we realised that these markets that have flourished for decades, may no longer be around next month, if the court has its way.

The powers-that-be want to shift all the flower markets of Delhi to a single location in Ghazipur. While this may seem like a great plan on paper mandi hatao, shahar se baahar kar do, there are ramifications of this for everyone.

Lets take a look at the composition of these mandis. 2 of these mandis - the Fatehpuri Masjid Mandi in Chandni Chowk area and the Hanuman Mandir Mandi at Bhabha Kharak Singh Marg are temporary markets that operate from 4am to 9am. By the time the multiple state emporia on Bhabha Kharak Singh Marg and the Spice Market of Khari Baoli open at 10am, there is no sign that these flower markets were doing business worth crores until just an hour earlier.

Most vendors at these markets are either farmers or part timers who go back to their flower farms and second jobs once the market closes for business. Will they be able to do both if the location shifts to Ghazipur given the travel time?

The Mehrauli mandi is a permanent one and since the vendors live in the same area, its practically a 24hour market.What will happen to them? Will they have to relocate their entire families to Ghazipur? Will they get land to live? At the Mehrauli mandi, the entire family is involved in the stringing of the garlands, will they all be able to commute daily to Ghazipur?

Will these flower sellers be able to cope with the displacement? Will they lose their livelihood?

These markets are a part of the heritage of Delhi, why banish them? Is this a myopic decision? Have all factors been considered or is it just another act lumped under the "sanitising Delhi for the Common Wealth Games" banner?

Roses are available at 50paise in these markets. By the time it reaches you at the traffic light, they cost Rs5 each. By the time it reaches your florist it costs about 10Rs each. How much do you think the price will increase with the increased distance and time taken to travel to Ghazipur for both the seller and the buyer?

The Hanuman Mandir Mandi is supposed to be the largest flower market in India. all the large hotels and banquet halls pick up their flowers from here. Who will they pass the price increase onto?

Its true these markets tend to create a bit of a mess, especially the Mehrauli one. But wouldn't it be better to try and find a way to regularise these markets and waste disposal, than to summarily and unilaterally move them away?

The Gendha Phool Project is trying to bring awareness, help the flower sellers find options to recycle their waste (gulal from unsold flowers) and explore legal options. There is another walk coming up this weekend if you are interested to join.

Carry drinking water and a hat/umbrella/sunglasses and your camera. Its a wonderful experience.

My picture album is uploaded on Facebook. There are just too many pictures for me to choose just some for this post. So take a look at the album.

And to whet your appetite . . .
A Bit of the Market that I brought home with me.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

IPL T20 @ Ferozeshah Kotla Grounds : Delhi Daredevils vs Rajasthan Royals

I am not a cricket fan! The husband is a cricket "fan"atic!

In a desperate attempt to get me to "share" the cricket watching experience with him, he tried to bribe me with "Delhi Daredevils Marquee tickets" for yesterday match between Delhi Daredevils and Rajasthan Royals. I couldn't exactly be churlish and refuse after he had procured the tickets, so I consented to join him, given that at least the 20-20 matches are finished within 3 hours or so.

Little did I realise that, that time frame works only at home on TV. If you want to watch it at the stadium, you have to get there at least an hour earlier. To reach the stadium you also have to battle mind numbing traffic, crazily numbered gates (Ferozeshah Kotla grounds management - numbers have a sequence or has that concept passed you by?), one ways, thronging crowds.

If you have been daring enough to wait till the last minute to buy a ticket, you also have to battle Delhi's famous non-queues to arrive at the ticket counter, all the while praying that they do not run out before you jostle your turn to the front.

Hence it means leaving from home at least 2-3 hours before the start of the match. Oh and if you have to pick up someone who works on the other side of town, add another hour or so. So that now brings us to 7 hours. Then of course there is the rush to get out of badly managed parking spaces at the end of the match, that can easily add another hour or 2 to your "evening outing" and the drive home through traffic. 8-9 hours! Thats how long it takes to watch a 3 hour match in the stadium. That's a full "working" day for government employees.

Traffic hurdles crossed, you also need to remember that you aren't allowed to take anything inside with you except cell phones, paper money and keys. Pens, paper, water bottles were all duly retained at the multiple checkpoints. If you are coming to the venue from the office. remember to leave your laptop behind. Some people did manage to get cameras and small purses into the venue. But unless you are a famous face, it may not be worth the time wasted at every metal and human detector to explain why you are carrying a purse when expressly instructed not to.

Once we got in though, things improved drastically. The marquee, had an airconditioned inside section which would later serve dinner & dessert. 2 bars and 4 semi-self service refrigerators stocked with Coke products (aerated, water and juice) and Beer.

