In short, found in translation

Johny Miranda’s Jeevichirikunnavarkku Vendiyulla Oppees (Requiem for the Living) unfolds like a Marquezian, surrealist dream. On a tiny strip of land in Mattancherry, Kochi, lives Osha Periera, a member of the dwindling Paranki community, who’ve been broadly branded as Anglo-Indian, but in whose blood lies the histories of not just the Portuguese and Dutch settlements, and Kerala’s own caste struggles, but also Javan and Malaccan roots. It is through this confused terrain of identity that Osha flounders through, a metaphorical golden key in hand, searching for the one lock that will finally fit his life’s tale. The Catholic and the occult, the intensely tragic and the mundanely everyday, miracles and myth unravel through his passive eyes that paint, in the process, the untold story of a neglected minority people. This may as well be Kerala’s own Chronicle of a Death Foretold.

Written in 2004, Oppees reached the world beyond Malayalam readers through Oxford’s English translation by Sajai Jose, nearly a decade later. For me, it ripped the veils off a hometown I thought I’d decently known. As the first Kochi-Creole novella in English, Oppees taught me as much about culture, in its sliver of a read-in-one-sitting story, as it did about the politics of language. It is in exactly this space that combines short fiction and translation — the child born of publishing’s two, least-lucrative ventures — that readers, globally, are gradually gaining interest.

My best short, translated reads over the last year have been Sachin Kundalkar’s Cobalt Blue, translated from the Marathi by Jerry Pinto, and Benyamin’s Goat Days, translated from the Malayalam by Joseph Koyippally; both novellas now well-known for shortlists on several award charts. The first lets one into the multi-coloured mosaic of alternate sexuality in Mumbai, and the second into the horrors of immigrant life in the deserts of Saudi Arabia. The beauty of both books lies in that delicate lifting of experiences etched distinctly in the vernacular, into a language deemed cosmopolitan. Neither the Marathi, nor the Malayalam ever fully leaves the English of either work; rather, they breathe intangibly through the new rendering. What I treasured most though, were those moments of deep resonance of common emotion, despite the vast disparities in culture and experience.

And it’s precisely this universality of human experience that Words Without Borders, an e-zine that’s survived a decade in translated short fiction from across the world, and lands in your inbox every month, thrives on. This November, we’re in the Czech Republic, reading short story author Magdalena Platzova writing of lost love crawling back into worth in a cold Czech pub, and Tomas Zmeskal tracing his Congolese father’s roots in the communist Czechoslovakia of 1959, and when in Iraq, we read Muhsin al-Ramli write of a young boy’s glee discovering television mid-war, thanks to Saddam Hussein. WWB consistently thus overturns conventional wisdom, refocusing our vision on the less-known, human shades to mainstream narratives. Closer home, the bilingual Pratilipi magazine has nurtured similar short fiction in both Hindi and English side by side, and short-story e-zine Out of Print too publishes locally translated work occasionally. What these efforts collectively succeed in doing is what poet Meena Kandasamy dreamt of for English in her poem Mulligatawny Dreams: “An English where the magic of black eyes and brown bodies/replaces the glamour of eyes in dishwater blue.”

November 07, 2014


In tuna with the classic

Moonrakers in Nungambakkam doesn’t quite offer the Mahabalipuram seaside experience, but it does make up for it with a lot of fried fish


The temporary flex board outside reads ‘Moonrocks’, but it hides a painted wall behind, which unveils the Mahabalipuram Moonrakers’ hallmark green-and-blue logo, of smugglers pretending to “rake for cheese by moonlight” in Wiltshire. Their trademark, gigantic, wooden chariot wheels are here too; as are the thatched roof and bamboo partitions, replete with an airy outdoor dining space and air-conditioned interiors. The hardwood chairs are new enough to sport sharp edges, and painted squid, assorted fish and crabs crawl along the white-washed walls, still smelling of the fresh coat. Tucked away on the unlit stretch of Nungambakkam’s Anderson Road, but awash in the yellow glow of Chinese lamps and fairy lights, is the newly-opened Chennai edition of the two-decade-old legendary Mahabalipuram getaway. All that’s missing is the sun, sand and scent of the sea.

