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One more week to send in your entry #TheCityasMuse

We’ve got in some interesting entries for #TheCityasMuse contest.

I’m excited that all sort of fun people are writing in…from teenage schoolchildren to professionals, from travel enthusiasts to foodies, from bloggers to those making their first attempts at writing. The entries are pouring out straight from their hearts and that’s exactly what the ethos of #TheCityasMuse is!

What? You haven’t sent in your entry yet? What’re you waiting for?

Just take half an hour out from your super busy schedule. Transport yourself to that place you love, admire, yearn for, detest, want desperately to improve….. And then write or draw your feelings and experiences! Mail it in to

It’s really very simple!

Look forward to seeing your entry in my mailbox soon 🙂

A 6-yr old’s take on the India Art Fair

It’s an annual ritual, the visit to the India Art Fair. I’m interested in art, of course, but in a general manner. I’m not into buying or collecting, nor do I enthusiastically follow artists and their careers. It’s a nice event to go to to just soak in the trends, often quirky, the crowds and the experience of being surrounded by art. Even though art is not what you would call some of the stuff there!

This year, we took the kids along. We navigated the fair in two groups: Aadyaa, Amma and me in Group 1 and Udai, mum and mum’s friend Bashabi in Group 2. The Art Fair with Aadyaa was a whole different experience altogether! She’s very artistic herself, always drawing even on scraps of paper she finds lying around and it was interesting to see what she liked and what she found amusing. Bright colours, installations that you could interact with, audio-visual exhibits and sculpture were what really got her attention. And large canvases! Here are some pics to give you a better idea….

The first piece we say by Jitesh Killat I think. At this point, Aadyaa was a little dazed by the crowd and the buzz!

The first piece we say by Jitesh Killat I think. At this point, Aadyaa was a little dazed by the crowd and the buzz!

You can't go wrong with butterflies!

You can’t go wrong with butterflies!

Mumma, is that me?

Mumma, is that me?

Aadyaa posing with Aadyaa :)

Aadyaa posing with Aadyaa 🙂

This was the biggest hit of all. The TV and the clock were still working and the fact that the minute and second hands stuck out into space between 12 and 6 was rib tickling!

This was the biggest hit of all with Aadyaa. The TV and the clock were still working and the fact that the minute and second hands stuck out into space between 12 and 6 was rib tickling! Artist: Deepjyoti Kalita

Sneaking in one of my amused moments, a whole bunch of pics of homes taken mostly in Kerala representing the urban dream! All paint companies very much in business!

Sneaking in one of my amused moments, a whole bunch of pics of homes taken mostly in Kerala representing the urban dream! All paint companies very much in business!

My angel!

My angel! The dear old man at the stall helped her onto a chair to post for that pic…

Purda hi purda...having fun peering at each other through the lovely curtains by Pierre Legrand!

Purda hi purda…having fun peering at each other through the lovely curtains by Pierre Legrand!

A brief intersection with members of Team 2

A brief intersection with members of Team 2

Beating up Asim Waqif's piece to hear sounds and other auditory and audio-visual experiences were something new that Aadyaa loved exploring!

Beating up Asim Waqif’s piece to hear sounds and other auditory and audio-visual experiences were something new that Aadyaa loved exploring!

Meeting her friend Soha from school and creating textures on an outdoor exhibit was another highlight. The messier the better!

Meeting her schoolfriend Soha and creating textures on an outdoor exhibit was another highlight. The messier the better!

Those boxes were made to jump on! The installation that greets you at the fair is made by Space Matters, an architectural practice run by friends from SPA.

Those boxes were made to jump on! The installation that greets you at the fair is made by Space Matters, an architectural practice run by friends from SPA.


From hopelessness to a sense of purpose: Musings on a sunny November day

Self-confidence and motivation levels have a lot to do with how I feel, on any given day. Small things can disturb my usual sense of buoyant well being. This morning, I woke up feeling I’m not doing enough with my life. It was a holiday for the kids and all the little creatures were out in the park, soaking in the sunshine and running around happily. Watching them, I felt strangely disconnected.

