Pratima chabbi portfolio


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Pratima chabbi portfolio

  3. 3. Shivaji Military Hotel Feast on aromatic Maratha flavours at Bangalore’s 80 year old establishment where the Rao brothers believe that food is good when it’s simple, authentic and communal. When Manaji Rao inaugurated his entrepreneurial venture, Shivaji Military Hotel in Bangalore in the early 1930s, he plunged into an industry that was new to him with no experience whatsoever. He wanted to give people a feel of the food he grew up with and celebrate Maratha cuisine. And Manaji did just that, the self-assured entrepreneur in him opened a small hotel in a busy locale of the city and served meat-heavy Maratha dishes. Eight decades later, the food is still distinctly Maratha and continues to bring out daily specials each day. Manaji’s grandsons, Rajeev and Lokesh Rao took over from their father, M. Laxman Rao after completing their graduation. They are now the heart of the business and play multi-faceted roles, from inventory and supply control to heading the kitchen and manning the front desk. Many a times, both are seen walking around the dining area, interacting with the patrons and making sure they get seats in due time. Sometime back, the institution moved its location to a much more spacious, stone structured premise near Banashankari Bus Stand. A small rectangular, clear-cut signage displays the name of the hotel and its timings, walk in and a flight of stairs lead you to the dining area on the first floor, the space is a huge hall, a kind of a mess with tables and chairs spread out. It’s packed at meal timings and you often see people patiently waiting to get a table. The waiters are polite and efficient and serve food on banana leaves. At Shivaji, you eat and serve yourself using your hands. For many of the people, Shivaji Military “has stuck to its roots, where you experience home-style Maratha food with no frills what so over” And those words are true, there is just one single menu at the entrance placed on the billing desk. The menu has been unchanged for some time now, what only changes is the price; new prices are stuck atop the old one in paper. Even the cashier system is manual; the brothers use a paper ledger which keeps track of the daily billing. The menu includes breakfast items like Dosa, Leg Soup, Mutton Biryani and Khima. Each one of these items begin to make way into the dining area as early as 8 am and as noon strikes guests can even ask for multiple chicken and mutton dry dishes. The most expensive dish during their grandfather’s time was the Biryani, which sold for a grand sum of six to eight annas. Their name, came from the concept of restaurants that started then in South India; Military hotels were run by Hindu communities that typically served meat, poultry and sea food while their counterpart were the Udupi joints that served pure vegetarian food. The fixed menu that they operate under, give customers a chance to come back multiple times to get their dose of the Shivaji’s specials. Arrive a little later at breakfast or lunch; chances are that some of the items would be sold out. Both, Rajeev and Lokesh assure you that every item is made fresh for the day and if any of it was to run out, then it is available only the following day. Nothing is
  4. 4. stocked overnight, neither the meat nor the stock. All of it is prepared as the morning sun trickles into the sky. Every style of preparation is fundamentally Maratha style; even the ingredients are used in a certain efficient manner. The recipes used by the brothers are those they learnt from their father, the same that his grandfather used in the original hotel he started in Nagarpet 80 years ago. Not even a feather touch of change has been observed in the way the dishes are cooked and the way the food tastes. But, the donne Biryani has always been Shivaji’s most enticing meal. This rice heavy creation is prepared in huge copper vessels over charcoal stoves and served in a leaf container (hence the name, donne) The rice captures its flavourful essence from the simmering stock, the meat that accompanies the rice is wonderfully molten in consistency and the rice is engulfed with smoky feel from the charcoal dome with an intense yet subtle Rao’s secret masala blend. What goes extremely well with the Biryani is a spicy stew. Call in for a plate each of the Mutton Roast and Chicken roast– tender, juicy chunks of meat doused in varying heady masalas. A look around Shivaji during its busy hours and there is one movement in loop at all tables - finger licking! Shivaji Military Hotel has