Sonali Desai

Archive for 2011|Yearly archive page

‘Meals ready’ at Basavanagudi police station

In Features on July 4, 2011 at 12:35 pm

It is the first police station in the city to have a kitchen of its own, say the proud officials  

Sarmistha Acharya

Knuckle sandwiches are no longer the only dish served by police stations in the city. The next time you enter Basavanagudi police station, whether as complainant or suspect, you just might be treated to a hot meal, freshly made by the cops themselves.

While there is no concept of a kitchen in any of the police stations in Bengaluru, the Basavanagudi police station has set up what they say is the first of its kind kitchen in the city. Apart from tea and snacks, this kitchen also serves a lunch, consisting of rice, dal, sambar, rasam etc. And somewhat unusually for a police station, only vegetarian items are cooked here.

Mohammed Aslam, the police inspector in charge here whose idea it was, says that it was an idea he had had for many years, but could never implement before. “I first thought of it after repeatedly I noticed while sanctioning leave for other officers that most of the time they requested leave because of amoebic dysentery, diarrhea, food poisoning, stomach upset etc. These officers tend to get stomach related problems because they eat food outside which is not hygienic,” he says.

So when Aslam found in Basavangudi police station an unused room, he got it cleaned up and converted it to a kitchen. He even has a philosophy behind his police kitchen, which he says can help create a sense of togetherness that is as important as hygienic food. “Since the officials spend maximum of their time in the station, they should consider the police station as their second home and there is a saying that ‘the family that eats together stays together.’ I wanted the same kind of togetherness at the work place, and that was one more reason for setting up a kitchen,” says Aslam.

The fund for constructing the kitchen and purchasing vessels and appliances were pooled in by the staff, with the bulk of the share coming from Aslam himself. The daily expenditure for the food is shared equally by the staff.
Interestingly, apart from the staff, the meals for the suspects in the lock-up – who are not held for more than 48 hours – too are cooked in-house. Aslam explains, “Earlier the food for those in the lock-up was being brought from outside, but now we provide it from our kitchen. It also helps avoid the security problem of someone possibly mixing something in their food.

Buransav Nadaf, an ex-serviceman who is currently a constable in Basavanagudi police station, voluntarily took the responsibility to cook the food and prepare tea. “Every day, about 20 to 22 people have lunch which is cooked in the station. To do this, I am helped by other officers,” said Nadaf.  
Manjunath G Killedar, a police constable in Basvangudi police station said that the staff was pleased with the fact that they are getting healthy food of their choice since the kitchen was started.  “It was simply a waste of time earlier, when we were having lunch outside. Even after spending money, we never used to get healthy food, but the kitchen has solved that,” said Killedar.


Biopic: rivals slam Yeddy & buddies

In News on July 4, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Excise minister MP Renukacharya recently created a flutter when he announce his plan to make a biopic on BS Yeddyurappa. Expectedly, the CM’s political rivals have a different take on this reel-life drama.

Manju Shettar

Political circles as well as Sandalwood were sent into a tizzy when excise minister Renukacharya announced his plans to make a biopic on his mentor, chief minister BS Yeddyurappa. The expectation is palpable on both sides, that of the CM and his supporters as well among his political opponents, who insist that the film should convey the reality of Yeddyurappa’s life, and not just provide a glorified picture.

The would-be producer of the film Renukacharya says that he was inspired by the veteran politician’s guts and confidence in facing the problems that confronted him, but added that the film is currently only at the discussion stage. “The script is yet to be finalized, but I have spoken to director SV Rajendrasingh Babu about directing the movie. I will also be discussing it with the CM himself, and the star cast and everything else will be decided after that.”
Rajendrasingh Babu admitted that he had been approached by Renukacharya for a movie based on Yeddyurappa’s political career, but added, “I plan to discuss this with the CM soon. Only if the CM agrees to do the movie will I do it.” Sandalwood insiders had identified actor cum politician Jaggesh as the producer’s choice to play the CM, but when City Buzz contacted him he said that he is not aware of any such decision, and did not want to comment on it until he knew something about it.

Yeddyurappa’s political opponents, however were scathing in their views on the proposed biopic on their arch-enemy. Former chief minister HD Kumaraswamy said, “I don’t think that the script would deal with real-life incidents and if it is to be realistic, they should depict the death of Yeddyurappa’s wife and show how it happened. And since Renukacharya is the producer, the film should have his own character along with others like nurse Jayalkshmi in it, which will be one of the highlights of the movie.”

Further, Kumaraswamy suggested that Yeddyrappa should act as himself in his life story, which would be better than finding another actor for the role. When asked if he would like act in the film himself, Kumaraswamy had this to say, “I don’t want to act in this film because being a producer I have not acted in my own productions so far,” adding, “I’m not bothered about how they will portray the opposition party leaders.”

Opposition party leader Siddaramaiah too did not mince his words when he said, “It is complete nonsense and stupidity what Renukacharya wants to do. He is one of the sycophants of the CM and besides, what is his qualification? He compares Yeddyurappa to Basavanna. This is nothing but bullshit, does Renukacharya even know about Basavanna or read about him?”
When asked if he would act as himself if offered the role, Siddaramaiah said, “I have a better work to do than to act in his film. I don’t even know what the real intention of the cinema is.”

G Parameshwar, president of KPCC, said, “This movie will not help people in any way, and they are already disgusted with his recent dramas so I don’t want to comment more on this.”

