Going beyond boundaries, with Ravi Kashi

Don’t look for prettiness. Don’t expect to be soothed. For that surely isn’t what you are going to get.

Expect the unexpected. To be jerked out of complacency.  To be bereft of speech.


I would say that Ravikumar Kashi is perhaps the most adventurous contemporary artist of Bengaluru. His body of work extends across paintings, sculpture, photography and installation.

His current exhibition, ‘Silent Echo’ (at Gallery Sumukha is on until Dec 31, open 10.30 am – 6 pm, Mon-Sat), is an exhibition of installations and artists’ books, and revolves around the ‘object.’ Says Kashi, “One of the main threads that bind these works is an insight as to how objects become an extension of ourselves, retain memory, gain their own persona over a period of time. And when more than one object comes together, they affect and alter each other’s meaning. Five distinct but interrelated pieces of work in the show address the character, historicity, function, and relevance of diverse objects that the artist chooses to build his narratives around.”

The main work ‘Silent Echo’ is a sculptural installation of mesh and paper pulp. Says the artist, “It evokes many of the metaphors of our time where hope and despair ride together side by side”. Kashi handcrafts objects and puts them together with other objects that he finds, creating installations such as ‘Heirlooms of Fear’ and ‘Dark Revenue’.


Kashi has won the Kannada Sahitya Academy Award for a book on art, apart from the awards given by the Karnataka Lalit Kala Akademi and the Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, for his art. A fascinating aspect of the current exhibition, is a set of ‘Artists’ Books’, called ‘All is always now’Ravi has been creating artists’ books for ten or more years, making the paper by hand and drawing images that are times radical and subversive at times.

These books predominantly have more visuals, and less text, and as a publisher, I found his earlier works ‘In pursuit of happiness’ (a series of water colour and ink on cast cotton pulp) and ‘A thousand desires’ (an installation of a thousand tongues) – a perfect fit for the BEST OF BANGALORE- Innovation edition (Raintree Media, 2014).

Kashi says that he intends ‘Silent Echo’ to be a multi-dimensional experience with a common thread running through it. “The third dimension is provided by two sets of works with photography as the mainstay. The first is a set of four individual photographs called Memorial.’ The second is a photobook called ‘Shelf life. Together, the two explore complex narratives that emanate from ‘showcases’ which are ubiquitous in most middle class homes, and display cases in shops.”

This is not an exhibition you should breeze through. Plan to spend an hour, if not more. You will need it to absorb what you see. It’s an education. I wish schools and parents would take kids to let them see that art is much more than pretty pictures and straight lines, to let them see art that goes beyond boundaries.




A soulful of art –tribute to Yusuf Arakkal

It feels like a million years ago now that he gave me a lesson in art appreciation, and this gift has given me immeasurable happiness in the best museums across the world. He also taught me how to enjoy my favourite tipple without getting tipsy.

“Art is my soul”

Others far more qualified than me have spoken about Yusuf as an artist, this is my personal memorial to an old friend.

I got the news of his death very late. I had slept through the day, after a long travel. That night, I lay awake remembering the many ways Yusuf impacted our lives. On a Monday afternoon, nearly 20 years ago, when I went to pick up my son from Lumbini play school, Gayatri Rao who ran the school, showed me a wondrous sight. After weeks of refusing to colour any drawings, Aditya had spent the whole morning colouring. Realisation dawned as we looked at the many colourful pages.

I was then a columnist for the Times of India, and the previous Saturday had gone to interview Yusuf (in their old home in NGEF colony). I had taken the little fellow along, and while Yusuf and I chatted, he was left to explore the studio and had been obviously inspired by the world of colour.

My interview was about a new series of nudes that Yusuf was going to show; those were days before digital cameras and I needed a visual to illustrate my piece in the column. Yusuf picked up paper and pencil and quickly sketched a small version. I handed in the sketch with my article and retrieved it from the press after the page was made. The lovely little sketch hangs in my drawing room, along with a few other artworks that he took pleasure in gifting us over the years.

Afternoons that stretched to evenings at the iconic Victoria hotel, which used to be his home away from home (where Bangalore Central mall stands);  impromptu Sunday lunches in their new home, the travel tips that both Sara and Yusuf offered (he was a great one for travelling – “Only when you see the world, will you grow”, he told Allen when the latter complained about my wanderlust).