It was a return to a phase that I went through a while ago, when I constantly doubted myself and lived in a state of anxiety. I was transitioning from being an entrepreneur and a content writer to I didn’t quite know what. I did know that urbanism is something I wanted to work in and that I thought about urban issues all the time. But to get a foot into the field when I had been outside it for years was quite a challennge.

Today, I have already been working in the low income housing sector for a year and a half and am actively researching urban issues related to poverty and housing, plus teaching a few hours a week. And in general, I feel a huge sense of achievement about all of this.

However, I do sorely regret the absence from the sector and feel it acutely at certain moments. The grounding in research that my masters degree gave me has been blurred inside my head and I find myself groping to find the level of clarity I need in my work. And of course, I’ve missed developments in theory and practice that happened in the interim years between graduating and returning to the field.

Focus has always been a problem. I am given to see the inter-relatedness among things and to narrow my thinking down to a single hypothesis is daunting; worse, I don’t believe narrowed-down hypotheses reflect reality in most cases, but I also know this sort of narrowing needs to be done in the interests of arriving at conclusions!

I’ve spent the day, and indeed the week, worrying about my naivette in trying to find low-income housing solutions in a city like Gurgaon, where land prices are prohibitive, the development pattern driven by private developers and political will is seriously in doubt. This sort of work is bound to push me into a sense of hopelessness, helplessness; but I need to believe that this research will yield something of use. I need to constantly remind myself that it is through constant endeavor to challenge existing notions of practice that new solutions might emerge. And most all, I feel strongly that we need to listen to the people we wish to accommodate, help, include in the development process. I would be happy if my research would offer a clear picture of what migrants experience and aspire to with respect to housing when they come from rural (and often far flung) areas of the country to a confusing, alienating city like Gurgaon. The findings would help us think about how we could help them, as planners, as city administrators, as politicians, as citizens….I do, despite the chaos, believe there is a possibility to weave government, private sector and civil society together to create a more inclusive and sustainable model of growth.

Finding happiness in dance: Vignettes from my kathak journey- Oct 15, 2012

My weekends are intensely cultural these days. That’s because I learn kathak on Saturday mornings and Hindustani classical vocals on Sunday afternoons. It’s been a long cherished dream for me to get back to both dance and music and once I had decided, there was no stopping me from soaking it all in!

Fortunately for me, I have found patient, good-natured and excellent gurus in Gurgaon. Learning under the tutelage of someone who not only excels at her art, but also is passionately in love with imparting its nuances to her students takes the experience of learning to a whole new level. I find that the informal interactions we have with our kathak guru Jayashree Acharya on art, culture, attitudes to life, how we deal with change in our society, values and a whole range of issues, have a direct bearing on our understanding of kathak as a dance form and the importance of pursuing and practicing the classical arts in modern urban Indian society.

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of watching Jayashreeji perform at the India Habitat Centre as part of ‘Tasmai’, a festival organized by the Aakriti Foundation. What struck me, besides the mastery she has over her art form, was her high comfort level on stage, her easy interactions with the audience as well as with all her co-artists who were supporting her. I felt like I was part of her performance, not someone watching from the outside.

My guru, Jayashree Acharya. She is a disciple of the famed kathak exponent Pandit Birju Maharaj and a superb dancer and teacher herself. Photo: Avinash Pasricha

Her students, aged between six and fourteen perhaps, performed a dance ballet ‘Paratatva’ at Gurgaon’s Epicentre a couple of days later. In terms of the theme, Paratatva dwelt on the importance of balancing the five essential elements of nature as a way to ensure the continued prosperity of our world. The raw power and beauty of nature, its sounds and rythms, its cascades and cadences were beautifully expressed by the children who performed via a skilfully choreographed ballet. Subtle costumes representing the colours of the elements-grey, orange, blue, green, brown- and a melodious background score added to the impact.

A capture from the dance ballet Paratatva

I enjoyed the overall effect of the dance compositions I saw, but also revelled in the joy of understanding some of the intricacies and even recognizing patterns (both tukdas and footwork) that we have learnt. A friend asked me whether I would be on stage some day and I didn’t really know what to say. I’ve always been the sort of person who craves the spotlight. I’ve performed many times- music, dance, drama, elocution….through school and college. I fancied myself quite the star, the diva.

