The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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City Lights
Varied voices of many Indias

In Out of God’s Oven, there is no one India. The authors, Dom Moraes and Sarayu Srivatsa, paint pictures of their Travels Through a Fractured Land. Though their voice comes out clear in their frequent criticism of the country they thought they knew, they have tried to let “India speak”.

Dom, a veteran with the pen, joins hands with a novice to the form, Sarayu. That they had grown up in such “different countries”, though it may have geographically been the same nation, was what prompted the writers to embark on an exploration that required six years of research. “That we had such different notions of India made us think that there had to be many other Indias floating about,” explains Sarayu.

Both authors were in town for the launch of the book by Mrinal Sen on Thursday evening. Victor Banerjee read excerpts from the book, after Samskar Bharti performed Aamar janmobhoomi, in keeping with the theme of the evening.

“There are civil wars in our country that are not properly reported,” feels Dom. Out of God’s Oven touches most of the “betrayals” of India — including events like Gujarat and institutions like the caste system. But the authors avoid a dry revelation of fact, opting for an account filtered through their own sensibilities. “We are making political statements through personal accounts,” says Dom.

The book, divided into sections written by the two authors, presents different concepts of India. “We thought about writing the book in different ways, but we decided it was important for both our voices to be heard separately and together,” says Sarayu, an architect by profession.

While researching the book was time-consuming, writing the book was most strenuous, particularly for Sarayu, who has had no experience with this kind of writing. “We wrote seven versions of the book, before deciding on this one,” the two admit. The 1,000-page manuscript was sufficiently chopped, as they could not find a publisher who would accept the whole volume. “When Ahmedabad happened, we decided it was more important to get the book out fast, and in India first,” adds Dom.

The process of creation showed them some tools of discrimination employed in modern India. “When we were in Lucknow, our hosts refused to introduce me at all,” recounts Sarayu. “I wasn’t acknowledged as a co-author because they felt it would reduce Dom’s credibility as a writer.” In Calcutta, during their interview rounds, the ladies of the house would ask her whether she wanted to learn how to make singaras and shop for Bangali saris. In Chennai, they treated her more like a personal assistant.

Dom and Sarayu have co-authored another book nearing completion, The Long Strider (working title). That, too, covers India through 400 years, focusing on an Englishman who walks across Asia and India in the 17th century. Though they have enough material to publish a second part of Out of God’s Oven, none is immediately on the cards.

In focus

When he was only 13, Mahatma Gandhi had launched the Quit India movement. It was then that his father had gifted him a Leica. After all these years, Basant Kumar Birla, the 82-year-old business tycoon has decided to exhibit the black-and-white photographs he had taken then and later, at the Birla Academy of Art & Culture, which he himself had established in 1966. The photos do not reflect those turbulent times. Most of them were taken in the misty hills or in the retreats the Birlas visited. There is a hint of commerce in only one photo — that of a liner billowing smoke.

Misty hillsides, banks of clouds and shafts and light filtering through the leaves of trees or through shrouds of fog were his favourite themes. Some of his nicest photographs are mood pieces like Sunday Morning, Road Scene of Mussoorie and Morning Mist. They are all misted over, the light barely perceptible.

The leading industrialist comes into his own when he photographs his own family. We see rare pictures of his wife, Sarala Birla, then a beautiful young bride, now a matriarch. She, quite understandably, was one of his favourite models and she is photographed in various locales. She is captured in profile in a silhouette. Some of them are of a very private nature — like the one of a lady in Japanese costume captioned Love in Tokyo, reminding us of the 60’s Bollywood hit. We also see the photos of children of his family, then toddlers now industrialists known all over the country. One such is of Aditya Birla on a wooden horse. Many of these photographs, a set of 68, have found a place in exhibitions in the country and abroad and fetched some citations and medals, all lovingly preserved these many years by his wife. All these are on display here till January 3.

Kids’ pick

It’s the legendary fight between good and evil, retold countless times, but kids don’t seem to have lost their enthusiasm for it. The Legend of Snow White premiered as a series on Cartoon Network on December 26. The half-hour show, on twice a day on weekdays at 1 pm and 6.30 pm, seems to have caught on quite well.

The orphaned, innocent princess, the wicked stepmother, the unforgettable seven dwarfs and the dashing prince have already cast a spell on their young audience. Six-year-old Sagnik Guha had been counting the days till it began. Now

that he has seen an episode, the verdict is in. “I liked the songs and the music that came with the main story. Actually, I am waiting for the seven dwarfs to make their entry. I want to see my favourite dwarf Sneezy.”

Rooms with a view

Skypath, steel trusses, a landscaped flying deck over a concealed car park and a children’s centre on the lines of Koolkidz. Greenwood Nook, the ‘sky touch & green patch’ project of Bengal Shrachi Housing Development Ltd (BSHDL), promises to be a residential complex with a difference.

Coming up on the western bank of the EM Bypass, 1 km south of Ruby General Hospital, the joint-sector housing project with West Bengal Housing Board will have 350 apartments in three segments. The 19-storeyed HIG block will house 192 units with price ranging between Rs 13 and 23 lakh. The duplex apartments will cost Rs 35-45 lakh. There will be 120 MIG flats at Rs 7 lakh per unit and 38 LIG units, each for Rs 2.5 lakh.

Greenwood Nook has been designed by Taj Bengal architect Ajoy Choudhury, who has worked alongside Bibhuti Chakraborty, the structural engineer for Akshardham temple in Gujarat.

The special feature of the housing project is the 800-sq. ft kids’ indoor arena. “Children often have to be cooped up indoors because of the vagaries of the weather. An indoor play zone will keep them gainfully occupied and cheerful,” explains BSHDL managing director Rahul Todi. The arena, to be set up in collaboration with Little Tykes, will have “interactive, educational as well as muscular-movement toys”.

The skypath will allow inhabitants to approach their apartments in privacy, while there will be hospital lifts at the two ends of the buildings to accommodate the elderly and the unwell.

Timely gesture

Titan Industries in association with Concern India Foundation has launched “Gift a Timeless Treasure - a Special Initiative” to collect and recycle old watches for the underprivileged in Calcutta.

People can tie their old Titan watch to the Christmas Tree of Time located at the World of Titan showrooms in Calcutta. Titan Industries will repair these watches and gift them to Concern India Foundation who will in turn gift them to the less privileged. The campaign will run in Calcutta till December 31, 2002.

“We wanted to give our customers an opportunity to participate in the festival of giving and sharing. And what better way than to involve them in a joint initiative to delight the less fortunate'” says Bijou Kurien, chief operating officer, Titan Industries. Kavita Shah, CEO, Concern India Foundation adds: “It is heartening that a leading corporate has made the effort to bring some cheer to the less fortunate.”

The Christmas Tree laden with repaired Titan watches will be handed over to the Concern India Foundation at the end of the campaign for distribution to the less fortunate. Help in this initiative to light up a heart.

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