Yusuf Arakkal, me, SG Vasudev & G Subramanian – catching up after many months at Galerie De’Arts in 2014

It feels like a million years ago now that he gave me a lesson in art appreciation, pointing out what makes SG Vasudev’s work special. And this gift has given me immeasurable happiness in the best museums across the world. He also taught me how to enjoy my favourite tipple without getting tipsy.

He turned out dapper in beautiful jackets picked out by Sara, and good naturedly preened about his likeness to Col Gaddafi. A gregarious soul who loved serious debates as much as unabashed flirting, he was completely at ease with himself.

He didn’t call or visit when Allen died, and it pained me. They were as close as brothers; Yusuf had taken it upon himself to play counsellor to us, advising us about relationships (and me about clothes). And for a long time, like with many others, he too had forgotten me, and Aditya. Many moons later, the phone rang late at night, and the familiar teasing voice spoke. He gave some reason for not being in touch earlier; they were out-of-town when they got the news. Now, he had more pressing matters to speak about; in his usual outspoken way, he was up-in-arms about something, and prodded me to carry on working with the same ideals that Allen had.

We spoke and met a few times over the last few years, and as it is with old friends, the undeniable warmth and easy banter resurfaced. He had attained great fame but he allowed me the privilege of chiding him.

The energy of his paintings is a tangible presence and I was enveloped in it as I sat on the couch with Sara, two days after he died. The world mourns the passing of a great artist. For Sara, it is a loss of a person who sculpted her life. Forty three years is a lifetime, and yet it is not enough. It is going to be a long, hard walk ahead for her. One that I know well, and my heart aches for her even as it does for Yusuf, whose warmth and friendship I cherish.

What a man, what a life. I can’t say adieu as some one this larger than life can’t be forgotten. In a quote in BEST OF BANGALORE (Raintree Media), Yusuf said, “Creativity is God’s gift to mankind, art is my soul”. That is the measure of the man.

Villain on screen & a gentle soul off it


SRID9586He may be a villain on screen, but in real life, he is an erudite polyglot who wears his fame very lightly and is sensitive to social imbalances. Prakash Rai aka Prakash Raj has adopted a village that he hopes would become a model.

This Bengaluru huduga has shot to national fame, but when he spoke to us at the Rotary Club of Bangalore last Monday, there were no starry airs. He preferred to answer questions from the audience. Three key points have stayed with me:

Persistent demands for him to quote dialogues from his film were met with the stoic and dignified reply, “I get paid to say my dialogue”. When someone asked him yet again, he cited the example of veteran Hindi actor Raaj Kumar who when asked to say dialogues at a party by an army officer, retorted, ‘Why don’t you do a march past?’.

Prakash is an avid reader, and can speak and read all the languages of the films in which he acts. “I would just be a parrot if I said the dialogue without understanding the context of the culture.” He added, “ Learning to speak a language shows that you respect the people of the land.” (Will all those who crib about learning Kannada or the language of any region that they live in, learn from this great person?)

What would he have been had he not been an actor? “Even had I been a mechanic, I would have been an award-winning mechanic”, he said without sounding the least bit boastful. This is my motto too, and as you can see, I acted like a complete fangirl.


There is a little backstory that I want to share too. When I published Allen’s novel a few months after he passed away in 2009, I relied on our friend and old colleague Prakash Belawadi to help me with the launch. He wanted Prakash Rai/Raj to be present, as Allen Mendonca who was also a film critic had apparently shared a rapport with the actor. But Prakash Raj was away at a shoot, and couldn’t be at the launch. Yesterday, six and half years later, the President of the Rotary Club presented him with a memento and without knowing what it was, Prakash opened the gift wrap and smiled when he saw the cover of Sentinel House.

President of Rotary Club o Bangalore Ranga Rao hands over a memento to the speaker of the day, award-winning actor Prakash Raj.
adit & prakashraj
Aditya Mendonca is thrilled when Prakash Raj holds up the book authored by Allen Mendonca.

