Monday, December 23, 2013

Jungle goes dot com! Launch of the new JLR website

Elephants, Bisons and Leopards are some of the many residents of Karnataka's jungles.

Want to know about the leopards and the tigers, the elephants and the jackals, the sambhar and the drongos, the crested serpent eagles and the cuckoos that are sighted in the lush (as yet) forests of Karnataka? Click on to for the almost daily updates of sightings by guides and trackers.

Experienced naturalists also post photos and articles on the visually appealing blog started by the Jungle Lodges and Resorts Limited (JLR), the State-owned eco resort chain. JLR has also its revamped website

Aptly enough, the launch was a showcase of wildlife documentaries. The first was about the Indian River Tern, a species of fresh water birds which breed in an island in the Bhadra River in Chikmagalur district.  Shot on the River Tern Lodge, a JLR property on the river bank, the film told the story of the terns from the time they come to nest on the island, till their departure during the monsoons, when the river floods their temporary homes. The second film was about the Indian Sloth Bear, a fascinating breed of nocturnal bears, native to the Daoroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary in Hampi. The film was shot in the Sloth Bear Resort, which borders the sanctuary.

Indian River Terns nest on an island in the River Bhadra.

Indian Sloth Bear. 

There were two more short films, one on the K Gudi Wilderness Camp in the Billigiri Ranganna hills, and the other on the Om Beach Resort in Gokarna.

Tourism Minister RV Desphande launched the new website and Arvind Jadhav, Additional Chief Secretary launched the blog on December 20 at the ITC Windsor Bengaluru. Amur Reddy, Managing Director, JLR, hopes that the new revamped website will help attract more guests to their various properties, given that tourists do extensive research online before booking hotel and holiday packages.This website is meant to act as a single touch point to visitors and impart much needed information to nature enthusiasts.

The setting sun as seen from the River Tern Lodge.

By Subhalakshmi Roy/Raintree Media Features

All images from and

Monday, November 18, 2013

Lakhan Das's Coke studio

Gujarat is not a political statement. It is a state like any other, where you can travel and meet kind people, eat good food and visit memorable places.

रामपदा का लखन दास
(Lakhan Das of Ramparda)

Lakhan Das during his intoxicating performance
The soporific rocking of the Jabalpur Somnath express had put me in a state of drowsiness that is inevitable in a train journey; the sort that dims the light in the mind with soft music in the background. Only here, the music is the clatter of wheels. But if you are lucky, you get to hear Lakhan Das. The mind rests comforted by the fact that your destination is still a good half a day away and there is no chance of you missing your station. The stupor deepens further when yours is the ‘last-stop’. But if you do oversleep, then you get to sleep in the train and save the 200 bucks for the room...and have a couple of beers with it. Oh! But no! Not in Gujarat, No sir. I was always wary of the G-state. Tell me, how is a traveler to rest his wander weary legs, quench his dry throat after conversing with many a stranger; parched as it were from the dust of a thousand miles accompanying many a caravan. OK, you can replace miles with kilometers and caravans with trains. But you get my drift, don’t you?

I have nothing against coffee or tea, mind you. I have spent many a pleasurable hour in office and elsewhere, with a hot cuppa in front and a few friends by the side. But when it comes to weary feet and parched throats, it has to be beer and nothing else. I mean, what a bottle can do, the cup cannot even come anywhere close!
The gentle swaying of the carriage accompanied by the rhythm of the wheels
hurtling over the tracks was again putting me back to sleep, when suddenly the rhythm changed. This was not the mechanical clang of metal on metal; it definitely was the practiced hands of a performer on a drum. And accompanied by a haunting voice, singing what definitely was a sufi song. I woke up from my stupor as the words set to a familiar melody seeped in...

कभी यासे को पानी पलाया नहं
बाद अमृत पलाने से या फायदा

When you did not offer water to the thirsty when they
needed it,
What is the point of giving them nectar afterwards?

He went on to sing the whole song that chided the people for their mindless beliefs and practices devoid of basic human compassion and kindness; the beliefs that make them worship a stone idol while turning a blind eye towards their own parents.

गंगा नहाने ह­र वर -काशी गयी
गंगा नहाने ह मन म$ खयाल आ गया
तन को धोया मगर मन को धोया नहं
'फर गंगा नहाने से या फायदा

I went to Haridwar to take a dip in the holy Ganges
and as I stepped into the waters, it occurred to me
I have always cleaned my body, but never my mind,
What is the point of such futile cleansing?

