Thursday, September 6, 2012


Flying high
As if to Bach's Vivace.

Driving slow
Jealous of you and Bach.

- Mahima

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Gaduliya Lohars - the countryside craftsmen

Villupuram District, Tamil Nadu. 

All of six Vir Singh in his tattered clothes sits on a pile of concrete bricks outside a construction site at Eraiyur in Villupuram District. He deftly opens a sachet of tobacco, crushes it and puts it inside his mouth, revealing a row of stained teeth. He is surrounded by elders but none of them could care less.
Babulal Bhai, who seems like the eldest of the troupe, has nothing but this to say on Vir Singh’s habit, “He must be eating. What to do?”
These petty issues like a child eating tobacco or a wailing half-naked baby or schooling do not bother the Gaduliya Lohars, the nomadic Rajput iron smiths from Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Once the weapon makers for the Rajputs at Chittorgarh, they were reduced to vagabonds after the fall of the Rajputs of Mewar.
At the moment the construction site seems to be their home. With metal trunks hidden behind a sack, soot-covered aluminium vessels lying next to a forge and an anvil, vibrantly coloured skirts, blouses and dupattas hanging on poles, gunny bags laid out as carpets on the side of the road and a few iron implements like spades, hammers and pick axes on display - the space between the construction site and the tarmac road does seem like a dwelling of sorts. This group of forty people – ten of them children – travel for almost seven months in a year selling hand-crafted iron agricultural implements.
Young or old the Lohars hit the road once Raksha Bandhan (August) is over and are back in their villages post Sankranti (January). “Seven months work, five months relaxation,” smiles one of them.
“Only a pregnant women and her husband stay back,” says the twenty year-old Meera Bai, Vir Singh's sister. She is married to her younger brother’s namesake who now travels with her. 
Meera Bai is just in her early twenties. 
She has always lived a nomadic life and has 
never seen the inside of a school. 
One of the kids. 

Vir Singh Sr like all others in the group is proud to be a Lohar when asked if he would ever want to settle down he smirks and says, “We don’t know anything else. We are Lohar’s and we know only that.” He complains that mechanisation of agriculture and urbanisation has ruined their sales in central India and hence they have move south. Factories in Madhya Pradesh, he says, consider the Lohar’s “unskilled”.

The income generated through this is not much but over the years most people have built a house back home, some have vehicles and some even have small land holdings. Vir Singh Sr has a mobile which he charges whenever someone lets him use a plug point.
Their trade route has been the same for decades now. Take a train from Bhopal, alight at Hyderabad and maunder across Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. It has been two years since these Hindi-Marwari speaking wayfarers added Tamil Nadu to their itinerary. But language seems to be the last barrier for them.
Meera Bai explains, “We ask any Muslim person who can fairly converse in Hindi. If we need anything gestures are enough. And when we are selling the goods there is never a problem.” Money is after all a common language throughout the country.
Everyone quickly assembles to demonstrate how they forge iron implements. As one woman lights the embers, another takes hold of a sledge hammer, one of the men places the scrap iron on the anvil and the rhythmic pounding begins.

 Mambai looks on as Vir Singh and other men
 demonstrate their skill and Meera Bai 
busies herself with the packing. 

Mambai with her child in the 
foreground. Next to her is
Gaduliya Lohar teenager, 
and behind them  iron implements 
crafted by the Lohars and a customer. 