To compensate, though, Moonrakers’ has transplanted much of its chilled-out dining experience to this outlet, down to letting you take your pick of the day’s fresh catch. It’s evening by the time we turn up, but a tray of large fish, with the red still shining in their gills, arrives at our table, with glistening eyes and open mouths, seeming mildly peeved at being dead. As tempting as the fat silver fish looks, we opt for the regular tawa-fried fish, reputed to be classic Moonrakers’ fare. And turns out it is. Our pink-shirted waiter, who sings along with the 70s country songs playing over the airwaves as expertly as he’s rote-learnt the menu, brings our order suspiciously soon — in less than two minutes of placing it. Either we’re sadly unpredictable in our choices, or they’re overly prepared, but either way, the fish comes pungent with that fiery-red Moonrakers masala, drowned in curry leaves, fried fairly well on the outside but still tender within. It lacks the joy of sharply roasted edges, hasn’t fully absorbed the marinade, and garlic skins pepper it occasionally, but this is the stuff Moonrakers’ is loved for — quick and generous seafood, done like the beach-sides would, and meant to be wolfed down in gladness, not dissected for elegance.

And the batter-fried calamari with butter-garlic sauce only proves this further. Covered in clouds of crisp batter that gives way to chewy, juicy calamari dripping oceans of oil, this is oh-so-bad for your arteries, but oh-so-good to munch on endlessly! Served on Moonrakers’ standard light brown-plastic plates, with copious amounts of calamari-less bits of fried batter, this dish takes you back to the ethos of Mahabalipuram. You’re itching for that wind-in-your-hair, salt-in-the-air experience, but it isn’t quite there. If the over-salted food is anything to go by, though, all one lacks are a few pints of chilled beer on the side and an afternoon siesta, neither of which can be fulfilled here. Our masala-fried prawns is spot on with the chili and curry leaf masala, but loses itself in the mountains of salt that you must either wash down or just plain avoid. This is best solved when paired with the mushroom rice, which is typical, comfort, Indian-Chinese food — garnished with crispy cabbage and spring onions, bursting with pepper and ajinomoto, and trailing oil tracks behind.

To round off a calorie-rich meal, we close with some more calories: Moonrakers’ signature Nutella pancake. Beautifully crisp, light and thin, the pancake comes oozing with oodles of warm Nutella — a creation so deceptively simple, it’s shameless no one’s thought of it before. And what’s best about it? It tastes exactly like its Mahabalipuram ancestor. And that could be said of most of the Nungambakkam outlet’s offerings, except that the definition of a Chennaiitie’s Moonrakers’ experience meant the long drive down ECR with the promise of great food at its close. Drop by here only if you’re too lazy for the ride. This one’s about the destination, not the journey.

A meal for two is priced at approximately Rs. 800. Details: 9940172351.

November 6, 2014

Legacies in lace

Lace still fascinates designers and stylists world over, who are rediscovering its time-tested elegance

Neeta_Lulla1_jpg_1_2188165gOur grandmothers have worn it, and so have we, and possibly, our grandchildren will too. In its delicacy and simplicity, lies a timeless beauty that has transcended age and culture. Yet, each generation has found its own way to imbue originality to it, and our times are no different. Lace still fascinates designers and stylists world over; it never quite fully drops off the ramp and somewhere, someone, somehow always manages to sneak it back into the spotlight.

Mumbai-based designer Neeta Lulla has been preoccupied with lace for eight years now, focussing at least one of her collections on the fabric every season. “I find it one of the most romantic materials to work with and I love doing different things with it,” she says. Neeta is best known for her lines of gorgeous chantilly lace sarees, with their sheer, shimmer and shine playing peekaboo with skin and fabric. She’s teamed lace with lycra, kanjeevarams, mull, banarasi, khadi and with numerous other textiles over the years. “The quantity of lace detailing I use varies by the season; festive times are extravagant, spring/summer lines are more minimal. Couture collections can afford to have large amounts of lace, while pret tones it down a bit.” Lace is conventionally used in the pastels, but Neeta says, when done tastefully, it can be carried off in bright neons and dark shades too. Her favourites, though, remain the classic gold or ivory chantilly lace that she’s explored to the fullest this season.

“A classic gold chantilly lace saree can never go out of style; at its best quality, it’s the kind of heirloom that’s passed down generations!” says designer Anushree Reddy from Hyderabad. Anushree’s own practice with lace has been to use it for that vintage touch. “There’s nothing quite like the charm of a floral blouse with that white lace border, or an old-school skirt with crochet lace piping,” she says. Anushree cautions that lace is a tricky material to work with, and unless utilised just right, can border on the tacky. “I suggest you use it as a mere highlighter, rarely in full dresses or sarees, unless you’re in your best shape. The fall of the fabric reveals all your curves.”