But now, in my thirties, life has taken on a very different rhythm, a very different meaning. I savor the pleasures of learning and being taught without the bother of that competitive edge nor the bitterness of regret or failure. I enjoy both music and dance as art forms as well as ways to give myself the me-time I need. I have high expectations of myself, but I do not set boundaries or deadlines that stress me out. Now, in this way, I am truly enjoying the classical arts as they deserve to be enjoyed. No wonder, the good old traditions of yore placed the student at the feet of the guru, to learn, evolve and grow, bit by bit, over many years till maturity was attained, and beyond.

Jayashreeji’s students receiving their guru’s love and blessings at the end of the show

Enjoying the environs of Kashmiri Gate: Multiple experiences in one city- Sep 17, 2012

I am always up for a jaunt to Old Delhi. Today’s trip was made possible by an opportunity to interact with third year students of architecture in Guru Gobind Singh University that is located inside the Ambedkar University campus at Kashmiri Gate.
Perched atop a cycle ricksha from the Metro station to the campus, I took in this quaint part of the city with unabashed curiosity. St James Church, sections of the old city wall, run down but still beautiful buildings replete with rounded edges and the wrought iron details stared back.
Inside the campus, I saw structures that are quainter still. Including the building that houses the archaeology department and the Dara Shukoh library that had a colonial facade and Shahjahani cusped arches inside!
The interaction with the kids was invigorating and layered, and I was satisfied that I could provide some valuable inputs. The walk back to the station through back lanes revealed some decaying structures, the underbelly of the city and some interesting stray dogs! All in an afternoon’s work!
On the ride back, interestingly, I struck up a conversation with a European lady who had lived in this city for six years. We discussed whether Old Delhi would get gentrified soon, how the redevelopment process could be managed to conserve its unique character and how lucrative property values could simply ruin its fabric once the old structures started falling down! Urban redevelopment is what the kids I had just spoken to were also addressing in their studio project. How complex and unresolvable the problems appear and yet, there is a need to take a stand, have a vision for different parts of the city. The sheer enjoyment of the experience of the trip to Kashmiri Gate today and the sharp contrast from the urban fabric of Gurgaon underlines the need for us to conserve older and historic parts of the city. So we can experience the past in the present and take pride in our ability to enjoy multiple slices of time in our city.






Bonded to music: An emotional tale- Aug 21, 2012

Music is emotional and all those who journey down the path of music, whether as a listeners or performers, are often helplessly carried along in its sometimes happy and sometimes turbulent currents.

Music has reflected deeply on my personality. It has been a form of release, a tool to inflict pain upon myself, a way to get popular and a symbol of my self-esteem, in good times and at times when I’ve felt low.

How could it not be? I started this relationship young. Both my parents were passionate listeners of music. My dad had been a Hindi move junkie (Bollywood, that despicable term had not really come into its own in his day!) since his college days. Mum was into sophisticated stuff like jazz and Hindustani classical music. As their daughter, I was white water rafting down this river starting the age of 6, learning Hindustani classical vocals while mum learned the sitar and dad the tabla. They did this to keep me company and lure me into their world of music, I later realized. I also spent many nights sleeping though all night concerts of the greatest performers in the country, on chairs joined together or durries, as may be the case. I guess, despite a measure of childhood rebellion, the message seeped through and music was coded into my life.

I went on to learn fairly seriously from class 6 until I graduated school. Post that, music morphed into something more experimental, less rigor-bound and more based on moods, and time available. FM radio hit my life in hostel during my five years at SPA, New Delhi where I studied architecture. Singing was about having fun and bonding with friends. Music was still in my life. The river had slowed down, but the waters were still aplenty.

It was when I pursued my masters degree at Texas A&M that the music began to fade away to the background of my life, for the very first time. The following years were traumatic and busy at the same time. I married, I lost my father to a fatal disease, I set up a home, I had a child, then another. A decade of tumult, sweet and sour, bitter in bits. I knew I was losing the thread from time to time. I tried some half-hearted desperate attempts to clutch at the music that was flowing away from me, but it didn’t work. I had lost the confidence in my voice, and as a result, I went into denial about this relationship.