continued to hold a steady foot in the market even after 80 years. The owners have let the hotel evolve organically and catering to the local people has been the focal point. Location and décor have been of least concern to them and their food has spoken so much over the years that people travel across the city to eat there. They use natural, local, freshly ground spices and the food is cooked in the simplest way possible. Quality, consistency and taste of the food are the reasons for which people keep coming back to Shivaji. And add to that the warmth of familiarity that these places spread out, that once you start visiting, you can never stop going there. Queens This tiny eatery stands strong in the galli it set its roots in, with an enduring ability to constantly deliver robust familiar home-like food that is nourishing, satisfying and soothing. Mrs Soneelam Chodha discovered her love for food as a young girl and recognized early on that the most essential ingredient for a perfect meal is an individual touch. All the years she spent at home with her mother, observing her cook and later on in her own kitchen instilled in her a deep understanding that flavours from a home kitchen are unique and the simplest of ingredients can turn into a delicious melange. What began as a hobby gradually turned into a passion and almost immediately a desire to create for others. So, in 1974, she decided to extend her food beyond family and friends to young students, office goers and travellers who dreamed of “simple, home-style food”. While the logistics and economics were overwhelming, Mrs Chodha deeply wanted to prepare good food. Her husband, Mr. Anil Kumar, immediately supported her saying “this is your venture, go
  5. 5. ahead, run the show, I will back you”. And her father solved two of her biggest concerns – he brought in cooks from Calcutta to Bangalore and helped her name the place. More so, every family member contributed to the creation of Queens. Her son, then a first year architecture student, created a space exactly how his mother envisioned it. Queens is anything but palatial; it is tiny and yet has an intensely ethnic theme that takes you in. The walls are rich beige and adorned with striking tribal style engraving. “Even today, people appreciate the decor and thoughts of re-doing the interiors don’t go too far”, she adds. Queens is always brimming with laughter and conversation. Its tables are occupied by diners dipping their hands into brass plates filled with various, piping hot concoctions. She credits some portion of the simple and strictly north Indian menu to her customers. “People would recommend dishes, I would prepare them and serve them as special for the day and eventually all dishes became fixed on the menu”, she recalls. At Queens, the variety of food on offer is remarkable. Starting with tangy, mouth-watering chaats or chatpata starters, the main course dishes too are in abundance. Among meats, the Methi Chicken is intensely fresh with flavours of fenugreek tangled into tender cubes of chicken, and the Mutton Rogan Ghosh screams authenticity. The vegetarian dishes outnumber the meats and stand out by themselves, each bursting with vibrant colours and crisp freshness. During season, Sarson Da Saag and Makki Di Roti will warm your senses. The homely feel does not end here: she offers hearty, soul-satisfying desserts like kheer, halwa, jamun and kulfi. While running a restaurants’ kitchen seemed daunting compared to her little kitchen at home, Mrs Chodha single-handedly trained every cook. And even though the small kitchen could not accommodate a tandoor, she converted this hindrance into an opportunity by preparing parathas and phulkas every single day herself until the day her cooks assured her they could mirror her skill. The phulka is still one of Queens’s notable items. “Because we are a singular small restaurant, my husband and I still head out to the neighbourhood bazaar to buy fresh produce, we take time and select each ingredient especially the meats.” Since quality is highly stressed upon, Mrs. Chodha makes sure that even today; she boils and cleans all the pulses. And during bulk orders, she is still overseeing herself and getting things done. Today, Church Street is a nucleus of restaurants, brimming with shiny facades of numerous restaurants. Yet little has changed for Queens since its inception. Now into its 38th year, Queens radiates a sense of strength that is timeless. What lies within it is an aura to make people happy and brings back memories of mothers and grandmothers and an appreciation of those hands that work to put together a perfect meal.