RV Deshapande, former KPCC president said, “I think there is no need to make a movie about the CM since his current politics itself is like a movie which people are watching, and they already know the star cast.”

Karnataka politicians on screen
Avasthe (1987) directed by Krishna Masadi was based on late politician Shantaveri Gopalagouda and was produced after his death. It deals with his social concern and political career, and was based on a novel written by UR Ananthamurthy.

Mukyamantri I Love You (2009) was directed by journalist Ravi Belagere, and portrayed the romance between former chief minister HD Kumaraswamy and actress Radhika. It’s release was prevented by a High Court order after Kumaraswamy’s father, former Prime Minister HD Devegowda filed a defamation suit against it.  

Politician Tejaswini Ramesh, who was also a journalist, had announced a movie about her twin careers, which she was supposed to script, direct and act in. The project was later shelved.

RAVE – the party goes on

In Editions on July 4, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Rave parties make news only when they are busted, but Sarmistha Acharya finds that this underground party culture is alive and well in Bengaluru, and discovers some unexpected raver hotspots elsewhere in the state. As this report goes to press, the Electric Daisy Carnival — an event with a reputation for heavy drug use and considered ‘the world’s biggest rave party’– is underway in faraway Las Vegas, attended by a crowd of more than 150,000. Closer home, a rave party held at Khalapur off the Mumbai-Pune Expressway made it to the headlines last week after it was busted by the police, the party-goers detained, and “every kind of drug” (according to police) recovered from them. The rave party is an extended dance party usually held at some isolated or scenic location to the accompaniment of electronic or trance music, psychedelic lighting, and fuelled by large supplies of drugs and alcohol. Bengaluru is no stranger to rave culture, especially at private farmhouses on the outskirts that regularly host dos that attract weekend ravers by the hundreds.

Despite the barrage of anti-drug laws like the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act backing the authorities, rave party culture continues to thrive in the city at some rather unexpected locations elsewhere in the state. This should hardly be surprising – after all, it’s their very illegality that gives rave parties their thrilling air, and makes them the sought-after affairs they are for weekend ravers, who often take much trouble to reach the remote venues.

City Buzz met up with a number of ravers, party organizers and police officials to find out what the rave scene is really like in the city. Long and short Party-goers City Buzz spoke to say that the season for rave parties starts from September and lasts till March and even April, when the city enjoys the best weather. Vishnu (name changed), an advertising professional and a fixture on the rave circuit, says: “The peak season for raves is December and January because of the weather and also because of New Year celebrations. Parties are also held in the rainy season, but in fewer numbers.” He is quick to point to out that earlier farmhouse rave parties used to be held in the city every weekend, but now they happen once in three or four months.

According to those like Vishnu, the average weekend rave party tends to start late in the evening and goes on till four or five in the morning. Occasionally, there are ‘special’ dos that go on for two or three days continuously. These are often held in remote open spaces on full moon nights to avoid the use of lights. Says regular party-goer Amit (name changed), “People usually start pouring in after midnight. Most of them wait for two to three hours to see whether it is safe, and then inform their friends. They keep coming till two or three in the morning. The number of people varies from party to party. In some parties there are about 100 or 200 people, but sometimes there are as many as 500 people. It all depends on the organisers. If the organiser has pulled off two or three parties safely, then people trust him and turn up in large numbers.” Insiders reveal that people who attend rave parties could be aged anywhere between 20 and 45, and the majority are from the IT & BT sectors since they are the most cash rich among the younger crowd.

The other big contingent apparently is students, especially engineering students. Many of the party-goers are couples. Sometimes foreign visitors and expatriates also attend these parties, their numbers varying according to the location. “If the party is in Mangalore, the number of foreigners will be more; if it’s at Yelahanka then there will be no foreigners, and if the party is at Goa then there will be only foreigners! In general, five out of every hundred ravers attending a party in the city will be foreigners,” is how Vishnu puts it.

Keeping it secret According to Amit , regular ravers are informed about forthcoming parties through sms, e-mail or through social networking sites, although, given the need for secrecy, word-of-mouth publicity is still preferred. Jeet, another regular at raves, reveals that many of the established organisers maintain a database of people who frequent rave parties, constantly updating them with new entries after every party. Organisers often provide party-goers with ‘secret codes’ to separate their preferred guests from unwanted ones. Amit says, “Sometimes many new people come to the parties, so while regulars are allowed in freely, others are given code words which they must tell the security guards to be allowed inside.

Sometimes, codes are also given to help party-goers find the location. They will be informed by organisers to tell something in code to a particular person waiting in a particular place. Only then would they be given the route and direction to the venue.” He further adds that the party dress itself is used as a code, and only guests who turn up in the ‘right’ attire are allowed in to the party. Rural rave If you thought rave parties were held only in the metros and in hotspots like Goa or Manali, it only means that the ravers have done a good job of covering up some rather unexpected choices of party locations.

For instance, who would have thought that sleepy Hoskote, just outside Bengaluru, would be playing host to wild parties? Or even Shimoga or Mysore? Says Vishnu, “Apart from Gokarna and Hampi which are favourite rave spots especially for foreigners, Mysore and Shimoga too host parties. Near the city, Yelahanka and Hoskote are popular choices because of the isolated locations they offer to party-goers.” He also names popular party spots near Big Banyan Tree, Hebbal, Kanakpura road, Lumbini Gardens and Bannerghatta road.

