India’s Piece of the Renaissance in Ruin.

Bassein IN Ruin

The silence rings through the waist high weeds-green, dense and prickly. I am entangled in the vegetation and yet I walk forward. Thorns pierce through my socks as I brush off the pollen. A rash breaks out as my arms glow red, I know scratching will not help but I do not fight the stimuli. I have realised that in nature’s eye humans are an invasive species. A bulbul watches us from her ivory tower in the mango tree laughing at our endeavour to fight nature’s wall of green. I let myself fall down on the lush wild green grass, close my eyes and think, “I am in Bassein, in search for haunted forts, fallen churches and a lost Portuguese principality-India’s piece of the Renaissance.”

Vasai as we know it now is the site of the ruins of the Portuguese citadel of Bassein. What were once churches, villas and buildings that supported more than 10,000 colonialists is all but overgrown moss ridden stone. I do not know why the Portuguese chose this place to be their imperial capital in India - may be it reminded them of the lavadas of Madiera. If history had played out differently this could have been the site of Bombay [well they would have probably called it something else] and we would have all spoken Portuguese instead of English.

reflections of old.
[The Arched remains of a Church]

A rusted ASI signpost briefs us about the heritage structures we have stumbled upon. The signpost itself is an example of the neglect we see around us. Hugo was the buddy with me on this excursion if you wondering about the ‘we’ in the equation. Hugo, is a Portuguese linguist who is studying the Portuguese Creole spoken in Daman & Diu for his Phd. An ideal guide for a visit to the site of a Portuguese ruin don’t you think ? I asked him to translate some of the inscriptions and fill me on some of the history.

Of all the Portuguese forts still existing in India, Bassien, is one of the most imposing and in a better state of conservation. Today Baçaim is a tangle of ruins, the city has, still well preserved, his imposing boundary walls, with his two access doors ("Porta do Mar" and "Porta da Terra") and his 10 bastions. Scattered inside the walls there are the ruins of numerous town-houses and churches, among other things: the church and the convent of the Dominicans, the Franciscan church of Santo Antonio (with numerous Portuguese tombstones, the remains of the cloister and the ruins of the bell-tower), the church of Nossa Senhora da Vida, the church and convents of the Augustinian, the "Camara" palace, the Misericordia, the church Matriz of S. José, the ruins of the Jesuits church and convent. Well preserved are also the remains of the old citadel of Sao Sebastiao.

[source: colonial voyage]

Taking in the Ruins
[Silhouette of Hugo at the Alter of the Franciscan church of Santo Antonio]

Gravestone Coloured.
[Hugo translated this for me : Here lies an Iberian Dutchess and her heirs.]

Who said drying fish couldn't be beautiful ?
[Who said drying bombil can't be beautiful?]


Vasai by the Sea.

Fisher Women's Tales.
[Warm just like the sun in the morning]


Mother and Child. [Vasai]

Painted Lady
[Painted Lady - Vanessa cardui. We stumbled across a colony of these butterflies. With no gross exageration there were literally a thousand butterflies. ]

One of central reasons I take pictures is to overcome my inarticulacy through imagery. However, sometimes I seem to fail even with the camera in expressing my experiences. Bassien is one of those places which I have failed to express in words, pictures and thought.
If you're interested take a train to Vasai Road and bassein is just a short rickshaw ride away.

Fallen Curtain

A peek into Experimenta 2006
DSC_0043

It was such a pleasant evening, away from my textbooks, at the cultural centre of a former super power, watching experimental movies. The USSR to most of my generation is ancient history and why not ? The Soviet Union ceased to exist in ’91. At the time I was merely 6-therefore my knowledge of the former Soviet Union and the cold war has been defined by news articles, films and people around me. I remember a grainy picture of ‘Gorbachev’ on the front page of the daily newspaper- the bold headline announced the dissolution of USSR. I remember it not because I found it important but because people around me did. It was the end of an era of madness. An era in which a divide in ideology almost drove the world into chaos. Sadly we find ourselves today in another era and a different form of madness; even worse is the overlooked fact that one of the players in this new game of madness is the same.

Why am I launching into rant about the iron curtain you ask ?

Well, it was part of the selection of films I was lucky enough to view at friday’s showing of Experimenta 2006, as part of the short film program curated by Marcel Schwierin titled the “The Fallen Curtain.”
‘The Fallen Curtain" did have a sense of irony in the context of the venue of Experimenta. Short films looking at the Soviet Union being viewed at the building that once was the centre for its culture [in the city] but has now been reduced with a change in name and flag to something else.

