Friday, November 23, 2007

Hard times



Picture: Charles Dickens Museum
Text by Mathures Paul
Charles Dickens is the quintessential Victorian author who is best remembered for books like Pickwick Papers, Adventures of Oliver Twist, The Christmas Carol, Hard Times and Our Mutual Friend. But an ever pervasive gloom marks his work and as his career progressed, so did the note of desolation. Why is this so? The answer may lie in Kolkata.
The novelist had 10 children, of whom two died during his lifetime — ninth child Dora Annie died in 1851, aged 9 months and Walter Landor, his second son, died in Kolkata on 31 December, 1863, at the age of 23. He was buried at the Bhawanipore Cemetery but the headstone was shifted to the South Park Street Cemetery in 1987.
Little is known about Walter. Born in 1841, he was named after poet Walter Savage Landor who was an inspiration for his father.
Dickens was sure of the son having a bright future and did not stop him from travelling to India in 1857 as member of the 42nd Highlanders. He attained the rank of lieutenant in the East India Company.
Sadly, after his arrival everything fell apart and he soon found himself in debt. His health also started failing, and in a couple of months time he died of aneurysm, leaving many of the unpaid bills for his father to clear. News of his death did not reach England until Francis Jeffrey Dickens, the fifth child, arrived in India in 1864. When he found his brother dead, he joined the Bengal Mounted Police and returned to England in 1871, a year after the death of Charles Dickens.
Dickens separated from his wife in 1858 after the birth of their tenth child and was having a relationship with actress Ellen Ternan. The novelist passed away in 1870.
Ironically, Walter’s death is significant because his grandfather, John Dickens, was also under heavy debt and had to go to jail. The episode inspired the character of Mr Micawber in David Copperfield.

Langauge no barrier


Picture: Internet
Text by Mathures Paul
It may sound strange when one credits Bengal for being the birth place of Hindi journalism.
Most scholars consider 30 May, 1826 to be the birth of Hindi journalism with the launch of the weekly Oodunt Martand from Kolkata. Bangiya Sahitya Parishad has in its archive the only surviving inaugural issue of the magazine.
“With Jooghul Kishore Sookool as the editor, the weekly was published every Tuesday from 37, Aamratala Lane, near Colootala, for a monthly subscription of Rs 2. It continued to be in circulation till 4 December, 1827,” Dr Kanai Chandra Pal, trustee, Bangiya Sahitya Parishad, said. Bijendra Kumar Singh, author of a dissertation tracing the birth of Hindi journalism, said: “Pundit Jooghul Kishore Sookool was the man behind the newspaper. It was published from Munnu Thakur’s residence. Oodunt Martand published 79 issues and each consisted of eight pages. The last issue was published on 4 December 1827.”
The weekly was concerned exclusively with social and religious issues and very few political questions were discussed. The focus was on sati, unsociability, child marriage and education. In order to draw readers beyond Bengal, Sookool needed postal concessions which the British refused and the paper had to be closed. “The property of Oodunt Martand was confiscated and the printing machinery was sealed since Sookool failed to pay a rental debt of Rs 80,” Mr Singh said. “We have in our collection only the first and the third issues. The other issues may be found in Radhakanta Deb’s library,” Dr Pal said.
Sookool tried to launch Samyadani Martand in 1850 but failed. Soon after, the first Hindi daily, Samachar Subha Varshan, began in 1854. Shyamsundar Sen, a Bengali was the editor.
It was published both in Bengali and Hindi.

More than a woman



Photograph by Mathures Paul
BEWARE!
The typical Indian woman is strong and scares thieves, dogs and rats away with just a stare. On Holi she appears in full regalia! Bloggers, my mother is the sweetest person around. And she is giving my wife pointers every day!

Peta beware!