The ‘green’ man of theatre

In 36 years of theatre, Bimal Desai has been around the park several times. I refer to Cubbon Park, to save which Desai has battled over the years. “I have achieved very little and lost quite a bit”, he says. But it is thanks to him that gates came up, entry banned for traffic in the mornings, shooting of films stopped, political and other sundry public rallys were banned totally inside the park.


In one of life’s coincidences, I was at Cubbon Park one Sunday morning to watch a young colleague and her friends perform ‘A midsummer night’s dream’. The same night I went to Lavina and Bimal Desai’s utterly gorgeous home to celebrate the 36 fun years he has spent in theatre. Just a few days earlier, he had directed ‘Twice around the park’ at a theatre festival.

The characteristic that strikes you most about Desai is his down-to-earth attitude. For him theatre is entertainment, and he lays it out there, plain and simple. Not for him the exploration of angst or complexities of interpretations.

His theatre company Theatre Lab has done 40 plays so far, notable among them being ‘God’ by Woody Allen, ‘Plaza Suite’ by Neil Simon, ‘Catch me if you can’, an adaptation of Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert’s work and ‘Rough Crossing’ by Tom Stoppard.

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Ashok Mandanna heads the list of his favourite actors, who include Judith Roby, Tuffy (Darius) Taraporevala, Coco, Brian Nobbay and Prakash Belawadi. “My most memorable moment was acting for the first time opposite Ashok Mandanna. It was a dream come true”, he confesses in fanboy candour.

“It was during college in MES that my interest in theatre came alive. I was the pioneer in starting inter class English plays in college. I was a member of BLT in 1980’s. It was very difficult to get a break as an actor. Both Mahesh Dattani and I used to do production work. The frustration of not getting a break motivated me to ask Mahesh to direct his first play for Theatre Lab. That’s how it was born.”

From acting, Desai moved on to set design and direction, taking a course in this specialisation at North Western University of Chicago. “It has always been my aim to make an audience laugh, have a good time and send them home happy! Entertainment, entertainment, entertainment is what I believe in!”

His forte might be laugh a minute but he is a very successful businessperson. Apart from a variety of  other family businesses, he and his brother run Mothers Recipe, an ethnic food company whose range of popular pickles and preserves are present in 40 countries. He also owns the Four Points by Sheraton, a hotel in Whitefield. “During the day I spend my time by working and I dedicate my evenings to theatre”, he says.

Apart from the laughs, Bengaluru owes him big for saving what is left of an important lung space in the city centre. Desai is the original green crusader, who hired a lawyer and filed public interest litigations which found favour with Justice Michael Saldanha who passed bold orders to protect the Cubbon Park from further decimation. From 300 acres, the park has been whittled down to 190 acres with several chunks parcelled out to various buildings. Some heartening moves such as stopping traffic movement through the park on weekends have been long in the coming, and Desai feels that some of the people in the vanguard of ‘developing’ the park could have different agendas.

Do read Allen Mendonca’s lyrical prose here about the man who put on war paint to save Cubbon Park: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/Possessed-by-the-spirit-of-Beantown/articleshow/70444840.cms

Desai’s green battle is also detailed here: http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/mp/2003/01/20/stories/2003012001410200.htm

The sunny Sunday morning that began with a Shakespeare play in Cubbon Park ended fittingly over dinner with the theatreperson who saved the park. Wonder what the Bard would have made of this.


Super sized egos vs winsome service

In an era where waning ethics are juxtaposed with super-sized egos, winsome service with a smile rocked my day. And it happened in the most ordinary of settings, with people whose lives would surely be harder than ours.

What does it take to make one happy? Success, riches, luxe goodies, fast cars, bubbly. While I wouldn’t say no to any and all of these, in an era where waning ethics are juxtaposed with super-sized egos, winsome service with a smile rocked my day. And it happened in the most ordinary of settings, with people who would have more to crib than most of us, whose lives would surely be harder than ours.

After months of trying to get someone to dye a shirt for me (sentimentally attached to imageit as it is a gift purchased by my architect nephew from his first pay cheque which had unfortunately acquired the colour of the wrapping it came in), I lucked out. Rows of clotheslines had fabrics of various hues drying out; hearing my hesitant voice, Shabaz turned around in amazement, “How did you find this place”?