For Delhi designer Manish Gupta, lace has been his brand’s trademark fabric for detailing. Silk lace and cotton lace are used as embroidery material, handstitched onto clothes to create a three-dimensional effect. “It’s an all-year fabric! When I first began using lace embroidery, three years ago, I realised it gave me a tonal, textured look that I could work into absolutely any piece, for any season.” To keep things subtle and understated, most of Manish’s lace embroidery is in the shade of the fabric itself, but he has occasionally used contrast colours too. Since his dresses come with heavy embroidery, especially around the neck, Manish advises his clients to keep their accessories simple — “just statement earrings, or a hand-cuff will do.”

Lace has also long since stepped out of couture exclusivity, and into staple fare for fast fashion brands, observes stylist and fashion blogger Karishma Rajani. “Brands such as Forever 21, Aldo or Dolce and Gabbana will constantly have an all-lace dress that’s affordable and simple to style. Lingerie-inspired dresses, with lace detailing at the hemline or along the plunging neckline are now all the rage,” she adds. For that gentle, girly look, she advises you pair your lace with statement crystals, or bijoux jewellery. Lace has found its way into accessories too, crochet lace necklaces, for instance. “With these, keep things minimal, and team them with a monotone top in a contrast colour that’ll highlight your neckpiece.”

So, what’s stopping you? Pull out your grandmother’s hand-me-downs, style up that lace collectible blouse, and flaunt a piece of time-tested elegance.

November 05, 2014

Thermal’s Dynamics

In Chennai recently for a concert, the members of the 17-year-old iconic band Thermal and a Quarter speak about their albums, the indie music scene in the country and finding their space at festivals abroad


The night heavens have opened over Chennai. A handful of people has strolled into The Park’s lobby while gentle jazz streams through the airwaves. The rains and the music strains hush though as Bruce Lee Mani’s soaring, guttural vocals take centre stage, singing of bygone times when it was illegal to play music in Bangalore’s bars. It’s a voice that reminds you of winds gushing through open skies, and it’s been singing for 17 years now. In the nearly two decades that Thermal and a Quarter have been around, quietly pioneering paths in India’s independent music scene, they’ve toured the world several times over, opened for bands like Deep Purple and Jethro Tull, won numerous awards, survived two line-up changes, and written five acclaimed albums.

At the cusp of recording their sixth now, there’s a little more grey on drummer Rajeev Rajagopal’s beard than when he first met Bruce in Christ College, and Bruce’s own mad mop of curls sees tamer days. But that deadly mix of music they call Bangalore rock — a filtered brew of the blues, jazz, funk, rock and roll — sounds better than ever before. As yet untitled, the new album draws from their insider experience of thriving in India’s fledgling indie English industry, from the times of few sponsors, stages and patrons, to the present boom age where everyone from nascent festival organisers to obscure television channels wants a finger in the indie pie. “The way the scene has progressed here is very uniquely Indian; no other country sees this crazy diversity, from the artsy-originals-only, or covers-only, bands, to Bollywood-obsessed masses, venues that care more about food and beverage, deeply integrity-driven artistes and those in it just for the money…the scene here is a beast all its own, and this album gives voice to each of the strange characters that people it,” says Bruce.

One of the new songs Thermal premiered at The Park is titled ‘The Scene’, a “bitter-sweet”, hymn-like ditty that compares indie English music to selling ‘sushi in an idli shop’; another dwells on Indian indie artistes’ proclivity to certain intoxicant brands; a third, ‘Dig Those Chicks’ remembers a time when shows were once full of just ‘brown brothers’ and now welcomes happily their female counterparts; and ‘Medicated Electronic Dance’ (MED) comments tongue-in-cheek on our current electronic dance music (EDM) obsession, replete with synth-processed, EDM-like vocals on loop. Musically, the album will launch Thermal’s evolved sound that now features their young, new bassist and backing vocalist Leslie Charles, who they first overheard jamming Jaco Pastorius in a music store. Leslie brings to the table his McCartney-reminiscent grooves that only strengthen Thermal’s already rhythm-driven spine.