Prashant, another rave partygoer, said nowadays the trend is for people to organise smaller-scale rave parties in individual houses which are sound-proofed and where one can have a DJ performing without disturbing anyone. Swarup, an engineering student and rave party organiser, said that before organising a party in a private apartment or house inside the city, they visit the place twice or thrice to ensure that it’s safe. “We visit with friends and hang around a few times and see whether it is safe or not and whether anyone complains, and only then do we organise a party there,” he explains.

According to party organisers like Swarup, an organiser needs to have a good network of party-goers as well as drug peddlers, DJs, light and sound technicians and good knowledge of the party venue and surrounding areas. They say that most of the major party organisers have good political connections to bail them out of trouble, and it is not uncommon for the police to know about parties and yet stay away from them. Police version D Devaraj, assistant commissioner of police, Cubbon Park police station, busted two rave parties — at Manchanbele Dam and Big Banyan Tree in 2008 and 2009.

Recalling the scene at the party he busted, Devaraj said, “I have seen people lying on the ground unconscious in scanty clothes, a bunch of condoms lying all around, and so on. But even though we busted the party early, we did not permit the media in until after 11 am; not wanting the kids to be unnecessarily harassed.” He said that 2008 was the peak for luxurious rave parties, and now there are fewer such parties being organised. SV Guled, assistant commissioner of Police in the narcotics wing of CCB (Central Crime Branch) said, “All kind of drugs like charas, ganja, cocaine, heroin, brown sugar, opium, LSD, marijuana etc are available at rave parties.

The cost of the drugs varies from time to time and place to place. Some of these are grown or manufactured in the country, while others are brought in from Bangladesh, Pakistan and other foreign countries.” In Devaraj’s view, rave parties are considered illegal because they go on until late hours, playing loud music past midnight, party-goers are often dressed in scanty clothes, liquor served without permit, and above all due to the availability of drugs banned under NDPS Act. He revealed that the police regularly collect intelligence on rave parties, often monitoring the activities of regular organisers and party-goers, including on internet forums.

While monitoring by the police, and busts like the recent one in Khalapur, might effectively curtail large scale rave parties from being organised, it needs to be remembered that such parties are only one aspect of rave culture, an underground subculture that thrives in private gatherings and online forums, often beyond the reach of the long arm of the law.

‘I still remember dancing on the kitchen slab as a kid’

In Interviews on July 3, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Multitalented artiste Jyotsna Rao knew very early that she was going to be a dancer and choreographer, she tells Sonali Desai

It is one thing to be acclaimed dancer. Quite another to be one who also writes, draws and plays instruments. Jyotsna B Rao, who has won rave reviews for her contemporary dance performances in India and abroad, is all this and more.  

She holds a Diploma in Movement Arts and Mixed Media at Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts, Bangalore (2006-07), and has also passed the Talavadya senior exams from Bangalore University in tabla. She has also participated in a theatre workshop by New Active Theatre in 1999 and worked in productions with directors like B Jayashri, Suresh Anagalli, Prakash Belawadi, Pramod Chigao, Maltesh Badigere, N Ravi Kumar and R Nagesh. She was invited by the Brouhaha International Street Festival for a 25 days Exchange Programme; and she performed at South Port, Derby Park, Princes Park, Contemporary Urban Centre and Unity Theatre in Liverpool, UK- 2008.

Born in Frazer Town on December 27, 1981, she remembers her childhood as one that revolved around everyday adventures and films. At the age of 14, Jyotsna began dancing with Genesis, a cinematic dance troupe and made a journey through theatre, dance and music to finding herself in contemporary dance. She is also a qualified psychologist, which explains why she choreographed a contemporary dance piece on a theme as unusual as Abraham Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ theory for Genesis in June 2011. She is currently studying drums and also conducts classes in movement for children at the Core Pilates studio, Koramangala.

Excerpts from the interview:
You began dancing at the age of 14. Did you always dream of becoming a dancer?
I still remember dancing on the kitchen slab as a kid and showing off my moves to my sisters. I was barely five or six years old when I fell in love with dancing, and though it’s been that long I’m still in love with dance. I always wanted to be a choreographer; the idea of creating a dance piece thrilled and fulfilled me.

How would you describe your childhood days?
My childhood revolved around adventure and films. I was a proactive and inquisitive child who loved playing on the streets with friends and often getting into trouble because of the free spirited child I was. I loved games and spent a lot of time with my cousins; watching movies were a popular choice with my family as my aunt and uncle belong to the film industry. We would watch movies at family get togethers and night shows at theatres. In those days, there were drive-in theatres open to the public and I remember vividly watching a Sridevi movie.

You are a qualified psychologist, a tabla player, a theatre artist and a choreographer. How do you manage your time?
Well, I don’t think I do anything to manage my time. I just take each day as it comes. I love doing nothing at times. But the eclecticism adds to the way I think and create my work.

What do your parents have to say about your work today?
They are proud of my choice. My parents saw the premiere of Spirit at National Gallery of Modern Art recently and my mom told me that it was good, but also said that not many people would understand it. So she hinted that I do some popular dancing.

Your interest in dance is very much evident from the number of performances you have had. But, how would you explain your interest in Psychology?
Psychology… for life, I guess, and I apply it in my work as well. I like to find a balance between my academic interest and my profession which is dance. I’ve found a way to combine these two aspects in my work. Recently, I choreographed a contemporary dance piece on Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory with seven dancers. So, consciously I blend the two knowledge systems in my work.

What is your definition of ‘Dance Psychology’?
Research on movement/dance and effective utilisation of psychological principles to find a new movement.