  7. 7. Eco chamber Urmila VG’s solo exhibition issues a cautionary message about mankind’s wanton ways American marine biologist and conservationist Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring begins with a myth, “A Fable for Tomorrow,” in which Carson describes “a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings.” Urmila VG’s solo exhibition at Gallery Five Forty Five, Have Space. Will Grow, evokes the sense of symbiosis that informs Carson’s work, which has become a source text for the environmental movement that took root in the US in the late ’60s. Urmila’s art is smart, cool, dry and humorous: it becomes abundantly clear at first view that her work is almost gregariously inclusive; it’s meant for the cognoscenti as well as the know-nothings. In emphasizing its temporality, Have Space. Will Grow assures the viewer that the work on display is an echo of the times we live in. Painted with earnest care, this series of nine woodcuts – four in dimensions of 24x32 inches and five in 32x24 inches – are composed of deep hues, hypnotic concentric circles, patterns, leaves and flowers, and are inhabited by everyday household objects: a gas cylinder, a transistor, a steam iron, a pair of shoes, and so on. Along with the woodcuts, 25 photographs of 6x8 inches each, made by Urmila and carrying the same theme, are also displayed at the show. The artist, who graduated from Chitrakala Parishath in 2003, after which she spent three years studying printmaking at the Vishwabharati University, Shantiniketan, said she spent her youth in Bangalore studying the city’s ecosystem, and its ability to adapt to “space and situation”. These observations gave a Thoreauvian impulse to her art. “My preoccupation and concerns about the environmental issues in urban living have naturally reflected in this current series of woodcut works,” she said. “I have tried to focus on the need for coexistence and also on nature itself becoming adaptable with humans by finding new, unusual places to grow.” Her naturalist tendencies are evident in Urmila’s preferred technique. Woodcut is a basic printmaking aspect of art dating back to the sixteenth century. First, a wood plank is cut with tools so that an image is left in relief, that is, all parts of the image that are not to print are cut away. Then the image, now in relief, is inked with pigment. Finally a sheet of paper is laid upon the inked block, pressure is applied and a transfer of the image is obtained on the surface of the paper. “Colour woodcuts are a little more complicated. After printing each shade, the artist needs to cut the block further to retain the previous colour before printing the next one,” Urmila explained. “This is done meticulously with registration points on the corners of woodblocks which match those on the paper.” There is thus a corporeality to the work Urmila creates. “Inhabit 2”, for instance, illustrates a red cylinder through which emerge bashful mimosa flowers – they’re set against a grey background, furrowed with white concentric circles. “Sounding my trumpet” holds at its centre an old transistor radio from which issue two charming hibiscus flowers floating in a field of brown. Both the woodcuts flaunt a play between abstraction and representation, conveying the artist’s concerns with abstract ecosystems and material objects. All of Urmila’s works suggest ’60s tones, textures
  8. 8. and treatment. “Illuminated Life” features a bulb growing shoots of leaves composed on a bright yellow background, while “Inhabit 1” bears the imprint of concentric circles watermarked on an extravagant peach background, with large patterns in front of which sits an iron box growing a flower plant. Along with her principal theme of coexistence, Urmila’s art announces fears echoed in several pop cultural discourses – inconvenient truths, if you will – on mankind’s exploitative tendencies, and the whirlwind this avaricious species is bound to reap. This sense of a post-apocalyptic reality, brought to life by everyone from the Sumerians to JG Ballard to Roland Emmerich, assumes an almost poetic quality in Urmila’s work. Humans have never lacked for stuff, her work proclaims. What people have made and preserved can boggle the eye and there could be a day when these collected items will be the means for nature's survival. Bear necessities The artists Pors & Rao are back with a (re-worked) collection of their wonderfully quirky fictions Look above. A thick, black, faux fur shaped in the form of a big teddy bear hangs over you. Various sized fibre optic lights are spread randomly across the fur. The bright, yellow, tiny lights illuminate your eyes, like the twinkling stars in the dark sky. The bear mirrors the night. This is Teddy Universe, an installation by Bangalore artists Aparna Rao and Søren Pors that is a part of their show Applied Fiction (re-worked) at GALLERYSKE. The title points to the obvious, of course, but it also surprises – the collection presents five, electro-mechanical, interactive installations that embody fictitious expressions: they are sensitive and responsive, full of humour and irony. The most striking example of this is the Uncle Phone: an oversized, elongated receiver. “My uncle used to sometimes insist that I assist him in making a phone call by dialing a number for him,” said Rao of the origins of the exhibit. “In the Indian context, it’s a really bad thing to deny these simple requests, and yet, if these requests become the cause of so many disruptions in your daily life, there is a need to rationalise it somehow. Just the proposition of having to communicate something very simple and innocuous to an uncle can become a very complex and difficult thing due to the issue of respect – it’s all so culturally coded.” Rao said she felt the urge to address these “feelings of complexity, which were challenging to put into words”. “I needed to find a way to express or even think about it,” she said. “That was how it all started. I am quite satisfied with how the phone addressed this need – in an inquiring and affectionate way, without making a really big drama.” Rao met Pors, a Dane, in 2002, when she was on a two-year research scholarship programme at the Interaction Design Institute in Italy. Since 2004, they have collaborated as Pors & Rao; living and working in Bangalore. Their work, according to Rao, comes into being after going through a set, structured process which involves drawing, research, making models with cardboard, wire mesh and, sometimes, clay. The resulting objects are
