Monday, 27 May 2013

Lady Frere's Shrine

It is often said that the modernization of Bombay began under the regime of Sir Bartle Frere, who as the Governor of Bombay transformed the island city with a natural harbour inhabited by merchants into a splendid and populous city. It is often said that this period of Bartle Frere was the most important period for the modernization of the city. One of the few good things that the British did for the city was construct these beautiful public edifices and structures that rendered the city of Mumbai in natural beauty. These buildings which would later contribute to the permanent convenience and a shade of legacy that would encourage tourism in the long run. 

The general architecture in Bombay had been seen as a standing reproach. The beauties and noticeable features were due to the "bounty of nature" and people had hardly done anything to enhance its beauty by constructing stately buildings or erecting statues. While insisting upon the necessity of sculpture Bartle Frere said that sculpture and architecture were inseparably connected and that any large number of buildings of any architectural pretensions, without a great amount of sculptue was a simple impossibility.

Situated within the premises of the Jijamata Udyan in Byculla, the shrine of Lady Frere was erected as a subscription to commemorate the opening of the Victoria Gardens on November 19, 1862. It is a canopy that is indeed for the bust of Lady Frere, by Noble that takes a general form of the circular Greek temples. It is 35 feet in height and has been constructed out of Porebunder stone with six columns which are Corinthian in nature and unruffled. The construction of the shrine commenced under Mr. W. Tracey and was completed under Messrs. Scott and McClelland to whom all the buildings in the Victoria Gardens were entrusted upon the death of the former gentleman. 

The difficulties in attending to the construction of this shrine outnumbered the positive side and the description of this shrine was far greater than it was supposed to be. Therefore, considerable credit has been given to a certain a Mr. Campbell who ensured that this shrine was brought to a successful completion. 

Saturday, 25 May 2013

100 Years of Wisdom

This year 2013 marks the 100 years of Indian cinema. Movies empower audiences with the ability to visualize new scenarios and even new places. Together, we recognize that movies have been an integral part of the social milieu of Indian society. The past 100 years have had its fair share of learning that anyone could take home after watching a movie. As we celebrate 100 years, it would only be fair to say that they have certainly left an indelible mark on the history of celluloid. Here are the some top lessons that Hindi cinema has taught us over the past century:

* Indian airport security is sensitive to the demands of young boys and girls who wish to propose to the girl of their choice at the boarding gate. 

* Guns do not kill people. They just make them drunk, groggy and angrier.

* Reincarnations are essentially clones of the same person born even after their "death" .

* All the thoughts of a person's mind are narrated loudly by an invisible celestial fairy

* Hot girls give their phone numbers and address them to random guys

* Dodging bullets is easier when driving

* 1 billion Indians, yet separated at birth during the Kumbh Mela have a 100% chance of meeting later in life with the basis of a single song that the parents might have taught them in childhood.

* If you are chasing villains in a high speed car chase, the Police will sportingly not intervene or challan you for speeding. 


Thursday, 16 May 2013

The Elephant of Elephanta

The aqua-tint of the elephant of Elephanta Islands
Few visitors who make it to Mumbai as tourists would possess the curiosity to pause and look for antiquities. In the absolutely time-starved rapid pace of Mumbai, there are many things we seem to ignore and fail to acknowledge the opportunity of observing many happenings around us. While many places in Mumbai have been described several times, the accounts of the lesser known places are hardly known.

The island of Gharapuri, which is nine nautical miles away from the Mumbai Harbour was renamed as "Elephanta" by the Portuguese from the life-size figure of an elephant built from an isolated mass of trap-rock, which formerly stood in the lower part of the island, not far from the present-day jetty. Many locals know that the elephant is no longer there and is often believed to have disappeared by the forces of nature. However, the elephant stood as a sea-mark and remained there till around 1864 when on the suggestion of Mr. W.E. Frere, it was to be relocated to a museum in London. The elephant was 13 feet 2 inches in length and about 7 feet 4 inches high when the crane that tried lifting it broke thus dropping its head and neck. Subsequently, the body of the elephant sunk down into a shapeless mass of stones and was pieced together by Dr. George Birdwood to save the relics from further destruction. 

The broken mortars of the elephant
What remains today is the figure of an elephant rudely cut in stone that is relegated to a corner near the present day Dr. Bhaudaji Lad Museum in Byculla from which the island that houses the now world famous caves that depict the nine important phases of Lord Shiva's face derives its name.  

