Enter Stage Right

January 12, 2021

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.

Locking Down the Poor

December 24, 2020

In early 2020 the first cases of Covid-19 infection were confirmed in India, and on 24 March the country’s prime minister announced a nationwide lockdown, giving the population of over 1.3 billion just four hours’ notice. Within days, it became evident that India had plunged into its biggest humanitarian crisis since Partition. In this powerful book, Harsh Mander shows us how grave this crisis was and continues to be, and why it is the direct consequence of public policy choices that the Indian government made, particularly of imposing the world’s longest and most stringent lockdown, with the smallest relief package. The Indian state abandoned its poor and arginalized, even as it destroyed their livelihoods and pushed them to the brink of starvation.

Mander brings us voices of out-of-work daily-wage and informal workers, the homeless and the destitute, all overwhelmed by hunger and dread. From the highways and overcrowded quarantine centres, he brings us stories of
migrant workers who walked hundreds of kilometres to their villages or were prevented from doing so and detained. He lays bare the criminal callousness at the heart of a strategy that forced people to stay indoors in a country where tens of crores live in congested shanties or single rooms with no possibility of physical distancing, no toilets and no running water.

Combining ground reports with hard data, Mander argues with great clarity and passion that India is in the middle of a humanitarian catastrophe, the effects of which will be felt for decades.

Colaba

November 12, 2020

Colaba, the southernmost tip of Mumbai—a bustling locality with the Gateway of India, the famous Taj Mahal Hotel, and Colaba Causeway, a shopper’s paradise—is the city’s most iconic neighbourhood. But barely 200 years ago, it was a rocky, jackal-infested island, separated from the rest of the great metropolis by a temperamental creek.

In this compelling biography, Shabnam Minwalla, journalist, author and long-time resident of the area, tells the tale of the unexpected forces that reshaped land and sea; and allowed this remote corner of Bombay-Mumbai to evolve into one of its liveliest, quirkiest neighbourhoods. Trying to figure out the exact area limits, she unravels accounts of colonial rivalries and dowry negotiations, and of shrewd industrialists who transformed the doomed island into the centre of trade during the cotton boom of the 1860s. She navigates the sometimes charming, sometimes seedy streets to track the area’s evolution from a retreat for British soldiers and sailors to a coveted residential area for the English and Indians alike. She digs into her childhood memories to introduce us to the eccentric Parsis of Cusrow Baug, the warm yet persistent shopkeepers and hawkers of the Causeway, the industrious Sindhis who pioneered co-operative housing societies, the colourful musicians, theatre artists and writers who frequented her corner of Colaba, and the Arabs who come there every year to witness the city’s monsoons. And in a moving section, she records how the neighbourhood rose like a phoenix from the ashes after the 26/11 terrorist attack.

Combining a remarkable flair for storytelling with sound journalistic groundwork, and drawing upon three generations of family memory, Shabnam paints an intimate and dynamic portrait of a great and fabled neighbourhood.

Big Cat Tales: Vintage Encounters and Stories

September 11, 2020

‘Pleasure at having secured a magnificent trophy was not unmixed with regret, for never again would the jungle folk and I listen with held breath to his deep-throated call resounding through the foothills, and never again would his familiar pug-marks show on the game paths that he and I had trodden for fifteen years.’

After fifteen years of watching him grow into youth and old age in the forests of Kumaon, Jim Corbett, the fabled hunter-naturalist and writer, shoots a tiger who has become a man-eater. His pleasure-mixed-with-regret at this victory which is also, in the end, murder is the central paradox that makes self-aware shikar literature a compelling exploration of our epic and imperfect existence. This collection of non-fiction and fiction about encounters between humans and big cats in the Indian subcontinent and Africa brings us the best of this genre of literature, with its gripping narratives, unforgettable images and splendid descriptions of wild nature.

Besides Corbett, it includes masters of the genre like J.H. Patterson, who writes about the terror of lions and men in Kenya during the laying of railway lines in the 1890s; Hugh Allen, who had thrilling adventures with tigers and leopards in central India; and Augustus Somerville, who wrote the neglected classic At Midnight Comes the Killer. There are also surprising gems: lyrical and humorous real-life and imagined stories by Mrs W.W. Baillie and Mrs M.A. Handley—two unusual women of the Raj; the naturalist EHA (a founding member of the Bombay Natural History Society); and writers Saki and Dhan Gopal Mukerji. And lest we forget that reluctant hunters were the exception and hunting was mainly about ‘sportsmen’ who delighted in chase and slaughter, there are also accounts of the horrors of shikar.

Compiled by a group of wildlife enthusiasts, this anthology showcases brilliant, old-fashioned storytelling, and some of the finest writing on adventure and wildlife produced over a century.

The Brass Notebook: A Memoir

September 11, 2020

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.

Turmeric Nation a Passage Through India’s Tastes

August 20, 2020

What exactly is ‘Indian’ food? Can it be classified by region, or religion, or ritual? What are the culinary commonalities across the Indian subcontinent? Do we Indians have a sense of collective self when it comes to cuisine? Or is the pluralism in our food habits and choices the only identity we have ever needed?