  9. 9. then scanned and rendered as digital 3D models and animations to which “physics is added” on a computer to simulate how they’d behave in the real world. Then, Pors and Rao work with technicians who specialise in the mechanics of imparting mobility to the objects. “The most important thing for us has been finding the right mentor and collaborators. A very experienced hands-on robotics scientist is mentoring us, and this helps us foresee technical challenges at the outset of a project,” said Rao. “I take care of the mechanical and physical aspects like fabrication, hardware, materials, while Søren focuses more on the behavioural aspects, the algorithms and the software.” Interacting with their installations can be a deeply enjoyable experience. For instance, Heavy Hat, a mechanical caricature of an upside down man in a constrained circular space whose heavy thoughts are poured into his hat, elicits an almost uncontrollable urge to lunge to the poor fellow’s assistance. There is chicanery at work here, of course: the caricature never falls down completely. “This particular work was very technically challenging, we worked very hard, like most of our work, and it took years to get the mechanics, equilibrium and dynamics right,” Rao said. “It was very important for us to get the moment of fall because if we didn’t, the man would fall, he would damage himself and if he did not fall enough, we would miss creating a feeling in the viewer” The cool sophistication and the recondite intricacies of the technology Pors and Rao use to create their installations belie the child-like sense of wonder that animate their purpose. “We are really curious to see how other people respond to the work – what behavioural mechanisms and thoughts they trigger. It is quite satisfying if other people connect to something we also feel deeply connected to,” Rao said. “Our interest lies mostly in the discovery of the thing or ‘being’ that is inside our head and in creating it as accurately as possible. That is what we obsess about.” Republic daze Five local artists draw attention to the notion of nationhood through the dynamics of their practice On January 26, 1950, the Indian Constitution was formally adopted and a new, different polity took form in the country. For the last six decades the Republic of India has, as the historian Ramachandra Guha puts it in his recent collection of essays, Patriots and Partisans, entered into a “heroic and flawed compact with nationhood and democracy”. This mystifying and unruly evolution is the subject of Re: Public, a group show at Gallery Five Forty Five. Anthony Roche, Estee Oarsed, Ravi Kumar Kashi, Shivanand B, and Pradeep Kumar DM, the five artists who are displaying their works at the gallery, are unified, if not by method and disposition, then by the intention to “fire up a dialogue between the five ‘Ps’ of an organized representative democracy”: politics, power, patriotism, popular culture and the people. The show is instructive as well as provocative: it combines the essences of various forms of media with the concepts that buttress the notion of statehood in an attempt to urge the viewer to think of the several interconnected layers that shape our collective present.
  10. 10. Organized by the curator of modern and contemporary art Lina Vincent Sunish, this exhibition gathers the individual expressions of artists connected to the idea of “republic” through a contemporary Indian urban experience. Sunish herself holds the term at a critical distance, offering it more as a proposition rather than thrusting it as a polemic. “Think of ‘republic’ and one first thinks of politics and patriotism, but what did it mean on January 26, 1950?” she wrote in an email. “It meant that the Constitution of India created a system of governing that derived its power from the people. So it’s to do with people’s choices. But then look at the factions in contemporary society, how do patriotism, politics and power go along with the people, and what role do urban artists play? These are the questions that arose.” The works on display are as disparate as the politics of what Guha terms a salad-bowl nation – a salmagundi of styles and media. For instance, there are five pen-and-ink works by Kumar which explore urban situations. These represent the artist’s ruminations about the development of city spaces. “My work has always reflected the stylized narrative forms and decorative elements related to the visual language of the Lambanis, my native culture,” said Kumar, referring to the itinerant tribes of northern Karnataka. “Migrating from a semi-rural region to a city like Bangalore was a large transformation. Fantasy and reality overlap as I move between external encounters and internal experience and attempt to tie a thread of understanding through the chaos that is contemporary life.” The gallery offers more than 130 Gandhi topis drawn with permanent marker displayed in the manner of clothes hung out to dry on wires. To Kashi, the artist who has strung up these oblong caps, a Gandhi topi, the symbolic headgear of politicians and political activists during the campaign for Indian independence, turned into a symbol of venality after the nation was liberated and, more recently, has found a fresh lease of life during the anti-corruption movement of Anna Hazare. Kashi draws symbols on them referring to emblems of the political class (both of fully-functional parties and those logos that are displayed on the Election Commission of India’s website). “The idea of hanging these topis on a clothes line is to establish that no matter how much dirty linen is washed in public, the Gandhi topi cannot revert to its ‘original’ pure and white status,” Kashi averred. “The action of the political class leaves permanent marks on the nation and people’s lives.” In the representation of those dangling caps, toiling immigrants, cavilling netas and railing citizenry, there is this modus: the artists take something – an idea, a symbol – from the past and cause it to mutate. This is evident in the curator’s definition of the show. “I am attempting to make a conceptual link between the political world and the art world,” Sunish said. “Fine art is considered ‘high art’, everything else; including folk and popular is ‘low’. This polarity makes it a space for interesting insights, particularly when it is positioned in a gallery. This is where the ‘play’ comes in. Would people perhaps be given a choice, ‘vote’ for their favourite fine artist, or type of art?”
