Bombay, 1943. The young Parsi actress who was playing Salome in the newly founded Theatre Group’s production of Oscar Wilde’s eponymously titled play drew the line at performing the Dance of the Seven Veils, a sort of ‘Biblical striptease’. So director Sultan Padamsee’s 19-year-old sister Roshen stepped in. And met the handsome,
intense Arab who played the male lead—Ebrahim Alkazi. In 1946, they were married.
Thus was forged one of the greatest alliances in the world of theatre and art in post-Independence India. Ebrahim Alkazi took English theatre from its early beginnings in Bombay to national and even international acclaim as he directed and acted in more than a hundred plays, ranging from Oedipus Rex, Murder in the Cathedral and Macbeth in
the 1950s, to Ashadh Ka Ek Din, Andha Yug and Tughlaq in the ’60s and ’70s. As director of the fabled National School of Drama from 1962 to 1977, he launched some of the finest actors of our times, including Om Shivpuri, Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah, Rohini Hattangadi, Manohar Singh and Uttara Baokar. Chief costume designer and
seamstress for all his productions was Roshen Alkazi.
In 1977, when Ebrahim and Roshen decided to open Art Heritage in Delhi, it gave a new dimension to the world of art, as the leading artists of the day, including M.F. Husain, Krishen Khanna, F.N. Souza, Tyeb Mehta, K.G. Subramanyam and
Laxma Goud, flocked to this space that was not just a ‘commercial’ gallery, but a foundation for documenting and preserving the arts.
With more than 50 rare photographs, Enter Stage Right is the story of theatre in India as it has never been told before…to be treasured by theatre buffs, and savoured by anyone who loves a good story.
In this no-holds-barred memoir, renowned feminist economist and academician Devaki Jain recounts her own story and also that of an entire generation and a nation coming into its own.
She begins with her childhood in south India, a life of comfort and ease with a father who served as dewan in the Princely States of Mysore and Gwalior. But there were restrictions too, that come with growing up in an orthodox Tamil Brahmin family, as well as the rarely spoken about dangers of predatory male relatives. Ruskin College, Oxford, gave her her first taste of freedom in 1955, at the age of 22. Oxford brought her a degree in philosophy and economics—as well as hardship, as she washed dishes in a cafe to pay her fees. It was here, too, that she had her early encounters with the sensual life. With rare candour, she writes of her romantic liaisons in Oxford and Harvard, and falling in love with her ‘unsuitable boy’—her husband, Lakshmi Jain, whom she married against her beloved father’s wishes.
Devaki’s professional life saw her becoming deeply involved with the cause of ‘poor’ women—workers in the informal economy, for whom she strove to get a better deal. In the international arena, she joined cause with the concerns of the colonized nations of the south, as they fought to make their voices heard against the rich and powerful nations of the former colonizers. Her work brought her into contact with world leaders and thinkers, amongst them, Vinoba Bhave, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Henry Kissinger, Amartya Sen, Doris Lessing and Iris Murdoch, her tutor at St Anne’s College, Oxford, who became a lifelong friend.
In all these encounters and anecdotes, what shines through is Devaki Jain’s honesty in telling it like it was—with a message for women across generations, that one can experience the good, the bad and the ugly, and remain standing to tell the story.
A chance comment in 1974 fired Peter Brook and Jean-Claude Carrière with the idea of producing a play based on the epic. Together they travelled across India, searching for all possible theatrical forms of the great poem. The result was an epic play—9 hours with two intermissions—later made into a film and a TV series, which has become a landmark in theatre. Another result was this delightful book made from the notes that Carriere jotted down during his travels, whose charm is enhanced by his piquant illustrations that run through the pages.
The ‘sacred frenzy’ of Theyyam in a Kerala village and the intricacies of Kathakali are interwoven with their encounters with the aged Shankaracharya of Kanchipuram, a ‘one-in-three saint’, and the legendary Satyajit Ray in Kolkata. Here they also meet Professor P. Lal, who has been working for twenty years on translating the Mahabharata into English. It is vignettes like these that make their search for the epic into a journey that shows India, through Carrière’s words and sketches, in a way it has never been seen before.