I had just noticed a station pass by- Ramparda it said. As I handed a 10 rupee note to the singer who passed by, I asked his name. He flashed his teeth from behind the matted beard and softly said, “लखन दास. या मेरा फोटो अखबार म आएगा?” (Lakhan Das. Will my photo come in the newspaper?)
I smiled back and shook my head.
This definitely was coke-studio on wheels. I had just witnessed Gujarat’s version of the train singers. If Odisha had its Mahatir da, then Gujarat had its Lakhan Das. There was something in his voice that made the bhajan sound so divine. Must be all the tobacco they chew. It laces their voice with a subtle intoxication that captivates their listeners. I was to notice the same something in the voice of the lead singer of the next troupe that performed. Yes, there were multiple performers that noon. The next one was more grand; a complete symphony of 5 performers, all on drums!


The Somnath Temple 
A majestic edifice that has seen the ravages of time. Wearing the garb of a temple at times; and a mosque at other. A place shrouded in almost mythical tales of yore; supposedly possessing a stone sculpture – devoutly sacrosanct to one religion, and blatantly blasphemous to another. That is Somnath for you! Located at the southern tip of Gujarat, by the beach, it houses one of the 12 jyothirlingas.

Fishing boats rock in the dock in Veraval
Somnath is a ‘paheli’ (a riddle). While today it is on the religious and spiritual circuit, way back it was on the traders and plunderers path. Located in Prabhas Patan in Veraval on the Gujarat coast, it was a prosperous port with a resplendent temple which supposedly housed a huge Shivalinga made of precious stones. A rich city that Mohammad of Ghazni looted many times and carried back many sacks of precious stones every time! 

You should read Romila Thapar’s ‘Somnatha’ to really get to know of its many myths and mysteries. One of the legends has it that the stone idol present there was not a Shivalinga at all. It claims that Somnath housed the idol of ‘manat’, a goddess mentioned in the Quran; hence the name ‘su manat’. And since Prophet Mohammad had decried idol worship and branded it as
heresy, he had ordained that her idol be sought and destroyed. I guess that is what would be called a fatwa now. And so Mohammad of Ghazni came and plundered the place to uphold the prophet’s fatwa. A nice story to absolve him of his misdemeanors! I don’t know if its true or not, but it does make for an interesting story, As you turn the pages of the book, if you find that you are falling off to sleep, as I did at times, you can just wake up and board a train and visit the place instead.

The temple has been subject to so many annihilations that you won’t quite know where and when the original temple existed. Starting from the one built by the Yadava kings in 649 AD, the temple has been razed and resurrected an unbelievable number of times. It seems like the temple was the ancient version of ten-pin bowling. A reigning Hindu dynasty would set it up, only for a marauding Muslim ruler to come and bowl it over. The Yadava version of Somnath was destroyed in 725 AD by Junayad, the Arab governor of Sind. The Gurjara Pratihara King Nagabhata II constructed it again in 815 AD. And Mohammad of Ghazni promptly dropped by for his (in) famous invasions that left the temple in ruins during his 1024 AD conquests in India. Next it was the turn of Gujjar Paramara King Bhoj of Malwa to set up the tenpins in 1026, and along came Allauddin Khilji in 1296 with a bowling ball in hand. This game continued for many more centuries till finally, the last recorded construction that was left standing undisturbed was the 1783 version built by the consortium of Peshwa of Pune, Raja Bhonsle of Nagpur, Chhatrapati Bhonsle of Kolhapur and Queen Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore.

The version you see today is the brain child of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who wanted to revive the Hindu temple as a symbol of unifying the newly acquired princely state of Junagadh soon after independence. The sepia toned pictures present in the courtyard of the temple narrate the resurrection story as the
Royal Enfield rickshaws
temple was excavated in 1950’s and the magnificent monument in the Chalukyan style took shape. Like the Phoenix, it rose from the ruins of centuries past. In the words of Babu Rajendra Prasad, “The Somnath temple signifies that the power of reconstruction is always greater than the power of destruction”.

Of course all this, you can also read in Wikipedia (Somnath) also. But what you won’t get to see is Gujarat’s own version of ‘American Chopper’. The rickshaws made of 350 cc Bullet Engines, atop which the Veraval warriors ride, transporting everything from people to pickled fish.