Photographs by Mathures Paul
MEATY ROLE
In Macau shopping is a pleasure if you are adventurous. While passing through narrow lanes, you would come across shops selling all types of meat and the owner standing outside with a huge pair of scissors or a sharp knife. His job is to cut small pieces and your task is to eat them. Pickled in god-knows-what, they are delicious. Must try.

Classic revival



Photographs by Mathures Paul
MAKE A MEMORY
Juthika Roy is a forgotten nightingale. After giving a few generations hits such as , she faded away. Today she lives in a house that’s in tatters. A few years back Saregama released a CD but since then nobody has written much about her. Why? Simply because we are foolish. Her voice was appreciated by Mahatma Gandhi. How about you?

Record discord



SPINNING OUT OF CONTROL
Consider yourself lucky if you own the last LP released in India by HMV (now known as Saregama). When you visit Calcutta, don't forget to take a walk down Dharmatolla (Lenin Sarani), which is dotted with makeshift stalls selling LPs. Pick up Abbey Road or Blondes Have More Fun or Tony Brent or Champs for as little as Rs 30.

Picture perfect



Photography by Mathures Paul
STRIP TEASE
Meet Narayan Debnath, without whom a book on cartoons in Bengal is impossible. He lives in Howrah with his family and cats. I have met Debnath only once but it was a trip to Mecca!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Too much monkey business


Photograph: Mathures Paul

MARRIAGES ARE MADE IN HEAVEN
To get a feel of Jaipur, avoid putting up at big hotels. Smaller ones offer great service for money and serve authentic Rajasthani food. My wife fed me well during our stay.

Distant drums


Photograph: Mathures Paul 

Spare a little prayer for us
Phuskar is a must-visit place for travellers to Jaipur. Camel rides have given birth to a thriving business and every tree shade
hides a folk singer. And when you sit by the ghats, sadhus are heard chanting slokas that bring tears to your eyes. By the way, 
here street signs are usually in German!

Seeds of love (and perhaps hope)



Photograph: Mathures Paul
BIRDS OF A FEATHER FLOCK TOGETHER
Worshipping birds is a ritual across India. My wife Kajari (the sweetest, and I  am not being forced to say this) has a soft corner for birds, cats, dogs... anything that moves, including me. I will always cherish the time we spent in Jaipur.