 You are also trained in Kalaripayattu. Tell us more about that.
Kalari derives its name from ‘kalloorika,’ a Sanskrit word that means ‘school.’ Kalari was developed as a science of warfare to train warriors. It is presumed to have originated from different people like Drona and Parashurama as its original teachers. The intention of Kalaripayattu is not fighting but training the body and mind. They say that ‘body is all eyes’ or ‘mey kannaakuka’ in Malayalam. Kalaripayattu can be further classified into northern and southern styles. I trained in the northern style with Dilsagar at Attakkalari and also received instruction from Satyan Gurukkal of CVN Kalari during my training period. Kalaripayattu changed me as a person, my attitude towards life and taught me discipline.

How was your experience of performing abroad?
It’s a wonderful feeling to be travelling to different destinations and performing before a new audience and to connect your performative persona with them. The reactions from audiences have always been overwhelming. After each trip, I checked in a new lesson and a fond memory. It touches me to see the humaneness pervading through art and its transcending power that reaches the hearts of a foreign connoisseur, has made me feel blessed to do my travels.
Tell us more about the workshops that you have conducted so far.
Phew! Workshops to me are a combination of planning, homework and a challenge. I’ve had the opportunity of working with the best movers, fresh attitudes, enthusiasm and variety from 3 to 60 years of age, whether they have been children, teachers, professional dancers, corporate executives or students. Sometimes it is picture perfect and I love each moment of it.

Do you think there is an audience for contemporary dance in Bengaluru? How has been the response so far?
Definitely, I think Bengaluru is growing fast when it comes to contemporary dance with places like NGMA, Alliance Francaise and even KH Kalasoudha in South Bengaluru reaching out to the audience with contemporary performances. However, in comparison to classical dance it is still minimal. In the past, I’ve heard people say, “Chennagittu, but enu artha aaglilla” (It was nice, but I did not understand anything). Now they ask, “Was it about the soul and its journey? Or something spiritual?”

What are your future plans?
I want to continue dancing.

Landscapes as art

In Features on July 3, 2011 at 1:30 pm

Landscape Wizards is an exciting new photography venture that focuses exclusively on the wide and varied landscapes of India

Deepa Mohan

With the advent of digital photography, the techniques of image creation have become very easy; but taking a good photograph still remains an art. In the past few years, several young people of Bengaluru have taken to photography not so much as a hobby as a passion; and the latest among these initiatives is an unusual one: Landscape Wizards.

LW focuses exclusively on landscape photography, featuring the wonderful and varied landscapes that our country offers to both the seasoned traveller and the newbie, and the results are put up on their website.

“Popularising Landscape Photography as an art form and exhibiting to the world that India is not just about tigers and temples was one of the  motives behind the initiative,” says LW’s Shivakumar with a smile. “Most photographers concentrate on wildlife or macro (miniature) subjects,” he says. However, Landscape Wizards website concentrates on eliciting the incredible beauty of Indian landscapes and bringing them to viewers across the globe through the internet.

How did the idea of starting such a website occur?  Says Shivakumar, “All of us on the team share a passion for landscape photography, and that prompted us to jointly start this website. We have been friends for quite a while now, so the shared interest did not really need to be ‘put across’ to anyone. The synergy just happened.”

Apart from Shivakumar, the team consists of Anil K, Ashwini Bhat, Pramod Viswanath, and Sriharsha G. “Each one of us brings his own area of expertise to the team. In that respect we have a fairly balanced team altogether,” says Shiva. “We bring diverse approaches to the table in terms of our expertise, but at the same time we are united by our common passion.”

Is Landscape Wizards planning to add photographers to the team? The team members say that if they really come across some talent which is unique and exceptional, and which would expand the portfolio of the Landscape Wizards team then they might consider an addition, but for the time being it is beyond the scope of their plan of action. “We are more concerned in bringing in quality content to our viewers than expanding the team base,” they point out.

Of course, in conversation with the LW team, the next point that occurs is, is this a commercial venture, or one just followed as a passion? Are there any financial overheads? Shivakumar clarifies: “Landscape Wizards is definitely not something which started off with a money-based motive.” For the team members it is basically an art form which they want to pursue.

However, commercial enquiries/requests are handled by each member of the team under his own initiative. Any venture on the net, feels the team, will have quantifiable overheads either in form of logistics or finance. But the LW team also has a concerted plan of action, apart from individual work and interactions, and so the team-work takes precedence for the most part.

The team sees a bright future ahead for not just Landscape Wizard, but for Indian landscape photography as a whole. Landscape Photography in India, they feel, is a form of photography which is still in its infancy. There is so much diversity in India in terms of its landscapes, as much as in terms of its culture and languages. There is an immense opportunity to make award winning landscape images and propogate these images across the world through the medium of the world wide web.  In this country where nature photography is restricted mainly towards wildlife and bird photography, the LW team like to see themselves as leading landscape photographers and want to position themselves as pioneers in popularising this art form.

The team also believes that they are spreading a message of conservation. Through their images, the Wizards feel that they can make a difference to the attitudes of the people towards Nature. “The natural world is not just another place to litter or a place that people ‘use’ for holidays,” says Shiva intensely. “It’s a place that sustains not just human beings, but various other forms of life.” It’s the inculcation of a feeling of respect towards these forms of life  that, say the LW team, inspired them to come up with this project.


‘Make me beautiful’

In Editions on July 1, 2011 at 12:05 pm

The city’s liberal night life is bringing forth a new breed of party animal – weekend male cross-dressers – and many of them lead ‘normal’ lives as well-to-do professionals. A report by Chetana Belagere & Manju Shettar.

