April 26, 2011

Inside the Haveli

I can’t remember when I first began photographing my ancestral haveli in Rajasthan, India. Before I continue, I would like to say that I was contemplating how exactly to explain what a haveli represents; definitions such as a many-roomed, courtyarded mansion do not exactly conjure up the particular atmosphere and personality of a haveli though. I can try to do so, though, in the lines below.

I must say at this point that the haveli is one of my most favorite places in the world. I can speak at length about its historical and family significance yet what essentially remains with me about the haveli are its details: the shuttered and filigreed windows, the whitewashed walls splattered with spider-webs of hair-line cracks, the narrow, low-ceilinged passages, the courtyards, the scallop-edged arches, the time-worn steps, arched alcoves, the stained-glass squares, and the numerous rooms, stories locked within each of them.

I visit it each year and always end up taking identical photographs of the same places inside the haveli; yet, a ritual has emerged from that process, of constancy and familiarity and comfort. When I was at university, I would hang photo prints of the haveli on my dorm room walls; nowadays, the photographs constitute my laptop wallpaper. And, if I am not photographing it, I am writing about it.

I would be hard-pressed to define as to what exactly the haveli means to me beyond the platitudes of beauty, home, and history; yet, what I do know is that it is a world in itself, as it was meant to be and still is, to a certain extent. Once I am inside the haveli, I am at a remove from the happenings that swirl outside it and it is often quite possible to freeze time and even make it redundant in its silent, slumbering interiors.

My favorite time of the day at the haveli is undeniably early in the morning; the new sunbeams gradually climb their way up the walls and stream through the stained glass windows, flooding the room with juice-like light. When you open the larger windows, you can contemplate the vista undisturbed in the cool dawn air while sparrows furiously converse with one another in the massive peepal tree behind the haveli, whose leaves’ shifting shadows dapple the walls throughout the day.

A version of this post also appeared here

April 21, 2011

Lotuses Blooming From Wood

When I was at university, one of my close friends perpetually teased me about my fascination with flowers and floral-prints. I bought SATC-inspired corsage hair-ties by the armful and upon misplacing them, immediately bought more as replacements. My closet was overflowing with button down forget-me-not print shirts, tea-parties-in-garden appropriate chiffon blouses, rose-embroidered scallop-edged black trousers and my personal favorite: purple-corsage-topped flip-flops that I bought from H&M one summer. Yes, in short, there was virtually a flowerbed in my closet, folks. With passage of time, my interest in flowers/floral-prints has literally withered, so to speak: I have yet to remember the last time I purchased something in floral print unless it was in monochrome and veered towards the bold and abstract.

Yet, I was instantly enchanted the moment I first set eyes on Rachana Reddy’s exquisite silk-lotus embossed wooden and leather minaudières from her debut 2010 collection. For starters, I find the lotus unbearably beautiful: I recall seeing worshippers delicately clutch lotus buds by the dozen at the Green Emerald Buddha temple in Bangkok, the slender buds seemingly equivalent to candles. I have only once seen them bloom in their natural habitat, the water and it happened to be a lake by a temple in Jodhpur, the surface filled with bluish-pink blooms. The rose and its beauty just seem far too clichéd in comparison.

In the case of Reddy’s clutches, the marriage between the wood, leather, silk, color and the lotus pattern was irresistible. Reddy’s other clutches are equally intriguing studies of the interplay between wood, leather, studs, and silk but the lotus clutches in magenta and the gold/brown are my favorites by far.The latter's metallic accents and quilted surface enable it to be a perfect accompaniment to structured Western wear while the deep magenta one will complement the jewel tones of traditional Indian clothing while simultaneously offering an unusual textural contrast through its use of wood.

Definitely something to covet, rather than merely admire…

Images courtesy: Rachana Reddy

The Wall Project: The Wall in Muttrah

For some reason, I have always taken pictures of walls wherever I have travelled; I find it intriguing to see what people choose to place/paint/plaster/inscribe upon the walls, what kind of canvases they perceive the walls around them to be. Walls in cities across the world have been amazing exhibition-spaces for incredible graffiti art, for instance. Yet, in my opinion, a blank, freshly painted wall offers as much food for thought as a time-layered one, dense with fragments of posters, banners, and flaking sheets of paint.

I would like to share a few pictures of the walls that I have photographed through the medium of this blog, kicking off what I will call as The Wall Project.

The first wall to feature in the project is this one below:

This wall is situated at the back of the Muttrah souk in Old Muscat, just before the warren of narrow alleys containing old houses with latticed windows and brightly-hued wooden doors, fruit stores, coffee-shops and a thriving community: a neighborhood in the truest sense of the word. Perhaps, the wall is a gateway to an alternate universe that resides within those lanes.

At times, it’s simply the visual interest that a brightly painted wall generates that compels me to take a picture. In some cases, such as of this wall, I wonder if there is a story behind this red spot. For some reason, I can’t quite bring myself to believe that it has been painted arbitrarily.

What is that blood red spot? I deliberately used the word, blood red, for the effect is uncannily - and eerily- similar to that. The juxtaposition of the textured white surface and the red, the dripping paint, the sheer randomness of it all – the wall produces a tumult of visual responses.