  11. 11. French benefits Sebastian Cortés’ new exhibition is an insightful journey into life in Pondicherry Photographer Sebastian Cortés devoted four years to Pondicherry. The resultant series of pictures, an examination of contemporary life in the town on the country’s eastern shores, and the vestiges of its French past, is keenly observed and presents some surprises. About 30 of these images constitute a new exhibition at the gallery Tasveer, named simply “Pondicherry”. They are arrayed in the manner of a fictional tale, concealing within it the drama of metaphorical spaces, the tranquility of quiet neighbourhoods and human faces bearing the imprint of a long and byzantine history. The show also documents sights that form an insightful survey of the ordinariness of people living everyday lives in one particular place; it’s a work that recalls the approach of the contemporary pastoralist, Richard Benson. The series is also presented as a handsome coffee book published by Roli in which Cortés collaborated with writers such as Akash Kapur, Pascal Bruckner and Amin Jaffer, who offer diverse analyses at understanding life in Pondicherry.“I wanted to unveil and put on paper a very specific series of sensations, which the city of Pondicherry evoked in me,” said Cortés. “I wanted to record these sensations, emotions and some ‘facts’, which I felt lingered in the air.” The photographer used an approach that involved a high degree of discipline, patience, extended research and very careful editing: “I never wanted to discard the obvious nor be too taken by the nostalgic,” he declared. “I worked with a certain balance which bordered on the scientific.” Cortés was born in 1959 to a Peruvian father Hector Cortés and an Italian mother Elizabeth Cortés (also a photographer) from Venice. His mother’s family traces its origins to the “beginning of the city and gave to its history, and Italy, one Pope, Rezzonico and the Doge Foscari, the longest reigning elected ruler of the Republic of Venice. Cortés’ biography speaks of a man with many such antecedents: genetic, artistic and historic, and of his intense experience in his stay in the early eighties in the US, where he studied at New York University Film School. Here, he said he experienced “unforgettable times of an intense immersion in the contemporary art, photography and social scenes of the day”. “My mother, having been a photographer, cluttered the house with prints and visits from personalities, actors, models and photographers,” he recalled. “Her darkroom was down the hall from my bedroom and the smell of fixer and developer would permeate our house in Florida. The magic of images appearing out of light is part of my childhood, as was posing for my mother, who used my brother and me as models for some of her work. The world of photography – the special language and license that it offers – is for me a dimension where I feel at home and in control”. While assorted and disparate, the breadth of his photography contains recurrent harmonies. “[According to me] Fashion is pageantry, fiction and almost cinematic. Lifestyle is entering and recording the geometry of life. Portraiture is a very difficult balancing act which reveals much about both the photographer and the sitter. Fine art is bringing your craft to a ‘special place’,” he said. “For me the transition is only in the tempo of the action, the nuance of the way you use the instruments
  12. 12. and how you prepare mentally.” This is evident in the list of influences Cortés cites: the glamour of Richard Avedon and Irvin Penn, portraits of Annie Leibovitz, nudes of Robert Mapplethorpe, the visions of William Eggleston and the documentary style of Mary Ellen Mark and Bruce Davidson, and the elegant layouts in Vogue, constructed by the art director Alexey Brodovitch. Indian photographers like Raghubir Singh and Dayanita Singh, largely influenced him in understanding the social anatomy of the Indian landscape, he added. Cortés’ images exhibit his interest in anthropology and his obsession with recording inhabited spaces and people, and his visuals are the product of his “need to understand the world around, to freeze geometric shapes and to unveil mysteries of the past and present”. “To what extent all these produce a ‘feel’ is an alchemy of many elements, which also includes the viewer,” said Cortés. “I share the view of the photographer Garry Winogrand, who, when asked why he took pictures, said, ‘Because I want to see what something looks like when it’s photographed’.” Do the tryst Now that the art season’s upon us, Pratima Chabbi examines Bangalore’s café-withinthe-creative-space phenomenon. In the late nineteenth century, when Rao Bahadur Arcot Narayanaswami Mudaliar busied himself erecting the Ionic porticoes of Bangalore’ Old Public Offices underneath the beryl canopy of what would soon come to be called Meade’s