He smiled, appreciating my tenacity in tracking him down to the top of non-descript huddle of nameless buildings. “Give me a call and come by when you visit Commercial Street next, I’ll do my best,” he said.

Next stop was Shalimar stores on Ibrahim Sahib Street. My quest is for fabric to reduce the glare from the skylights at home. I was hesitant to ask for the bundle that was at the bottom of the stack. But young Inayath declared with aplomb, “I will turn the shop upside down, don’t worry about it. Making my customers happy is important to me”.

Last stop, corner of Kamaraj Road. Corn-on-the-cob, freshly roasted on a charcoal fire by Mary, perched under an umbrella. “Show me my photo”, she said, “I didn’t smile because I have only one tooth – I am nearly 80, and my teeth have fallen off”. Some young louts piss her off, asking her for water after eating the corn. She comments to me, “When I go out, I carry my water”; the cobs are Rs. 20 apiece, a steal if you compute her costs for the cart, raw corn, charcoal, lime, salt and chilli powder, the mamool and her personalized service.

These three are radiant with a cheerful attitude to their work and goodwill to fellow humans; not only did they make my day, they made me introspect upon my attitude.

Dancing with Shiamak

I succumbed to the lure of the phenomenon called Shiamak, India’s dancing sensation who’s made thousands of ordinary Indians live out their dream of dancing like their favourite Bollywood stars.Scratch an Indian, and not too far below the surface, one will find a favourite hero or heroine, a song and a dance bubbling out. Have feet, will dance! is Shiamak Davar’s motto and one that is fervently embraced by people all across the country.


Over the last dozen years or so, Mumbai’s ace choreographer has opened centres in major cities where classes in various popular styles are taught. Bollywood, Hip-Hop, Contemporary, Salsa – from fast track summer camps to monsoon sessions to regular classes – there’s plenty of choice. And plenty of takers too, there are addicts who just can’t have enough of the classes and keep coming back for more.

It’s not enough just to learn the dance; the thrill is also in the big show that happens at the end of the classes. Zonal competitions are a huge hit, everybody gets their 4 minutes of time on stage and the grand finale is a treat to watch when the Show Kids, the Special Potential Batches and the Trainers perform to an ecstatic audience.

Here’s an insider’s account from my 15 days with Shiamak. Deciding to give my sluggish metabolism a jolt, and bored with the gym, I signed up for the Beginner’s class in the Summer Funk fast track class. Our peppy and immensely likeable teachers Snigdha and Tuhin decided to teach us a hip-hop medley.

First day – held back hurling my lunch all across the floor, back of the head ached. Struggled to the car and drove home, half dead.

Second class – slightly better – though bouts of acidity flashed up and down during the warm up

Third class – body is starting to feel it belongs to me

Fourth class – all the other students appear to have learnt so many steps, while I had been trying to disentangle my limbs.

Never mind. Wednesday & Friday evenings, Saturday at fricking 8 am and Sunday late afternoon- for 3 weeks, these classes were my priority (I missed only 2 very reluctantly).

All along, I had no intention of going up on stage and performing for an audience (not that I am shy, it seemed just a little desperate for the limelight). I didn’t pay much attention to fervent talks of costumes – photos flew up and down on Whatsapp and FB, someone bought tops, another bought bandannas. One of the boys booked space for extra rehearsals and I was happy to come early and stay late just to learn the steps. Two days before the show, when I announced that I wouldn’t be joining the group on stage, there was a surge of protests. I compromised and agreed to join the group at the beginning and the end of the dance – I hadn’t managed to learn the rapid sequence of steps that transited from ‘Summer’ to ‘ Lean on’ and didn’t want to make the group look bad.