Kraftwerk + Daft Punk = glass of lassi


By Mathures Paul
When members of Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk or Beastie Boys leave their bands, which group can they join? Lychee Lassi. Uninhibited, crazy, serious… the quartet plays unlike any other band you have heard so far. Diverse influences have made the team of Beat (bass), Berger (guitar), Roy (drums) and Illvibe (scratching, faderboard) a force to be reckoned with, a name that cannot be ignored. Their promo photographs have them wearing orange bubble suits bouncing across unknown territories, something their music focuses on. Finding Lychee Lassi at their colourful best in Tokyo makes sense. But India? Jalebee Cartel, another electronica outfit based out of Delhi, made them understand the Indian music industry's level of maturity. Instead of a lychee sorbet, the team members share a cup of coffee with Unplugged at the Atrium CafĂ© of The Park. The Goethe Institut/ Max Mueller Bhavan-organised concert at Tantra was not less exciting than the WWE Royal Rumble!
We started with an obvious question ~ why Lychee Lassi. Beat says, "We tried the drink at an Indian restaurant in Berlin in 1998 and found that it had all the ingredients. The exotic drink inspired us and intoxicated us enough to call ourselves Lychee Lassi."
At various points in time the members met. "We have stuck together through thick and thin. Sometimes we have fallen apart only to regroup again and again. Groups centred around vocalists usually split, except for the Rolling Stones! On a serious note, instrumentalists have to stick together because we have ‘less’ options."
Lychee Lassi refuses to categorise their music, which is a mix of jazz, punk, electronica, etc. or Beastie Boys meet Chemical Brothers. "Change is constant. We keep on improvising and that lends an edge to our music. Since improvisation is our strength, we usually don't practise for long and pick up on the stage."
Groups such as this are niche; they have a loyal following. Illvibe says, "It's difficult to market our music because there are a few labels around. Broadly, the music industry has big labels and independent ones. We stick to the latter. Our contracts are short, like life. It's not just finding a label that matters, it's about finding good producers."
An interesting group should be promoted through innovative creatives. Lychee Lassi has a "fifth" member in the form of Philipe Hillers, who comes up with the graphics. He also creates videos for the group. Hillers is well versed in Maya, 3D Max Studio and similar software packages.
One of Lychee Lassi's more popular albums is Out Now. "The vibe was there and it was easy working on it. Once producers put together a few pieces, we start editing and that's that. Don't call us rappers or hip-hop artistes or songwriters. We are instrumentalists. Our music has nothing to do with jazz.”
Every member has an interesting background. For example Berger has a PhD on Jimi Hendrix. "Being a Hendrix buff, I always wanted to do this. I try to play like him. My PhD talks about his techniques and impact on society." Illvibe is a DJ who turned musician. "Call me a scratch artiste. DJing means quick money and that's important. Playing with Lychee Lassi has been a great experience. I started DJing in 1996 and joined the group in 1998-99. Being the ‘old type’, I use vinyls to mix." Beat also scores for films, dance and theatre productions. "The approach is completely different. According to plots I have to compose. When I work for dance productions, I need to come up with music that makes your body move. I have done two theatre productions with which I am not satisfied."
Playing in Germany day after day can be a bit tiring. "We want to tour and Tokyo would be a great venue. I have a nice time playing in Germany but members in the crowd know us, our music. Abroad we get 500-600 people at our concerts. That calls for good music."
Interpreting the music of Lychee Lassi is simple. "It has all kinds of messages ~ love or political. When you have a story to tell, say it with music." Maybe it will be years before Lychee Lassi comes back to Kolkata but surely The Goethe Institut can bring in more such groups, which are ready to experiment.

Hitting the high notes

By Mathures Paul
When a six feet plus opera singer turns his back towards the piano, raises his hands heavenward and breaks into an operatic piece, a five-feet three-inch photographer can only jump like a sheep ready to be fleeced! Adam Margulies is in the city to nurture young voices for opera. The New Yorker plans to stay in Kolkata for three weeks, celebrating Luciano Pavarotti and his friends' works at the Calcutta School of Music.
Instead of Providence bringing Margulies to Kolkata, a friend of his made him undertake the trip.
"He left Kolkata long back and now lives in New York. Here I am giving voice training to young and adult students. People in your city are very sweet. They don't speak too loudly, they are too afraid to yell. I am telling them it's okay to be loud, to be aggressive." And how is he doing that? "Imagine there is a snake in the garden. What would you tell your friend? Shout ‘hey’.”
Margulies is also a student who often visits the Metropolitan Opera School. "In New York the level of commitment is much higher. Only the fittest survive.”
One can aim to become an opera singer only when he or she gets over adolescence. "I started at the age of 16. Prior to this, the voice cracks. When I started taking lessons, I was told to forget singing for a year." He soon found himself travelling around France, Germany and Italy picking up various languages.
"On returning, I had to make that tough decision between bass, tenor or baritone. If you make a mistake here, there would be no looking back."
Sheer luck introduced Margulies to the world of opera. "I was travelling with father, who playing some song on the car stereo. Impressed, I picked up the lines. This is when dad decided I should take opera seriously."
Soon he was travelling extensively, one of his achievement being the winner of the UNESCO Orfeo Award for 2005-2006. "I have never been apprehensive about the future. I want to succeed enough to earn a living. Things change and so will I. I grew up listening to Bach and Beethoven and then turned my attention towards opera."
His students here are in the age group of 18 and 73. "Voice accounts for only five per cent of the skills. The rest is your dedication towards music, work ethics and modesty."
On a lighter note, some of the most fascinating moments during his stay in Kolkata have been spent in taxis and buses. "It's dangerous to walk here. In New York, people would have been fined heavily. Cabbies don't care about directions or rules."