Shiva and the sea urchin 

- Text & photos by Deepak Gangadhar/Raintree Media Features

Friday, November 08, 2013

Me Tarzan, You Jane - zip lining at Bheemeshwari

The calm Cauvery
The road to the Bheemeshwari Adventure and Nature Camp, about 100 km from Bangalore, took us through the beautiful Karnataka countryside, past villages, ambling livestock and verdant fields, with the Western Ghats peeping from a distance. On reaching the borders of the Cauvery National Park, network coverage failed. With no Internet, GPS or any other form of remote communication, a collective sigh of relief went through the car when we saw the yellow gates of the camp, half an hour later.

Maintained by Jungle Lodges and Resorts, the Bheemeshwari Camp is nestled between the Cauvery National Park and the banks of the river. Home to the giant ‘Mahseer’, one of the largest fresh water sport fish known to man, this camp used to be popular haunt for angling enthusiasts. Due to over fishing, angling and other related activities have been discontinued and a host of other alternatives have sprung up to keep the flow of guests constant.

We had opted for an ‘Adventure Day Package’ which included Zip Lining, Parallel Walking, Burma Loop Walking, Cat Walking, Elephant Walking, Kayaking and a Coracle Ride, along with lunch. Although we had a rough idea of what each activity entailed, nothing had prepared us for the actual task.

Climbing the unsteady rope ladder

First up: Zip Line. Harnessed and fitted with a helmet, I was led to a rickety rope ladder which disappeared up a tree. “How high is this?” I asked the man wearing the Outback Adventures shirt, who was busy attaching a thick coil of rope to my harness. “Not much ma’am, 40 feet.” was his answer. With a shout of “Climbing!” I was left to pacify my rapidly rising heart rate while hanging on to the swaying ladder with all my might.

Zip Lining

The sweeping view of the Cauvery flanked by the verdant Western Ghats had a calming effect. After giving me a few seconds to catch my breath, the instructor hooked me up with the line, gave me a push and I was off! The mountains whizzed past as I zoomed from one tree top to another, the sky an azure blue over my head and a few cables keeping me from plummeting to the river – an adrenaline rush like no other. A severe case of jelly legs when I landed few moments later did not deter my enthusiasm about the next task. Little did I know how high the ante was going to be.

The next set took us to a grove where a network of ropes and cables zigzagged around five adjoining trees, forming a rough circle. The same routine followed, tightening of harnesses, helmets and the ominous shout of “Climbing!” First, I would have to ‘Cat Walk’ across a thin plank to reach the next tree. Second, ‘Elephant Walk’ via a set of wooden discs suspended by ropes. Third, walk across a rope bridge or a ‘Burma Loop’ onto the third tree. Fourth and the toughest, ‘Parallel Walk’ across a thin cable, while hanging on to a thick rope for support.

Elephant Walk

The ‘Cat Walk’ and the ‘Burma Loop’ were easier than they looked. The ‘Elephant Walk was simple too, once I figured out how to distribute my weight. The ‘Parallel Walk’ was a toughie – with the cable swaying dangerously at the slightest breeze. Hanging on to the rope for dear life and praying that my harness holds, I shuffled across, not daring to look below. A special treat awaited me on the other side; hooked to another rope, I was rappelled down from the last tree. What a fitting finale!

Parallel walk
After a scrumptious lunch of rice, dal, and chicken, we were content to laze on the many hammocks on the river bank. Wading into the river, I sat on a partially submerged rock with the sun on my back and the cool water lapping at my feet. Nameless birds and insects flew around, schools of tiny fish swam near my toes. I let my thoughts meander with the river, until they too, disappeared into the horizon. 

Coracles lined up 

The familiar Outback Adventures shirts appeared again, and we were herded off towards the next set. The round, lightweight coracles belie their strengths, carrying five adults with surprising ease. We set off upstream where the current is strong, towards the opposite bank, where ancient gnarled tree roots skim the water. Back on land for a few moments, it was time to get back into the water again, on a two-man inflatable kayak.

Coracle Ride

Kayaking down the river

The sun started to make a move, and so did we. It was a very introspective group of eight who trouped into the car. Soon, we crossed the forest and the first bars of network coverage blinked on our phones. As the forest thinned and city lights became brighter, missed calls, text messages, social network notifications crowded our inboxes. The sounds of civilisation drew us in, horns blaring, phones buzzing, people shouting and dogs barking. Driving on the NICE road, as Deepawali fireworks lit the dark Bangalore sky, I dreamed of flying high above the river, and the sacred silence of the wild.