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Elephanta Caves

It has often been said that most towns and cities somewhere have buried treasures. A layer of concealed earth whose natural outlines and waterways continue to shape the area's history even as the hills diminish due to quarrying or the valleys being silted with the rubble of successive buildings. Thus, in most towns and even cities, the basic material of the landscape is still perceptible to the interested eye, which is carefully moderated and cleverly disguised rather than totally transformed. It is still possible to unearth distinctive features of the 18th century that lie hidden beneath the 21st century one and below that again, a rural settlement from which the 18th century town grew.

Pic courtesy:
Thus, a historically minded visitor can seek to trace the lost pattern of the islands that the British inherited as a dowry. If a visitor wants to see a brief vision of this past, one should take an hour's trip from the Gateway of India in Mumbai to the off-shore Elephanta Islands, locally known in Marathi as "Gharapuri" (the place of idols), which is now famous for its rock-cut Shiva temples. The Portuguese who landed at the Rajabunder Jetty at Gharapuri renamed the island due to a stone elephant that stood there facing the sea. Hewn out of a single rock in the middle of the sixth century A.D. . Wide pillared entrances in the east, west and north greet the visitors into the interiors of the caves but for these light-filled entrances, the caves do not have exteriors. 

The caves are divided into mandapas by arrays of pillars and vertical limits that support flat ceilings and bear the weight of the hill above it. The characteristic oddity, therefore, lies in the way in which the pillars are carved out of the rock caverns, which is nothing but an imitative illustration designed to give nature the air of architecture, since it leads one to question what these pillars would really be supporting were they load-bearing.  

The most famous idols of the Elephanta Caves undoubtedly remain the iconic sculpture of Sadashiva, which is a divine form of the panchamukha linga that has earned the caves an international acclaim. Contrary to popular belief of being the trinity of Generator (Brahma), Operator (Vishnu) and Destroyer (Mahesh), the three heads of Sadashiva are of Aghora, Tatpurusha and Vamadeva. It is important to note that Sadyojata at the back and Ishana at the top are implied. 

Lines of pillars create an axis from the north to south to the recessed southern limits with three enclosures, that of Sadashiva at the centre, flanked at the sides are shrines of Ardhanarishwara, that presents the concept of union between the masculine and feminine. In this portion of the Cave, we see Shiva as the Ardhanarishwara leaning on Nandi and the wonderfully detailed contrast between the masculine half and the feminine half. It also depicts other Gods and their mounts hence we have Brahma with His swan, Vishnu and His Garuda, Varuna with the crocodile and Indra with His Airavata, among others.

The Shiva Gangadhara panel allows a visitor to observe the slender forms of Shiva and Parvati. Above Shiva's head, we see Ganga as a three-headed figure that probably represents Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati. Vishnu on His Garuda, Brahma on His swan and Shiva's ganas are among the other male and female figures that can be seen in this panel. 

We then come to the Kalyana Sundara panel which depicts the marriage of Uma and Mahesh and therefore called the Kalyana Sundara Murthy. The shyness of Parvati is brilliantly sculpted and it is not hard to imagine a blushing bride here. This panel illustrates the kanyadanaam ceremony in which Parvati's father is giving Uma away to Shiva, the groom. Brahma is believed to have officiated the marriage as the priest while Vishnu acts as the witness. 

The next panel depicts Lord Shiva in his destructive form. In this figure, we see Him slaying the demon Andhakasura, who is not seen as a result of mutilation. Despite the level of mutilation, the expression of anger and fierceness on Shiva's face is unmistakable. 

The Nataraja panel, which is to the right of the entrance, has Shiva's sculpture most of which is destroyed below the waist as have most of his eight hands. The panel too has Brahma, Vishnu, Karthikeya, Ganesh and a comparatively smaller figure of Parvati to Shiva's left. 

The sculptural restraint and solemn lyricism, coupled with the measured movements and the dispassionate faces of the post-like figures of Lord Shiva grouped in dense interlocking continuity, have hardly more than one component. It is the underlying massiveness of western Indian sculpture that manifests here in the caves and asserts itself, particularly in the figures of Parvati and in that of Shiva. The style in which the sculptors have made their vision come true is not imbued with a realization of Shiva. Rather, it is an enchanted rendering of an impeccably Shaiva theme to which the sculptors must brought their training and dedication.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

David Sassoon Clock Tower

One of the first things that strikes anyone about Mumbai is its overwhelming pace. It does not have to be so. Contrary to what you might think, the city does have its own rhythm that takes a little while to hear; its a complex but melodious flute that allows one to tap the music that all of Mumbai seems to know. Yet, we don't. Hence, why not stop and allow ourselves some time to learn and appreciate the city's chiming pulse? 