With my teacher Snigdha & fellow students on the day we got our certificates
With my teacher Snigdha & fellow students on the day we got our certificates
Celebratory choco cake
Celebratory choco cake

So one Sunday afternoon, there I was, feeling distinctly silly in the costume – (black tights & tee, with a neon green cropped top – pinned in place by the perky 14 year old Khushi, who admonished me not to tug it down). As the 13 of us, 10 female and 3- we were the smallest group- lined up for the tech rehearsal – I seemed to have taken a fast train back in time. As we watched other dance groups in exotic costumes, we bemoaned our lack of creativity and went into spasms of panic about forgotten movements.

dancers are of all ages - form tees tiny tots to senior citizens
dancers are of all ages – form these tiny tots to senior citizens

Soon, it was show time. As we lined up in the wings waiting for the group ahead of us to finish, another group was taking its place behind us. In it was 30 year old Mehul, a friend who had talked me into joining the class. “I’m tired”, he said, looking it. I smiled, my 50 year old body was raring to go!

The stage lights went off, we skipped demurely to our places and stood heads low. On cue, our hands moved, legs swung, hips gyrated and boy! Did we dance!!

PS: I was home by 9 pm – there was no after-party with my classmates, most of whom are high school students. And show day was the last day of summer vacation. We are already making plans to join the monsoon classes.


Meet my fellow students:

*One of the students was from a small town in Orissa. She had just finished Class 12, and having found the Shiamak classes online, had hotfooted it to Bangalore for the class, staying as paying guest for a few weeks.

*On the day of the show, we found out that the best dancer in our class, a gorgeous young woman who was in our class, had actually been a dance teacher with Shiamak Davar’s company. She hadn’t danced in 12 years; after she got married, she spent her time looking after her husband, their two kids and her in-laws. “I never miss watching the Summer Funk show when I am on vacation. This has been the only time that the dates of the dance camp and my holidays worked out for me to attend the class”.

*Another classmate is a senior project lead in a prestigious IT company, and is a complete Shiamak addict, having attended umpteen classes. But nobody in her office knows that she dances; “I have worked very hard to reach my post – I’m the youngest in my position. If my colleagues know that I dance, they wouldn’t take me seriously at work”.

Shiamak stands for education, entertainment and empowerment. It certainly gave me all three – I learnt to open myself up, without ego; the music and dance were hugely entertaining, and after years of back and ankle pain, finding my body gain strength and responding to instructions has been hugely empowering.

Confessions of a new lover

The handful of guests at our tea sat in silent communion, allowing each to admire the beauty of the ceremony and mutual courteousness. In the warm calm of the afternoon, it occurred to me that if everyone were respectful to each other, there would be no hostility.

A true-blue south Indian from India’s largest coffee growing state, coffee has been my go-to drink. Making the perfect cup of coffee just the way it should be (add coffee to boiling hot milk, don’t boil the two together) is the way we lavish love on our families and guests at home. Tea was a rare drink and drunk strong and sweet with spices until about six years ago, I took to drinking  green tea.


I slowly started appreciating the merits of silver tipped to single estate to Sri Lankan to Assam and Nilgiri teas. Of late, the romance has bloomed thanks to the unending varieties of teas – from the rather sweet strawberry to the light vanilla to the exotic rose -in-bloom. Now my days begin with homegrown lemongrass- infused tea. And when something bothers me, I treat myself to an extra large serving of tea in a gorgeous and large cup. There’s a deeply aesthetic satisfaction to it.

On a recent afternoon, I was invited to a Japanese tea ceremony at a restaurant owned by a friend. It was a bit of a makeshift affair as they didn’t have the entire paraphernalia. But it was such a beautiful presentation with a measured pace that I could hardly cavil about anything.


My impression: The person who made the tea was completely focused on doing everything aesthethically – he took several minutes to arrange the pot and the cup, folding the napkin ever so delicately that it seemed like a special ritual in itself.

Before pouring the tea, he washed the cup in warm water, wiped it carefully before pouring the tea and served it reverentially. The guest thanked the server equally respectfully and took the permission of the neighbour before drinking.

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The tea was served to one person at a time, and the cup was to be held in both palms, turned around twice before the cup was emptied in three delicate sips. The whole process of brewing the green tea, whisking it with a tiny broom and serving was repeated until all the guests had their turn.

I don’t know if the tea drinkers in Japan are a quiet lot ( they can be quite rowdy at a bar) but the handful of guests at our tea sat in silent communion, allowing each to admire the beauty of the ceremony and mutual courteousness. In the warm calm of the afternoon, it occurred to me that if everyone were respectful to each other, there would be no hostility. Politeness is an under-rated virtue, sadly.