Bend it like Bond with Brioni


By Mathures Paul
You can’t wear a Rolls-Royce, but you qualify for no less an elite circle if you sport a Brioni. And if you don’t know already, it’s the company that has been dressing James Bond since 1994 and it’s now available in India. It’s rather embarrassing to ask any Brioni representative a suit’s price because loyalists of the brand always have a few million to spare. The apparel range is priced between Rs 9,900-950,000, while a made-to-measure line, depending on the exclusivity of the fabric, can cost as much as Rs 15 lakh!
Exclusive suit designs, of course, are best found at Saville Row, which has influenced Nazareno Fonticoli, who helped establish the house of Brioni in 1947. Brioni introduced men to the ramp at a show held in 1952 in Palazzo Pitti in an era when fashion shows were synonymous with women’s wear.
“Brioni is considered the Rolls-Royce in fashion. It has different cuts to fit all body structures — thin, tall, short, stout, muscular; bodies with unnoticeable defects. Fabrics are of the utmost important and sourced from the best mills in the world,” says Kishor Bajaj, who has brought the brand to India.
Every Brioni outlet is carefully selected. Keeping in mind the brand’s image and its entry into India, it is available at The Oberoi, lobby level, at Nariman Point, Mumbai. It opened in January 2007. Keeping in tune with international standards, this plush Mumbai outlet is designed by Brioni architects and its visual team.
Quality, comfort and service make Brioni popular. Every suit is hand-stitched from the best fabrics in the world, with the minutest detail being taken care to give a comfortable fit and corporate look. You can pick up a Brioni in any of the following ways — off the shelf, made to measure, “where we have a trained staff take your measurements at the store or your residence or office, with your choice of fabric from an exclusive range along with the lining and buttons. The details are then sent to the manufacturing unit in Penne (Italy) where it is stitched and sent back in five weeks”. The third is called Nwa. For this, Brioni’s master tailor from Penne (Italy) comes to India with an exclusive collection of fabrics and by prior appointment takes your measurements, goes back to Penne and personally cuts and stitches your suit.
The clothing line’s Fall/Winter 2007-08 collection was recently unveiled — the Natural Nine features soft, easy contours and extremely lightweight fabrics.
The best design in the range is the Brionissimo, an exclusive 12-micron fabric (super 230s), which is used for the new made-to-measure limited collection. And there’s no lack of choice among the other 150 types of fabric: from Vicuna to the13-micron (200s), 14-micron (180s) in both brushed and satin finish, not to mention 15-micron (super 170s).
The next store is in Delhi. The location for Brioni is very important, and they open in five-star hotels. Yes, they are flagship stores and Kishor Bajaj has the exclusive franchise for India.

