Mumbai Diary: Sunday dossier

The city — sliced, diced and served with a dash of sauce

When Muhammad Ali made Mumbai laugh
Muhammad Ali will be long remembered for his dominance in the boxing ring and as the man who won more than he lost in front of a world audience. The fourth estate, too, have a lot to thank him for since there the 'Louisville Lip' never fell short when it came to dishing out the most quotable of quotable quotes.

Muhammad Ali with his wife, Veronica. Pic/mid-day archives
Muhammad Ali with his wife, Veronica. Pic/mid-day archives

Ali enjoyed trading punches with the media. Writer Tooshar Pandit's elaborate reporting of Ali's 1980 India visit in Sportsworld magazine included 14 questions from journalists who attended Ali's media conference at Taj Colaba on January 28, 1980.

Journalist No 1 asked Ali if he can pose him a question, to which Ali queried: "That ugly man wants to ask a question?" As the embarrassed journalist turned his face, Ali exclaimed, "See, I call him ugly and he thinks he is beautiful and turns around."

During the briefing, after a sip of water, Ali indicated he has a headache. "I've also brought my wife (Veronica) here and I am having  some trouble," he said. The press wondered what the problem was and he explained, "She likes Indian sarees. Some friends' sisters gave her two beautiful sarees and now after spending $3,000 to buy her American dresses just before our departure from the States, she tells me she does not want them. She now wants to wear only the sarees." The Crystal Room was in splits.

City designer helps Kutch artisans
On a trip to Kutch in 2014, Mumbai-based designer Kuheli Bhattacharya was blown away by the karigari of women artisans from communities of Ahir, Rabari and Soda. "Each community sticks to their distinct style of work," the 43-year-old says. The work was done only on pillows and bags.  She coaxed them to try their designs on silk and tussar sarees.

Students study at the schoo
Students study at the schoo

"Initially, they were petrified to tear the material, but once they got used to it, there was no stopping them," she says. By Diwali, a first line of bridal gowns with Kutch work will be ready for display in Mumbai.

The villages where Bhattacharya works are Padhar, Lakhpat, Dhori, Dhaneti, Jhikri, Bhujodi, Bhachau, and Sumrasar. "The women artisans in Lakhpat, a village close to the Pakistan border, are not allowed to come to Bhuj city, so they work on their pieces from their karkhanas," says Bhattacharya, adding that each saree or gown takes six to seven months to make, as the mirror work is intricate.

Kuheli with the artisans
Kuheli with the artisans

The profit goes to the upliftment of children in Padhar village, 17 kilometres from Bhuj, where Bhattacharya provides free education and health check up facilities to the children of these artisans. "I am building my own house in the village. A portion of it will have modern class rooms with Internet connection and proper teaching aids," Bhattacharya signs off.

Throwback to the '60s
Fashionista Pernia Qureshi, who is launching her new fashion collection, seems to have found inspiration in an unlikely source; yesteryear actress Vyjayanthimala.

Pernia Qureshi
Pernia Qureshi

 The collection, she says, is inspired by the film Amrapali. "The silhouette and colour of the outfit will reflect the backdrop of that era," says Qureshi. No prizes for guessing who will play showstopper — of course, good friend Sonam Kapoor!

Solidarity for Bhupen Khakhar
When art critic Jonathan Jones dismissed the Bhupen Khakhar show at Tate Modern earlier this week, it had the art community in India miffed (and rightly so, might we add). Writing for The Guardian, Jones called Khakhar "an old-fashioned, second-rate artist". His piece found retorts from Salman Rushdie, who Khakhar had once made a portrait of.

(L - R) Bhupen Khakhar and his portrait of Salman Rushdie
(L - R) Bhupen Khakhar and his portrait of Salman Rushdie

Rushdie stated "the younger Indian artists he champions, like Subodh Gupta, all name Khakhar as an inspiration." Sumesh Sharma and Zasha Colah from Clark House Initiative added their protest-comments too. Colah wrote, "Art criticism of kind really heralds its own demise. Bhupen is an artist's artist."

Jones has sparked off the conversation on Indian art and the West, with artist Waswo X Waswo stating, "Some people in the West still imagine that they are the ones entitled to have a final say on India's art history. And sadly, we allow just that."

21 stories of bravery
"Can you name one soldier who was awarded the Param Vir Chakra?" writer-activist Manju Lodha asks this diarist, even before she gets down to speaking about her new book, Paramvir. When Manju — wife of real-estate magnate and BJP politician Mangal Prabhat Lodha — gets nothing from our end, she mentions that this is exactly why she decided to write the book. Parmavir, which was recently launched in London, tells the stories of the 21 soldiers, who received India's highest military honour.

Manju Lodha at the London book launch of Paramvir
Manju Lodha at the London book launch of Paramvir

"They fight for us at the borders, and keep us out of harm's way, yet, nobody knows these brave hearts," she says. Manju, who met their families and interviewed three of the only living soldiers when researching the book, hopes that the stories of the war heroes are 'read and remembered'.

Meanwhile, proceeds from the book sale will be donated to families of the Kargil soldiers, who lost their lives in the war. That makes it two good reasons to pick up the title from your neighbourhood bookstore.  

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