Sunday, May 22, 2016

ARTICLE 1377 - World's first slum museum 'Design Museum Dharavi' in Mumbai

“When we chose cricket as the main theme for Design Museum Dharavi’s second exhibition, we did so because we were inspired by how this game is being modified and reshaped in the streets of Dharavi. Anything close to a wooden or plastic stick will do as the perfect bat, balls differ in size, materials and colours, stumps are painted on walls, and rules are bent again and again to adapt the game to the size of the chosen location. What ‘Street Cricket’ symbolizes in Dharavi is the local’s flexibility and ability to change and reinvent themselves on a daily basis,” narrates the artist duo.
Rubio says it was not easy to set up the museum in such a dense place. But the community leader of Dharavi Shyam helped them to establish this. Shyam has been born and raised in Dharavi and comes from an old family that masters the craft of basketry and broom making. He is a social worker, helps children studying for their exams, he is a part-time worker at URBZ.  
Mumbai, known as India’s financial hub, has long been a magnet for migrants seeking better economic opportunities. Half the city’s 22 million inhabitants live in slums. Dharavi has featured in several Bollywood movies, as well as the Academy award-winning Slumdog Millionaire (2009), which triggered a wave of slum tours and criticism of slum voyeurism.
“The initiative is a way to positively encourage the residents to collaborate in a cultural environment with a long term objective of impacting the perception and future of constantly evolving areas such as Dharavi. Experience, intuition and imagination will be cleverly recombined in order to merge both the tradition and creativity that glows in the streets of Dharavi. By creating a Design Museum, a place for contemplation, we make this city within a city more liveable. Our main intentions are to acknowledge the citizenship of these people, to recognize their equal rights compared to the rest of the city, and promoting a greater exchange between formal and informal economies,” says the curators.
Challenging the preconceived curatorial notions of design institutions today, the museum aims to feature a much more flexible program, encouraging residents to interact with cultural events. When the museum closes, Amsterdam will host a conference in the summer of 2016, where the results of the Design Museum Dharavi will be exhibited and pondered upon. Experts from different disciplines will join the conversation and share their vision and ideas based on their perspective and professional experience. The curators hope the project can be used as a model for social exchange.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

1376 - R.I.P.

Dear friend, gentle giant & painter Shamshad passes away...

A photo with Tara Sabharwal from few weeks back

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

ARTICLE 1375 - An Artist’s Lifework Painted Over by the Brushstrokes of Bureaucracy

Ganga Devi (1928-1991), one of the most acclaimed Mithila artists of the 20th century, seen here painting akohbar ghar in a room of the Crafts Museum in New Delhi in the 1980s. Her work has now been painted over. Credit: Jyotindra Jain

New Delhi: In an act of bureaucratic vandalism that is being condemned by art lovers in the Capital, the Crafts Museum has destroyed an iconic representation of a bridal nuptial chamber from Mithila known as a kohbar gharthat was specially painted for it by an acclaimed artist from Bihar, Ganga Devi (1928-1991).
Breaking the news of the chamber’s demolition, Jyotindra Jain, a former director of the museum, said the walls of the room had been “painted from top to bottom by Ganga Devi over a period of 3 to 4 months” despite suffering from cancer.
“It was in late 1980s. She was detected with cancer and the doctors suggested that she should not be allowed to go back to Mithila as she needed regular chemotherapy. So we gave her some space at the Crafts Museum to stay and get herself treated. Since she was in acute pain those days, she wanted to keep herself busy, wanted to draw. We gave her a room to paint. Almost all the four walls of that room were painted by her from the floor to the ceiling. The date of completion of the work as signed by her on it was 1.1. 1990.”
The work was considered so remarkable that it has been well documented in major art books, said Jain. “I did it too in my book on Ganga Devi. How can an important work of art just be allowed to vanish like that, that too in a museum?”

