Legend has it that Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s birthday was first celebrated when he was 26 years old, thanks to his beloved niece Sarala Devi, who gathered bokul flowers to make him garlands, and presented him with a swish new set of dhuti-chador (dhoti and a wrap). Despite the late start, Pachishe Baishakh, or the 25th day of Baishakh month, when Tagore was born, has become no less than a festival in the lives of Bengalis.
Palong Shak Bhate; Kachkolar Hingi; Pathar Bangla; Chingri Diye Bhat Bake; Rice
Since then, to celebrate Rabindrajayanti, programmes are held in every school, club, pada (neighbourhood) association, and even at home. No matter your age, you’re expected to chip in, be it with a poetry recital, a song, a dance performance or a play. And, like all Bengali celebrations, snacks are integral — a customary box of singaras (samosa’s eastern cousin), sandesh and vegetable chop — but for a change, food isn’t central to the day.
So, imagine our surprise when, ahead of the literary icon’s 160th birth anniversary, we learnt about Malad-based home chef Madhumita Pyne’s Thakurbarir Ranna menu that celebrates the myriad cooking styles of the Tagore household. A Kolkata girl at heart, Pyne, who highlights lesser represented fare from Bengal through her venture Insomniac Cook, shares that the Rabindrajayanti menu is rooted in her love for food history. “Last year, I picked up the books Thakurbarir Ranna by Purnima Thakur and Amish o Niramish Ahar by Pragyasundari Devi; both lend an insight into the Tagores’ kitchen. From meat pies to bakes and biscuits, I realised so many of their dishes were so different from what you’d see in any other Bengali household, as they had cultural exchanges across the world, including with the British at home.”
From the summer favourite jhaler jhol mixed veggies curry to the soul-warming murgir pishpash (one-pot chicken curry-rice), the menu boasts of eight fairly unique dishes from the Tagore family’s repertoire. “Tagore’s relationship with food was strange. He was known to not like the same food for a long time and would give into fad diets. For instance, he went through a diet where he ate raw eggs only, or the time he went through phases of eating boiled vegetables,” she reveals.
Palong Shak Bhate
Still reeling from the euphoria of connecting with friends and family for two virtual Rabindrajayanti programmes, the unmistakable aroma of mustard greets us when we open Pyne’s neatly packed, labelled containers. We pair palong shak bhate (Rs 250) — a mash of spinach and coconut tempered with mustard — with aromatic Gobindobhog rice. The heady notes of mustard hit the right spot. The kachkolar hingi (Rs 250), a hing-flavoured green banana sabzi, we find, is a simple celebration of the humble plantains; the boris or tiny lentil dumplings in it pack a nice crunch. The Tagore family’s European exposure comes alive in chingri diye bhat bake (Rs 450), a mildly spiced, layered casserole of rice, prawns, potato slices and onion rings that makes for a comforting affair. The pathar Bangla (Rs 450), a tender mutton curry, however, is a bit sweet-ish for our liking.
The real surprise is the dessert — peyajer payesh (Rs 200), or onion kheer. Laden with fragrant dry fruits, the payesh is a lip-smacking way to wrap up the eclectic feast. We’re not sure what Tagore did post such luncheons, but we recommend a nice siesta.
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Unrecognisable was an adjective that many used for Brendan Fraser in his latest role for Darren Aronofsky's The Whale. For an actor who was touted as the definition of stardom in the 90s' decade, the adjective might feel surreal. Yet, after a decade of struggle and emotional upheaval, Fraser has marked his return to the limelight in dramatic fashion.
Known for his genial charm and comic timing, the actor also hides within him a subtle performer with a flair for intense drama. To celebrate his comeback to the A-list, we look back at five underrated Brendan Fraser performances that have slipped through the cracks.
School Ties (1992) This might well have read as the 1990s stars to watch for compilation. Alongside Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Chris O'Donell, Fraser led the complete 90s' upcoming star list in a school drama about a Jewish senior battling friendship, emotional trauma and discrimination. It earned him notice among the critics for his easy presence and dramatic impact.