Family Treedition

By Mathures Paul
Some people pass through your life and you forget them. There are some you think about and wonder what happened to them. And there are some you wish you never had to think about again. But you do. Growing up in a joint family comes with its share of quarrels and some happy moments. Grand parents leave behind a few pearls of wisdom, aunts disappear, uncles move away, sisters change address, brothers live a few houses down the road, parents become indifferent… Yet, something makes you remember all of them. Something makes you talk about them fondly to the next generation. The thought of drawing a family tree must have occurred to you. Since we are no longer content to stay put in the country, let alone our state or city, of our birth, family members are dispersing to remote corners and they keep on changing address ~ postal or email. So, how do you draw the family tree? Even till a few months ago, the answer would have been ~ ‘Go online’. Genealogy social networking sites are in plenty ~ MyFamily. com, Geni.com, FamilyLink, FamilyRelatives.com, Famillion.com, etc. Anything digital becomes food for hackers. They are out to crack codes and make life miserable. Then there are mischievous minds who are eager to play with data, simply to confuse you. This is where Genetree.com and Ancestry.com come in. The two companies have introduced genealogy study through DNA testing.
“In many cases, traditional genealogy that relies on written documents is lacking in depth, and can’t extend beyond the level of the great-grandparent. DNA allows us to identify individuals with whom we share a common ancestor on levels much deeper, back many centuries. In addition, DNA allows us to confirm or refute possible genetic/genealogical relationships,” says Peggy Hayes of Sorenson Companies on behalf of Genetree.com, which utilises the expertise of The Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF), a non-profit organisation building the world’s foremost collection of DNA samples correlated with genealogical information, gathered from individuals in more than 170 nations. DNA testing is performed by Sorenson Genomics.
As for Ancestry. com, it launched DNA Ancestry on 16 October. The new service combines the precision of DNA testing with Ancestry. com’s large collection of five billion names in historical records. This DNA testing service provides the company’s network of more than 15 million users a tool to keep track of family members. All you have to do is take a simple cheek-swab test, the results of which is compared with other records. This helps individuals to extend the branches of their family trees and prove (or disprove) family legends.
“DNA testing allows us to determine whether there are common ancestors. It may not give us the name of that shared ancestor, but it does provide a fairly reliable estimate of the time this relative lived. One unique facet of the database GeneTree uses is the fact its broad genealogical information provides useful information about the likely geographical region where that common ancestor lived at the time,” adds Hayes.
Genetree, as already mentioned, takes the help of SMGF. The foundation has already collected approximately 100,000 samples from people in more than 170 nations. This database, from which GeneTree identifies potential genetic connections for participants, continues to grow through SMGF’s ongoing global collection efforts.
Megan Smolenyak, chief family historian for Ancestry.com and co-author of Tracing Your Roots with DNA, says already many people have taken a simple DNA test to uncover genetic cousins and tap into their research, gathering names, dates, places and stories for their own family tree. DNA Ancestry offers Y-DNA and mtDNA tests ~ the two types of DNA tests most useful in family history, ranging in price from $149 to $199. “The Y-DNA test analyses the DNA in the Y chromosome, which is passed virtually unchanged from father to son. Test results can help users identify living individuals who share Y-DNA as well as predict ancient ancestors’ origins. Women can benefit from Y-DNA by having their father or other related male take the test. The mtDNA test analyses DNA in an individual’s mitochondrial DNA, which passes from a mother to her children. Test results predict ancient ancestors’ origins and migration route from Africa and can aid in identifying living cousins.”
Once DNA samples are collected, the information is kept in the database long after the user has passed away. The Genetree.com representative says, “The intention is to keep the DNA samples and genealogical data in the database and available in perpetuity, so future generations may have access and benefit from this information. There are no fees for information to be kept in the database… Only people who submit their data and consent to its inclusion in the database will be included. Individuals who choose to participate in the SMGF database need not subscribe to GeneTree.”
All this is great. But what is being done to keep the information secure. And, most importantly, can insurance companies access the data to get an idea of diseases the user carries, thus refusing policies?
“Participants on the GeneTree site are empowered to determine their own privacy and collaboration settings. They may choose whether or not to reply to and/or share information with individuals who wish to contact them,” says Hayes. “We do not analyse the portions of the DNA that could be used to provide this information (which insurance companies seek). Further, GeneTree does not share this information with insurance companies and/or medical organisations, or any other outside organisations.”
The process by which Genetree.com collects DNA samples is similar to that followed by Ancestry.com.
The cost of a mitochondrial DNA test (genetic information passed on from mothers to all their children) is $99 or $149, depending on the comprehensiveness of the analysis provided.
The latter provides more genetic information, and hence will provide greater chances for matches in the database. When an individual places an order for DNA testing at GeneTree.com, the organisation sends a DNA kit with a simple mouthwash, information to fill out, directions and return labels. Upon the return of the properly completed sample kit, participants will generally receive their information back within four weeks or earlier.
The service is not restricted to the US. Even you can avail of it.