An image from the now demolished kohbar ghar. Credit: Jyotindra Jain
Even as Jain and others mourned the loss of the work, museum officials justified their action. The Crafts Museum has been headless since April, when its last director, Ruchira Ghose retired, but the government is pushing the staff to implement a modernisation plan in time for the India-Africa summit this October. “We removed [Ganga Devi’s work] as part of the renovation”, a museum official told The Wire. “It couldn’t be saved, the mud was peeling off, the paint was fading, everything was coming off. I have been associated with the museum for the last 30 years, don’t worry, we will get another made.” He acknowledged that it would be very difficult to get people to do a kohbar ghar. “So we will ask Shanti Devi, who is from Ganga Devi’s family, to make one in the renovated hall.”
Jain, however, contests this claim. “When I saw the kohbar ghar 4-5 months ago, it was in good shape,” he told The Wire. “There was just a bit of chipping here and there which shouldn’t be a reason in today’s times to discard an important art work. My question is, did they take the report of any art conservator before demolishing the walls? Should it not have been the right way to go about it?”
As for the idea that the museum can simple “get another made”, Jain says the work is irreplaceable. Ganga Devi was a true legend as an artist and was nationally recognised with a President’s Award, a Padma Shree. Ganga Devi’s was the “only example of a complete iconographic rendering of Mithila’s kohbar ghar and that too, painted in her extraordinary personal idiom.” The painted chamber was “an extraordinary and unique monument in the history of contemporary folk and tribal arts of India.”

An image from the now demolished kohbar ghar. Credit: Jyotindra Jain
Poonam Devi, whose husband was one of the two nephews of Ganga Devi who stayed at the Crafts Museum to make the kohbar ghar in the 1980s, also spoke with reverence of Ganga Devi’s work. After her husband passed away last year due to lung cancer, Poonam, a resident of Ashok Nagar in Delhi, was given employment at the Crafts Museum as a daily wage earner. She too does Madhubani painting. “Ganga Devi was my husband’s aunt. She taught all of us the art, including the daughter-in-laws. That is how I and my sister in law, Shanti Devi learnt the art of making akohbar but not as skilfully as she used to do.”

A kohbar ghar interpretation on a wall near the deputy director’s office at the Crafts Museum painted by Shanti Devi. Credit: Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty
Poonam remembers the effort Ganga Devi put in to her painting at the museum. “She was in utter pain those days … I saw it being done bit by bit and I saw it being demolished too. It was sad to see it go. The museum could have saved that wall. For a long time, it just didn’t take care of it and one day they just razed it all.”
Jain, too, is inconsolable. “I feel so numbed and devastated, to say the least.”
The room which once hosted Ganga Devi’s famous work now has whitewashed walls. In the middle of the hall, workers can be seen trying to fix another beautiful piece of folk art.  “That work is also by a President’s awardee who is no more. It is a grain storage jar. How can the museum allow it to be mishandled like this?”, asks Jain.

Crafts Museum workers try and repair a work of art in a hall earlier showcased Ganga Devi’s kohbar ghar. Credit: Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty.


Tuesday, September 08, 2015

ARTICLE 1374 - Step Into the Enchanting World Step-Wells

The Rattala Vav baoli at Rampura in Gujarat.

Deep below ground, India hides some of its most stunning architectural masterpieces: step-wells.
Victoria Lautman first encountered these ancient water stores three decades ago and in recent years has visited and documented more than 100, each unique in design and engineering. She spoke to India Real Time via email about her passion for these massive, ornate wells, which were used to collect and store water for drinking and irrigation and are now in some cases used as homes, dining rooms or are sadly dilapidated.

