Sunday, 14 April 2013

The Line Begins Here

Mumbai CST is one of the oldest and busiest railway stations in India. Its 125 year  old history lends itself to adequate scrutiny and admiration from various angles. Hence, there is no wonder that Mumbai has largely been symbolized with the iconic structure that attracts large number of tourists, researchers, students, historians and scholars. One of the more interesting things I found in Mumbai CST was the Heritage Gallery. The Gallery has a mine of information and is a perfect way to explore the station on a humid afternoon. The walk begins with Bholu, the mascot of the Indian Railways welcoming the visitors into the gallery. 

The conception along with the design began in October 2009 while the the site work began in November 2009 and was finally inaugurated for public viewing in January 2010. The gallery has been designed in a 1500 square feet centre for interpretation that would adequately compliment the world heritage site and is largely aimed at tourists who admired the building from outside and offers an opportunity to experience the growth of the 160 year old legacy of the
Indian Railways. 

The entire display is arranged in sections that are chronologically arranged and the walk is divided into eight sections which track the subsequent development of Mumbai CST and the Central Railway that lend itself to being the main subjects on display and each section has a time capsule that is displayed in a manner that it recreates the period in question.

There is an old classic telephone that rings with the characteristic ringtone "tring-tring" and an old fan with 4 wings, a wooden chair that is still strong enough to hold weight, an old-time green coloured engine and its compartments marked in red. The engine and its compartments resemble playing toys and finally, there is a brass bell that was installed in 1866 at Neral railway station when guards used to ring such brass bells and indicators were also manual in the pre-digital era. 

The heritage gallery is a haven for photographers and the entire walk is designed, planned and coordinated with dedicated students from the nearby J.J. School of Architecture which is ably supported by the Central Railway. The walk allows access to the dining hall, the star chamber, the royal grand staircase on the second floor of the building, the forecourt and the concourse above the suburban booking office. 

Throughout the walk, visitors are permitted to click photographs. Among the more interesting paintings I found during the paintings were by Axel Haig along with some of original drawings of the erstwhile Victoria Terminus done by architect F.W. Stevens. 

This is a paid tour with a nominal entry charge of Rs. 100/- for student who produce a valid identity car of a school, college or university and for other visitors, the heritage gallery charges Rs. 200/- . The heritage gallery is one of the many ways to get acquainted with the heritage of the city. It is a must visit for anyone interested in industrial history, the railways or architecture. It is open on all the seven days of the week from 3 pm to 5 pm. 

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Book Review: Flute In The Forest

Picture Courtesy: Saffron Tree
Book: Flute In The Forest

Author: Leela Gour Broome

Publisher: Puffin

Pages: 208

ISBN: 9788184754193

There are some books that narrate extremely simple tales in a very emotionally appealing manner and still succeed in making an impact. Author Leela Gour Broome's book "Flute in the Forest" has a very musical ring to it, which should be one of the reasons why I started reading this book sitting on one of the sofas in Crossword. "Flute In The Forest" is the story of a thirteen year old young girl Atiya Sardare, the daughter of a forest officer. She is afflicted with polio as she stays with her father in a forest area in South India which is largely inhabited by tribals. 

Prior to becoming a victim to polio, the book explains that her mother Sarojini, an acclaimed dancer dreams of making her daughter a dancer when she grows up. As she is struck by the disease, she deserts her daughter and husband as she realizes the dream of making her daughter a dancer shatters. Following the setback hurled by his wife that she never got the praise and attention from her husband and the climatic conditions in the forest were stifling her artistic potential, Atiya's father vows that he would not expose his daughter to any form of art namely music and dance. 

As an only child afflicted with polio, she finds solace and is at peace in the serenity of the jungle as her father teaches her to identify different species of plants and animals and she explores it further on short, secret and often dangerous treks. Considering her background, she knows the ways of the jungle and its creatures both mighty and small. Although physically handicapped, her adventurous spirit takes her on lonely rambles into the wildlife sanctuary. 

On one occasion, she hears the haunting notes of a flute which gives her goosebumps. She breaks her father's vow and promises to play the wind instrument. Her desire to play the flute brings her closer to a grouchy old anthropologist, Ogre Uncle and his Kurumba tribal daughter Mishora. Atiya's gift and her flute lessons transform her father's rigid views, it calms a rogue elephant and helps nurture a blossoming friendship between a teenage boy and a girl. 

