Thursday, 27 February 2020

Book Review -- Bringing Alive the Mughal Era

Indian history as taught to us in text books is often a dry account of names, incidents and dates. Information provided at historical sites or monuments rarely offer insights into the era when they were built and the people who left their legacy behind. Even the history buff would find it difficult to make the connections between the glorious past that the placards talk about and the stark, near ruinous conditions of the monuments. While Western museums often have well-researched audio visual presentations for the lay visitor to be able to make this connect, unfortunately this facility is not available at Indian monuments.

This gap in presenting history in an interesting and imaginative way is sought to be bridged by Debasish Das in his book Red Fort: Remembering the Magnificent Mughals.

The author takes you on a guided tour of the Red Fort and the era in which it was built. The book is extensively researched and the facts presented in a structured format. The little stories and vivid descriptions add colour and bring alive an era that has passed. The reader is virtually taken on a drive through the alleys and streets of Shahajahanabad, its bazaars and mandis, the ramparts of the fort, the magnificent hallways and the customs of Mughal noblemen. Take for example this description of the Chandni Chauk where the reader gets a glimpse of the pomp and splendour of the amirs: "In the evenings, it transformed into a place for splenderous, ostentatious displays by the amirs and their families. Ceremonial marriage processions were led through it and turned the streets into a glittering exhibition...Trains of camels and elephants were accompanied by mace bearers carrying gold or silver sticks and men waving huge fans of peacock feathers. Servants ran ahead of them, shouting and announcing their revered titles. It was a place of great show."

It also provides insights into the lives of ordinary people. "Only those artisans who were associated with the Palace or with wealthy amirs could flourish and prosper. Others -- however admirable their work -- were subjected to harsh treatment and were poorly paid...the artists had good reason to congratulate themselves if the amir's whip (korrah) was not employed on them as part payment for their superlative work."

Studded with little anecdotes and details, the book explores the various aspects of Mughal life, within and beyond the Red Fort, creating a complete picture of  life in Shahajanabad (which is now a part of modern Delhi). It also helps the reader understand what went into the making of the "magnificent Mughals" and also get insights into the reasons for their downfall.

For anyone who has visited the Red Fort and for every citizen of Delhi, this book is a must-read. It provides insightful glimpses into the past and the legacy that continues to echo in the present.


About the Book:RED FORT: REMEMBERING THE MAGNIFICENT MUGHALS seeks to present the lived culture of Mughals in all its multiple facets. The book is divided in four parts. In Part 1 the focus is on the Imperial court and the court etiquette, cultivation of Persian and its enrichment with translations from Sanskrit, patronage of Hindu and Jain scholars. Part 2 contains detailed accounts of the Red Fort and the symbolism of its architecture, the philosophy of jharokha darshan, ceremonies, games and pastimes, the material culture of costumes and jewellery, food, drink and perfumery. The remaining two parts deal with the decline and fall of the Mughal rule and the British Colonial Durbars at the Red Fort. The broadly historical narrative is enlivened by various anecdotes.

About the Author:DEBASISH DAS is a telecom professional; he is a history aficionado and loves to photograph and document ancient ruins. He lives in Gurgaon and spends his weekends in exploring little known monuments in Delhi and its neighbourhood. Since the last few years, he has been writing heritage blogs (www.lighteddream.wordpress.com) on Delhi’s monuments; encouraged by their reception, he has now ventured into a full-length book about the most magnificent of all the Delhi monuments, the Red Fort.

Available on Amazon in Paperback and Kindle Editions

Sunday, 23 February 2020

When Salman Khan Chose to Strip Off his Stardom


 By Jaideep Sen

After writing 16 articles on the Magician with the Pen, Salim Khan Saab, I chose to do this piece on his mega-star son. The reason for that is undoubtedly the most landmark film—which I call a cinematic movement in the life of not Salman Khan, the Star but Salman Khan, the Actor—Bajrangi Bhaijaan.

Every time I see the film, and I see it quite often since it’s a prized possession in my set top box, I am amazed that a mega-star like Salman Bhai, at the peak of his mega stardom, stripped himself completely off all the trappings of his success by playing Pavan Kumar Chaturvedi, alias Bajrangi Bhaijaan, with such simplicity, innocence and purity.  At that level of stardom it’s extremely challenging to detach yourself completely from the gigantic star that you are and become a common man to bring this character to life.

Great cinema, as a leading international director has said, is nothing short of a miracle. It is an amalgam of great writing of a character and great understanding of the DNA of that character by the actor who’s going to breathe life into it. That is precisely what Salman Bhai did, thereby opting for the best tool that a good actor can opt for, which is to not act but react, not play the character but become the character. That’s the precise reason why Bajrangi Bhaijaan had a miraculous effect on the audience worldwide and found that sweet spot of incessant critical acclaim and huge box office success. A combination that was the forte of Salim Saab along with Javed Saab whey they penned gems for Indian cinema. 

Bajrangi Bhaijaan could only be played by a good human being because it’s that rare character, to become which your only fall back as an actor is goodness. You have to be that good to emit that halo of goodness which is why Salman Bhai’s goodness in the film is so captivating that the same sequences, the same expressions have the same overwhelming effect on you each time you experience that moment. That’s the hallmark of great writing by Vijayendra Prasad Ji, the extremely sensitive direction by Kabir Khan Sir and the complete synchronisation that he and Salman Bhai achieved in terms of pitching the character.