Park, the city’s busiest agora had begun to define its perimeter. This green expanse, later renamed in honour of the longest-serving commissioner of Mysore, Mark Cubbon, was where the city’s (or at least the cantonment’s) life of leisure and ideas centred – concerts at the Bandstand, shards of ancient history at the State Archaeological Museum, an enfilade of rooms containing literary works at the Seshadri Iyer Memorial Hall. Bangalore’s early relationship with Cubbon Park, which signalled the marination of creative enterprise in the city’s public spaces, has, over the last century – and in particular the last decade – moved indoors, into the café. It is, as the Gallophile writer Edward King said of 1860s’ Paris, where the “world centres twice, thrice daily; it is at the café; it gossips at the café, it intrigues and the café; it plots, it dreams, it suffers, it hopes, at the café”. The most recent example of the creative space enfolding within its confines a café, with each providing artists, actors, writers, musicians and the conversariat room to draw, act, write, sing and converse, is the Courtyard Café, which is located in the “creative common ground” Jaaga. “We always dreamt of an ideal Jaaga where we had a cafe at its centre,” said Archana Prasad, co-founder and director of the space. “When we shifted from Shantinagar to Double Road [KH Road] in June 2011; [the architect] Sharath Reddy had thought it would be ideal to open a cafe that he had in the planning in the same space. The Courtyard Café sort of completes the picture in the sense that food, music, and work space all co-exist in one space.”
  13. 13. Since Jaaga’s structure is built up and the cafe is designed as an open courtyard, the two work well together: the café breaks away from the formal exhibition and performance space, providing a “transparent, relaxing environment with no boundaries”. It fosters, as Anu Biswas, a young illustrator taking time off her twelfth standard routine, stated, a sense of community. “The cafe has its regulars: co-workers and just people who enjoy hanging out,” she said. “When I did a series of illustrations of the space, I tried putting them in. Conversations with them grew as they recognised themselves in the pictures.” The first concerted effort at creating such a space in Bangalore was made at Ranga Shankara, in 2004, with the opening of the café that sat as an adjunct to the performance space. “It was designed by theatre actor Sheeba Chadha (from Mumbai),” said writer, director, journalist and RS habitué, Nirmala Ravindran. “It had mismatched, beautiful furniture, a canopy made of colourful canvas, theatre lights and other objects for decor, most of it made by actors and volunteers. It was always packed – filled with actors, directors, writers, and tons of students. It looked beautiful, vibrant and was always bustling with various kinds of people and activities.” “For patrons and actors, Chez Anju and Café de la liberté is an extension of the cultural space, the culture of the place is also about exchanging and sharing views, without this, the experience sometimes would be incomplete,” said Anuradha Narayan, Culture and Communications, Alliance Francaise. “The café at RS makes the place I work at infinitely better. I know where I can grab a quick bite and head back to the day’s work” said Pritham Kumar, a lighting designer and theatre practitioner “That place spawned a lot a great ideas: It isn’t where you go to unwind; you go there to get wound up.” Such spaces nourish ideas and provide impetus for collectives to form, as is evidenced in several initiatives that were born at Courtyard Café. Travellers Thursday is one such example. “Santosh Kumar and his crew are some of our most loyal customers and after hanging out at the cafe for a couple of weeks, and being part of a film screening by another group, slowly a small idea to screen travel-specific films started to take shape,” said Jagaa’s Archana Prasad. “Today this is one of the key monthly events at the space, and it brings together hundreds of travellers.” Similarly, the café at the city’s National Gallery of Modern Art draws hundreds of itinerants every month. However, unlike at Jaaga, here there’s a clear demarcation between the eatery and the gallery: the Sabavalas sit at a remove from the samosas. Shobha Nambisan, the Gallery’s first director said the café served a purely practical purpose: that of offering “artists and visitors some kind of refreshment to round off their visit to such a prestigious establishment”. While there is the unstated opinion held by administrators that the Gallery is meant to be a quiet space, with the artworks occupying positions of prominence, and without the possibility of a café’s noisy intrusion, there have been attempts to, in a sense, unite the coffee drinkers and the exhibits – the gallery displays collages on the walls of the café from time to time. No matter how you look at it, the café at the NGMA will always appear to be an afterthought – this is first and foremost a gallery, of modern art. There are establishments in the city that take the