Dada Harir Vav Ahmedabad, Gujarat
Edited excerpts: 
The Wall Street Journal: Which was the first step-well you visited in India? 
Victoria Lautman: The first was 30 years ago, on my first visit to India – it was Rudabai vav in Adalaj, Gujarat — but I had to dig out old photos to even figure that out. 
WSJ: Did this get you interested in them or were you already planning on finding out about them?
Ms. Lautman: Yes – that memory of Rudabai had been simmering in my memory for two and a half decades. I couldn’t get it out of my head, it was so powerful, the whole experience of walking up to a low wall in what was then just a dirt patch wondering ‘what are we doing here, going to see a wall?’
Then peering over the edge and having the ground just fall away. It was vertiginous, like walking to the edge of a cliff, but without realizing there was a drop.
I was enchanted and disoriented at the same time.
I’d been back to India many times since then, with this embedded memory, but not until 4 years ago, when I spent three months in India, did I decide to confront it. I wanted to see if that indelible recollection was real or embroidered over the years. Well, you can see what happened. I became utterly obsessed. 

Rajon Ki Baoli Delh
WSJ: In India historical sites often have very little information on display, it must have been very difficult to find out about the origins of these masterpieces in some cases. What was the process of research?
Ms. Lautman: Yes, it’s not easy, and in so many cases there’s just no information at all. Even when there’s a beat-up sign attached to a step-well declaring it is protected by the local government, that’s often the only information: no date, name, who commissioned it – nothing. It’s terribly frustrating.
But two points are very important to me: I’m not a scholar but a journalist who embarked on this trajectory purely out of my own interests. I never dreamed of seeing what’s now about 120, throughout the country. I backed into the subject in terms of research and, after seeing about 10 or so, began vacuuming up everything I could read or discover or asked the many people more knowledgeable than me. So I am honestly a conduit for other people’s research, largely, repurposed for a wider audience.
The most relevant work was undertaken many years ago by a trio of scholars: Jutta Jain-Neubauer, Morna Livingstone, and Julia Hegewald, Without them I’d be clueless about the history of these marvels.

Takht Baoli Narnaul, Haryana.

WSJ: What do you think the government should do to preserve or restore the wells?
Ms. Lautman: I compare India to Rome, with so many layers of ancient history atop one another, all crying for help and acknowledgment. But in India the layers are vast, the sites and monuments multiplied by thousands or millions. How can any government possibly deal with that – limited money, limited manpower and, until recently, little interest in step-wells.
The government – along with organizations like INTACH [the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage] non-Indian foundations, and even on a limited basis, the communities themselves – have all pitched in, but still tourists have no idea of these subterranean edifices. I’m asked all the time how to find them and would like to create a map. The more people who see them, the greater their chances of survival.

Raja Bir Singh Dev, Serol, Madhya Pradesh. 
WSJ: Are there any that are fully functioning and being used as a water source? 
Ms. Lautman: Yes, though it’s limited. Many of them – especially in the dry, western states – lack water due to the precipitous drop in the water table which, as you know, is a crisis only recently (but thankfully) being addressed. But in places like Madhya Pradesh, where the water table seems healthy, I’ve seen many wells filled with water being used for washing and irrigation. There are also wells still being used as temples, and others are being appropriated for clever contemporary uses, extending step-well significance into the 21st century.
For instance, a hotel in Rajasthan offers elegant dinners in a nearby step-well, while certain renowned architects and artists have incorporated the wells into their work.

Mahila Bag Jhalra, Jodhpur, Rajasthan.
WSJ: What was the most surprising find on your travels through these architectural wonders?
Ms. Lautman: I’ve encountered several families living in a couple of the step-wells, which I didn’t expect to see. I’m sure it’s not allowed, but what better use is a dried well than as any kind of shelter for the destitute?
As for the personal reaction, which I’d never anticipated, it may contribute to my obsession, I find them so sad and diminished. It’s sentimental, but I feel in a way that I’m paying homage to these once-loved beauties, and they make me acutely aware of our own mortality.

Chand Baoli, Abhaneri, Rajasthan

Derelict baoli in Fatehpur, Shekhawati, Rajasthan
WSJ: How many trips to India did you make to document them all? How many have you visited in total?
Ms. Lautman: Since that first trip back in the 1980s I’ve returned over a dozen times, but you just stop counting at some point.