All girls are young and strong, and all of them are married. The Lohars prefer not to travel with spinsters. “Girls are married off once they cross their mid teens. It is risky to travel with young girls, they at least have their husbands to keep them safe after their marriage,” Phoolchand explains.
Mambai, a twenty-five year old mother of two has been ill for a week now. She asks, “What do you call kishmish in tamil?” Raisins apparently are a cure to most things according to them. Only if someone is critically ill, they are taken to the nearest hospital of which ever town they are in. 
A tiff breaks out between the kids who have returned with arms full of sugarcane from a nearby field. Just so no one suspects them of stealing, one of the kids declares, “We asked the people there and then took it!” Then he unabashedly adds, “Why don’t you give me some money for sweets and tea? You clicked my pictures right.”
It is difficult to fathom a Gaduliya Lohar’s sense of pride.
Mambai then speaks of cyclone Thane, “everything started falling! We were here, staying at that construction site. Nothing happened to us.”
She says that it is not always certain that they would get a roof over their heads, but most of the time it is not difficult. She then joins the other women who are washing vessels with coal. It turns out that it is pack up time. Their business at Eraiyur is done. They are moving base to another village.
“I am not sure of its name,” Vir Singh Sr says, explaining that he does know that it’s just a few kilometres away.
In half-hour everything is packed into trunks which are loaded onto tempos, kids – still naked – cling on to their mother’s arms and an older woman argues with a final customer. She gets furious when the man, hiding the crumpled notes in his fist, refuses to pay the desired price. The woman swiftly grabs the man’s hand and retrieves the notes, leaving him speechless. Clearly, Gaduliya Lohars are not to be messed with. Even as they demand some money for a final time the tempo driver, who has charged them three hundred rupees, starts the engine and the Lohars vanish.
 Only to re appear in Villupuram town the next day.
Around the peninsula in 7 months:
A customer and Gaduliya Lohar's bargain with each other,
just as they are about to leave the town for a new destination. 

Photographs and article by Mahima A Jain

I came across the Gaduliya Lohar's in Jan 2012 at Villupuram, Tamil Nadu. The trip was a part of my Postgraduate programme at ACJ, Chennai. 

Read Gaduliya Lohar on National Geographic by John Lancaster

Friday, March 23, 2012

Anand (1971)

A brief analysis of Anand (1971)

"Anand" is one of my favorite films, but I absolutely hate watching it. This analysis is to analyse what makes this film special and why it is an agonizing watch.

Director: Hrishikesh Mukherjee
Cast: Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan, Ramesh Deo

Somewhere in the middle of the film Lalita Pawar as Mrs. D’Sa, who considers the titular character her son, says, “I don’t want to see Anand because I can’t take it. I get uncomfortable around him.”
That is precisely the same reason I hate watching Anand. I hate it is because it is so perfect and so real.

Anand is about about the last days of a man who knows that his days are numbered, but not once does it become a melodrama. For most parts it is funny, and it treads such a thin line between fun and dark humor that it is uncomfortable. It poses as a simple drama, but deep down it isn’t.
Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s penchant for making simple films on relationships set in an urban literate milieu sans any villainous character is popular. But he brings the most unlikely actors come together as seen in Anand.

Casting – destroying archetypes, pitching antipodal characters
I think Mukherjee loved the challenge of casting actors who were typecast in roles which were no-where near their archetype image. Lalita Pawar, whose name has become synonymous with malevolence, was cast as the stern yet genteel Sister D’Sa. Similarly Ramesh Deo one of the most famous actors to play negative characters was cast as the warm and friendly Dr. Kulkarni, a Robin Hood in the medical profession. Deo, a Marathi actor, popular as the bad boy in hindi cinema, was for the first time cast as a Maharashtrian.
It is only in Mukherjee’s films that I have seen Amitabh Bachchan not as an “angry young man” but a depressed man – like most normal people who expect too much from life. Bachchan’s portrayal of the idealist and altruist Bhaskar reminds me of the misguided and disillusioned zeal with which one enters the public sphere.
Rajesh Khanna’s most acclaimed performance is often cited as his portrayal of Anand. And there is no denial that no one but Mukherjee, a true auteur, could dare to cast “India’s first superstar”, who romanced the best actresses of the sixties and seventies, without a love interest but just as a jovial dying man with a mission to spread happiness. Khanna has played a dying man in several films, but none of his other performances like the ones in Aradhna(1969) or Safar (1970), are so realistic.
The way Mukherjee pits Bhaskar (Amitabh) as a paradox of his friend Dr. Prakash Kulkarni (Ramesh Deo) and of Anand Sehgal (Rajesh Khanna) is obvious. But these paradoxes merge and melt through the film with Anand as a catalyst. If Bhaskar is a doctor with altruist and socialist ideals of growth and change, Kulkarni is portrayed as an opportunist, a businessman in medical profession cashing in on all rich hypochondriacs. Similarly if Anand is mellifluous, candid and happy-go-lucky, Bhaskar is like Anand’s alter-ego.