Airheads (1994)It is not easy to hold your own alongside two comedy greats, Adam Sandler and Steve Buscemi. Fraser did that and more as the lead of a loser rock band that hijacks a radio station to play their songs. While Sandler walked away with the plaudits, Fraser caught the eye of the studios for his looks and comic timing.
Gods and Monsters (1998) The actor has always had a penchant for the dramatic and stealing limelight from the heavies. This underrated cult film on the fictionalised life of filmmaker James Whale starred some heavyweights in Ian Mckellan and Lynn Redgrave. Fraser received critical acclaim for his first major dramatic performance in a film that won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.
The Quiet American (2002) In this adaptation of Graham Greene's eponymous novel, the actor took on the talents of Sir Michael Caine as a young American trapped in a love triangle. In the midst of his action career, the film was a daring departure and showed his leading man abilities.
Crash (2004) Arguably the film of the year, this multiple-Academy award winner saw Fraser play Rick Cabot, a district attorney battling racial tensions in Los Angeles while planning his reelection. While the film's Academy run and other performances overshadowed him, the role is another one on Fraser's list of underrated performances.
It isn’t always necessary that you deliver an empowering message sounding as serious as a school principal hauling up a truant kid. Sometimes, you can even be the class clown and make a meaningful impact. That’s something Aditi Ramesh does with her new single, Shakti, where the singer takes a stand for female empowerment with lines like, “Time goes on/ And our prejudices grow strong/ Freedom of expression/ No more repression.” The whole tune has a jovial feel to it even as Ramesh and a bunch of other girls dressed as pupils goof around on a school’s campus, before the weight of a patriarchal world inevitably burdens their shoulders.
Musically, the track is a cornucopia of sounds, with Ramesh’s South India-inflected English transitioning from a mellow pop tune to glitchy electronic beats. The essence of Shakti lies in its message, but throughout, its primary purpose seems to be entertaining the listener. And sometimes, the most powerful messages are packaged as entertainment, which is often the most impactful way of delivering them. Need an example? Think of Charlie Chaplin’s iconic speech from The Great Dictator, where he parodied Nazi Germany.
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The purpose of rap music has historically been to highlight societal injustices and tell oppressors that they can’t get away scot free. That’s what indie artiste Young Daku has done with a track called Farmers Rap, which highlights the battle that farmers in the country are waging against the central government’s policies. Some senior members of the protest asked him to compose the track that they later presented at the South Asian Conference on Agriculture, an international meet where their plight was showcased in the form of music. And Young Daku encapsulates this plight with the lines, “The problem with the present is the burdened MSP/ The setting of the prices and the owner of the seeds/ The farmers gonna die/ Then where you gonna feed.”
Overall, the track punches holes into the government’s justifications, and the rapper has a hint of growl in his voice, which only adds more character to his menacing lyrics. This is what rap music was intended for when it was born in the African-American-dominated Bronx borough in New York in the 1970s. Now, after all these years, that same don’t-mess-with-us ethos has well and truly reached the musical landscape of our country.
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Also Read: Why it is urgent to address caste-based discrimination in Indian medical institutions
Musician Priya Ragu is busy breaking boundaries and she cannot be contained. Earlier this month, Ragu announced the drop of her debut mix-tape, damnshestamil and in the run up to its release, ever-so-swiftly dropped a banger, a track called Kamali, a highly flavoured sonic fusion of elements like R&B and pop. However, there’s more to Kamali than meets the eye; it’s a story, an uplifting and unique narrative, based on entirely true events.
About a year ago, Ragu chanced upon a short documentary that followed the life of a seven-year-old girl, in the coastal town of Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu. The girl, named Kamali, was the only female skateboarder in the region, and the film captured her identity, her motivation and her mother’s strong efforts to guide her, against all odds. This struck a chord with Ragu, who immediately put pen to paper. “Somebody sent me a link to this short movie and when I watched it myself, I was touched by it. I felt this was a story that needed to be told,” says Ragu from her current base in St Gallen, Switzerland.
We think it was too. Through the song and the subsequent music video, Ragu captures the essence of the child’s story, often speaking to her through Tamil verses that appear in each hook; a treat for bilingual listeners. The video, shot during the pandemic, features Kamali, and includes visuals and unseen footage from the original film.