Baoli at Neemrana, Rajasthan

Helical Vav, Champaner, Gujarat
WSJ: What are the dates of the oldest you saw and the newest?
Ms. Lautman: Last year I made it a point to see what are purportedly two of the oldest actual step-wells, not rudimentary precursors, which appeared between the third and fifth century A.D. — though those dates are flexible, depending on who your read. The Manushri and Jhilani vavs in the rural village of Dhank, Saurashtra, are either sixth or seventh century. Who knows? It was incredibly rewarding to see them, despite them being in deplorable states.
And even though it’s not technically a step-well, the Birka Bawari in Jodphur is the most contemporary iteration I’ve seen. It was built around 2009 specifically to harvest water in a residential development. It looks fantastic, based on traditional step-well design, and is to be applauded for adapting an ancient, efficient, and gorgeous system to modern needs.

Rudabai Vav, Adalaj, Gujarat
Text by Joanna Sugden & photos by Victoria Lautman for the Wall Street Journal

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


A retrospective show in Mumbai takes you through the works of two artistic geniuses

Breaking conventions was probably unheard of in the 1960s. But two Baroda-based artists did so, and earned a name for themselves in the process. Legends of Baroda, a new show in Mumbai, takes a look at the most popular works of K.G. Subramanyan and the late Bhupen Khakhar, both stalwarts of Indian art. The retrospective show takes viewers through the artists’ creations, which delved into themes of homosexuality, mythology, and tradition.
K.G.Subramanyan A participant in the Indian freedom struggle, the painter, sculptor and muralist is known for his extensive knowledge of Indian art. Subramanyan mentored several artists including Ghulam Mohammed Shaikh, Vivan Sunderam and Jyoti Bhatt. Known as one of the greatest pioneers of modern art in India, he now lives with his daughter in Baroda.   

Bhupen Khakhar A self-taught artist, Khakhar was involved with the seminal Narrative Figurative Movement  when he moved to Baroda for a course. Khakhar, whose works have been exhibited the world over, is known for his figure drawings and lack of inhibitions while creating new works. Later in his career, the artist also dabbled in watercolours and ceramics.

-Huzan Tata

Friday, June 05, 2015

ARTICLE 1372 - Beauty & Happiness in Sukkur

The sun is about to set as we enter Sukkur. I am with an interesting trio; a novelist, another hunter and a CSS officer who prefers to introduce himself as the Minister for Sound and Music. We decide to stop here on our way to Lahore from Karachi.
I insist that we spare a day for sightseeing in the city where I spent most of my childhood. My acquaintances are not too thrilled — many assume Interior Sindh to be barren and boring. It is far from that.
Sindh takes its name from ‘Sindhu’, the Sanskrit word for ocean and a rather apt name for the gigantic river which traverses through its heart and fuels greenery and prosperity.
The construction of barrages, especially the one at Sukkur, has amplified the river's impact on the livelihood of Sindhis by manifolds.
The influence of the British regime can be felt strongly in Sukkur. The city prospered under the British rule, taking glory away from historical towns of Larkana and Shikarpur.
The construction of Sukkur Barrage and the railroad network firmly establishes Sukkur’s position as the hub of commerce and bureaucracy in upper Sindh.

Sukkur Barrage and Lab-e-Mehran

Sukkur Barrage is nothing short of an engineering marvel. The 5,000 feet long barrage was completed in 1932, irrigating more than 10 million acres through its seven canals.
The construction of the Sukkur Barrage acclaimed a new era of prosperity in Sindh after which, a number of Punjabi, Balochi and Pathan migrants settled in interior Sindh.
Unlike Karachi, all ethnicities blend in a manner that makes it difficult to tell them apart. They speak the same dialect and lead a lifestyle that is native to the area.
So much so, that the clan of Pathans in the interior are known as Sindhi Pathans.
Lab-e-Mehran, the park with a walkway along the left bank of the river is a famous getaway for the citizens of Sukkur. On a regular day, one is likely to find families gather around food stalls or enjoy a boat ride.
We settle at a British era guesthouse in an irrigation colony. Recent renovation has left the rooms gaudy and soulless.
The framed picture on the wall depicts a waterfall somewhere in the North of Pakistan. The windows are draped with thick dark curtains. The frequent breakdown of electricity has forced the municipality to limit electricity usage in public spaces.