Chetana Belagere & Manju Shettar
It’s Saturday night. Forty-year-old software engineer Dipith Saxena can’t wait for them to see his beautiful bright pink saree with the traditional blouse and jewellery set. He rushes to a parlour on Brigade Road where a young attendant is waiting to transform him into a woman, to make him look ‘beautiful.’ Mr Saxena is one among an increasingly open group of men in Bengaluru who indulge in their desire to cross dress as women and come out of the closet during weekends.
Apart from a liberal pub culture which welcomes male cross-dressers as colourful additions to the crowd, the relative safety and anonymity of the Internet has acted as catalysts for this new breed of ‘weekend cross-dressers’ who no longer hesitate to pursue their fantasy to ‘become’ women openly. What’s more, cross-dressing even seems to have become something of a trend, something that the most ‘cool’ and fashionable people do.

Any wannabe cross-dresser who visits the many online forums for male cross-dressers in Bengaluru would find them easily accessible and supportive. Taken together, online groups for male cross-dressers in the city have some 350 members between them who regularly share their desires and needs and often meet in the real world. Though most of
them would like to dress up secretively, there are a few bold ones who openly declare their enjoyment in dressing up in women’s attire.

Why cross-dressing
According to Radha Rani, whose real name is Mayank Sharma, and works as a professor in a reputed research institute: “There are multiple reasons you’ll find men in dresses. A small fraction are entertainers; some are young people demonstrating rebellion. A few cross-dress as a sexual fetish while others cross-dress to be outrageous. But the overwhelming majority of cross-dressers do so for another reason entirely – self expression.” He says the demand for cross-dressing is so high that there are several young men in Bengaluru alone who have taken up cross-dressing as their part-time business. They set up small parlours within their homes and charge a certain amount to customers who are interesting in bringing their desire out of the closet.

Dr Rajesh Menon, another cross-dresser from the city agrees, saying, “There are many unisex parlours around Jayanagar, Brigade Road, Koramangala and Indiranagar which entertain such men and also have hired people exclusively for catering to cross-dressers. They even have accessories which can be rented out for a day and have to be returned after careful use.”
A drag queen speaks
Adam Pasha (28 years old) is one of the few such professional cross-dressers who are openly so, and is well-known for it. Speaking about his early experiences, Pasha says, “I started to cross-dress when I was 18 and my first time experience was horrible. I didn’t
shave my legs and my clothes were too loose and I felt very awkward. Slowly I learnt everything and now I have my own wardrobe.”

Pasha admits that it was difficult for him in the beginning. “I didn’t get the support of my parents but my elder sisters supported me but even they wouldn’t help when I had to dress up.” Pasha is a drag queen who goes by the stage name of ‘Emprissxara’ and often ends up giving fashion tips to fellow cross-dressers. He says he sources his costumes
from abroad and sometimes in India. He has lived in Bangkok for four years, when he used to train aspiring cross-dressers and also did many stage performances.

He says that back in Bengaluru, “I wear normal clothers like a man at my workplace and cross-dress if I go to a disco or clubs. People have begun accepting me now. I invest more time in choosing my costume and jewellery, slippers and other accessories. I won an award when I walked the ramp at the Bangalore Queer Film Festival,” he says, adding
proudly, “I am one of the celebrities in the city.”

Another cross-dresser Noori, a 40-year-old project manager in a private company, says, “I started to cross-dress in my school days and I used to be scared to wear all these costumes and learnt everything while watching my sisters. In the beginning it was difficult but when you have learnt it, it will become easy. I have been cross-dressing
for a year now. I like to wear a sari when I am with my friends.”

Pasha explains that it is very difficult for an Indian man to carry off cross-dressing. Along with guts, it needs some fashion sense. He says, “Indian cross-dressers don’t maintain their fitness and they don’t have a proper colour sense. They just wear normal clothes and
are not choosy either. They are also conservative. Most of the cross-dressers are not highly educated and they usually don’t come out to show their desire because of family restrictions. So they hide it and have fun by themselves when they are alone.”

Cross-dressing myths
Samyukth Rao, a software professional with Infosys and weekend cross-dresser, says there are many myths around cross-dressing. People tend to believe that men who wear dresses are homosexuals. But that’s not true, he says. “Most cross-dressers are strictly heterosexual. Even though gay drag queens are among the most visible (and most
outrageous, bordering on vulgar) men in dresses, the proportion of gays among cross-dressers is the same small percentage as in the rest of society. Speaking of percentages, it’s estimated that 5 percent of all men are closet (secret) cross-dressers.”
Also, the other myth is that ‘cross-dressers seek sexual partners’. But the fact is that while females sometimes use clothing to signal sexual availability, most of the time a woman’s attire is simply a personal expression of attitude and style. It’s the same with
cross-dressers, say the insiders.

Interestingly, according to the Cross dresssers Forum, not all cross-dressers are sissies. They go under categories such as rangers, snipers, Navy, law enforcement officers, firefighters, foundry workers, millwrights, test pilots, and even a rocket scientist
(really) according to their tastes and needs.
Cross-dressers seem to gravitate toward ‘macho’ professions, perhaps in denial of their emerging gender expression, says Rao. Dikshit Mishra, a marketing executive who takes his wife’s help to dress up as a woman whenever he wishes to, says, “Modern psychology accepts that cross-dressing is an expression of personality which is as immutable as left-handedness. Any problems cross-dressers may develop are in reaction to social stigma, prejudice, and bigotry — not disorder. Social judgment is not a valid basis upon which to regard human idiosyncrasies as mental disorders.”