The first presentation ‘Cosmic Science’ was a look into some of the scientific contours of the Cold War. The films did deviate from the topic in the end adding some positive breadth to the showing.

“Space the final frontier”

India is a strange country. The number of people I know who want be Aeronautical engineers or Astrophysicists is just crazy. You say the word space and their eyes light up and they would start dreaming about NASA or ISRO or digital telescopes or Boeing….
Their heroes are astronauts, physicists and engineers not cricketers. Most of the names they spelt out to me over and over again were either Russian or American. They could spill out trivia, simple stuff - the first satellite in space or the man in space, to the slightly more complex - what does Soyuz mean, number of American missions to the moon and locations of observatories etc.

In a sense the passion these young Indians have for all things connected with space is an example of the kind of scientific fervour the space race instilled in young Americans and Russians in the 1950s and 1960s. Also in a sense their definition of a future then, of our present now, was a future yet to be seen.

Paint your Silence.

A list of films I saw:


Cosmic Science

Tele news ‘Trailblazer in Space’ USA 1961 35mm (or DVD/NTSC) sound b/w 9min
This newsreel records in detail the saga of Ham, a little chimp’s 18-minute ride through the heavens as part of the Mercury-Redstone 2 mission of 31 January 1961.

Pavel Kogan ‘Gordoe Smirenije’ (Proud Humility) USSR 1965 35mm sound b/w 18min original language
This film is a popular presentation of the histories of the Pulkovsky Observatory, the Kislovodsky astronomical station, and radio astronomy in general. The film’s commentary is provided by the famous science-fiction author Boris Strugatsky, who worked at this observatory.

Ford ‘A Wonderful New World of Fords’ USA 1960 35mm (DVD/NTSC) sound b/w 3min
This is a Ford commercial linking new compact cars (e.g. ‘Ford Galaxy’) to futurism and the space frontier.

Charles and Ray Eames ‘Powers of Ten’ USA 1977 35mm (DVD/NTSC) sound colour 9min
Powers of Ten explores the relative size of things from the microscopic to the cosmic. The film travels from an aerial view of a man in a Chicago park to the outer limits of the universe directly above him and back down into the microscopic world contained in man’s hand.

Phil Donahue Vladimir Pozner ‘A Citizens Summit – Trailer’ USA/USSR 1985 DV sound colour 2min
Phil Donahue Vladimir Pozner ‘A Citizens Summit' – Excerpt’ USA / USSR 1985 DV sound colour 12mins
These ‘space bridges’ involved a satellite link between Seattle and Leningrad, and were broadcast nationwide in the US and USSR. Groups of Americans conversed with groups of Soviet citizens. The project was supported by Gorbachev. A Citizens Summit II – Women to Women (1986) was female only.

Howard Greenhalgh ‘Go West’ (Pet Shop Boys)', UK 1993 DVD sound colour 4min
Go West is a cover version of the Village People song of this name from 1979. Reinterpreted to reflect the decline of the Soviet Union, the aesthetics of totalitarian march-pasts are revived in lavish computer graphics, and the destination of the journey is now the Promised Land of pop capitalism.

Christoph Girardet & Matthias Muller ‘Manual’, Germany 2002 colour 10min
Combines close-ups of redundant technology gleaned from 60s US sci-fi television series with a female voice from a 40s Hollywood melodrama. Manual makes absolute detachment clash with magnified emotion…


The 4th Annual festival of experimental cinema in India is here, better known as Experimenta 2006. As usual it will be a treat to all the über -film buffs (or film goers in general) in the city as they all descend on it like vultures on carrion. The showing includes vintage silent Indian cineam from 1910s in a showing titled FILM ARTIST PHALKE, films from the former USSR (FALLEN CURTAIN) and not to mention the India premiere of Ashim Ahluwalia’s ‘John & Jane’ - a documentary about six call agents who answer American 1-800 numbers in a Mumbai call center.

The festival starts tomorrow (15th February) and runs until the 19th. Yes I'm little late with this bit of infomation but you still could catch the last day today. For more information refer to the schedule.

Next stop Bassein.