Bheemeshwari Adventure and Nature Camp

Book online from: or

By Subhalakshmi Roy/Raintree Media Features/
Photographs by Arkaparna Mandal

A peek into 'Karnataka-A Cultural Odyssey': Heritage and Architecture Chapter

The stone chariot outside Vittala Temple in Hampi, photo by Dinesh Shukla

Dravidian,Vesara and Islamic architectural styles of Karnataka dominate much of the architectural landscape of Karnataka, with other noteworthy influences being Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, and most recently Neo-Dravidian architecture. The major dynasties that ruled the state over various periods of history have each contributed unique styles of architecture. With the British, came the colonial influences such as those seen in the Bangalore Palace. In modern times, as the capital of the state became the abode of business and technology firms, the glint of glass and steel in sprawling corporate parks has become a familiar sight. -Naresh Narasimhan

Monday, November 04, 2013

Karnataka A Cultural Odyssey-In The News

Of Evening Ragas and Rasas

A brief spell of fierce rain on the first night of Diwali ushered in the latest Under the Raintree event, a baithak for Hindustani classical concert. Our earlier choice of venue panned out, so did the second. So it was at our residence that Arshad Ali, from Kolkata, came to sing, with the home star Trilochan Kampli, playing the tabla.

Arshad Ali, accomapnied by Trilchan Kampli & Satish Kolli, photo by Subhalakshmi Roy
There was a mélange of aromas in the air – of oil diyas, sandal incense, platters of food, strands of marigold, the perfumes of elegantly attired friends and connoisseurs. As the sky segued into twilight, Arshad, dressed in pristine white, drew us into musical journey. With the opening notes of a vilambit khyal in Marwah, an evening raga, his voice reached out to clutch the hearts of the audience; from there, the powerful yet pure power of his voice held on through a dhrut khyal.
Music runs in his veins; his grandfather was the legendary sarangi maestro, Ustad Shakoor Khan. Arshad has been training from the age of six when he joined the prestigious ITC Sangeet Research Academy, Kolkata as a scholar and received taleem from his maternal uncles, Ustad Mashkoor Ali Khan and Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan.
a thrilling tabla solo by Trilochan Kampli
a thrilling tabla solo by Trilochan Kampli, photo by Prateek Mukunda

We had heard of his reputation as a child prodigy, and seen his clips on youtube. While there were never any doubts about Arshad’s masterly technique, the mellifluous nature of his voice was as welcome as a spring of cool water. Strained nerves were magically soothed, the mind free to follow the curves of the music, and soar skyward.

A half hour later, he moved on to Bihaag, a delicately nuanced raga for the night, setting the mood for his final rendition in Bhairavi. “Kab aaoge”, he sang, the poignant longing sounding true and voicing the universal need for love. Eyes that had been closed to absorb the music deeper, opened to traces of tears that had welled up and flowed unbeknownst.
the textured scent of slowly heating oil in a clay diya
the textured scent of slowly heating oil in a clay diya

The audience was in a soporific stupor, and to gently coax them back to the gaiety of the festive night, Trilochan Kampli was urged to give us a solo performance. There were ten minutes of rousing drut teental, the unique Farukhabad gats in a sequence of increasing tempo and chakradars, to the outburst of applause that this artiste always elicits.

The bumps on the road before deciding to host the concert at home turned out to be a blessing in disguise; we had not had a house-warming after shifting into a new apartment a few weeks ago. The magic of music by the gifted young men suffused the place with peace, and the warmth of appreciative friends left us glowing.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Sound that sets you aflame

Unlike most self-styled fusion bands that create cacophony, Soular Flare’s sound is extra-ordinary and universal in its appeal. In the welter of local music groups that rely on rock, and mostly covers (with a few notable exceptions like TAAQ), Soular Flare with its original compositions, stands out like a beacon.
 This hot new sound of Bangalore defies conventional tags for music. An electro acoustic sound with an eclectic mix of peppy pop vocals, heady tabla beats, captivating strains of the electric sitar and soulful interludes of thumris and ghazals, Soular Flare aptly calls itself the musical world of an Indian soul.