Salman Khan with director Kabir Khan
When I recently spoke to Salim Saab about this sterling performance by Salman Bhai he mentioned that it’s because Salman Bhai is not an actor who’s confined to a particular style of acting or mannerisms, he keeps himself fluid. With each film that he does, he finds the balance where to put a bit of himself into the character and when to allow a part of the character to seep into him.

Seeing the purity of portrayal of this particular character it seems the lines just got blurred between Salman Khan and Bajrangi Bhaijaan which has led to one of the most selfless characters and endearing performances we’ve not just seen but felt in the longest time. And this will stay with us for the longest time, thanks to a mega-star who decided to live and breathe this character by stripping off his stardom completely.



Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece belong solely to the author of this guest column.

Friday, 21 February 2020

"Humour comes out naturally from your pen when it's a part of you" - Sudesna Ghosh


Sudesna Ghosh is a prolific indie author who weaves humour into her stories. In this post she talks about the intricacies of writing humour. Over to Sue...

I've been told I'm funny. Whether it's making a sarcastic remark mid conversation or the tone that I use in my romantic comedies, it's all me. Natural, unadulterated Sue. The thing is, I believe that a sense of humour can't be created by training or practice — it comes with your personality. You're either funny or you're not. Of course there are different kinds of humour. For example, there are those who can make everything seem light and fun and laughable including the bad things in life. And then there are those who can bring humour into certain topics. Like I know some people who can make you laugh a lot talking about antics of their pets or about their family members’ craziness. Other times, they're not so funny. Maybe they feel more comfortable letting lose about specific topics.

My first attempt at writing romance was a novella called My Singapore Fling. It's a rom com. I didn't see myself doing a heavy romance loaded with intense emotions and drama at that point, so I let myself be myself on the pages. My protagonist had fun interactions and fun interesting thoughts ran wild in her head.

My other romances maybe more sweet than humorous but they ALL have humour slipped into little pockets. To-the-point humourous dialogue or a sudden funny thought that hits the heroine’s head. For instance, one of my romance novellas has a scene where the protagonist bumps into an ex at the bookstore and the ex calls her Didi, which means elder sister, in front of his present partner. In response, she calls him ‘little one’.

In fact, I've written non-romance humour too. There's The Adventures of Ernie Fish which is about a cat expert and his two rescue cats who get into hilarious situations and do interesting things. These stories were based on my own interaction with cats and dogs. And then there's My Small Thin Indian Wedding which is a fun family drama with a little bit of romance thrown in. In it, I look at the big fat Indian weddings through a humourous lens and that means looking at the views and usual comments made by members of Indian society.

In my short story His Search for the Perfect Bride, I give the reader a peek at the arranged marriage process where patriarchy puts certain expectations on the women and let the man’s side dictate terms. It’s not a nice reality but humour can make it seem less nasty.

It's a look at culture without being an opinionated preacher. That's where humour works well.

Even in my latest book, Second Chance at Love, I have found myself putting in a sprinkling of humour without even meaning to. I guess humour comes out naturally from your pen when it's a part of you.

Is it tough to write humour? Yes, if you don't have a funny bone of some degree. It’s like standup comedy; I don't think everyone can do it or rather, do it well. If humour is forced, it doesn't have the impact that it should have. You can't teach humour. Delivery is crucial. Timing and place. It can take a very serious scene into a light ending of laughter, reducing the intensity of emotions. It can also remind readers to not take life so seriously because no one’s life is perfect. Mean mothers. Insensitive comments from random strangers, it can all be taken with a pinch of salt.

Yes, humour is an art. A much-needed art in our times of high stress.

Excerpt from SecondChance at Love

I wanted to strangle this woman. I’d never behaved this way in a public place. Sid better come back. Maybe he was escaping from another side of the hotel. Or maybe he was calling mental health organisations to take his mother away for treatment. Either way, I was ready to go home after this drama was finished. We had great sex, cuddles and some conversation but hardly any peace.
The young hotel staff kept an eye on us, perhaps ready to pounce if we tried to physically harm each other while Sid wasn’t present. I felt like I was being watched. Yes, she was looking at me. Critically. Enviously.

Sipping my drink, I made an attempt at being more mature than her. “Aunty, you know that a girlfriend and a mother are two very different people in a man’s life, right?”

She made a rude noise and told me I should stop trying to trap her innocent son.

“Trap? In a hotel room?” This was fun.

She was horrified at the thought. Calling me impertinent, she asked the staff for another cocktail. I asked for coffee, tapping my phone to call Sid and see what was taking him so long? Maybe he was stressed out and sick in the bathroom. I should go check.

His mother said, “Let me go to the room and talk to my son.”
“Wait a few more minutes. You can’t go up to guest rooms like that,” I said with glee.

She grunted, muttering a few Bengali obscenities under her breath. Then we got our fresh beverages. They even added a plate of croissants. How sweet.

She made a grab for the chocolate croissant before I could even choose one. The other one was an almond croissant. Trust her to take my favourite. I’d let it go if she wasn’t being such an evil witch already. I grabbed it from her hand. It broke into two.

“What the hell are you doing, greedy girl?” She screamed, bringing the attention of a few guests who were checking out, to our side of the lobby.

Immediately, I whispered to Sid’s mother, “You said I’m a bad girl, didn’t you? I’m so bad that I took half your croissant.” Letting myself laugh like a lunatic because that’s what I felt like at the moment, I noticed Sid walk in.

Sudesna (Sue) Ghosh is an Indian-American author based in Kolkata, India. She is a graduate of the University of Rochester (USA) and an ex-journalist. When Sue isn’t reading or writing, she is busy doing her best to keep her rescue cats happy. She can be reached on Twitter @sudesna_ghosh