Reading Anand

Just before the director comes to the central plot of the film we see three men – unessential to the narrative – talking about the change in the literary scenario and how writers have graduated from cycles to cars, and it is these little social and philosophical insights which Mukherjee forcefully makes us see. Then there is the Urdu book which Anand possesses, the drama troupe rehearsing for Mughal-e-azam, the Mughal-e-azam reference which Anand makes while trying to hook up Bhaskar and Renu, using film terms ( X-Ray becomes his film, middle age becomes “interval”, death is “early exit”, death is also “end of dialogues”) and many more such incidental references. These not only answer questions of social setting but also give a rich and cultured texture to the story.
No character is without an identity. As Anand points out, ‘ “Punjab, Sindh, Gujarat, Maratha, Dravida, Utkal, Bangal” are all in Mumbai,” they are there in Mukherjee’s Anand as well. Anand shows the metropolitan as microcosm of the nation, and while all characters have distinct qualities and personality traits, conversing in their mother tongue too comes naturally to them. The Kulkarni’s in Marathi, Anand in Bengali, the drama troupe in Gujarati, the wrestler (cameo by Dara Singh) in Punjabi, and Bhaskar, Prakash and Anand’s casual use of English, speak of the director’s brilliance in portraying the Urban reality.
The reason why Anand constantly keeps assigning roles of kinship to everyone cannot be brushed away as superficial melodrama. He seeks for familial relationships because he is deprived of them in his actual life. A Bengali who moved to Delhi to live with distant relatives in post-partition India, Anand has probably had a dismal childhood devoid of love and care. This deep psychological and oedipal need for being loved like a son makes him call Sister D’Sa, his mother. In the same manner Bhaskar’s fiancé Renu’s mother becomes his mother as well. He makes Suman (Kulkarni’s wife played by Seema Deo) his sister and Bhaskar his brother. Thus using all characters, who are strangers, in the film to stage a “family drama”.
Anand has probably repressed his childhood memories, but he opens up only to Suman (whom he considers his sister) and only after enough camaraderie. The sublimation of his pain and sorrow by putting up a genuine veneer of warm humor and affection comes easily to him. In the latter half when the mystery of the dried flower in the Urdu book, which is never prominently featured but treated as an inconsequential prop, is revealed we realize that the façade is not just to keep him sane by avoiding the matter of his own death but also to defend himself from lapsing into the misfortunes of a lost love-life.
The pleasure Anand gets from looking at passers-by and people around him, is always taken to another level when he “receives signals” from some souls around him. Such importance on the inconsequential’s function in an ordinary life is interspersed in the film.
Mukherjee’s love for the normal and accidental is proven when one of Anand’s mischievous “Muralilal” stints reap unusual benefits by gaining him a friend, which he is always on the lookout for.
The way Mukherjee structures Anand’s encounters with his various characters in the film are almost the same throughout. Anand would enter and strike a note with the people around – be it (in order of encounter with Anand) Bhaskar, Sister D’Sa, Raghu Kaka, Suman, Renu, Isah Bhai – and leave without revealing his condition. And it would be either Bhaskar or Kulkarni who would have to burst their bubble. This routine exercise of humor and news of death is agonizing and just when you think you were smiling, you begin to cry.
Not once does Mukherjee make Anand, the character or the film, morbid. But it is never saccharine either. Anand makes you laugh and cry at the same time. The syncretism of sad and happy, life and death, positive and negative, jocular and grave works wonders on the unsuspecting audience who view the film with the preconception that Anand is simple.
Anand seems like a mockery of life itself. Like the ghost of a life laughing at the reality of death. And this suspicion is confirmed with the way Mukherjee has concluded Anand.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Soul in Sole and Sand