Masoon Shah jo Minaro 

Masoon Shah jo Minaro - Intricate work inside "baradary"

Sadho Belo - Rajhistani Jharokas

Masoom Shah Po Minaro

As we gather in the dining room the next morning, a variety of omelettes are served to us for breakfast. Our first destination is Masoom Shah Jo Minaro, which once served as a watch tower under the reign of Masoom Shah who was appointed as the governor by the Mughal Emperor Akbar.
We drive through crowded lanes around Neem Ki Chari, the central bazaar in the heart of the city.
We park our car and enter the boundary wall through a narrow opening that is seemingly lost between the busy shops.
A number of families are relaxing around the compound that consist of abaradary and a graveyard alongside the original tower.
I am told that Masoom Shah commissioned the tower in 1582, but that he passed away during the construction and was buried under the shadow of an incomplete tower.
His son ensured the completion of the tower in 1607. The caretaker tells us the tower is 84 feet high and has 84 steps. We hand over our shoes to him and wait our turn to climb the ascent.
After waiting for some time, we finally enter the tower through the narrow gate. The circular staircase is narrow and steep.
There is no electricity inside and the only sources of light are tiny windows. People are climbing down at the same time and one has to make way for them.
Once we reach the top we further fight for space with a crowd of women and children. The women are sitting inside the small canopy at the top and the children are dangling from the iron cage installed along the viewing deck.
The view from the top is breathtaking. You can see most of Sukkur from here; Jamia Mosque, Sukkur Barrage and the river, clock tower, Adam Shah ji takri( The hill of Adam Shah) and the frenzied expansion of the city. I have known this city for ages and its current landscape looks unfamiliar to me.

Masoon Shah jo Minaro - The inscriptions inside.

Masoon Shah jo Minaro 

After sight-seeing and taking photos, we climb down and head towards our car. Our host’s guard insists that we buy a souvenir from a nearby shop. He takes the novelist to a shop, which is quite similar to the shops at Sunday Baazar in Karachi.
People in the shop look curiously at our group. The shopkeeper asks me if thesahib with me is a minister.
At first I do not understand but soon realise that he is asking about the CSS guy who is dressed in white shalwar kameezajrak and golden Ray-Bans.
I chuckle and tell the shopkeeper that he is the Minister for Sound and Music. He asks me if the Minister sahib has brought me along to take his pictures. The hunter hears this and laughs hysterically.

Sadhu Belo

The Indus water looks so calm and serene. People tell me that the water has been steady for a while now though during the time of the 2010 floods, Sukkur was on high alert and water levels were monitored every morning.
The city has encroached upon the left bank of the river. We are here to take a ride to Sadhu Belo, an 18th century temple on an island off the Indus River.
According to a legend, a Sadhu by the name of Baba Ban Khundi, settled in this island in 1823 to preach Hinduism. Mir Sohrab Khan, the then ruler of the area, gifted the island to him as the Sadhu won his heart with his wisdom.
A boat waits for us while we seat ourselves. A Hindu pilgrim, accompanied by a woman and a child, sit next to us. He tells me that he visits the shrine regularly and has brought his wife and his granddaughter along today.
On one end I can see Sukkur Barrage and on the other, I can see Lansdowne Bridge, which connects Rohri with Sukkur.
On a lucky day you can even get a glimpse of an endangered blind dolphin in the murky waters.
A priest at the shrine greets us. I am instantly awestruck by the intricate marble work on the façade of the compound.
On one side of the entrance I notice a couple of tableaux, which remind the visitors of the consequences of their choices.