Turmeric Nation is an ambitious and insightful project which answers these questions, and then quite a few more. Through a series of fascinating essays—delving into geography, history, myth, sociology, film, literature and personal experience—Shylashri Shankar traces the myriad patterns that have formed Indian food cultures, taste preferences and cooking traditions. From Dalit ‘haldiya dal’ to the last meal of the Buddha; from aphrodisiacs listed in the Kama Sutra to sacred foods offered to gods and prophets; from the use of food as a means of state control in contemporary India to the role of lemonade in stoking rebellion in 19th-century Bengal; from the connection between death and feasting and between fasting and pleasure, this book offers a layered and revealing portrait of India, as a society and a nation, through its enduring relationship with food.

India Dissents: 3,000 Years of Difference, Doubt and Argument

August 20, 2020

About the Book:

Throughout Indian history, various individuals and groups have questioned, censured and debated authority—be it the state or empire, religious or political traditions, caste hierarchies, patriarchy or even the idea of god. These dissenting voices have persisted despite all attempts made to silence them. They have inspired revolutions and uprisings, helped preserve individual dignity and freedom, and promoted tolerance and a plurality in thought and lifestyle. India Dissents: 3,000 Years of Difference, Doubt and Argument brings together some of these voices that have sustained India as a great and vibrant civilization. Collected in these pages are essays, letters, reports, poems, songs and calls to action—from texts ranging from the Rig Veda to Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste; by thinkers as varied as the Buddha, Akka Mahadevi, Lal Ded, Nanak, Ghalib, Tagore, Gandhi, Manto, Jayaprakash Narayan, Namdeo Dhasal, Mahasweta Devi, U.R. Ananthamurthy and Amartya Sen; and from civil rights movements like the Narmada Bachao Andolan, the Dalit Panthers movement, the Pinjra Tod collective and the anti-CAA protests. Their words embody the undying and essential spirit of dissent in one of the world’s oldest and most diverse and dynamic civilizations.

Dilli ki Shaan: Discover Delhi: The Heritage of India’s Capital City

August 20, 2020

About the Book:

Delhi, the capital city of India, is a land of rich and unique heritage. With the Yamuna river flowing through it and the forested Ridge area providing diverse flora and fauna, it is home to a splendid natural heritage. Entire cities have been built within Delhi over the centuries, and each of these cities is filled with distinct architectural marvels. Delhi also has varied and ever-evolving arts, crafts, customs and language, which are its valuable living heritage.

Find out all about Delhi and its thriving heritage in this book. Full of interesting information and exciting activities, Dilli ki Shaan is a must read for everybody.

Shaheen Bagh and the Idea of India: Writings on a Movement for Justice, Liberty and Equality

July 2, 2020

Blurb:

The first comprehensive book on one of the most importantcivil rights movements in the history of Independent India.

On 15 December 2019, police in riot gear stormed Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University and attacked unarmed students protesting against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), which makes religion a factor in the process of granting Indian citizenship. In neighbouring Shaheen Bagh, mothers and other relatives and friends of the students came out into the streets in outrage and anguish. They sat on a main road demanding repeal of the CAA, which, twinned with the National Register of Citizens (NRC), could make Indian Muslims aliens in theirown homeland. Within days, similar protests broke out across the country. Free India had never seen anything like it.

Shaheen Bagh and the Idea of India examines how the sit-in by a small group of Muslim women—many of whom had stepped out of their homes alone for the first time—united millions of Indians of different faiths and ideologies in defence of the principles of liberty, equality and secularism enshrined in our Constitution. It also throws up many important questions: Can the Shaheen Bagh protests reverse the damage done to our democracy in recent years? How did the non-violent movement sustain itself despite vilification, threats and persecution by the establishment? Is this movement the beginning of new solidarities in our society? Will it survive the aftermath of the communal violence that devastated northeast Delhi in February 2020, and the witch-hunt that was launched under cover of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown?

This necessary collection comprises interviews with some of the brave women at the core of the protests; ground reports and photographs by journalists like Seema Mustafa, Seemi Pasha, Nazes Afroz and Mustafa Quraishi; and essays by thinkers, writers, lawyers and activists, including Nayantara Sahgal, Harsh Mander, Subhashini Ali, Nandita Haksar, Zoya Hasan, Apoorvanand, Enakshi Ganguly, Sharik Laliwala and Nizam Pasha. It is a book that must be read by everyone who cares about India’s democracy and its future.

Love Is Not a Word: The Culture and Politics of Desire

July 2, 2020

Blurb:

Insightful, informative and entertaining, this is a book that gives a true picture of love and relationships as they exist in India today, and have done over the centuries, from the Kama Sutra to the time of Tinder.
A collection of twelve keen and insightful essays on love and desire. The book gives historical and cultural perspectives on Indian love (swayamvara, arranged marriages, and desi romance); the immortal love of Radha and Krishna that transcends theology; the story of a powerful, sexually desiring and desired courtesan/nagarvadhu. The politics of love is discussed and debated from a variety of angles: from the love jihad campaign against inter-religious marriage, to a critique of the savarna gaze in Indian cultural iconography and its meaning for Dalit women’s bodies and inter-caste love, to India’s legal battle to decriminalize same-sex love, to the subversive threat in single women’s self-love. The book includes intriguing and exquisite portrayals of love in literature, from Urdu shayari and bhasha writing, to the city fictions of love through Rome, Sydney, Buenos Aires, Istanbul, and back to Delhi, the ancient echoing through the modern. With essays from some of the best writers of our times, including Makarand Paranjpe, Alka Pande, Malashri Lal, Rakshanda Jalil, Mehr Farooqi and Zafar Anjum, this delightful volume certainly suggests that love is not just a word.

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