Suchitra Lata
Suchitra Lata
Soular Flare features Suchitra Lata on vocals and veena, Trilochan Kampli on the tabla, Paulson Joseph on the electric sitar and Srinivas Hande with Hindustani vocals.
Suchitra Lata is a versatile musician – a singer, songwriter and composer. She trained in the classical veena for several years before experimenting with her music. The results are appreciated by the international music business; Paul Simon gave her the judge’s choice award for her remix of his track, “Love is Eternal”. She licenses her tracks to films and TV, and one of her songs was recently licensed to a Cannes Atelier film. Besides composing jingles, for corporate AVs and films, she’s done three solo albums so far. Her voice is captivating – seguing from breathy ballad-style to bluesy notes and funky pop.
Trilochan Kampli, the percussionist with a devil-may-care attitude, is the catalyst in the creation of the band and its binding force.
Trilochan Kampli
Trilochan Kampli
A sensitive solo player and a sought after accompanist, he’s been stunning listeners, who include the President of India, from the age of 12. His fingers fly like magic over the seasoned leather of the tabla, their dexterous ease belying the complexity of the compositions.
Paulson brings to life delicate nuances on the electric sitar and a rich sense of rhythm that makes the music flow with felicity. Like Kampli, he is a whole time musician and performs extensively on radio, television and stage.
Srinivas Hande is the soulful counterpoint;  years of training as a Hindustani vocalist makes his singing cascade with meaning. When he is not singing at concerts, he has a day job as a chartered accountant.
Currently, the quartet is excited about their success in fine- tuning the sound of the Soular Flare band. Here’s a link to their music sampler:

Srinivas Hande
Srinivas Hande
Paulson Joseph
Paulson Joseph

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A glorious moment in Raintree Media's publishing history: President of India presented with the first copy of 'Karnataka-A Cultural Odyssey'

The cover of the book
Raintree Media is proud to announce the publication of 'Karnataka-A Cultural Odyssey', an elegant coffee table book, which covers everything from the taste of bisibelebhat to the pomp of Mysore Dasara. A celebration of Karnataka's rich culture and heritage, this book has been published exclusively for the Raj Bhavan, Karnataka.

The Governor of Karnataka, the President of India and
the Chief Minister of Karnataka with a copy of
 'Karnataka-A Cultural Odyssey'.

 It was  a moment of pride for Raintree Media when the first copy was gifted to the Honourable President of India Pranab Mukherjee at a glittering evening at the Raj Bhavan, Karnataka on Monday, September 23, 2013. The book was gifted to him by the Honourable Governor of Karnataka, Dr. Hans Raj Bhardwaj. President Mukherjee was also felicitated by Dr. Bhardwaj and the Honourable Chief Minister of Karnataka Siddaramaiah.

Smiles all around as the President gets a true blue Kannadiga welcome with Mysore peta, shalya and our book.

Dr. Bhardwaj says about the book, “This is the book that we have specially commissioned for the Raj Bhavan to bring out the cultural grandeur of the entire state. The purpose of this book is to enable visitors to Karnataka to embark on a cultural odyssey of this vast state, and to carry back memories of its rich heritage and vibrant society. The writing is based on meticulous research, and the concise and well-written articles are interspersed with beautiful photographs. I am sure this book will provide delightful and insightful reading about this progressive state.”

Sandhya Mendonca, Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief, Raintree Media (standing second from left),and her team with the Governor of Karnataka,the President of India and the Chief Minister.
Sandhya Mendonca, Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief, Raintree Media, says, “We are indebted to His Excellency the Governor of Karnataka, Dr. HR Bhardwaj, who has had the vision to commission this unique publication that showcases the vibrant culture of Karnataka. We have been able to present the best of our state: from the historic temples to the traditional art forms, from the colourful festivals to the delicious food. This is the most prestigious publication Raintree Media has done to date.”

‘Karnataka – A Cultural Odyssey’ showcases the cultural grandeur of Karnataka – its historic structures that are the bequeathal of several dynasties; the spiritual centres that are a treasure trove of myths and legends; festivals that bind the community in a unique way; thriving art, and diverse and delectable cuisine. The book also takes readers on a private tour of the Raj Bhavan, Karnataka.

The book is edited by Sandhya Mendonca, and contains over 200 stunning photographs from a battery of photographers including Dinesh Shukla, KG Somsekhar and Asha Thadani, and is designed by Mishta Roy. The 200-page book is a thoughtful harmony of well-researched information and eloquent imagery. With the inputs of experts in their fields, like Naresh Narasimhan, MK Raghavendra, Prakash Belawadi, Vikram Sampath, Madhu Natraj, Dr. MS Asha Devi and Suresh Jayaram, the book offers the reader a vivid picture of the evolution of the culture of the region.