Ragu’s music and visuals were a welcome change. For the most part, watching an artiste like Ragu take her platform by storm is a matter of pride as well, for she represents a community and identity that’s uncommon in many international spheres. Ragu uses her Tamil roots and her culture for good and not blindly for aesthetics. This anthem is reassuring and powerful, serving as words of support and encouragement to the Kamalis of the world. “When I first saw an artiste like MIA, somebody who looks like me, do music, it gave me a lot of confidence to create my own sound. It’s nice to see the impact on young brown girls, because I get messages from many saying how much it motivates them. There are many such artistes like that coming up now,” she signs off.
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It was around two months after the first lockdown last year. Anish Sood, an electronic music producer born and brought up in Goa — who back then went by the same artiste name — opened up his system at home in the sunshine state. He then proceeded to delete all the files in it with synth compositions he’d been storing till then. It might seem like a dramatic move for a musician to make. But for Sood, that moment had been building up for about three years. Subconsciously, he’d been laying the ground for Anyasa, his new musical moniker, one that blossomed during the pandemic. Sood became Anyasa; Anish Sood, the artiste name, became a closed chapter.
Anyasa sees Sood incorporating Indian classical music elements into his repertoire for the first time. He is grounded in house and techno music as a synthesizer-composer. But last year, while producing a track called Jigyasa that Indo-US indie act Anhad and Tanner was making, it struck a chord. Sood heard Isheeta Chakrvarty sing Indian classical vocals on what was otherwise a wholly western track, and realised that he could take a leaf out of that book. Subconsciously, he’d been looking for a change from ‘Anish Sood’. The new label he had signed to, Anjunadeep, also gave him a nudge in the same direction and Jigyasa acted as a catalyst, Anyasa tells us.
Anyasa aka Anish Sood
Anyasa thus started corresponding with Chakrvarty, who’s Mumbai-based, sending her a couple of demos. He says that she liked what she heard, and he told her to free-style over it with her vocals. “Back then, it was meant to be a conceptual EP,” the artiste tells us. But life clearly had different plans, since that correspondence laid the foundations for Gaya, Anyasa’s debut EP, a product that consciously blends Indian elements into the sonic spectrum of western electronica.
Anyasa says, “I’ve actually had minimal experience [in Indian classical] and that is something which started changing towards the latter half of last year. I started reading up on it and began understanding ragas better.” He adds that for Indian electronic artistes to break out globally, they need to bring something authentic to the table. “Afro-house is the best example of that,” he says, referring to how the beats of traditional African vocals and instruments have added a distinctive layer to contemporary house music, the sound acting as a sort of soft power that shines a light on the ‘Dark Continent’.
The plan now is to develop a DJ set for nightclub gigs — whenever that scenario will again be allowed — and, apart from that, build a large-scale ensemble with 10 other musicians to perform at a festival stage. This stage will have Indian classical instruments and vocalists, western instruments like the violin, maybe even Rajasthani folk instruments like the sarangi. Who knows? There’s only one thing he knows for sure, the musician says. The bass line from his synthesizer will hold the compositions together. This will be music where the East meets the West. “I can’t say that I am the first person to do it, because I am not,” Anyasa says, explaining how maverick acid-house composer Charanjit Singh was way ahead of his time over 20 years ago.
But the fact is that here is a musician who has gone through a musical transformation during the pandemic, to the extent where we can say, “Anish Sood is dead. Long live Anyasa.”
Sitar maestro Purbayan Chatterjee found himself to be in a bit of a soup in January this year. He had about 25 per cent of a new album he was working on framed in his head. And he then had a 10-minute phone call with UK-based label Sufiscore, after which he gave them a wish list of global collaborators he was keen to work with to finish the project. These names included the who’s who of improvisational music — Ustad Zakir Hussain; keyboardist Jordan Rudess of progressive metal act Dream Theater; Antonio Sanchez, who composed for the hit musical Birdman; Michael League, founder of modern jazz pioneers Snarky Puppy; and banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck, among others.