Also, the belief that cross-dressers are perverts is a misunderstanding and the result of media driven stereotypes (Psycho, Silence of the Lambs, Horror Picture Show, etc.) and is not based on fact, he points out.

According to these forums, cross-dressing is not illegal. A statement on one such forum reads: “With the possible exception of a few ancient and largely unenforcable disguise ordinances, people are free to wear whatever fashion and style of clothing they choose and cannot be compelled by authorities to restrict their apparel to gender-specific
attire, else women wouldn’t be seen in pantsuits, jeans, T-shirts, etc.”

Nothing new
Citing the historical evidence for cross-dressing, Rao refers to Arjuna, who dressed as a woman to ‘become’ Brihannala during the last year of the Pandavas’ exile. While he was a bit upset — being cursed by the apsara Urvashi after he had rebuffed her advances and was turned into a ‘kliba’ (man who dressed and behaved as a woman) — it was Krishna who told him the advantages of cross-dressing.
The Mahabharata says that Arjuna, wearing red silk, long hair and bangles as Brihannala, hid his masculine glory without eclipsing it, “like Ketu covering the full moon.” Also, cross-dressing gets its biggest support in the Hindu tradition from Lord Krishna himself, who regularly wore Radha’s earrings, skirt,  blouse and shawl — while his belle donned his clothes — peacock-feathered crown and flute included.
Men dressing up like women and women dressing up like men isn’t something restricted to the champagne-sodden decadence of the 1920s Berlin of Marlene Dietrich. It’s also traditionally part and parcel of the ‘sakhi-bekhi’ cult of Vaishnavism.

These contemporary Brihannalas and Krishnas say those who want to dismiss cross-dressing as a passing fad would do well to learn their mythology and brush up their history.

Some of the websites offering cross-dressing tips are:

Cross dressing in history
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo is an all-male dance troupe that combines dance, cross-dressing, and comedy to both parody and celebrate classical ballet.
Drag artist Lady Bunny de Chevalier d’Éon (1728-1810) was the most famous transvestite of the eighteenth century. The French diplomat and soldier lived the first half of his life as a man and the second as a ‘woman’.
Divine (Harris Glenn Milstead, 1945-1988) was a versatile character actor, nightclub singer, and international cult star who generally performed his stage show and movie roles in drag. He became famous through his appearances in John Waters’ films.

Kabuki is a classic Japanese theatrical form incorporating fantastical costumes, stylised gestures, music, and dance. Kabuki originally showcased female and boy prostitutes, but now features all-male casts.

Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935) was a pioneering German activist and sexologist. A cross-dresser himself, Hirschfeld coined the term “transvestite.”
Miguel de Molina (1908-1993) reinvented the Spanish flamenco performance, but his open homosexuality and gender-bending stage persona provoked hostile reactions that plagued his career.

José Peréz Ocaña (1947-1983) was a fixture on the counter-cultural scene in Barcelona in the 1970s. The Spanish drag performer and painter was the subject of a milestone film in Spanish cinema by gay director Ventura Pons.

All things mango

In Features on June 19, 2011 at 8:08 pm

That was the just what they celebrated this year too at Ranga Shankara’s annual ‘Mango Party’

Gitanjali Warrier

Mango games, mango stories, and needless to say, just plain mangoes in all shapes and sizes. Day two of the Mango Party at Ranga Shankara saw a large gathering of mango loving adults and children telling stories, playing and avidly competing with each other to get their share of the juicy and ripe mangoes laid out for everyone. The annual event organised by Ranga Shankara is meant to inculcate a community spirit, and a wonderful excuse to have fun eating mangoes.

Put together by Arundhati Nag, the party was attended by luminaries such as Girish Karnad, as well as scores of theatre and art lovers who regularly patronise the place along with their families. When asked about the evening, Girish Karnad answered with a polite smile and an all-explaining nod, before mentioning a few sweet facts about the fruit: “The mango is an Indian fruit. The word mango itself comes from the Tamil word Mangaai, which is related to the Kannada word Maavinkaai. And there are so many varieties, and now we have a day to celebrate this variety.”

Arundhati Nag, the founder of Ranga Shankara, who calls the mango ‘a social fruit,’ first came up with the idea nine years ago, when she first decided to invite a few friends to spend an afternoon with her friends at the under-construction building over lunch with various dishes made of mango. She recalls that they brought a great array of them; mango rice, mango pickles, chithranna and a lot of other interesting and intriguing items. This led her to thinking, why extend this to everyone who would be interested in taking part, after all who wouldn’t want to enjoy mangoes on a breezy summer afternoon in the pleasant ambience of the theatre?

The day was especially fun for the little ones, who participated in various fun activities designed around the mango. One of these was a mango eating competition where the participants had to eat the mango without using their hands. It was an amusing sight to see the kids who finally gnawed their ways to the pulp leaping with joy on this achievement! The musicians of an upcoming Indo-German play, Boy With a Suitcase, started a drum circle for the children, and soon other musicians who were present join in with their instruments. A group of 6-8 year olds sat at one of the tables and were busy enjoying the fruit, and made sure that none of the adults where allowed anywhere near the beautiful fruits!