The year 2018 marks the fortieth anniversary of the Beatles’ trip to Rishikesh, to stay at the ashram of their guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Along with John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr came a host of other celebrities, including pop stars Donovan and Mike Love (of the Beach Boys fame) and actor Mia Farrow.
Amongst them was Susan Shumsky, one of the Maharishi’s earliest disciples. In this memoir, she offers an honest and dynamic exposé about a phenomenal, influential spiritual master and the dysfunctional organization he founded. From her ringside view, she tells the story of what really happened at Rishikesh, encounters with many of the Maharishi’s famous disciples and her own personal journey from hippiedom to meditation under the tutelage of the man who introduced TM—Transcendental Meditation—to the West.
In this memoir by an unashamed Indian, Haksar writes about how food shaped her awareness of politics, patriarchy, nationalism and socialism, from her childhood during the Nehruvian era onwards. She takes us on a thoughtful journey through India, from her Kashmiri Pandit family settled in Old Delhi and Lucknow, to human-rights activism on behalf of Nagas in Manipur; from grappling with feminist ideals, to considering the impact of a globalized food industry in Goa.
On a wider scale, she explains how our tastes and attitudes to food are shaped by caste, race, gender and class, exposing latent prejudices and bigotry. Haksar explores questions posed by food anthropologists and ecologists, and revisits debates between Babasaheb Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi on inter-dining. She also addresses the present controversies over beef-eating, vegetarianism and ideas of Hindu vs. Muslim food, in a milieu where debate is silenced.
With wry accounts of sharing meals with Burmese and Iraqi refugees, and arguing about bourgeois vs. proletarian tea in the Naxalite movement, the book also contains memorable recipes from the many people she has eaten with. At heart is her question that if Indians cannot imagine sitting with each other and sharing food with a sense of equality and respect, how then can a national unity be built?
The Scope of Happiness is the autobiography of an outstanding world figure who was the sister, confidante, and lifelong political associate of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru and the aunt of Indira Gandhi. Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit participated in the Indian national struggle for freedom from its inception and was imprisoned three times. In this very personal view of the struggle for independence, she gives an evocative picture of the cultured and protected world in which she grew up in Anand Bhavan in Allahabad, conveying even the textures, aromas and sounds of her childhood home. She offers an unprecedented picture of life in India under British rule, with its rigorous restrictions and racial bigotry.
A compelling strength of this book is the intimate picture the author draws of many great figures: the searching and affectionate view of her brother, the insight into her niece Indira, a personal record of Mahatma Gandhi that no one else could give—and penetrating and entertaining anecdotes of world figures such as Krishna Menon, Earl Mountbatten of Burma, Chester Bowles, Dag Hammarskjold, Eleanor Roosevelt, President Tito and Prince Charles. No other living individual could draw the sweeping historical picture that Mrs Pandit has given us in her memoir, making it a book of rare significance that will speak lastingly for generations to come.
In the 1970s, Sarah Lloyd, a landscape architect from England, was at a railway station in Calcutta when she met Pritam Singh—nicknamed Jungli by his mother—a Nihang Sikh with a ‘powerful face that instantly compelled’ her. Soon after, Sarah travelled to Amarkot, Jungli’s village near Amritsar, and started living with him and his extended family—his stepfather, Pitaji; his mother, Mataji; Balwant, Jungli’s brother, who came and went; and his unhappily married sister, Rajinder.
As she observed—and battled—the routines of an alien life, and tried to fit some of the moulds set out for her, Sarah came to understand Jungli better—his generosity of spirit, his idealism, his beliefs, and his unquestioning love for her—even as she realized her own ambivalence about him. She also learnt to deal with his temper, his bouts of despair, and his addiction to opium.