This is the second book published by Raintree Media exclusively for the Raj Bhavan, Karnataka. The earlier book ‘The Raj Bhavan Karnataka Through the Ages’, published in 2010, describes the evolution of the historic building and the office of the Governor.

The book release was followed by a cultural programme where eminent musicians from Karnataka showcased the state’s traditions. The first artiste for the evening was Carnatic maestro, Vidwan RK Padmanabha. He presented his composition, Sama Gana Priye Sharade in Raga Hindola Adi Taala, and Vaishnava Janato. He was accompanied by Vidwan CN Chandrashekhar on the violin and Vidwan C Cheluvaraj on the mridangam, both top ranking artistes with the All India Radio.

The release of Karnataka-A Cultural Odyssey was made special by the enthralling performance of Carnatic maestro Vidwan RK Padmanabha, accompanied by Vidwan CN Chandrashekhar on the violin and Vidwan C Cheluvaraj on the mridangam.

Hindustani vocalist Ustad Faiyaz Khan presented Sufi music, the poetry of Kabirdas, and the bhajans of Meerabai. He was accompanied by Shruti Kamath on the sitar and tabla prodigy Trilochan Kampli.
The magic of Hindustani Classical music, expertly cast by
Ustad Faiyaz Khan and his accompanists, young tabla maestro Trilochan Kampli and Shruti Kamath on the sitar, enraptured the audience.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Hot off the presses - Reva EV by SK Maini & Sandhya Mendonca

Reva EV
India’s Green Gift to the World

The Reva is a pioneering EV.  The very first to be manufactured and launched in India, it is driven in over 25 countries worldwide, clocking over 180 million kilometres on roads across the globe. Its impact, however, is far greater than these numbers indicate; it has influenced the ideas of opinion makers and has made EVs and city mobility widely acceptable. Now in Reva EV: India’s Green Gift to the World, Dr Maini, founder of the car’s original manufacturer, Maini Group of Industries, tells the fascinating story behind India’s very own cool green car.

From its inception and ideation to designing the car and taking it to the world, Dr Maini recounts a story which rested on a series of fortuitous meetings with astonishingly similar interests. It is a story coloured with hope, determination, disappointment, success, and jubilation—it is the passion for making green commuting a viable possibility come alive in these pages from Reva’s journey.

Charting the years of painstaking research and planning, the false starts and then eventual launch, Reva Ev: India’s Green Gift to the World is the story of a team that believed in its products against all odds. Documenting many firsts, this book is an immortal account of India soundly on the forefront of electric vehicle movement with this unique car.

Sudarshan K. Maini is the Founder of Maini Group of Industries, manufacturers of India’s first electric car—REVA. Loughborough University, UK honoured him with a degree of Doctorate in Technology for his contribution to Industry in India in 2006.

Vice Chancellor of Banaras Hindu University conferred on Dr S.K. Maini as distinguished Alumnus Award in recognition to his Epoch Making Contribution to the Field of Propagation of Mahamana’s Ideals in 2009. Dr Maini co-authored a book on the founder of Banaras Hindu University titled Visionary of Modern India Madan Mohan Malaviya.

He is a member on the Advisory Board of ICREATE—an organization for propagating Innovations & Technology. He is a member on the Board of Trustees of Ekal Vidyalaya Movement which runs over 40,000 single Teacher Schools in Remote Villages of India. He started Gramothan Foundation in 2009 with an objective to improve the quality of life by eliminating the poor from rural India in the shortest possible time with systems which are workable, sustainable and scalable to improve.

Sandhya Mendonca is an author, columnist, and publisher. She has co-founded two media companies—Raintree Media Pvt. Ltd and Global Village Publications India Pvt. Ltd, which is part of the international GVP network that publishes the ‘Best of’ series of books.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Why I wish to vote (and wish B.PAC well)

It’s a sign of our times that while we are positive about many aspects of our lives, we are negative about politics. Many of us choose to live in an insulated world, scorning the ‘filth’ of the political machinery.

For those who do so, let me tell you that you are wrong. Let me also tell you why you are wrong. You think your life is far removed from politics, that you are getting on with your life quite happily (or unhappily) and your interest in the democratic procedure consists of giving a thumbs up or down to Arnab and Rajdeep grilling a politician. You think it’s the government’s job to run the country while you run your life.

Do answer this question: who comprises the government? The people who contest elections and win. You have not taken part in the electoral process and yet you put your trust in them to make policies that affect your livelihood.