The story is moving and tender. Despite the book tackling some sensitive subjects such as a physically handicapped girl as the leading protagonist, the mention of her mother leaving her family aside to pursue dance, a terminally ill Ogre Uncle and finally a death, the tone of this book is immensely positive. The language of the book is very simple as it is aimed at children near or above the age group of 12. It is a charming story which is full of incident and leaves you with a good feeling. The descriptions of the book are so realistic that they almost transport the reader into the middle of a forest range when one can hear the flowing notes of a flute. As it explores Atiya's story, the book also mentions how animals are generally more receptive and sensitive when it comes to love, displaying affection and exhibiting care. Leela Gour Broome's "Flute in The Forest" is a moving, tender and mesmerizing tale which is laced with some wonderful incidents based on the real life experiences of the author. Summing up, it is a charming story, full of incident and good feeling and Atiya's flute definitely has a life and special magic of its own. 

Saturday, 6 April 2013

The Creative Writer: Repository of Memories

Vikram Kapur
The Hindu

When we revisit favourite songs, books and movies we encounter our earlier selves and experiences.

I was watching a video of Paul McCartney singing ‘All my Loving’ in a recent concert on Youtube on my computer. Little more than a minute into the song, the camera froze on a member of the audience. This guy, who looked to be in his fifties, was practically sobbing. Songs don’t make grown-up men cry like that, I reasoned, and examined the comments section of the page to see if I could find out why he was crying so hard. One comment informed me that he had lost his wife recently and ‘All my Loving’ brought her memory back because it was their favourite song.
That episode set me thinking of the role art plays in our lives. As we age, our favourite songs, books and movies become a repository of our memories. When we revisit them, we encounter our earlier selves, the people we knew then, the experiences that shaped us... Since I have spent a good part of my life with books, I have several memories stashed away in them.
For instance, my first kiss emanated from a book. It happened a little more than 20 years ago when I was studying at an American college. The book, in question, was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsbyfor which I shared a passion with a fellow student called Trish. We would sit and discuss its characters for hours. Those Gatsby interactions led to a movie date to see — what else? — the 1974 movie version of The Great Gatsby at a classic theatre. The kissing happened after the film in a car in the college parking lot once we got back from the movie.
If one book marked my first foray into love, another lay at the centre of my first encounter with death. I started to read Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind when I was 16. At first, I was so daunted by the thickness of the book that I wondered if I really wanted to read it. Once I began reading, I found myself incapable of consuming more than 40-50 pages before going on to something else. It took almost a year to finish.
When I began the book, I would often speak to my grandfather about it. He hadn’t read it, but the movie was one of his favourites. I remember how he kept referring to Scarlett as Vivien Leigh and to Rhett as Clark Gable. He wanted me to enlighten him about the parts of the book that were edited out of the movie version. As the months passed, however, we stopped talking as tuberculosis took possession of his body. He was bedridden for several months before he died. By the end, he was unable to speak or comprehend, and barely had any flesh on his bones. To this day I retain some of the horror of watching the life seep out of him. You don’t really know death until it happens to a loved one, and there is absolutely nothing that can prepare you for the experience.
Nowadays, when I encounter a copy of The Great Gatsby or Gone with the Wind, I don’t think of Daisy or Gatsby or Scarlett or Rhett. I see myself at 19and wonder how we managed to kiss for almost 20 minutes in the front of a second-hand, two-door Honda. With the steering, the stick shift gear, and, not to mention, the handbrake between the driver and passenger seats in the way, it was hardly the place for passion. When it is your first time, I guess, passion knows no discomfort. Or I am reminded of my grandfather and feel a shudder pass through my body as I recall how death ate away at him.
Because of the kind of memory it represents, The Great Gatsby has the pride of place on my bookshelf, while Gone with the Wind remains buried out of sight. Or, rather, I try to bury it. Like any bad memory, it insists on surfacing from time to time. I have thought of tearing it up or giving it away only to find I can’t. It feels like parting with a piece of myself, and that is never easy. Then the book and movie remain very much in vogue; so it isn’t as if I can avoid it.
A character in the Argentinean movie classic The Secret in Their Eyes says: “Memories are all we end up with. At least pick the nice ones.” My failed attempt to eject Gone with the Wind from my life tells me that is, at best, wishful thinking. Memories, after all, are made by living and can only mirror life which is bittersweet. Hence, as with life, you have to take the good ones with the bad.