Sadho Belo - Tableaux depicting a scene from hell

Sadho Belo - Krishna

One depicts a scene of naked sinners being tortured gruesomely while the other depicts righteous queuing in front of the gate of heaven.
I have never seen such graphic details before this at Hindu shrines in interior Sindh.
We walk past the entrance, there are beautiful balconies on each side of the alley, that make me feel like I am in Rajasthan.
The priest then takes us inside a compound where Shivling is kept on a marble floor. The intricate handcrafts on the walls and the roof are dazzling, but there is not much light for me to take a perfect shot.
I step out and look for the carvings done on pillars, as the marble glows in the shining sun.
The priest notices that we have a novelist amongst us and so decides to take us to the library on one end of the island.
There are many rooms around the compound. They tell me that it is used for housing pilgrims, who flock in thousands around the days of the festival at the shrine.
The caretaker then opens the library gate to let us in; the room has plenty of windows but they are all shut.

He starts looking for a light switch and turns it on and we find ourselves in the middle of a well-stocked library which reminds us of ancient times.
It mainly contains books on Hindu mythology in various languages.
The novelist opens the visitor book and starts flipping through the pages. The first page is signed by Zia ul Haq, an unlikely visitor, we think to ourselves. Later in the book, much to our surprise we find Vikram Seth’s entry. He has been here recently!

Abode of Seven - climbing the staircase

Abode of Seven - Tomb stones

After the novelist has his time with the books, we step outside and take al leisure walk around the bank of river.
The island is dotted with Neem, Acacia, Peepal and other local trees, which I am unable to identify.
The setting is picture perfect for a postcard shot - peaceful and serene - like one of those where you would like to lie down and spend the whole evening without caring about anything else.
We quickly take a tour of various small temples on the island, which belong to Hanuman, Ganesh and others.
From the boat, I see a graveyard on the right bank of the river. The boatman tells me that this place is known as Satyun-jo-Astaan: The Abode of Seven.
After reaching the halt we decide to get here and discover the history the place beholds. We drove through Lansdowne Bridge which was constructed in 1889 and named after Lord Lansdowne, Viceroy of India. Below we can see the shrine of Zindapir.
There are all sort of legends associated with the bridge. Some say that the British engineers who designed it were not sure of its stability so the first train that crossed the bridge was full of prisoners waiting for capital punishment. The train crossed the bridge successfully and the British Sarkarlet go of the punishment for all the prisoners on board.
And of course some people tell stories of its survival during 1965 war when the bridge was a prime target of Indian bombardiers.
According to them, Zindapir stood on top of the bridge and directed bombs into water. And then again someone speculated that there lied a hidden key somewhere that could be used to split the bridge into two halves.

Abode of Seven

We continue driving towards the shrine and park our car under a Neem tree in front of the brick facade.
A staircase takes us to the shrine entrance. There we meet the caretaker, a middle aged man who tells us that centuries ago this place was immortalised in folklore when seven pious women made this place their eternal abode.
According to a legend they were followed by a prince who wanted to abduct them. They reached this place and finding no refuge prayed to the lord for protection. Miraculously, the land ripped apart and swallowed them inside.
“What about the maharaja?” The minister of sound and music inquires.
“What about him?” The caretaker was not expecting such a question.
“Why did not earth swallow him instead?” The minister of sound and music inquires further.
The caretaker does not know the answer. He shows us the entrance to the compound where symbolic graves still exist.
Only women are allowed inside. It is a popular shrine amongst women who believe that a visit to the abode can cure their sufferings.
We walk further to the top of mound. There is a graveyard at the top overlooking the Indus River.
The graves are made of yellow stone with beautiful carvings. The caretaker tells me that the one of the graves belong to, the then governor of Bakhar, Mir Abul Qasim.
There stands a decaying wall on one end which possibly serves as the boundary wall.
There is a beautiful arch which probably lead to a viewing deck back in the day. Blue tiles are used to decorate the arch and the wall.

Farewell note

We drive to the highway to continue our journey towards Lahore. I remember a friend telling me to visit these places with an open mind, or else the people and the buildings and even the skies and the landscapes will seem imperfect.
I must admit; Sukkur fills me with immense happiness.