You might well ask: What if I do vote and my candidate does not win? It does not matter. What matters is that you participate in the democratic process and keep it strong. 

As a journalist I have covered the whole gamut of democracy – from elections to  proceedings of the civic body and the legislature, interacted with politicians of all hues, grilled them and at times sympathized with deserving candidates whose parties denied them tickets. While politics in any part of the world is murky, I know Indian politics is the murkiest.

In a curious paradox, as an individual I became distanced from politics -since we were reporting from the ground, we were trained to be non-partisan. Sometimes it’s easy to be swayed by the persona of the politician and blinded by what they stand for or don’t stand for. One lives and learns.

In recent years, I have been engrossed in building up my publishing business and content just to cast my vote. No long a card-carrying journalist with the power and preferential treatment that is par for the course, I experience the travails of the average educated Indian. I fight the entrenched interests in the system as much as I can and sometimes I lose. I am among others who want to be heard not because I know someone who knows someone but simply because I want my basic rights.

When the Bangalore Political Action Committee (B.PAC) was announced, I read the news with the same scepticism that many others would have. The people behind it appeared to be a bunch of rich people posturing along with the usual suspects that float through Page 3. 

Recently, I sat in at an editors’ roundtable held by B.PAC’s Mohandas Pai and Kiran Mazumdar Shaw. What they said made me sit up and take notice. Bangalore contributes 60 per cent of Karnataka’s GDP without a matching pay off in terms of investment in its development. Garbage crisis, crumbling road, inadequate policing, power and water supply – name the woe and and we have it. 

The system is skewed against Bangalore as it has just 28 out of 224 Assembly constituencies (there’s another seat to which a eminent citizen is nominated). This is the reason that no political party, except the hardy candidate who has got the ticket to contest, pays much heed to the capital of the state. Compounding the city’s weakness in the political process, is the apathy of the voters.

While a large number of our residents are a floating population – a strange mix of elite corporate employees and migrant rural labour – the native Bangaloreans sit back and crib without bothering to vote.

B.PAC says that the political balance would tilt in many constituencies even if 50% of the educated middle class in Bangalore were to vote. Mohandas Pai, B.PAC Vice President, reasons that we can have a new generation of leaders and make them understand what is required for Bangalore.

You don’t have to join B.PAC if you don’t want to, though they promise some fun and games instead of just speeches; you can ignore the page 3 poseurs who have they mustered in a mistaken bid to be glamorous or inclusive. But do NOT ignore the power of your vote.

My dip into politics:

My first experience with politics came, as would have for most of us, in college. As a pre-university student (Class XI) I was one of the small group of campaigners who addressed peers and seniors. It was great fun and we did it more as a rehearsal for the debate team.

The candidate I supported next when I moved to another college for my BA got more support – I joined the core group that made his election collateral that consisted of handmade posters. He won and is still active in politics.

From those days of innocent fun, it was a rude shock to see the hugely politicized students elections at the post -graduate level when I was studying political science. I was almost lured into one of the parties but academics held greater allure.

Colleges don’t have student body elections of the kind that were extant years ago; in a way this might have harmed the political process as youth are idealistic. The anti-corruption wave has touched our young people and B.PAC is seeking to raise their awareness. In a non-partisan manner, I recommend Prof Rajiv Gowda’s political action internship for students.

 -Sandhya Mendonca
                                                                                         (ballot box illustration from

Monday, March 04, 2013

Smokin’ it up

Written by Sandhya Mendonca 
Raintree Media Features

Friday evening found us at the brand new Smokehouse Deli on 100ft road, Indiranagar. I had called ahead for a reservation; the restaurant called back to apologetically offer a table outdoors.

 Hello, who in their right minds would choose to sit indoors in Bangalore if there is an option?
  When I went there though, there was not a table free on the miniscule lawn and none that showed signs of emptying any time soon.

My friends were yet to arrive so I stepped down and indoors into the brightly lit restaurant. It seemed to be blindingly white and I secretly hoped they would not palm us off there. A few minutes looking at the deli section and I was back again on the pavement; where one of the bustling staff (I learnt the next day that he was Riyaaz Amlani, the owner) offered me a drink. “I can hardly drink standing here, can I ?” I quizzed him and was told, “Oh no”, someone would escort me to the bar upstairs. (When I had called to reserve, I was told it was not yet open.)