Review of the theatre production "Step by Step" by Mahima A Jain

There is earth, water, wind, light and all this entwined with human life -- and “Step by Step” tells you the intimate connection among them all. It is a non-textual, physical theatre about the poetry of life. It metaphorically explores the connection of man and earth, and the importance of Earth in life’s ventures.

A large portion of the audience at the Goethe Institut (former Max Mueller Bhavan) , where the play was staged on Monday, were school kids who cheered and laughed at the sequences on show, which must have seemed comical to them, oblivious to the greater ideas the play presented. Sure enough, “Step by step” was not just entertainment, but an epiphany of life and earth.

The performance overplays the rudiments of biosphere: blowing wind to cause motion, pouring water for growth of plants, sunflower in clouds, stepping into water, treading on toes, flying, and singing, feeling the earth, leaving imprints behind.
“Step by Step” opens with Silvia and Pahl asking the audience to puff at them. And when there is enough “wind”, the artists scud and waft around the stage, creating motion using “energy” from the audience. The production picks up from there in a devised manner, from motion to development to contact to accomplishment.

Asked where she got the idea from, Silvia said, “I was meditating and then it struck me – our feet are in direct contact with the earth and thus to everything in the world.” Pahl explained that children grow up in a virtual world and so the idea was to give them a taste of reality and the experience it has to offer.
While the simplicity of stage elements directs attention to the artists, the performance itself is a fusion of varied art forms: ventriloquism to musical instruments, light-and-sound to slapstick. Both artists deftly use the toy piano, melodica, glockenspiel and Kalimba (thumb piano) at various points. They ingeniously create and incorporate live sound effects, in par with a Foley artist’s work in a studio. Barring one German song about flying on swings, the production hardly relies on speech or dialogues.

In the end, Silvia steps into a patch of wet soil, glorifying the tactile and auditory experience. She steps out and walks across a white sheet – step by step. Pahl follows, but not on foot. Instead he closes his fists, dips it into the wet soil and then presses the side of his fist on the sheet, imprinting a smaller set of foot prints. The audience follows suit and while kids frolic in wet earth, the proposal of the play dawns upon me - surpassing motion and development, leaving imprints behind.

“Step by Step – The course that life takes” by theatre 3 hasen oben is a creation of artist-directors Wilmanns Pahl and Silvia Klaus and is co-directed by Gunther Baldaff. Since 1998 “Step by Step” has been staged sixty times.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Driving Orchestra and the Moving Play