I first discovered this red-spot emblazoned wall about three years ago while doing an article on the souk; funnily enough, when I returned a year later, this red-spot emblazoned wall remained, the spot as freshly red as ever.

A sign-post of sorts? Telegraphing a secret code amongst a group? Finger-printing the neighborhood, individuating it from the others around it? For me, it instinctively reminded me of a bindi on a white canvas, the presence of this paint-spot turning the wall into a painting.

What do you think the red spot represents? I would love to hear your responses!

April 20, 2011

Delhi - City of Djinns

Looking back on it, illness has always provided me the opportunity of finally getting around to reading books that I had been meaning to do so for a long time. It was while suffering from flu when visiting Rajasthan during one winter and being confined to home that led me to discover William Dalrymple’s City of Djinns.

I had had the opportunity of listening to Dalrymple speak about his book, White Mughals while pursuing my Masters; I was researching colonial attitudes towards gender, race and class in India during that time and it’s surprising that I never picked up either White Mughals or City of Djinns then. Perhaps, for me, Delhi had always been a transit point and a gray bureaucratic one at that; the tombs scattered across the city seemed incidental, irrelevant even, to its present narrative.

However, as I began to read the book, which essentially documents a year that Dalrymple and his artist wife, Olivia spent in Delhi, his experiences in Delhi running parallel to his representation of Delhi’s multiple avatars, whether the Raj, Twilight, or Mughal periods, I became especially drawn towards his descriptions of the havelis in Chandni Chowk, the Red Fort, the gardens, tombs, and the dargahs. I felt ashamed at being so blinkered, so deliberately ignorant of the palimpsest that Delhi was.

A couple months afterwards, as it happened, I pursued a three week artist’s residency in Delhi, allowing me to revisit and more crucially, re-see Delhi,; as it happened, memorably and synchronistically, I ended up attending a theatre production of City of Djinns in which Tom Alter played Dalrymple and legendary Zohra Segal graced the audience with her performance. On the night I attended the show, there was a terrific dust-storm towards the end and nature’s theatrics added yet another dimension to the performance. I also remember a wonderful morning at Humayun’s Tomb, reveling in the relative absence of fellow visitors, thinking to myself that its warm red sandstone (indeed, pretty much the color of this blog’s background) beauty seemed so much more alive and fresh than that of the Taj Mahal's clichéd one, which I had encountered in the same trip. Similarly, roaming through Chandni Chowk with friends, as they bought iridescent buttons to later abstract into jewelry and OTT kitsch neckpieces, I exclaimed with delight while stumbling into a lane full of havelis, a turquoise and pink one with sharp magenta-hued bougainvillea striping its walls particularly standing out.

While great many images of Delhi (Lutyens and Old Delhi) naturally abound, for some reason, this wonderfully atmospheric, dramatic Raghu Rai image of Old Delhi best encapsulates what I personally associate with Delhi or perhaps, more accurately, the atmosphere of City of Djinns. The swirling drama of the clouds, a city embracing night, and a figure immersed in prayer: the image is nothing short of being reverential of the power of dusk, that twilight zone between the spent heat of the day and the inky, powerful coolness of the night that beckons.

You can read more about the story behind this iconic Raghu Rai photograph over here

April 19, 2011

Of Gardens and Blogs

I must confess that the thought of starting a blog has been on my mind for several years; yet, for some reason or the other, I always hesitated to take the plunge into the blogosphere. At times, I felt that I did not have enough to say; other times, I wondered if my literary voice would be heard within the tumult of millions of voices already reverberating within the blogosphere. Yet, as time has gone by, I have realized that a blog affords the space of articulating those thoughts, musings or wonderings that would not fit elsewhere. I am a journalist, publishing articles in newspapers and magazines; I also publish my short stories and literary fiction in journals and anthologies. Yet, there are still pieces of writing which exist in the interstices between the above two worlds and I kept on thinking what would be the most apt space in which to locate these writings.

Is it just that though? The more I thought about the purpose of starting a blog, I found myself curiously enough envisioning it as a garden. Why garden, you may ask? Gardens happen to be amongst my favorite artificial spaces; for me, they are a space of beauty, retreat, and seclusion, a world walled away. In that sense, I found a parallel with the walled garden with that of my blog, this cyber-garden, if I may so say: here, I am free to plant the seeds of my thoughts, no matter how random or abstract or eccentric, and be witness to the way they grow and bloom. 

So what will this blog be all about? Perhaps, I can respond to that by explaining the name of my blog. In the last year or so, I have found myself saying several times, I am just more of a visual person; funnily enough, the statement has always come in reaction to my relative disinterest in and lack of knowledge of music. I can go without listening to music for days but for me, a blanched, gray, plain world is nothing short of the stuff nightmares are made of.  My world is a largely visual one and what impacts me is the explosion of colors, design, patterns, and juxtapositions around me: fashion, architecture, visual art, sculpture and installation, photography and cinema. 

I see, therefore I am  - and this blog will endeavor to present the world as I happen to see it…