By the end of the month, all of them were on board, thanks mainly to Hussain putting in a personal word about Chatterjee’s prowess to these musicians. And the soup that the sitar player found himself in was this — “How do I direct someone like Béla Fleck or Zakir Hussain? How do I wear both hats, of the project being my own vision and letting these artistes bring their own magic into the picture?”
It’s an understandable conundrum. But happily for Chatterjee, the biggest lesson that these masters taught him is to have belief in himself. They made him understand that there might be 100 different ways of approaching a composition, but you have to have 100-per cent belief in that one sound you decide upon. Chatterjee says, “They would ask me, ‘What do you want us to do?’ And I would say, ‘I would love for you to bring in your own vision,’ to which they would reply, ‘Sure, we will do that. But what vision do you have?’ No one was high and mighty, saying things like, ‘Leave it to me, I will figure this out alone.’ That’s how grounded these masters are.”
The final album, called Unbounded - Abaad, is thus a sum total of these collective visions where the musicians would go back and forth as equal partners, exchanging notes across continents before everyone was happy with what was on the table. The first single from it, Shanmukhapriya featuring Shankar Mahadevan, released two days ago, while the entire record will be launched in September. Its sonic design is such that traditional sounds such as Carnatic or Indian folk music do a merry dance with modern influences like the electric guitar.
But remember while listening to it that this album is not just a piece of music. It’s also a lesson in humility. It was possible only because the disparate stakeholders kept their egos aside, no matter how accomplished they are.
And that’s something we can all take on board in life, regardless of whether we are musicians or not.
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Jataka Tales meets Aesop’s Fables. Readers of a certain vintage who were exposed to these two streams of classical children’s literature might find a connection with the world that comes to life in L Somi Roy’s And That is Why (Penguin). Wise owls, scheming jackals, jabbering monkeys and marauding cats formed part of the literary landscape that imparted simple, relatable life lessons, which remain relevant till date. Birds and animals are the key protagonists in the 12 magical stories that salute Manipur’s rich legacy of storytelling. Roy sought oral sources gathered from scholars, balladeers and archivists from his home state to showcase it to the rest of the world.
Extracts from an interview with Roy.
Could you tell us how you went about your research where oral traditions played a huge role?I had written up the story of the famous heirloom black rice of Manipur as found in the manuscript called Poireiton Khunthokpa, or the Travels of Prince Poireiton, before the current book. That led me to the discovery of oral traditions that complement the text. So, I consulted my friend and Pena [traditional Manipuri mono string instrument] balladeer Mayanglambam Mangangsana about the oral versions of the stories. Like, for instance, in the story of the deer, divine intervention comes to the rescue of the goddess, whereas in Mangangsana’s ballad, a pretty little fish saves her. Guess which one I adopted for my retelling!
Illustration from the story And that is why Manipur is the birthplace of polo
How long did the process take from idea to final book?Looking back at earlier versions for my manuscript digitisation and pony preservation projects, I would say the process goes back to around 2005. As a children’s book, I started writing this in 2019.
As a writer, what was your primary task after you gained access to these beautiful stories?I am not a writer. I mean, not in the literal sense. I approached children’s literature in much the same way I use polo for the Manipuri pony preservation project; as a strategy, a tool for cultural reframing and repurposing. True, my interest in manuscripts began with international scholarly research, but once I tucked into these stories for children, my singular interest was what would appeal to the child reader. What would amuse her? What would not bore him? The challenge was to weave the archival, ritualistic, textual, and oral variations into one single narrative. For, there are many, many versions as you might imagine of mythology expressed in word and song over centuries.
L Somi Roy is actively involved in the conservation of the Manipuri pony. Pic courtesy/Nan Melville
What has been the initial reaction, especially from children so far?I sent early drafts to my friends’ kids aged between nine and 13 years. One girl was drawn to the poop story. Yes, she was at that age. Ten-year-old Jessica had serious questions and comments about the mother pied cuckoo. I loved it so much that I requested my publisher to use it as the book cover blurb. In Manipur, the book generated interest across the board. We are not a material culture, and the manuscript tradition is our supreme patrimony. Seeing Manipuri mythology cast as once-upon-a-time to happily-ever-after tales to be exported to the outside world seems to have struck a chord for the community as a whole.