Mahima. A. Jain

“What?” I snapped.
“Nothing,” the driver replied.
“No what! What did you want to say anna?”
“I don’t think you can drive on Mount Road.”
“Oh really? You don’t let me take the car and you don’t want to drive me around. How am I supposed to commute?” I asked him.
“What ‘commute’?” He asked.
“Never mind.” I replied. I reversed the car, he reluctantly showed me how much to reverse and where.
When I was safely out of the parking lot and as I was raising the window I said, “I knew how to reverse. You did not have to show me.”
He shrugged and let me go.
I stopped at signals. Shifted gears from one to four and then back again. I braked, I used the clutch. I honked and after four signals I learnt to swear. It was fun.
It felt like I was in a movie or in a novel. It felt like independence and victory of feminism. It felt like I was the heroine, the lead, the premier, the cynosure of my world. Every time I stepped on the brake, the world followed behind me. Every time I moved forward they took my cue. I was a director of a play. I could call it anything. From “Traffic at Greams Road” to “The Signal at Egmore” or even “The Pause for the BMW”.
I took a turn on to Mount Road. The voice of the driver echoed in my head, louder than the honks of the “27 D” behind me.
I told myself the same thing I had told him, “Never mind”.
Soon I learnt that no one was driving at the safe “forty per hour” speed limit. I too raced. I also learnt that I was not the conductor of this orchestra at Mount Road. Here everyone was driven by a single motive, get out of here. It was not a problem.
At the signal, I slowed the vehicle at the stop line. Happy about not stopping the engine, I put the vehicle on neutral as the timer started counting backwards from hundred. In the rear view mirror, which I had learnt the use of; I saw a nice car with four circles as a symbol slowdown behind me. I closed my eyes and tried to recall what that car was.
“Audi!” I squealed with excitement just as my car moved forward involuntarily accompanied with a loud thud. I swiftly turned around and saw that the Audi had bumped into my car. I got out of the car and closed the door behind me.
“What the hell? You think you can do anything! What is this! You broke the lights? Get out of the car!” I banged my fist to prove my point. The car purred lightly on neutral.
The man stepped out of the car; he was a middle aged person with greying hair, beige pants and a blue button down shirt. He quietly apologised for his mistake and offered to pay for the loss. He said it was his first time with the car and he was yet to understand how it worked. I felt we were equals but I did not say so. There was not a single scratch on his car even though his car had bumped into mine.
He gave me his business card. The occupants of two buses, a share auto, three autos, five bikes and eight cars watched the show. Sub-consciously I was the heroine once again. I took the card and got back to my car with one look at the signal, ten seconds remaining.
I clenched the handle of the door and pulled it. It did not open. I saw the keys dangling in the keyhole. I could still feel the purr of the engine and the mist the AC forming on the closed windows. I clenched my head and once again banged my fist into some random part of the car.
The signal turned green and everyone behind me started honking. All the slang I had used a little while back on others was being re-directed at me. The gentleman from the Audi got down and came towards me; I murmured “The return of the Audi-man”. It felt like I was the heroine, the lead, the premier, the cynosure of my world – finally - but not the way I had pictured. I was not in the car and yet the world had to take my cue. I was the director of a play. I could call it anything. From “Disaster at Mount Road” to “The Lost Keys” or even “One Idiot”.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