Beyond this was an open seating area with 3 rows on each side designated for the team owners (home & away). Many of the seats were marked with stickers for sponsor companies and this was being regulated to a decent extent. The DLF hopitality staff was very polite about it all. "Im sorry sir, but this particular area is reserved for SAB TV, you can take your choice from any of the seats which do not have a sticker on them" This did upset (to put it mildly) people who had paid Rs20,000 per ticket for each member of their family, but the staff did try to be as polite about it as they could.

There was a further diferentiator even within this enclosure beyond the owners/sponsor ticket holders/ ticket buyers. Some got blue paper hand bracelet tags, some got pink plastic and some got red leather. All that I could figure was that the red leather bracelets could walk in front of Shilpa, Shamita and Raj get an autograph/photograph/smile, while the others were kept a fair distance away by her personal security. 2 burly rude goras who snarled at even the littlest kids who wanted an autograph. Such behavior was uncalled for, as the crowd within this particular enclosure was quite well mannered for the most part. But maybe the snarling, scared the trouble makers away. There were quite a few Delhiites in the audience who suddenly switched allegiance to Rajasthan just to get Shilpa's attention. Each time Pathan hit a 6, they would spring out of their seat.. First check to see if they had by chance caught her attention and then look back at the grounds and continue their half hearted jig.

For all of that, she herself was pretty obliging towards her fans who were at a distance. Before the match started and during the strategic time out and break, the stalls next to us would suddenly erupt screaming her name and she would turn around and oblide them with a smile and wave. This behavior obviously did not continue once the 1st over of the 2nd half was bowled.

After this the crowd had to content themselves with blowing kisses at the cheerleaders. I read somewhere that 50 of them have been hired 40 South African and 10 Ukrainians on standby. Thackeray's next target anyone?

The cheerleaders closest to us were clearly even less interested in the game than I was. They were normally just sitting on their seats, backing the grounds, having their little conversations in their groups of 3. They knew it was time to do a little jig when the music started to play and when it stopped, they duly climbed down to revert to their conversations.

Coming to the game, there was obviously huge excitement when Karthik and Pathan hit their sixes into the various enclosures. Fortunately unlike baseball, if a spectator catches a ball, he can't keep it, so the scrambles to get ahold of the ball weren't too vicious.

Perspective is sorely lacking when you watch a match at the ground. You have to keep checking the large screens to see if the ball had been stopped before it touched the boundary line. Unless you are following the game really closely, you lose track of who is at bat. In this regard the big screens really help you stay up-to-date.Perspective improves slightly as you climb higher. The stalls had 3 tiers. So I assume the top tiers would have the best overall perspective. Suprisingly, the stadium was completely full. Cricket in India, can draw more crowds than even Big Bazaar's annual sales

Sitting outside in the heat can get quite oppressive in Delhi's summers. So, while it is already hitting 40C during the day, we were fortunate that it at least cools down in the evenings, without the oppressive humidity of Bombay's summers.

Food and drink are complimentary in this particular enclosure (as compared to a minimum 100% mark up on soft drinks and packaged snacks in the stands). The refrigerators were self service although there were bar tenders who would serve you wine, alcohol and beer in appropriate glassware.

There were waiters serving finger foods like kebabs and corn cakes and stuff, but this was only inside, in the bar area. The inside area was divided into 2 horizontally. One half for bar and snacks and the other half for dinner.

Dinner was an average spread that wasn't great tasting food, (don't buy the ticket, hoping to make up the price on the food) but it wasn't terrible either. Chicken biryani (one of the few good things on the menu), chole pulav, chicken curry, paneer curry, grilled fish, potato curry, rotis. A salad table, a fruit table, a dosa counter and 3 types of dessert - a layered chocolate mousse cake, a dryer date and walnut tea cake with custard on the side and moong dal ki hawla.

We did leave after the 8th wicket fell, as there was no chance of a turnaround and because we did not want to get caught in the outgoing rush. It was a good thing that we did, because there was so much barricading on the way out that we had to walk for almost 2 kilometers from our gate to our exit on to the road. Fire and stampede hazard anyone?

Has the experience made me convert? Well, while on the ground I had no choice, I couldnt carry a book or my laptop in, so I had to watch the game in between my people watching and behavior observing. Being in Delhi, the sheer crowd energy can make even a reluctant cricket watcher happy when the team scores a boundary or drops a wicket of the opposition. But will it carry forward? Well, he's watching the Kolkatta KnightRiders vs Deccan Chargers and I'm in the other room at my desk, blogging about it. Enough said. . .

Also published on desicritics.org
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