Tell us more about the striking illustrations by Sapha Yumnam? How did both of you work to arrive at the artwork?Discovering Sapha’s work has been amazing. I had quietly despaired of finding the right art for the book. He is a young modern artist; the only one working with the old Subika style of the manuscripts. I fell in love with his artwork instantly, and so did my publisher. I left it to him to create one major painting per story that collaged elements from them. But I got him to do the smaller ones in the style of a manuscript leaf with Meitei Mayek inscriptions of nursery rhymes. We argued about one bird, and that is all I will say!
As a Manipuri author, do you feel that children’s literature from the Northeast is under-represented? Absolutely. This is the publisher’s first children’s book from the Northeast. And there are so many wonderful stories here; not just mythology but also folk tales. They express a unique world-view. I chose myths with birds and animals because, well, it’s birds and animals.
Anjali Bhagwat, Shooter, 2000 Sydney OlympicsOlympic Village vibe
Those who are going to the Olympics for the first time will not know the difference, but other athletes will. There’s a difference between the normal competitions and the Olympics. The latter is the ultimate dream of an athlete, because the whole world will be tuning in to see their performance. Living in the Olympic village is also a great experience. The spirit there is different and you tend to feel special. Not sure how it will be now, with the restrictions in place. I think the athletes should be happy that the Olympics are happening in the first place, because if it were to be cancelled completely, it would have been a waste of four years of hard work.
Akhil Kumar, Boxer, 2008 Beijing OlympicsIn battle mode
See, a boxer is like a warrior — you’re told to fight, and you enter a battle. When we are in the ring, we don’t even realise that people are watching us. So, it doesn’t matter whether they are there or not, because our vision is eventually towards the podium. Yes, players want praise for motivation. Ghar mein naacha mor kisne dekha? But the focus is on putting up your best performance. No one goes to the Olympics for a holiday, and the boxers this year will just have to understand that the battle is against an unseen opponent.
Anju Bobby George, Long jumper, 2004 Athens OlympicsThis is the reality and athletes have to get that
Athletics is the centre stage of every Olympics. There are usually over a lakh spectators who’ll be cheering and we can feel the vibrations outside of the stadium itself. I can’t imagine the Olympics without those many spectators. Athletes are however always performing to improve themselves and their performances for their medals, but nevertheless the essence of the competition will be missing. This is the reality; we have to perform in these circumstances anyway. Athletes are missing out on events and games during their prime. Many athletes from India are going to the Olympics without having competed in other international competitions. But outside India, that’s not the case. When we participate in major championships like the Olympics we need experience and exposure with other athletes, to improve our ranking too.
Adrian D’Souza, Hockey player, 2004 Athens OlympicsEvery sport is different
In a situation like this, I would be really disappointed if I were an athlete from the home country, Japan. I saw at the Olympics how Australia was cheered on by their supporters, which helped them win the gold medal. I agree with Akhil that as a boxer, you can’t be distracted for even one second. But as a goalkeeper in a hockey match, I can hear both the praises and abuses since I am close to the spectators. Tennis players can exult and look at their fans for motivation after a winning shot. Every sport is different. Right now, the Euro 2020 is underway, and you can see the difference when the matches are held in Denmark or Hungary [where full-capacity stadiums are allowed]. For me, the pre-match or post-match interactions between fans and athletes don’t matter that much. What matters is the time on the field.
With growing awareness about eco-conservation and the dangers of climate change, the fashion industry has come under increased scrutiny for its environmental impact. It is responsible for producing 10 per cent of the planet’s carbon emissions, is the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply, and pollutes our oceans with microplastics. Switching to more sustainable clothing habits, therefore, will require a conscious unlearning of our modern consumption habits. And as these eco-conscious fashion lovers tell us, the move to sustainability begins with one small but meaningful change.