-Mahima. A. Jain

‘Is it that important?’ she asked leaning towards me over our little coffee table. Her brunette fringe covered her eyes and she impatiently pushed it back, revealing her unfathomable dark eyes. I knew her tactic – she knew me too well. I had a weak will, I would break at the slightest pressure and she was doing everything right – pressurising me. But I had to stay firm. I had to go.
‘I already explained it, did I not?’ I retorted, not trying to show her how much I hated going – going away from her in the very period we needed to be together. It was hard. She was so delicate, so admirable and so beautiful.
‘Tell me once again,’ she begged me. Getting up from the opposite chair and cramming into the single seat sofa I was sitting on.
I turned and looked at her, she had an impish grin on her face.
‘Don’t do that to me!’ I whispered and unwillingly as my lips gave way to a grin.
‘No, really, tell me once more, why exactly you have to go?’ she asked placing her hand over mine and rubbing it softly. She was a great actor, her impish grin was gone and a serious look was over her face.
I did not answer at once. I let her tickle my forearm and I knew inwardly she was counting down to when I would yell out, “No I don’t want to go!” But this time that was not happening. I would go after all it was only a matter of days. She lifted her gaze from my hand and looked me in the eye. The fringe of her hair was travelling back to her eye, one more movement and it would cover her perfect lashes and pitch black iris. I always loved it when she pushed her hair back – the way her eyes looked – mad and irritated – when it troubled her was a funny sight. She was not too happy with her fringes but I thought it looked great.
I removed my hand from her subtle clasp and tenderly pushed her fringe back. The end of her mouth twitched in to a smile, but only for a split second.
‘So? Why?’ She pressed, remembering her mission.
I grimaced and in a swift motion got up. I walked over to my closet and started packing.
‘Okay for the umpteenth time, I have to go because they need me there. It’s just for research and I will be back in a couple of days.’
‘What if something happens to you?’ She asked.
I laughed out and stopped at once at her glare.
‘I am serious, what if something happens to you?’
‘Listen, I am not going on war! What will happen to a person, who is going to dig up the Mayan civilization? What do you expect, the tribes to come alive and bury us instead? Or do you suppose there are chances of me being possessed by the time I finish my work there? And I thought you knew my profession.’
‘But I won’t be able to contact you!’ She said and pouted. ‘It’s our anniversary one of those days when you are digging up the dead.’
My irritation vaporized when she said that. After great persuasion from my side had she agreed to me going there and it was true our research site had no means of communication. No mobile phones and no landlines. No internet and no wi-fi. I stared at her face for a minute. Opened my mouth to answer but when I realized that there was nothing much I had to say I let my jaw drop for a second and then closed it. I turned around and continued packing.
She crossed the room very slowly. She knew I was weakened. She came from behind me while I packed my night pants on the top of the suitcase. I checked my mental checklist of necessities.
‘Trousers. Shirts. Towels. Under garments. Cargoes. Socks. Floaters. Bathroom necessities.’ I murmured to myself. After much thought I added, ‘I think I am forgetting something.’
She touched my elbow from behind. It sent shivers down my spine in a very comfortable way. It was weird. Goosebumps had actually become a comfort with her around me.
‘Me.’ She breathed in my ear. Her lips brushed earlobe and her hand entwined against my body.
‘What?’ I asked in confusion. I had forgotten what I was doing a second ago. All I could remember was my admiration of the electric currents she had always given me.
‘You said you were forgetting something.’ She reminded me. ‘You are forgetting to pack me.’
I grimaced. She was being completely unreasonable. I raised my eyebrows and turned around. Her hands were still around my waist. And I could see the top of the fringe now.
‘I am going to miss you. You should understand this is hard for me. Please don’t make it harder.’ I whispered softly but firmly. ‘You know between my profession and you I have always chosen you. But this is a golden opportunity for me. And that too when I thought everything was lost. Not many people get invitations with the funds to go to historically and archeologically rich sites. All those years of learning and arm-chair researching might actually pay! Please I beg of you do not make this harder for me.’
She looked up when I begged. Her eyes were wide, eyebrows raised. She closed her eyes, smiled without happiness and removed her hands from my waist. She took a step away from me and nodded. I did not get what she was trying to prove the nod. I felt dumb.
‘Handkerchiefs’ She said after a while had passed and we were still in the same position.
Once again I asked her, feeling moronic, ‘What?’
‘You said you were forgetting something. You did not pack handkerchiefs. It will be hot there and tissues might not be enough. You should pack reusable handkerchiefs.’
I raised my eyebrows this time. So, the nod was a yes to go. I smiled. This time willingly. I nodded. We packed handkerchiefs. I was closing the cabinet when I saw one of her handkerchiefs – pink and laced. I took it in my hand. I have no clue what made me do it but I had a quick impulse to smell it and I did it. Rose water, washing liquid, strawberry cream. It was her. I discreetly put it in my bag.
A week later, at the research site, I walked ten miles, asked for a lift and then reached the nearest village with the phone connection. I dialled my landline number and she picked up the phone at the first ring.
‘I knew you would!’ She screamed with the happiness of a child.
I smiled. ‘Happy fortieth anniversary dear!’
‘I love you,’ she breathed into the phone. ‘I love you like I did when I was twenty and you twenty-two.’
I laughed. ‘And you still smell the same – Rose water, washing liquid, strawberry cream. I packed you after all.’ I felt the lace in my hand. Her essence lingered in abstractness reminding me that even before Mayans it was her whom I loved.