Under my byline

The good person of Ahmedabad

Posted in Art, Profiles by Rrishi on 14 August 2010

Danseuse, activist, teacher and politician Mallika Sarabhai plays Ramkali in an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s The Good Person
of Szechwan

“I rise” is the refrain of Maya Angelou’s thumping feminist poem “Still I Rise”. Here is one relatively mild stanza:

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Mallika Sarabhai used the poem as one element of the dance performance she gave instead of a TED talk, at TEDGlobal in Oxford this year. (more…)


Picasso as storyteller

Posted in Art, Books by Rrishi on 30 January 2010


Just before the exhibition closed this weekend, I managed to go and view the Suite Vollard. That is a collection of 100 Pablo Picasso prints, mostly from the early 1930s, which made its sole India stop in Delhi this winter. The prints were commissioned by an influential Paris art dealer named Ambroise Vollard. (more…)

Poems for the people

Posted in Art, Books, Profiles by Rrishi on 2 January 2010


I brought Duniya Sabki to the office to write this column, and the moment I took it out of the bag it went travelling.

“Is that what I think it is?” asked the first colleague, eyes wide, “Safdar Hashmi’s poems?” Naturally she wanted to hold the book, last encountered when she was a schoolgirl, and rattled off a line or two from memory. (I had to refuse to lend it to her.) (more…)

Hoping for a Hoving

Posted in Art, Books, Profiles by Rrishi on 19 December 2009


One of the more distressing news items of the past fortnight was the news that Thomas Hoving had died. Hoving was the revolutionary director of the world-famous Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and ruled that roost for a decade straddling the 1960s and 1970s.

I remembered having read the wonderful book he wrote on his tenure as head of the Met — Making the Mummies Dance (1993) — in my college years. He made art history, curating, and running a major museum sound like the most amazingly heady experience. The way he told it, his job required all the skills of a scholar, socialite, soldier, circus-master, trickster, bureaucrat and spy — more or less the set of skills, it turns out, he spent his youth acquiring. (more…)

Glass nuts

Posted in Architecture/Design, Art, Profiles by Rrishi on 12 December 2009

How the Klove Studio partners designed the set for Karan Johar’s fashion debut

Couture is a big step or two beyond mere fashion. It involves one-off, custom-made designer originals executed to a very high degree of finish. So, not many design houses in the world are qualified to do couture. Nevertheless, India has a fledgling couture week, which the organisers say is only the third after the ones in Paris and New York.

The second HDIL India Couture Week took place in Mumbai this October. Since it was Mumbai, top billing was given to the fashion debut of Bollywood director-producer and TV celeb Karan Johar. (more…)


Posted in Art, Books, Living by Rrishi on 14 November 2009

OVERLEAF 55Clare Boothe Luce and her husband, 1954

When was the last time you wrote a letter? A real letter, in your own hand? Not since boarding school, in my case — although there was one, just for fun, sent to a friend last year. It took 10 days to reach Mumbai. Even India Post seems to have lost its faith in letters. If I become famous in my declining years, even if only by mistake, that friend will have a sample of my state of mind circa 2008 to offer my biographers. (more…)

Letter and spirit

Posted in Architecture/Design, Art, Books, Profiles by Rrishi on 7 November 2009

Vincent van Gogh, self-portrait, 1887OVERLEAF 54

Deprived of finer speech, my chief utterance during the time I spent reading van Gogh’s letters was: “Oh, this is brilliant… this is brilliant… brilliant…” It isn’t as often as one would like that one’s reading matter is of such quality as to interrupt one’s respiration, and even less often that form, substance and function come together so satisfyingly as they have in the latest, and finest, edition of the great artist’s collected letters. (more…)

Asterix in history

Posted in Art, Books, Living by Rrishi on 31 October 2009


“I think of Asterix as a comic version of wily Odysseus,” says the brilliant translator Anthea Bell of the subject of her best-known work, the ancient Gaulish warrior whose village, frozen in 50 BCE, still and forever holds out against Julius Caesar’s Roman legions. (more…)

