Saturday, April 21, 2012

Kala Ghoda Ver. 2.0

Once, just once in a while, does our city give back to its citizens. More through serendipity than through design, but who are we to complain? A new al-fresco space has been made accessible to the public at large, taking them off the streets around Kala Ghoda and elevating them one level above it, and allowing for a new vantage point from which to observe the beating, beating heart of South Bombay.

Through a an act of munificence, veteran photographer Kakubhai Kothari has set up a simple new gallery on the terrace of the Jehangir Art Gallery devoted exclusively to photography. The Gallery is itself small, an asymmetrical room of one straight and one curved wall, enough to hang about 24 midsized frames. This space was, for many years, the former studio of the water colorist who would sign his work as, simply 'Chetan'. Now back in the possession of the Jehangir management, this reconverted space shall, hopefully, be the venue for many exhibitions of photographs. The first one, appropriately enough, is by Kothari himself and he has put up several large unframed images of tigers that he photographed in the Bandhavgad, Sariska and Tadoba reserves.

What supersedes the new gallery, to me, is the terrace itself that I have to first traverse to get to the photographs. Reaching the top, having climbed the refurbished steel staircase next to the Samover, I realize how large the terrace is, and (reflecting the lobby and galleries below) how it is broken up into several footprints. It is currently, perhaps quaintly, carpeted over (see image) but I doubt this will last the monsoon. Nevertheless, (and am I speaking too soon here?) there is a potential for this space to be put to use in a variety of ways, should the management appreciate this.

Standing on the terrace looking to the West, I can observe life in the Kala Ghoda parking lot. In this, I am not alone. The lot has, for more than a century now, been overseen by a portentous head of Sir David Sassoon,
"...stuck like a schmuck up here
-an ahmaq.
a certified keer-e-khar –
                                (David Sassoon)
I can now see the old man eye to eye, as he sticks his “pilloried head/ out of a medallion/ in the pediment above the archway...” of the building formerly known as the Mechanics Institute. The Army and Navy Building and the Elphinstone College on either side make up the line of neo-Gothic edifices, whose details one can appreciate better from this crow's nest. There is the precarious Watson's Hotel that I fervently pray will not collapse just because I am looking at it. From beyond, I can clearly hear the bongs from the clock tower named after Premchand Roychand's mum calling the faithful to paryushan. To the east looms the other tower, named after another Jeejeebhoy, aka the Bombay Stock Exchange, and I wonder why India's second most photographed building needed to have a monstrous neon sign capping it, just to tell me of its provenance as Babel and Sodom Inc.

But best of all, I can turn my head up and look up into nothingness, unafraid of getting run over, propositioned, or hauled up for loitering.
Arun Kolhatkar had the same idea:
"This is the time of day I like best,
and this is the hour
when I can call this city my own;
when I like nothing better
than to lie down here, at the exact centre
of this traffic island..." 

But I find myself at a point somewhat removed from the centre of the lot both along the x and the z axis, and I am overwhelmed with a desire to lie down on my back on the carpet and stare at the waning, pink rippled dusk. I stop myself, of course, out of a sense of decorousness. There are too many people around. A couple with far too many children are making their way up the stairs after asking whether there is anything to see. There is. The best thing about the Jehangir Art Gallery is its stellar location. The second best thing is that it is a space that has always been free to all. This terrace could be the harbinger of an opportunity to become another welcome public space.

This said, I have some hopes too:
I hope that the terrace space will always remain open.

I hope that the newly created gallery shall always be dedicated to the display of photography.

I hope that the terrace will inspire installations specific to the opportunities the site offers.

I hope that the management of Jehangir will consider some light trelliswork to shelter visitors during the summer months.

I hope that the edges of the terrace shall not be barricaded with safety features that obscure the views of the streets below.

I hope that this space will be made available for lectures and performances in addition to displays of art, and that these shall never be made exclusive.

I hope better sense (and taste) shall prevail, especially during the Kala Ghoda Festival, unlike the ritualistic buggering up that happens once every year of the parking lot below.

I hope that Samovar shall be allowed to set up an al-fresco eating place. There is enough space for this.

I hope the skyline that we grew up with and loved will never be obliterated because of DC Rule 33/7.

I hope the sky may never fall on my head.

“A twig! A twig! A twig! A twig!
You got it! You got it! You got it!
It’s all yours now.
You can take it away 
Anytime you want
But first, examine it.”
(To a Crow)

(All the excerpted lines are from Arun Kolhatkar’s Kala Ghoda Poems, 2004, Pras)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Iqbal's 'Taking Issue & Allah's Answer', translated by Mustansir Dalvi

Taking Issue & Allah’s Answer
(Shikwa & Jawaab-e-Shikwa)
Muhammad Iqbal
translated by
Mustansir Dalvi 

published by
Penguin Modern Classics
Advance information about an an elegant contemporary translation of Iqbal’s 
two most important and controversial poems 'Shikwa and Jawaab-e-Shikwa'.
‘His couplets urge us to live dangerously. 
We are to be stone, not glass;
diamonds, not dewdrops; 
tigers, not sheep...’
E. M. Forster

When Muhammad Iqbal first recited Shikwa (Taking Issue) in 1909, his audience was enraged by his effrontery. Iqbal, in his lament, took issue with Allah directly, audaciously implicating Him for the sorry state of Muslims worldwide and ruing the lost glory of Islam. 