After Mataji threw Jungli out, the couple moved to Chandinagar in UP, where Jungli worked at a Sikh dera. There they lived in a one-room hut, cheek by jowl with families even poorer than them, each one dependent on Santji, the dictatorial saint who ran the dera. And it was there that she inevitably, finally ended their relationship.
An account of an unlikely love, and a rare and unusual portrait of rural India, An Indian Attachment is a compelling read: forthright, spare and—in its psychologically complex examination of desire and disillusionment—timeless.
Beginning with his interactions with Dr Salim Ali, the legendary ornithologist—who was also his grand-uncle—wildlife biologist Rauf Ali takes the reader on a journey through India’s natural history and the beginning of ecological studies in India.
Rauf was one of the first Indians to complete a PhD in wildlife biology—he researched the social behaviour of bonnet macaques in the forests of Mundanthurai region in Tamil Nadu. In the late 1980s, he was instrumental in setting up one of India’s first Master’s programmes in ecology, and later, as an ecologist, Rauf undertook the task of delineating Protected Areas in the Palani Hills of the Western Ghats. He was also among the first to conduct environmental research in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and in this book, he provides eye-opening information on the environmental damage caused by the introduction of chital and other species alien to the region.
Enlivening the narrative are anecdotes drawn from a career spanning over three decades: of encountering wild elephants; dealing with red tape; and whiskey-laced brainstorming sessions with students and Nobel laureates alike.
Through these personal accounts, Rauf reveals the state of environmental conservation in India, and the complex relationship between locals, wildlife researchers and forest officials. He also emerges as a person who was influential in creating policies for the conservation of the environment and who had little patience for the corruption and bureaucratic processes that came in the way. Quirky, candid and informative, Running Away from Elephants is an invaluable addition to writings on natural history in India.
Lakshmibai Tilak was born in 1868 into a strict Maharashtrian Brahmin family in a village near Nashik. And at the age of eleven, she was married off to poet Narayan Waman Tilak, a man much older than her.
In Smritichitre, Lakshmibai candidly describes her complex relationship with her husband—their constant bickering over his disregard for material possessions, which quite often left them penniless, and his bouts of intense rage in these moments. But at the core of their relationship was their concern for society and the well-being of every human being, irrespective of caste, class or gender, and their unwavering devotion to each other. Equally touching is her recounting of his conversion to Christianity which led to a separation of five long years. After their reunion, she, too, was gradually disillusioned with orthodox Hindu customs and caste divisions, and converted to Christianity. After Narayan Tilak’s death in 1919, she came into her own as a matron in a girls’ hostel in Mumbai and later gathered enough courage to move to Karachi with her family.
When first published in Marathi in 1934, Smritichitre became an instant classic. Lakshmibai’s honesty and her recounting of every difficulty she faced with unfailing humour make Smritichitre a memorable read. Shanta Gokhale’s masterly translation of this classic is the only complete one available in English.
From the early 1950s to the early ’60s, Malay Kumar Roy spent around ten years as a young boy in Hazaribagh in the Chhotanagpur district of Jharkhand, which was then a part of Bihar. In An Elsewhere Place, Roy reminisces about his life there—a place that ‘touches a boy forever’.
In this memoir, he vividly describes Hazaribagh’s tranquil landscape, its changing seasons and its unhurried pace of life. We get a glimpse of a time gone by from Roy’s stories about sharing a crate of mangoes with the last Englishman living in Hazaribagh; a little bear cub tipsy on mahua flowers; a gravely injured fox cub that was nursed back to health by him and his family, and a visitor from Calcutta who boasted about his detective skills and courage but lost steam upon seeing a dangerous criminal. And he revisits his schooldays at St Xavier’s School where his Jesuit mentors taught him the value of curiosity and discipline in life.
Written in charming, spare prose, this collection evokes a gentle, easy-going time when man and nature existed in harmony; a time of friendships, wonder and grace.