Keertana Kumar, who organised the whole celebration, asked the children about their thoughts on the fruit and many came up with answers like ‘My grandmother makes pickle’ and ‘My grandmother dries them on the terrace.’ One smart one even managed to give the recipe for mango chithranna, on the spot! Keertana feels that such memories associated with their childhoods must be nurtured; otherwise they would be soon forgotten, along with a whole culture which they signify.

To coincide with the Mango Party, a play Butter and mashed Bananas written by  local talent Ajay Krishnan, was staged. It was a play that made waves in the theatre scene when it was first staged, bringing the young playwright much acclaim. Arundhati Nag  was all smiles when said, “We are very proud of having encouraged these youngsters who have gone on to become known playwrights and actors. One of the ways we do it by doing mad things like throw a mango party!”


In Editions on June 19, 2011 at 8:06 pm

A group of engineering students in the city have successfully adapted Compressed Air Vehicle (CAV) technology to a motorbike for their college project. Sarmistha Acharya tells the story of their triumph.

Amotorcycle that runs on nothing but air?  If that sounds like a lot of hot air, wait till you see this one made by a group of four engineering students in the city. If the group has its way, we might soon have an ‘air bike’ – Compressed Air Vehicle (CAV) to be precise – zipping through our streets.

The students — Suyash Vardan, Sumit Kumar, Prabhu G and Shivaprasad AH, all from the MS Ramaiah Institute of Technology, designed the bike as part of their final year project on the suggestion of their guide. According to them, it is the first two-wheeler of its kind and is hundred per cent pollution free. The quartet has now received an invitation to present their invention in a forum to be held in the US this October.

Challenging project
The students readily admit that project was a tough one. Says Sumit, “Our guide SV Prakash gave us four to five ideas for our final year project out of which we chose this one. When we informed him of our choice, he warned us that some three batches of students before us had attempted the same thing and failed, and were forced change their project mid-way. But we took it as a challenge.”
The work for the project was divided equally among all the group members, with each of them spending up to four hours each day for the project. The whole project took a year to complete, including their two-month annual holiday during which the group stayed back in the college hostel to work on the project. As for expenditure, Sumit points out that it was lower than expected since they got the body of the bike from the college itself, with the rest of the expenditure equally shared between them, and came to nearly Rs 3,600 each.

The technology
Compressed air technology itself is not new, but the students say theirs is one of the few successful attempts in adapting it to a motorcycle. A CAV is powered by an air engine, using compressed air, which is stored in a tank. Instead of mixing fuel with air and burning it in the engine to drive pistons, compressed-air vehicles use the expansion of compressed air to drive their pistons.
Prabhu explains that compressed air is stored in a cylinder placed inside the fuel tank or under the seat. He says that the model they have built does not have a cylinder currently because they intend to use a fibre-glass cylinder which will be lighter than conventional cylinders – and cheaper as well – which they have ordered from a manufacturer in Italy. Each cylinder, with 15 kg of air, can last for about 40km at an average speed of 40 km per hour.

According to Prabhu, if the government were to implement the technology in bikes, the maximum cost of the vehicle would be Rs 30,000, easily affordable by the middle class. He lists the CAV’s advantages as follows: It is pollution-free, and you don’t have to worry about rising fuel prices. Unlike electric vehicles, it does not use batteries, and avoids the attendant risk of lead pollution. It can be used even in remote areas because people can easily get the cylinder filled with compressed air even in cycle shops by paying as little as Rs 10. Further, he pointed out that all four stroke bikes can be converted into this technology by replacing their engines with a CAV engine.

College sensation
While questions still remain about the technology’s technical and commercial feasibility, the ‘air bike’ has managed to capture the imagination of students in the college. The students had kept their work a closely guarded secret until one day a faculty member spotted them during a test drive, and enquired about the unusual vehicle. On learning that it ran on air, he relayed the information to others, and soon the bike had become something of a sensation.

“We couldn’t even have lunch that day as we kept getting requests from other students to demonstrate the bike,” recalls Sumit. But for all the applause, he adds, the group was able to complete the work just two days before submission date. Prabhu says that the rising price of fuel as well as environmental concerns were what prompted them to undertake the project in spite of its difficulty. “Petrol and diesel are non renewable sources of energy, so we wanted to build a bike that can run on a renewable resource that one can get cheaply and which also didn’t create pollution,” said Prabhu G.

Their biggest achievement, the students say, is in developing the engine themselves, within a year. They also ran into difficulty in finding a speed controller for the bike, which they finally found in Mumbai.

All-round applause
The group was thrilled when the judges who came to review all the projects appreciated theirs as one of the best projects of the year. Says Sumit, “The judges said that they were very happy that we have made the bike while studying in college. They also said that the engine can be used in small two-wheelers as well as for industrial work and asked us to patent the bike first.”

The judges advised them to approach the prestigious Society of Automotive Engineers in the United States. They are also getting curious visitors from industry, many of whom expressed their interest in the technology, but they would rather wait till they get their patent first, says Sumit. Recently, they were thrilled to get an invitation from the Society to present their project before them this October.
From their days of secretive toil in the college workshop, the group has come a long way; and that too, riding on nothing but air.

Goodbye, chief!

In News on June 19, 2011 at 8:00 pm

The recent killing of Mid-Day’s senior editor Jyotirmoy Dey has shocked India’s media fraternity. His colleague Satish Acharya remembers the committed crime journalist who was something of a mystery even to those who were close to him.

For me, J Dey’s name was synonymous with his column about Mumbai’s underworld gangs in The Indian Express.
When he joined Mid-Day some years ago, he sat next to me at our Mumbai office. He looked as though he was trying to hide his height and stature. He was unassuming, reserved and totally focused on the monitor. When I introduced myself to him, I said, “You’re a celebrity journalist.”