In recompense, Iqbal composed Jawaab-e-Shikwa (Allah's Answer) in 1913. Here, Allah responds to the poet, first berating his community, then offering hope for Islam in the world. Iqbal's mellifluous words greatly assuaged those angered earlier. 

Over time, the poems have found their place in the canon of South Asian literature, and throough recitation, repetition and selective use, have forwarded a variety of agendas in the subcontinent.

In this elegant translation by Mustansir Dalvi, these classics by the most influential poet of his generation come alive once again in a language that is contemporary and immediate.

Muhammad Iqbal
Muhammad Iqbal(1877-1938) is best remembered in India for ‘Saare jahaan se achchha’, recited to this day as an alternate anthem. A preeminent poet of India in the early twentieth century, he eulogised the land and its peoples with his mellifluous verse. 

He published several collections, including Bang-e-dara (1924), Javed-nama (1932) and Baale-Jibreel (1935). In his later years he became the voice of Islam in India, advocating its causes through his writings, particularly ‘The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam' (1930), his poetry and public speeches.

Mustansir Dalvi is a poet and architect based in Bombay.

The Urdu text is present along the English translation in Roman transliteration

Category: Modern Classics/ Poetry
Format: B
Binding: Paperback
Extent: 184pp
Imprint: Penguin
Territory: World

Scheduled date of Publication: May 2012
ISBN: 9780143416852
Price: Rs.299

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

First Post Mumbai: How adaptive technology can bridge Mumbai's housing Divide

Here is an excerpt from my new column on FirstPost.Com:

How Mumbai’s pucca house dream got a quick fix

for full article , click on link above.

"In Mumbai, more people build for themselves than approach builders for ready-made units. With more than 60 percent of its citizens living in self-built housing, this is self evident. They are beyond the pale of Mumbailopolis at large because of their location in designated slums — areas that, to other 40 percent, are the blight seen from the airplane. Spaces and communities to be eliminated as part of official policy in a decade or so.

It is these very areas that are experiencing a construction boom like never before. Those who live here are now part of the city’s middle-classdom, having made enough capital through enterprise and labour. They can construct a pucca home — an expression of their aspirations and optimism."

Friday, April 6, 2012

This is the way the city ends

This is the way the city ends,
this is the way the city ends,
this is the way the city ends,
not with a bang, but a whimper...

image © Mustansir Dalvi, 2012, all rights reserved.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Urban Bawl 6: Sniffing Books

An edited version of this piece is the sixth in the series of my Urban Bawl columns in Time Out Mumbai for their 'Back of the Book' page.
This is published in the March 30-April 12 2012  (Vol 8 Issue 16) issue of Time Out Mumbai.

Sniffing Books

The news that the final curtain was brought down on the print edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica brought back memories of how central its weighty, leather-spined volumes were to libraries. My school library had a set, as did my college, the colleges I taught in and teach in now. The grand old public libraries of the city- the British Council and the American Centre had a set too; the American had Encyclopaedia Americana to boot.  Just as the Britannica was central to these libraries; these libraries were central to our city. Their recent passing into avatars that have left them but a shadow of their former selves has been a matter of great regret. What is a library if you cannot go there; books, if you cannot touch them and there are no pages left to sniff?

You need a library (or two) to bookend your life. You need the comfort of interminable shelving to know that all is right with this world. You need to smell the pages- tangy new ones and musty yellowed ones, the odour of familiarity wafting around while you immersed yourself. Even those corners of the libraries, where it seemed no one ventured (like the dusty shelves with the encyclopaedias), held a special place in your heart. 

All through the eighties and much of the nineties, the BCL and the American were my special vice. I was addicted enough to make weekly visits to these dens of intellectual stimulation. Having a sturdy jhola was as important to my existence then as a smartphone is today. I would walk from VT to the American Centre,  pick up four books; walk to the British Council (eat the best pav-bhaji in town just outside Maker Chambers), issue another four books and lug all eight all the way back to VT- the jhola strap slicing into my shoulder could not erase the smile on my face.

In those cycles of eight, I was to befriend Kurt Vonnegut Jr., John Irving, James Michener, Allen Drury, Arthur C. Clarke, Harlan Ellison, Tom Wolfe, Art Buchwald, Carl Sagan... where do I stop? It occurs to me that you can discover new authors only in libraries, through chance encounter and serendipity. The lack of lasting liabilities makes for easy friendships. In a bookshop one is much more deliberate and guarded; your wallet governs the spreading of affection to such books and authors that you have not been formally introduced to. Even the smaller lending libraries in the city- Abbas at King's Circle being the most loved, allowed you the illicit pleasure of spending time with those most addictive and prolific of writers- Stephen King, Tom Clancy or Lawrence Sanders. You see, a P G Wodehouse was for buying. Tom Clancy on the other hand was for a good read and return.

We are the sum total of all we read, or have read in our growing years. The passing of libraries have left us bereft and anchorless. They have, and that is some consolation, been replaced by some monster bookstores (like the one in 'You've Got Mail') - Landmark and Crossword. But, ask yourself this: are you more likely to read a book through if you borrowed it from a library or if you bought the book outright?