B.E.S.T बेस्ट



I leaned precariously on the red coarsely plastered length of wall that made up the front perimeter of the bus stop. A bespectacled man nudges his elbow into my upper torso as he turns the crumpled pages of his evening newspaper. I ignore him and look around me. People around me are engrossed in various activities; like my neighbour here - who is staring open mouthed at today’s Mid-day mate. Or the giggling girls on the pavement behind me chirping about some song they like on the radio as they band their heads together and share a pair of earphones. The middle aged lady in a green sari is juggling linen bags from one hand to another as her shoulders sway till she decides to balance them on her chappals. A line of rickshaws wait patiently and the rickshaw-wallahs peer out at the crowd with a strange longing, trying to make eye contact. I too stand there patiently but my mood quickly turns belligerent as beads of sweat appear on my brow. This is the time of year-sometime around mid-February, when Bombay's pleasant weather dissolves into its usual hot and sultry experience. Oh well that’s life at a bus stop: far more relaxed than a railway station but then again the bus is a far more relaxed medium on the whole.

B.E.S.T Double Decker Bus Bombay
[Read Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport]

Red, rectangular, robust, Leyland, clad in iron and steel and adorned with advertisements peddling some form of life insurance, the bus arrives. I clamber on steadily and before the dust is allowed to settle a bell tinkles and with a jerk we are off. It is hard to balance a bag on your left shoulder, hold on for you life with your right and maneuver the three rupees and fifty paisa required out of your right trouser pocket. But then again with years of practice things become easier.


Scenes from a Bus

"Petit school”, I said as I dealt him the money

Ambedkar road”, the conductor interjected tearing a light green paper ticket.

Petit school”, I shouted back at him, this time with a frown.

Ambedkar road”, he shouts back with equal gusto.

Bus ka Petit School jana bandh ho gaya,” the lady sitting to the left of me adds as the conductor walks past me with a grunt. [hindi : the bus has stopped going to Petit School]

On the Bus

A few minutes later the journey ends just as it had started with a tinkle of the bell but not quite with the jerk. It is time to walk up that darn hill.

Dance is Difficult

"One, two, three, four, in, in, out", continues the series.

DSC_0065

Confused ? Disoriented ? So am I. Dance is not my cup of tea; come to think about it I have two pairs of left feet when it comes to prancing about with pre-synchronized body movements. Dance is immensely Darwinian, and disproves the fact that all men/women where created equal, for on the dance floor it boils down to the survival of the fittest. A dance workshop is not a typical place you would find me but thenagain I was there. Enthusiastic participants tried to mimic the flurry of movements the instructors demonstrated. With out-stretched arms aunties, uncles, students, dadas/dadis, nana/nanis, etc danced in a clockwise direction.

"One, two, three, four, in, in, out" advances to "four, five, turn, six, seven out"

At this point some of the stragglers in the audience (at NC Ghia Hall) joined the motley group.

"Don't just jump add bounce," added the talented instructor.

Dance is difficult.

- First comes the feet movements. They are practiced and rehearsed.
- Second comes the hand movements. Also practiced and rehearsed.
- Step three: Synchronize step one and two.
- Step four :Try Step 3 moving in an anti-clockwise circle.
- Step five: Faster, Faster.

Phew !! Oh wait it is not over. The workshop takes its first casualties as the stragglers exit the stage.

More steps are added.

"Side-right, Side-left, center-side" are added to the already growinglist of steps. Up the curve the group moved steadily, now accelerating. "Clap when you are centre and snap when you are on the side and we are done"

The step are repeated one last time, this time with all the participants.

[Post part of the Many posts I've done for the Kala Ghoda Gazette]

Bombay Old, Mumbai New.

David Sasoon Library, Mumbai, India

I walked through the portals into a different realm, into a world old, forgotten, endangered but not lost. David Sassoon Library is one such building that emulates this feelings of time warp I seem to love. Wood panelled chambers littered with ancient, framed etchings of Bombay old and in the background played the cacophonous sound of Mumbai new. At first glance you get a sense you are walking into a old boys club where you will see middle-aged men smoking cuban cigars and drinking single malt whisky in kangaroo leather armchairs. This sense quickly wears out to one of academic enrichment as the wood panelled walls give aways to rows of aged rosewood bookshelves. Crumply, crisp, chlorine free brown pages bound together in leather jackets embellished with worn out titles. I took the passport The Kala Ghoda Festival gave me to feel free and explore. Yippie !!

DSC_0146
[David Sassoon in alabaster and light]

Exit to the back and you are in garden green, inhabitated by shady pastures, cats and mosquitoes.


Looking on to the Kala Ghoda, on Rampart Row, this Romanesque structure, completed in 1870, is built from the same yellow Malad stone as the rest of the buildings in the row-- Elphinstone College, the Army and Navy Building and Watson's Hotel.

Source: Kaumudi Marathe in Times of India

DSC_0115
[1st Floor of the Library. Rows of books and silient book worms to go]

DSC_0122

DSC_0141
[Balcony looking onto Kala Ghoda.]