Fast fashion is a thriving industry, and it has made more people compulsive buyers today than ever before. In fact, statistics reveal that clothing production has roughly doubled since 2000, and people were buying 60 per cent more clothes in 2014 than in 2000. Consider also that roughly 85 per cent of all textiles produced go to landfills every year and the equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is burned or dumped every second, says Sana Khan, founder of Bombay Closet Cleanse, a Bandra-based thrift store. “I try to buy less and choose classic pieces, such as a smart white shirt, black blazer and mom jeans, which never go out of style and can be paired easily. I don’t have more than 30 pieces in my wardrobe, as of now,” she adds.
Instead of being swayed by price tags, Sujata Biswas, co-founder of Suta, a clothing brand, recommends that you purchase based on how often you can wear a garment. She points to the #30Wears trend on Instagram, which challenged fashion-lovers to consider whether they would wear a piece at least 30 times. Before buying very cheap garments, consider that these may have been produced unethically, with their makers not being paid fair wages or working in inhumane conditions. “On the other hand, buying expensive handcrafted items that you rarely wear is also unhelpful as it creates more waste — they may tear along the folds over time and be rendered unusable,” she explains.
“We’ve become accustomed to washing our clothes too frequently, both in terms of how often we wash each garment as well as how frequently we run our laundry loads. With each wash, our garments release microthreads and microplastics [in the case of polyester fabrics], while also consuming large amounts of water and electricity. Fewer washes mean lesser use of resources and lesser pollutants being released with greywater,” says Prerna Singh Butalia, founder of a sustainable fashion website called Pretty As You Please. She recommends airing your clothes out after every wear to kill bacteria and help your clothes last longer. Also switch to natural detergents such as soapnut or bioenzymes, which are kinder to your clothes and just as effective. The greywater can be safely used to water plants. Finally, remember to clean your washing machine’s filter often so that it catches microplastics more effectively.
“Today, when our clothes become tight or tear, we immediately seek to replace them. Rewind to a few decades ago and this is quite unlike how our parents’ generation would treat clothes — they would either try to mend or alter them at home or take them to the tailor. I think it’s important to return to our roots in this sense. There are so many DIY upcycling hacks available online, which one can take inspiration from. I’ve also been sourcing at least a part of my wardrobe from thrift stores,” says Kriti Tula, co-founder of Doodlage, a sustainable fashion brand.
Watch>> Alone Together is a visual piece on the world in lockdown in the past year, with a voice-over by Dr Maya Angelou’s son, Guy Johnson. It’s based on her poem Alone, which explores themes of loneliness and togetherness that might resonate in these tough times. The film features glimpses of lockdown in 13 cities from around the world, including Mumbai.Log on to: mayaangelou.com
Listen>> In this insightful two-part podcast of Super Soul, talk-show host Oprah Winfrey speaks with her late mentor Angelou, who discusses her book Mom & Me & Mom. In it, the poet shares memories from her younger days, along with advice from her mother that helped her to find the strength to face all adversities in life. Log on to: Apple Podcasts
>> While Angelou is famous for her poetry, she also dabbled in music, having released Miss Calypso, her only album in 1957, years before her writing took off. Tune in to this unique playlist of essentials, with some songs from her debut album and a few of her spoken word pieces.Log on to: tidal.com
>> Check out this edition of BBC’s In The Psychiatrist’s Chair, where late Dr Anthony Clare talks to Angelou in a 40-minute long conversation, about her life, influences, race and culture in America and of course, her poetry. Log on to: bbc.co.uk
Read>> In what can only be described as a legendary collaboration, Angelou joined hands with artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, for an illustrated children’s edition of her popular poem Life Doesn’t Frighten Me. Combined with the daring artistry of Basquiat, the poem talks of courage, from both young and old, and serves as a great way for kids to be introduced to her work.Log on to: amazon.in
>> In this comprehensive title, writer Linda Wagner-Martin discusses all of Angelou’s autobiographies, poetry and essays, while also examining her life as an African-American woman and a creative writer, along with detailing her contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. Log on to: amazon.in
There’s more >> The American Writer’s Museum Podcast: Episode 7 with Maya AngelouLog on to: americanwriters-museum.org
>> Maya Angelou, The Complete Poetry E-Book Log on to: amazon.in
>> Maya Angelou reads her poem, A Brave And Startling Truth, at the UN’s 50th AnniversaryLog on to: youtube.com
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