  14. 14. opposite view. The Fat Chef at Jagriti Theatre typifies such a space. “The theatre opened in January and restaurant within a few months, in March,” said Jagdish Raja, Director – Development at Jagriti. “The Fat Chef gives everyone the opportunity to round off an evening with a meal and a glass of wine. Cuisine is an aspect of culture and our whole thought was to give the artists and patrons a complete experience.” The definition of this experience can be as varied as the various artistic denominations to which the city’s creative folk adhere. Whereas Jagriti’s Raja views The Fat Chef as a fully-appointed chic restaurant, Jaaga’s Archana Prasad considers The Courtyard Café to be more of a social experiment. “These spaces provide for a coming out, as it were, from the confines of the studio where one is by practice inward facing in their thought process,” said Prasad. “Enabling the artist a place which feels as comfortable or familiar as their living room or studio, but where one can encounter a conversation – an outward facing part of the creative process, without the burden of hosting or having to deal with an invasion of private space.”
  15. 15. UNPUBLISHED WORKS ( Black Box and Blue Glow
  16. 16. It had been 10 days since Appa was away, travelling on work. I was lying on Amma’s stomach, my head between her breasts, as she read a magazine. Mohini sat next to us, painting. After a few minutes, I jumped off the bed and went to sit in the balcony, gazing at the street below. Satyam uncle looked up and waved, and I waved back. I called out to Brownie who was sitting at the gate, and he tilted his head, cocked his ears in excitement and wagged his tail. Far in the distance I heard a familiar horn and I knew Appa was home. As soon as I saw the car, I ran to the door and left it half open; I stood behind it, hiding so he would not see me. I could hear his footsteps as he climbed the stairs. I waited patiently until he entered and sat on the sofa. I ran from the other end and jumped into his lap. He wore his deep-grey suit, a sky blue shirt and a blue striped tie. His brown rimmed glasses perched perfectly and defined the symmetry of his face. He handed me a white plastic bag and said in his deep, burly voice, “Purni, put this in the fridge.” “What is in here, Appa?” I asked, and he said, “I will show you later.” I held the bag tightly in my fists and tucked it away, deep into the fridge. I returned to the room to watch Mohi at her drawing until I heard Amma call, “Come along for dinner, you both.” After dinner, as we cleared the dishes, Appa settled into the sofa with the white plastic bag, a pair of scissors, a knife, a matchbox and a bottle of leftover rum. I observed him; he gave me a gleaming smile and simply said, “Come soon.” Amma sat next to him on the sofa, and I sat in Mohi’s lap, opposite them. I was filled with excitement and held Mohi’s hands tightly. As Appa untied the knot of the plastic bag, I could see a black square cardboard box. He slid the box out and used the scissors to neatly cut the Sellotape that held the box together. He opened the box and removed a dark chocolate cake. I jumped off Mohi’s lap and darted to lick off the chocolate from the corners. Appa cautioned me, lightly, “Wait, not yet!” Mohi pulled me back up onto her lap. Amma opened the rum bottle and lightly sprinkled the rum all over the cake. Appa waited for a few minutes and then looked at me and said, “Purni now watch closely, Mohi hold her tight”; he lit a matchstick and held it over the cake, barely touching it. A bright blue flame spread over the cake and we heard a swoosh like noise as the flame went off. It was quick yet really slow at the same time. I sat there, transfixed, and screamed, “Once more Appa,” and he sportingly repeated the process. This time, I watched carefully and I observed something I had not seen before. I froze as this magic unfolded in front of me. Appa cut each of us large portions of the cake. As I bit into it, the smoky, rum taste spread all over my tongue before the sweetness of the chocolate emerged. I sat on Appa’s leg and he watched me as I ate the cake, little bites in my little mouth, broken with big smiles and shiny eyes. He watched us eat with intense avidity yet enjoying every flavour that burst into our mouths. I held Amma and Appa tightly, curling my body into theirs and them kissed good night. I walked back to my room and lay down next to Mohi. This particular night was imbibed with a feeling of magic and dreaminess. My mind remained transfixed by the image of the fire going off on the cake. I replayed the entire scene at the table again and again in my mind. I realized that more than the tangible things—the rum, scissors, knife—it was the intangible that made me happiest; the