Watch the new Thermal on stage though, and they’re smooth as free-flowing water. Bodies beat to time, playing off each other’s brilliance, still surprised at the others’ moments of stage inspiration after all this time together. It’s a “subliminal tightness” that comes especially from their last year of gigging across world stages, most of all at a 50-shows-in-60-days tour across Europe, including the prestigious, month-long Edinburgh Fringe festival. “What the Fringe gave us, playing to audiences who’d never heard of us, was the ability to perform anywhere, from cavernous churches to stages with no gear, and for absolutely anyone,” says Rajeev. Their stories of this experience feed into their first film, which looks at that “peculiar, distorted reality that artistes live in,” says Bruce. In the presence of hundreds of artistes from across the globe, both famous and unknown, performing before armies of crowds or just a smattering of people, Thermal learnt further of the essence of artiste living. “It helps to know you’re not the only struggling lunatic around! There are plenty of us out there; so it’s cool,” laughs Rajeev.

Thermal’s own journey has spanned humble beginnings, starting with their first, Bangalore IT-industry-inspired album in 2000, to 2012’s three-disk omnibus of an effort that set their sound in stone, Three Wheels Nine Lives, altogether over a 130 songs. Their musical tastes have morphed over time (jazz-head Bruce is now listening to metal and Rajeev’s turned a Brubeck fan), and for six years now, they’ve self-run a music school, Taaqademy. “It’s a sustainable model we’re encouraging for musicians. Not only does the teaching keep you challenged and technically sound, there’s no better environment for a musician to be in, surrounded by the best of young talent constantly trying new things,” says Bruce. Despite juggling administration, syllabi, salaries, their own gigs and rehearsal time, Bruce says their song-writing techniques haven’t changed much. Their music is still born at the lyric stage first, arrives in his head in “bulk orders”, and grows into their own animals as the band infuses ideas in. The new album, with material just a year old now, Rajeev says, is merely the next logical step in their musical journey. “As always, it deals with the worlds we’re experiencing. It’s very real, very honest, very us, very Thermal.”

November 3, 2014

Steam Power

Say hello to the ubiquitous idli, that represents the spirit of Chennai along with filter kaapi and dosa. Though Chennai has dime-a- dozen eateries doling out a variety of idlis, ESTHER ELIAS and PRIYADARSHINI PAITANDY pick 10 places that serve this comfort food


Vaishnavaa’s Bangalore Special

This place is popular for its thattu idli. A hole-in-the-wall joint, it’s not difficult to miss it given the crowd that spills out on to the road. They serve one idli per plate and it is rather filling as the size is big — almost as big as an Ambassador’s headlight. Ghee is the first thing you taste when you bite into it and then what hits you is the delicious fiery podi. Open between 2 p.m. and midnight.

Where: 4/9, Ormes Road, (Near Paramount Hotel) Kilpauk

How much: Rs. 30

Tel: 98402 98419



Are you a mocktail idli fan? Well, you just will have to wait till evening for that. Mathsya starts preparing their popular bite-sized fried idlis post-6.30 p.m. Deep-fried and gleaming with molaga podi and tempered with their “secret podi”, this idli has a steady trail of addicts queuing up even post midnight.

Mocktail idli at Mathsya

Where: 1, Halls Road, Egmore

How much: Rs. 95

Tel: 2819 1900


Kapila Daasa

The Kadabu idli here has cult status and it stands tall like a rockstar. Shaped like a tumbler, the idli batter is poured into a tumbler that’s coated with oil and allowed to set for about 10 minutes. Served with a bowl of ghee, spicy mango pickle and kairasa, this idli sure is a delight. Available post-noon till 11 p.m.

Kadabu idli at Kapila Daasa

Where: Express Avenue, Third Floor

How much: Rs. 140

Tel: 2846 4642


Novelty Tea House

Amidst the crowded by-lanes of Mint Street sits this compact eat-out. Things work at a frenzied pace here for most part of the day. They have a variety of idlis but their diva is the molagapodi idli which they start making post-4 p.m. Three pieces per plate with a generous slathering of their “special podi” and it manages to get over 70 clients per day who order this particular dish.