Pic Courtesy:
The David Sassoon Clock Tower which is located at the entrance of the Jijamata Udyan in Byculla is an illustrious addition to the heritage of Mumbai. The original architects of this clock tower were Messrs Scott, McClelland and Company. The cost incurred for the construction of the clock tower was a princely sum of Rs. 30,000 which was entirely borne by the Jewish businessman David Sassoon. The style of the clock tower is Italian measuring 12 square feet at the base and rising to  about 75 feet in height. The base plinths are firmly cast in trap stones while the body is made up of Porebunder stone, with ornamental tile panels occasionally introduced. 

The key stones of arches at the ground floor of the clock tower are made of terracotta by Messrs Blashfield & Co. and contain subjects that represent the times of the day: morning, noon, evening and night. The brackets, finials to balusters and the large key stones are also executed in terracotta. Together, these buildings are calculated in a manner that would receive an eight day quarter turret clock, which would strike the hours and chime the Cambridge quarters. It is provided with four patented opal glass dials which are four feet in diameter. 

Pic Courtesy:
The construction of the clock tower began in January 1864 and was delayed due to the failure of the original contractors who could not carry out the work in a satisfactory manner. Following which, the construction of the clock tower was handed over to Messrs Raghupati Chintamon and Co. who completed the structure.
Together, the floor is paved with Minton tiles and upon completion, a hust of the donor David Sassoon in white marble was placed at the centre. 

P.S.: At the time of writing this, the clock tower was undergoing restoration. However, Ms. Sudha G.  has been kind enough to allow me to reproduce the photographs of the David Sassoon Clock Tower that were clicked prior to the restoration process. Thank you so much, Sudhaji! 

Friday, 3 May 2013

Book Review: Durbar

Book: Durbar

Author: Tavleen Singh

Pages: 312

Publisher: Hachette India

The process of mapping the growth of a country has seen a decline to a point where we do not have many books that talk about the political scenario between 1975 and 1991 from an insider's point-of-view. Hence, Tavleen Singh's book "Durbar" is an extremely interesting book. Tavleen Singh is one of India's most experienced political journalists with a career spanning nearly three decades and having covered virtually all the major events that went on to shape India's political history and future between 1975-1991. 

The fact that we are in a country where Indian politicians slap a police official when caught driving on the wrong side of the road, it is not hard to guess that the concept of rulers and the ruled are coming back. Hence, there is little surprise when the most brazen law-breakers go on to become "law-makers" even as we continue to renew our faith in parliamentary democracy. Indeed, it is worse than that. We are in age when no one seems to really mind the democratic dynasty that is replacing the political scene in this country. 

"Durbar" covers virtually all the major events between 1975 and 1991: the Emergency, the rise and fall of the Janata Government, Operation Bluestar, Indira Gandhi's assassination, Rajiv Gandhi's entry to politics and his subsequent death etc. Even while Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi were private citizens, Tavleen knew them well and hosted lunches and dinners for at her Golf Links studio apartment and was on first name terms with an elite English speaking club from the modern side of Delhi. It is an excellent book that provides insights to Sonia Gandhi's character, then a Prime Minister's wife and someone with utter contempt for Indian politics.  Tavleen was unceremoniously "dropped" due to an unsympathetic profile that she had written. 

Blending the ugly world of bigotry, poverty, violence and corruption, cronyism and sycophancy at the top, Tavleen Singh's "Durbar" is an enthralling narrative because it is relevant today as the disconnect between Delhi and the rest of India and a ruling establishment in which the media, the bureaucracy and politicians are part of a club. It is a fascinating read that is peppered with telling anecdotes that would leave many powerful people squirming and red-faced and succeeds in shattering the mystique surrounding one of India's most powerful political leaders: Sonia Gandhi. "Durbar" is an important addition to India's contemporary history, written by someone who had access to the power circles and honestly reported about the very concept India is. More importantly, it makes us think about whether if we have indeed matured as a democracy and helps in explaining a lot of what is happening around us today even as the political landscape and actors have changed.

"She had absolutely no interest in politics. The only comment on politics I remember her making was on a night when Rajiv and she were dropping me home after a dinner party. I asked her if she would like her children to be in politics some day, and she said, "I would rather have my children beg in the streets than enter politics."