By friends joined me by then and once again we were invited to go up and have a drink while we waited for a table. “I hope the drink’s on the house”, I said cheekily as we trooped up.
 Upstairs was nice, though one my friends had to be hauled up on to the tall chair
(ha ha – that was a sight). We decided we didn’t want to move and the same gent instructed our waiter that the first round of drinks would be on the house.  The cocktails were potent, and I don’t say that only because they were free. I did order another that I paid for.

Some of the dishes on the menu were not available that evening but we were not disappointed by the taste of what we had. My tortellini was melt in the mouth delicious; my friends had steaks that they found equally good. The only grouse we had was that portions were a little small – if we had not eaten a starter or devoured the bread sticks, we would have been ravenous after dinner. And at nearly Rs.500 bucks a dish (if you add taxes), that would not have been value for money. Since we were pleasantly full by then, it didn’t bother us as much.

As we left, the owner came by to ask us if we had liked the place. We dutifully informed him of the above, and he didn’t smirk or whine, he took it as constructive criticism. Pat on the back to him and the staff. It was only the third day that they had been open and they delivered very well, considering the pressure of people.

Twitter @sandhyamendonca
Smoke House Deli is @ No. 1209, Hal IInd Stage, 100ft Road Indiranagar.

Tel: 08025200898 / 99

Visit only if you respect music

(This is an updated version of an earlier article titled 'LOUD is the chatter')

I am a huge fan of Kamal Sagar’s Total Environment projects and I was keen for some time now to visit his latest creative offering: the Windmills Craftworks. I was sure it would be a spectacular place.The only problem is that it is in Whitefield, too far from town for a week night;  the place also features interesting bands on weekends. A Saturday did arrive when I was free and had amenable company.

With a little gentle persuasion, we managed to get a table ( they had closed bookings two days prior). We clambered into a cab and sallied forth.  Alighting from the lift, were very politely received and escorted to a nicely placed table; in a secluded corner right in front. (The place could do with some signage to show the floor at which the jazz theatre is located. We had to come out and ask the doorman who told us it was on the fifth floor.) 

The interiors are stunning – there are wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves lining the large space. The stage is spacious and obviously, no money has been stinted on the acoustics.

We had gone prepared to be charmed and we were. Even the experience of using the Ipad to order drinks and food was glitch-free. The band that was playing was billed as New York Jazz – a blend of Latin and Brazilian rhythms. By far, one of the best I have ever had – Magos Herrera has the sexiest voice I have heard in a woman and the musicians were flawless.

The beers brewed in-house were good; my salad was cold but so was my friend’s Kerala beef fry! We had to send it back but the tikkis and chicken breast that followed were pretty good.

We were enjoying ourselves a lot until the entry of a LOUD group of people. Turns out that they had reserved the entire first row but none of them were interested in the performance.

They chose to hang out in the small balcony that opened right behind our table and as the evening went on, the decibel level of the chatter and high-pitched shrieks of laughter were almost drowning out the music. There were sliding glass doors that were left open, because the waiters were busy refilling the drinks of the party-makers. (There was a similar terrace space at the back where diners were sitting down to dinner; they weren't so noisy. The party makers in front could be heard even here.)

After half an hour of quiet cribbing amongst ourselves about the kind of people who would choose to come to a live performance only to spend the whole evening standing outside, we told the staff our grouse. We were given a choice of moving to another table when it emptied.

My friend told the waiter that more than disturbing us, the noisy guests were being disrespectful to the performers. A short while later, we left. The spell had been broken and we didn’t feel that there was anything to be gained by staying.

A large private party ensures good revenue for the evening but how should such a party be accommodated on a performance night and intruding upon the enjoyment of other patrons? On the long ride to that place, I had repeated a story I’d heard: that Kamal Sagar is very particular about who buys his apartments because he is very quality conscious.
On the ride back, my friends asked me: ”Are you sure this is his place? How would such a particular person allow such crass behavior?”

Following the publication of the earlier piece, I heard from Kamal Sagar. Referring to that night he said that a group of 35 people had come in and had been very demanding and disruptive. The manager and staff had to deal with them diplomatically to ensure that the problems did not escalate and that the programme could continue without a major fracas. After that night, Windmills Craftworks has decided not to take up group bookings on event nights as the place is dedicated to promote good music from all over the world.

This is good news indeed for people who genuinely appreciate music. People who just want to hang out and party can find other venues

Written by Sandhya Mendonca
Twitter @sandhyamendonca

Windmills Craftworks is @ 331, Road No. 5 B, EPIP zone, Whitefield. T: 080 25692012

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