Where: New No: 355, Mint Street, Park Town

How much: Rs. 70

Tel: 2534 1103


The Madras Kafe

With its heady aroma of piping hot filter coffee, The Madras Kafe isn’t exactly the place you’d head to for snazzy idlis. Tucked into its snack menu, though, are an assortment of Fuzion idlis that spring a welcome surprise. There are fried idlis tossed in barbeque sauce with carrots, onions and capsicum, Indo-Italiano Idli that’s doused in mildly sweet pizza sauce, Manchurian idli with diced vegetables in Chinese spicing and the standard fried podi idli. Your best bet is the Kafe’s fastest-moving special — fried vadacurry idli — bite sized and heavy on the oil, but crispy along the outside, soft within and soaked generously in spicy vadacurry.

Where: Ispahani Centre, Nungambakkam

How much: Rs. 99

Tel: 4201 0809


Hotel Palmgrove

Just as Palmgrove welcomes you into its old-world charm of arched windows, mirrored walls and square tables, its idlis take you back to simple, traditional goodness. After gorging on a line-up of exotic idli varieties, the plain-Jane, classic idli seems like a bit of a bore, but our waiter is convinced it’s worth our while. Our plate arrives with sambar that borders on the sweet and coconut chutney, with some excellent, sharply spiced onion chutney. As for the idlis, they’re soft and slightly under salted, but wait for those two heft dashes of beautiful ghee to kick in and take you to calorie heaven. (Available only after 3.30 p.m.)

Where: Kodambakkam High Road

How much: Rs. 50

Tel: 2827 1881



Stories of Krishnavilasam’s Chintamani rava idli have preceded our arrival here, and the restaurant’s signature dish, served only after 4 p.m., proves worthy of the hype. Said to be made just the way traditional homes in Chintamani, Triuchirapalli, prepare it, the idli is built from a roasted blend of rava, mustard, curry leaves and Bengal gram that’s mixed into curd, seated on a garnish of chopped carrots, beans and cashews, and steamed. The result is a fluffy, powdery delight, interrupted by crunchy gram bits, and savoured best with Krishnavilasam’s unusual, but staple, accompaniments of garlic-coconut podi and tamarind-tomato chutney.

Chintamani rava idli at Krishnavilasam

Where: Haddows Road, Nungambakkam

How much: Rs. 55

Tel: 2821 5568


Ratna Café

Ratna Cafe’s ghee podi idli is legendary enough to warrant a signboard on the restaurant’s wall all its own, separate from the regular menu. Everyone around us, from Gujarati women tourists to the six-year-old school boy next table, has their eyes trained to the kitchen doors as plate after plate of ghee-drenched glory rolls out late afternoon. Ratna’s regular idli is coated thick with gunpowder, roasted on the dosa tava till its bottom turns crispy brown, and its insides become like warm, melt-in-the-mouth butter. Don’t forget to drink the sambar once you’re done!

Where: Triplicane High Road

How much: Rs. 50

Tel: 2848 7181



Known for making fine dinning out of prosaic breakfast foods, ID’s take on idlis ranges from the plain to the experimental, all served on severe-looking steel plates in white, minimalistic settings. Their special podi, made from roasted and coarsely ground urad dal, Bengal gram, red chillies and asafoetida, has made a name for itself, but today, it’s their unassuming karuveppilai idli that takes the cake. Salted and coated in simple, curry leaf powder, without the overpowering flavour of ghee, this mini idli snack wins just for its clean, basic flavour.

Where: Sathyam Cinemas, Thiru-vi-ka Road

How much: Rs. 90

Tel: 4392 0346


Kozhi Idli

Head here for idlis that may as well be clouds. Open for just four hours a day, from 6 p.m.-10 p.m., this hole-in-the-wall outlet opposite the AIADMK headquarters, marries simple, light idlis to a variety of chicken curries. Pick from the hot pepper chicken kolambu, or the fiery red chilli chicken kolambu to pair your plate of three idlis for a full, heavy dinner. Build an appetite first with their chicken paniyarams or chicken cheese balls and round off with some good kulfi.

Where: Avvai Shanmugam Salai, Royapettah

How much: Rs. 70

Tel: 4330 2574

October 30, 2014

Nation on song

From Kolkata to Coorg and Shillong to Shekawati it is raining independent music festivals as the lines between genres and languages blur. Apoorva Sripathi and Esther Elias tune into the phenomenon.