I tried to fight my deep connection with music. I went into denial. For months on end, I divorced myself from musical sound. I didn’t sing or hum and worse still, I didn’t listen to music. The more I stayed away, the guiltier I felt. The life force began to seep out of me, in a vague remote kind of way. So much so, that I was unable to relate the emptiness in my life (yes, despite my hectic life being a working mother, something felt amiss) to the absence of music.

At some point, I realized I had hit rock bottom. The music had died and needed rebirth. There was nothing for it but to start from scratch again! I had to do this for me, no matter what. And I had to do it for my children, who deserved to begin a relationship of their own with music. I began to appreciate how much music had enriched my life. I started to listen to music again, rebuild the emotional ties. The life blood began to flow through me again. I started taking lessons again. Bits and scraps of memory were rekindled. The vocal chords slowly started to respond to codes so deeply embedded that I had no consciousness that they existed. Progress is slow, but I am not giving up hope.

I will find music, the soulmate I had abandoned. I will make up for the lost years. I will gift my children the opportunity to experience of the life force that music is, for that’s what it was for me once and promises to be so, once again.


Review: Inaugural issue of Nat Geo Traveler Mag’s India edition: Go, go, go! July 18, 2012

I was handed over by Rahul the inaugural issue of the National Geographic Traveler Magazine’s India edition. I die-hard lover of travel and the idea of travel, I’ve been a regular reader of the Lonely Planet Magazine, which I simply adore.

I have a relationship with the LP Mag. There is this life cycle thjat I must describe to you. LP Mag arrives. Excitement. Open it. Flip through pages. Slowly, wonder gives way to depression- so many places to visit, one short life! The LP Mag lies around unopened by me for the next few days. Eventually, the melancholy wears off and the featured get a thorough reading, every picture gets a thorough look and the soul experiences an intense sense of travel-induced gratification, even though through the eyes of another.

I flipped the Nat Geo Traveler Mag cover to cover, read snippets here and there and was sorely disappointed. The writing isn’t fresh and frank the way I like it, and that’s why I love the LP Mag. Some contributions are superb, but most of the images are smaller than I like them and not nearly as breathtaking as one would expect from Nat Geo, the God of the Gods of nature photography. There is one fantastic poster insert though! Also, the practical info is not really there. You could argue we don’t need it given that we Google everything anyway, but when you get the info while you read the article, it makes the wheels in your head turn and you can analyze whether the trip is practical for you in terms of travel time, budgets, specific interests, etc. I am not aware of the brand identity iof the Nat Geo Traveler internationally, but I expected a little more focus on what I think are Nat Geo’s core strengths in terms of content-sustainability, biodoversity and a deep love for nature. I guess they put all that conscience stuff in the Nat Geo Mag itself! They did do a good job of profiling a wide variety of travel experiences though and refrained from talking about the typical family-type holiday experience. That makes sense,because it inspires a whole lot of us to try new things.

I already had the beginnings of the itch this week, and the Nat Geo Traveler just got me started on a full fledged travel deprivation attack! I think I will grow to love it in time. Meanwhile, I’m planning my next adventure tonight!

Surjeet-Sarabjeet mix up: What must it be like spending a lifetime separated from loved ones? June 27, 2012

Surjeet or Sarabjeet, what’s in a name? On days when life hands you lemons and you barely glance at the news, it is hilarious to see that the hottest debate of the day was about two names that sound similar and belong to two very different people! What a storm this has raised and what a goof-up!

A few days ago, I had wondered what it would be like to not see your family for decades, to know you have children somewhere and be separated from them. There are days I have a morbid imagination. And the death of near and dear ones is a recurring thought (no idea why). Sometimes I project myself into that situation and see myself as resilient and strong, other times I watch myself pose a tough exterior while I smash myself into smithereens inside. So this time, I thought the separation thought through and decided it was a fate worse than losing someone to the certainty of death.