He laughed and said he was only as good as his last story. Gradually, we became friends, having dinner regularly at the office canteen. I never dared disturb him at work, for such was his concentration. His mysterious manner of talking on the phone fascinated me. He would call people bhai, boss, chief and so on.

One of my crime reporter-friends joked that now that I was Dey’s neighbour, even my phone would be tapped. Dey told me both the police and the gangs were eavesdropping on his phone. He misled them by calling people different names, sometimes even referring to his female friends ‘bhai’! He was a mystery, and it suited his investigative reporting.

At Mid-Day, graphics artists work a lot with crime reporters, doing story boards and sketching criminals. I had the opportunity to work with Dey and knew him as much as he wanted me to know him. If I ever had any doubt, like about the number of stars on a policeman’s uniform, I would trouble Dey or another of our colleagues, Vinod Kumar Menon.
When Dey was working on his first book, Khallas, he asked me to do some illustrations. He took me along to meet the publisher. The illustrations were never published because of cost constraints. On the way back, he took me to Byculla to meet the family of one of the oldest underworld dons of Mumbai.

The family treated him like one of them, sharing their grievances with him. He told me how politicians created underworld dons according to their convenience and then crushed them in cold-blooded encounters. He was angry. His stories seemed straight out of a Ram Gopal Varma movie.

Dey was like a cop, or a detective, when he wanted to get that extra little detail for a story. He had tonnes of info and photos. He had a huge network of khabris, whom he’d feed regularly. He would talk about his khabris proudly. He would share his home-cooked dabba food with us, as also his experience of dealing with the underworld and the police. Though some stories seemed too bizarre to be true, there was no denying his hardcore crime journalism experience.

I thought he always lived his life dangerously, never caring about the consequences. He knew he was under constant observation. He wanted to hide from the public gaze. When I asked him why his picture in the paper had a cap covering his face, he said he wanted to remain unknown. He wanted to roam the gullies of Bhendi Bazar or Behrampada without being recognised.

He made many people angry. I remember I had done a funny illustration about Dawood Ibrahim’s sister in Mumbai for one of his stories. Dey told me people in Dongri were angry both with the illustration and the story. I then realised the perils of crime-reporting. A couple of days after a story like that, he’d be back, roaming the bylanes to meet his khabris and look for stories.

It’s so ironic that his massive informer network couldn’t tip him off about the danger to his life on Saturday. Dey will live in the lives of all those crime journalists who work passionately and without fear. This will alarm them but I’m sure it won’t deter them.
RIP Dey.
Goodbye, chief!

The Wedding Photographer weds Reality

In Features on June 8, 2011 at 10:06 am

Sick of those fake ‘Kodak moments’ littered through photo albums? Say hello to candid or ‘natural’ wedding photography.

Sonali Desai

All of us have had to endure wedding albums filled with badly (or indifferently) shot photographs that have been thrust on us by over-excited relatives or friends. So, it might be surprising to find that those albums might soon become objects of nostalgia, thanks to a brave new breed of wedding photographers who are raising wedding photography to the level of an art form.

For them, wedding photographs are longer about saying ‘cheese’ or ‘Kodak moments’ that look too artificial and posed on hindsight, but about capturing the real expressions of real people in real settings. And what’s more, this candid and stylish new approach to wedding photography that entertains no fake smiles nor flashy backdrops is finding many takers among the younger generation.

No surprise there, either. For instance, if you ever come across the portfolio Anbu Jawahar – one of most sought after names in this emerging field – on Facebook, you would surely stop for a while to go through his work. Whether it is of the wedding set, the bride, the groom, the place or the people, every shot looks natural, simple, yet exceptional.

Anbu started shooting pictures only as recently as 2008, but his candid photographs from a friend’s wedding were appreciated so much that he decided to go professional. “Earlier people used to look into the camera, smile and then get clicked, but now people understand the art of photography, they need natural pictures than just a pose. I try composing the photography for wedding after talking to the couple, understand their rituals and I look for moments that speak to me, and that is how you bring in a best shot,” he says.
Prabhu Shankar, an architectural photographer who recently got his wedding photo shoot done by Anbu, says, “The best thing about him is that he can give you the best shot even in natural light; he does not require artificial lights, he can click anywhere at anytime. I chose him because I wanted my wedding pictures to be natural and not with poses.”

Nishal Lama, a wedding and a fashion photographer who follows the same approach, says that people are showing a lot of interest in a candid style of photography. “People have become more mature about photography; they don’t want the mundane stuff and capturing candid moments is all they ask for these days.” Nishal says that even though fashion photography needs to be customized, he tries his best to keep it natural. “Photography is nothing but freezing a moment. For instance, instead of taking a child to the photo studio, take him to the garden, let him play and then click the photos.”

Nishal also thinks that this type of photography is not really new, saying “most of the famous Indian photographers never shot their subjects when they were in a conscious state of mind. This is a western concept that is becoming popular now in India.”

others, like photo journalist Ayush Ranka, are slightly skeptical about the trend. “I feel that not many people understand candid photography and I don’t think there are many people who would go for it,” he says.

Kumar Sawan, a photographer who started by clicking snaps on his mobile is philosophical in his response, saying, “Everyone’s perspective differs from each other and so one cannot really say that photography has changed with time. The technology is the only change I see. But a natural photograph would speak to you and not a pose.”