  17. 17. excitement of Appa’s return, Mohi and me hugging each other tight, the feeling I got when the smoky cake met my tongue, and Appa’s magic trick. The trick was his little way of expressing his joy at being around us again. And he used tricks like this, around the dinner table, several nights a week. He shaped and nurtured our family through these simple acts of eating, through which he was slowly creating, collecting and treasuring the stories of our lives. Magic bowl, magic wand Laxmi was lolling on the floor in the dining room, flipping through a Tinkle digest. ‘Laxmi, I am going to use the magic bowl today’, shouted Amma from the kitchen. Amma got no response, so she walked into the dining room and yelled out again, ‘Its magic bowl time today!’ Laxmi sprung up and raced into the kitchen. The pale white kitchen was a large rectangular room; a brown fridge stood right at the entrance on its left, to its side, a solid granite kitchen counter. Amma had arranged all her spices and kitchen essentials in in-built racks on the opposite wall. Attached to the kitchen, was a balcony that overlooked other houses of other people from other buildings. Laxmi walked in and slipped in the space between the fridge and the counter and stood against the fridge. She loved its perfect warm temperature. She held Amma by her legs and stuck her face in Amma's saree. ‘Amma, come, let's do it now’. Amma turned around, placed a kiss on Laxmi's head and said, ‘I have some things to finish, but in the meantime, you start’. Laxmi ran back out and dragged a high chair into the kitchen and placed it near the sink. She stood on top and pulled out a round steel plate at first. She jumped down and placed it in the centre of the kitchen floor. She hopped back again and pulled out six round steel bowls and sat herself down and placed the six round bowls neatly on the round plate. Then, she waited. Amma began one by one, ‘It’s red and fiery’. Laxmi ran towards the rack and pulled out the red chilli powder container. ‘Bright yellow in colour’: she ran to get the turmeric powder. ‘Light brown, chunky and sweet’, to which she collected jaggery. For the next half hour, Amma gave out little clues describing every ingredient, and Laxmi, listened, imagined and collected everything Amma needed. Amma emptied a spoonful of each ingredient into the bowl, after which she walked towards the wall with the racks and kneeled down to pull out a large mortar carved from gray sparkling granite. Laxmi followed her and pulled out a pestle made out of the same stone, with both her hands, clutching it tight to her chest. She walked carefully with it and gently placed it on the floor next to the mortar. Amma pulled the plate of spices and kept it by her side. Slowly, she emptied each bowl into the large stone mortar. Laxmi sat opposite her with her chin resting on her hands and watched her. After Amma emptied the contents of all the six bowls, she held the pestle tightly with her right
  18. 18. hand, applied firm pressure and made stirring motion to grind the ingredients. The jingling of the Amma’s bangles and the pok pok sound of the pestle against the mortar filled the kitchen with a real feeling, a feeling of joy, a joy of performance. Amma stirred vigorously, stopped and cupped the paste and put it back in the centre to start all over again. Soon enough, Laxmi walked to the other side and sat on Amma’s lap and bent her head backwards. She looked up at Amma’s face from below. She smiled a wide smile, saying ‘Amma, can I do it now’? ‘Okay, come, hold my hand’. Laxmi’s little hand held Amma’s hand and together they sat and stirred. They collected the paste together and started all over again. This went on for the next few minutes. Towards the end, Amma put a little paste in Laxmi’s mouth to which her eyes narrowed, brows furrowed, nose crinkled and her lips puckered into a round, tight little mass. Amma got up to empty the paste into a bowl, while Laxmi continued to sit on the floor. Her doe-like eyes were staring at the magic bowl, magic wand and the empty plate and bowls on the floor. As she looked at them, she realized that they were no more just containers to her. Each of them was a vessel filled with a perfect memory of her with Amma at home, in the kitchen. Laxmi knew then why Amma called them the magic bowl and magic wand - they spun out magical things to eat, they spun out a warm, intimate feeling as Amma’s hands met Laxmi’s, they produced a stew of memories and a tender image of Amma in Laxmi’s heart. Today, when Laxmi sees the magic bowl and magic wand, she is not alone, it has become a way to get to something more, to something else behind it all: to a story, a familiar story with voices, sounds and characters.