Well, I grew up hearing stories from my father of how things were when his father disappeared. He simply never returned home one evening. My dad was a baby and only made sense of this later. But it took a while for the family to figure out that my grandfather was murdered. The stress and the trauma (of waiting, realizing, experiencing widowhood and being a single parent to 4 boys) changed my grandmother’s personality forever, streaking her behavior with obsessiveness, guilt-ridden self-punishment and a certain type of stubbornness we have all learned to love and respect dearly.

I’ve known friends whose family members have simply walked out of the home and never returned, and the fate of the missing one was never ascertained in any definite, proven way. My family was at least lucky to get some closure on this disappearance.

My father spent the last few months of his life penning his autobiography, which was dedicated to his mother- Ayee, Ajjee to us grandkids. His complete admiration of her and dedication to her he attributed to her resilience and tolerance of a rapidly changing world around her, despite the extreme trauma that life meted out to her.

Not everyone comes out a winner, as she has. She continues to inspire us all today. Even so, I wouldn’t wish on anyone the trauma of someone who has to spend many years away from loved ones. Or of the loved ones, who spend years pining for the one who has left and not yet returned.



For the socially inclined, satisfaction and challenges go hand in hand- May 30, 2012

I had the interesting experience today of traveling two hours in a car with people I had met at a workshop, who I did not know too well. Since we were all more or less strangers, only the two of us being from the same organisation, someone came up with the idea of each one sharing their life story with the others.
It was fascinating to learn what factors motivate people, what inspires them and how sensibilities are shaped. We were all here to work on a ratings project for affordable housing. Four out of the five of us were intelligent professionals who had experience in many areas, but had recognised in ourselves a clear social leaning. And yet we had arrived there via different paths.
I do not really remember when I recognised in myself a bent towards social causes. Perhaps the first seeds were sown by my parents. As doctors, they had a tremendous drive to benefit the common man and work for the larger good. I remember snatches of conversations that my dad had when we lived in Mumbai in the early and mid 80s. Friends used to try hard to convince him to make more money by entering private practice, but he never wavered. I grew up living on campuses of government hospitals across India. Service to people and service to my country were values I imbibed by my parents’ example.
It was perhaps no accident that I drifted into a profession like urban planning. Once in this field though, the challenge of working with the government in any form and the damage to the urban sector created by a host of poorly visioned schemes and policies are enough to make me feel terribly pessimistic at times. Professionals and organisations in this space are desperately trying to evolve mechanisms to create workable win-win partnerships that can impact the quality of our cities. Community engagement is key here, but we currently do not know how to efficiently tap the community as a resource. In social housing, we struggle with how to adapt best practices to diverse situations and how to scale up solutions to benefit larger numbers and offer economies of scale to attract private enterprise into the sector. More questions than answers, but at least lots of people are asking lots of questions!

How travel shaped me: Nostalgia! May 26, 2012

For me, vacations are about travel and there is nothing as exciting as planning a trip somewhere. My mum is an avid traveler and even on scanty budgets, we traveled quite a bit when I was young. Living away from family meant trips to Goa and Bangalore were normal. But we took an annual trip to someplace else as well. I remember coming awake in an open jeep to a watch a magnificent white peacock dancing at Kanha National Park. Car breakdowns near Kota, at an obscure village in Hassan district on our way to Belur-Halebidu temples are specially memorable as a child. I was happy to sit idle at strange places while people around me fretted and stressed out! Once, we drove through the Chambal Valley and dad could not have enough of trying to scare us with dakoo (bandit) stories!
The exposure of travel is priceless indeed and many observations regarding culture, environment, art, architecture and human behaviour stay with us because they came to us when we were busy having fun- traveling!
I fell in love with India’s heritage because I traveled to many major and minor sites as a child and young adult. I That I went on to study architecture and took a certificate in conservation during my masters in planning is no coincidence, in hindsight!
No experience was too harsh either! We slept on the station platform once and got thrown off a train another time, literally with bags and baggage going plonk, plonk, plonk at regular intervals down the platform as the ticket collector pushed them off a moving train! I can laugh now, but I remember that as a long, long night. That we plodded on despite obstacles clearly imparted some life skills. Despite travel anxiety, I can convince myself to let go and am confident things will work out and the usually do!
June is the travel month for our family. Cannot wait for it to begin!

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