Princely portrait

Posted in Art, Books, Living by Rrishi on 5 September 2009

Akbar, ca 1605OVERLEAF 45

If Dara Shikoh was such a wonderful prince, why is he not more warmly remembered? There are some things going for him: he was the eldest son and possibly his father’s favourite, his brother was one of the great baddies of Indian history, his defeat was tragic and precipitated by betrayal and poor advice more than impatience or stupidity, and he was a scholarly fellow with unorthodox religious views — views which place him in line with his great grandfather Akbar, the Great. Yet, unlike Akbar, Dara wins our sympathy, not our affection. (more…)

Men of mêtis

Posted in Architecture/Design, Art, Books by Rrishi on 2 September 2009

An American archaeologist reveals Athens’ navy as the engine of that city’s golden age

John R Hale, Lords of the Sea

Lords of the Sea: The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy and the Birth of Democracy
John R Hale
Penguin Viking
pp xxxvi + 396



Sparta is now remembered chiefly as the arch-enemy of ancient Athens, not so much for its own achievements. The entire story of the Persian Wars, during which the quarrelsome Greeks united against Darius and Xerxes, of the Peloponnesian and Spartan Wars, which saw Athens and Sparta locked in a bloody, costly, decades-long struggle, and the wars thereafter which precipitated Athens’ slide into naval oblivion, was written by Athenians and Athenian sympathisers. Today, we acknowledge our debt to golden-age Athens every time we speak, study, represent our universe through art (in the Western tradition, at least) and, of course, congregate politically. Athens is the capital of modern Greece; Sparta isn’t even a noble ruin. (more…)

Window to the world

Posted in Art, Living by Rrishi on 30 August 2009

Embassy cultural centres actively promote film, but audiences, though die-hard, are not growing

Still from "Leaving Fear Behind" (c)Everyone knows that Indians love movies. Most of what they watch may be crowd-pleasers from Bollywood or Hollywood, but there is also a tiny yet determined audience for quality cinema from other parts of the world and in other languages, including documentaries, art and non-commercial films. This market too must be fed, and the chief quartermasters to this small army of aficionados are the cultural centres run by the embassies of various countries in India. (more…)

Top-class moves

Posted in Art, Foodie by Rrishi on 26 July 2009

Classical dancer Prathibha Prahlad bridges worlds, and makes us a lasagna

Last winter the city came alive with a blaze of banners and posters announcing the second Delhi International Arts Festival (DIAF). The person behind the spectacle was bharatnatyam and kuchipudi dancer Prathibha Prahlad, festival director and head of the Prasiddha Foundation. (more…)

Critical mess

Posted in Art, Books by Rrishi on 11 July 2009

Monkeys as Judges of Art, Gabriel Cornelius von Max, 1889OVERLEAF 37

In the last few days a handful of writer-reviewer spats — nasty, as they usually are, but also unsatisfyingly brief and lowbrow — have washed up in the books sections of major English-language papers. (more…)

Delhi has Seoul

Posted in Art, Foodie, Profiles by Rrishi on 5 July 2009

Mi Ran Lee makes an Indian success of Korean food

If location is everything, Kumgang’s Gonie Korean restaurant is possessed of a mixed blessing. The good aspect is that it is in the Ashok Hotel in central Delhi, within easy reach of its corporate and diplomatic clientele. The not-so-good aspect is that to get to the restaurant a visitor must trudge down two long corridors, one lined with guest rooms, the other with slightly dingy shops apparently devoid of customers. It’s not an effective appetiser.

But there are counterweighing advantages, chief among which is the admirable lady who owns this restaurant. (more…)

Palace of allusions

Posted in Architecture/Design, Art, Books by Rrishi on 13 June 2009


Alhambra arabesqueA TV ad for home security systems a few years ago showed the youthful father of a good-looking nuclear family turning on the home alarm at night. As he did so, from the keypad a host of 0s and 1s spilled out in all directions across the wall, around corners and onto ceilings, until all surfaces of the house, and thus the family within, were protected by this flickering binary mesh. It was sufficiently disquieting to remain lodged in the memory — and I was reminded of it recently, while reading about new discoveries at the Alhambra, the castle-palace of Granada in Spain. (more…)