DSC_0126

Up a spiralling staircase and you are greeted with more large pannelling windows staring down at you.

DSC_0128

Now, to the crowning glory of this grand building - the clock chamber.

Clock Tower.

That ends our photo-tour of "David Sassoon Library and Reading Room"

DSC_0143

Discarded Cigerette Butts, Music, Fusion.

Cross-posted on The Kala Ghoda Gazette

DSC_0063

An additional sound resonated in the background as I walked past Capital Cinema. It wasn’t the usual cacophony of passing traffic or the buzz from the evening commuters walking to the station or even from the bunch of Jhunka Bharkar stalls that line the street peddling everything from Vada-pavs to Indian Chinese. What is that sound? Can it be music I thought to myself in disbelief. Walking towards Azad Maidan the sound became more distinct till my eyes confirmed it, yes music it is. The Giant dustbowl that is Azad Maidan, which is usually inhabited by hawkers, stray dogs and cricket enthusiasts, was converted (a part of it at least) into a stage with lights and everything.

DSC_0125

Even though my ears were throbbing and the bass was slightly on the higher side the music was enjoyable. If you’re wondering , the Pakistani Rock Star Ali Azmat was playing. If you have not heard of Ali Azmat, he is the lead singer of the well known Paki rock band Junoon. Songs like “Sayonee" got automatic lip service from the crowd. Speaking of the crowd they where divided in two distinct types 1 - who stood at the front and knew all the lyrics to the all songs and made strange hand gestures in the air and 2 - curious public who just wanted a piece of the action. Oh I love free concerts.

Come 8:30 and the Ali Azmat gave way to Alms for Shanti.

A mix of Hindi, English and allot of Gibberish in between”, is what they promised and what we got was a lot of fast paced fusion rock, a sound I came to enjoy. They started off with well more a chant than a song, ‘Aum Namah Shivay’[mp3 link], Sridar Parthasarathy on the Mridangam made all the difference setting the piece apart. The high point of the entire event was the solo by the percussionist Taufiq Qureshi. He conjured up a brilliant rendition of what he described as - “Two star-crossed lovers talking which turns to bickering in an increased crescendo till of course the girl wins and the boy drives of to the Kala Ghoda Festival on his motor-cycle.” All this expressed with drums, tablas and vocal percussion - absolutely brilliant.

DSC_0078

‘Circular spotlights spiral downwards as the percussion intensifies, The light turn red giving colour to the dry ice vapours as they ascend upwards against it. A lone Ghungru pierces the crescendo at every beat until all is momentarily paused to a cry of jubilation from the crowd. The music starts off from where it left off ’

As we approached the 10p.m BMC deadline - Alms for Shanti belted out thier most popular track - “Kashmakash”

Here give it a listen.



10 p.m came and the crowd dispersed leaving the dusty Azad Maidan with a little more cigarette butts and empty sachets of Goa1000 supari scattered all around.

DSC_0059

I'm officially depressed

Biriyani - India. Chicken Rissoto
This my friends is the last biriyani I eat [and will ever eat] at Lucky's Restaurant, Ferguson College Road, Pune.

Not to mention the thirteen rupee crusty bread pudding they served.

Aditya is the bearer of this bad news
- they're closing down to make way for a shopping arcade

I'm officially depressed

Day 1: Kala Ghoda Round-Up

The Kala Ghoda Gazette



February comes and Mumbai and the pedestrian plaza around South Mumbai’s lively historic art district ‘Kala Ghoda’ comes alive to the tune of the Kala Ghoda Art Festival. The setting is marvellous, the crescent shaped plaza is nestled around an array of heritage buildings such as Elephantine College, the David Sassoon Library and the Watson Hotel.

The Festival promises rich events in Arts, Literature, Music & Theatre - Seminars, Workshops and more. Expect performances from Indian Ocean, a fusion music band of Northern India , Charlie Mariano, a jazz legend, and Eric Lohrer from the France and British band Shri Live. History buffs should also look out for the special heritage walks organised as part of the festivities. Also scheduled are many book readings including a “TALK WITH SHANTARAM” where Dolly Thakore is in conversation with author of the best selling book Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts.

The festival kicks off today (4th February) and continues up to the 12th February.

But what is really exciting is that the Kala Ghoda Association is blogging the event. The blog promises to bring the festival live to you with a mix of previews and impressions, reviews and reports, text and photographs, maybe even some audio and video.

Here is all you need

Starts today...

The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival [A schedule]

and

The Kala Ghoda Gazette. [The Blog]