You’re a speck in a sea of 10,000 people. Rows of bodies bounce to the beat; roving lights wash over, and the cold winds of the open night sky sweep all around you. As power cans flash lightning on stage, the rumble of thunder strikes above. With every note of the double flute and sarangi rising up to the heavens, the clouds shower down torrents in return. After a day spent listening to 20 different artistes, across five stages and numerous genres, with skin now soaked in rain, sweat and the soul of spirited music, there’s little else in the world that really matters. Welcome to the spellbinding power of India’s indie music festival nights.

From the scattered few stages of a decade ago, today, nearly every metro and two-tier city in India has a music festival to its name. With veterans, such as the five-year-old, four-city strong NH7 Weekender and Bangalore’s decade-old Oktoberfest, and young ventures, such as Ziro in Arunachal Pradesh, Rajasthan’s Magnetic Fields, Coorg’s Storm, Ooty’s GoMAD, Chennai and Goa’s Sunburn, Mumbai’s Mahindra Blues Festival and over 30 others, it’s raining independant music festivals on the country, and the drizzle swells into a full-fledged monsoon as the year comes to a close.

A classic character of India’s major music festivals has been its multi-stage, multi-genre nature, where the bass pulsing off the electronica stage is just a hop away from the strains of someone’s guitar on the singer-songwriter stage. Modelled on the Glastonbury festival, the upcoming NH7 Weekender, for instance, features five genre stages with simultaneous acts that culminate at the ‘Arena’ for its headlining performance. It’s in creating that heady cocktail of a 100-artiste line-up — 70 per cent Indian acts (with fresh names each year or established ones with new material) and 30 per cent International performers — that Vijay Nair, founder of organisers Only Much Louder (OML), finds their biggest breakthrough.

“Festival curation is an art,” says Anup Kutty, co-founder of Ziro, a three-year-old indie festival in the grasslands and meadows of Ziro village in Arunachal Pradesh. Their just-concluded edition highlighted folk artistes and less-known singer-songwriters from across the country, including the Sajda sisters, singing songs from their homeland Bathinda, Punjab. They had flown for the first time ever for this festival, and ended up jamming with Kolkata producer and solo artiste Neel Adhikari. “Multi-genre festivals bring about a convergence of cultures. The lines between folk and indie, urban and rural, language barriers, all blur, and the focus shifts to just quality music.”

It’s precisely this sense of community across genres, and the possibility of collaborations, that draws artistes to such festivals. “It’s understood that festivals pay you half your artiste fee, given they bring so many performers to one stage, but for us, it’s the chance to see people you’ve only heard before, perform live, and discover young, fresh talent that makes it exciting,” says Rahul Ram, bassist for Indian Ocean, who’ve performed at Storm and GoMAD, and will stage their multi-collaborator new album Tandanu, live at NH7 this year.

For the Raghu Dixit Project, that experience of being discovered at a festival is all too precious. In 2007, at OML’s Big Chill festival in Goa, Raghu and his band of lungi-clad boys were an innocuous bunch playing to a hundred people at first. “By the gig’s close, over 3,000 had gathered; news of us had spread fast and wide by word of mouth and that was our first big break,” says Raghu. From flautist Shankar Tucker, to claw-hammer banjoist Abigail Washburn, many of Raghu’s collaborators have been people he’s bumped into, and struck a chord with, at festival backstages. “There’s so much to learn just by watching fellow artistes play too!” he adds. “These spaces also give you a clear sense of the latest creative boundaries independent artistes in the country are pushing,” says Sharath Narayan, vocalist for one-album-old band Black Letters. “For a young band, they let you reach exactly that clued-in audience you’re looking for!”

For how nascent India’s music festival culture is, audiences couldn’t be happier with how fast the scene has mushroomed. One offshoot has been niche festivals such as the EDM-only Sunburn festival that recently turned a Chennai resort into a dance floor, the Kasauli Rhythm and Blues Festival in Himachal Pradesh, and the Mahindra Blues Festival in Mumbai, to name a few. “Running a blues-only festival was quite a gamble,” says Owen Roncon, founder of Oranjuice and Fountainhead, which runs the Mahindra two-day show. “When we began, people considered the blues as ‘beggar music’, some old, black man somewhere crying about something.” Curating the festival has been about changing that perception by bringing in the best of International blues artistes, such as Zac Harmon and Jimmie Vaughan. Running full-house now for four years consecutively from Bandra’s Mehboob Studios, Owen says success has come from tailor-making the entire experience for both die-hard blues fan who come just for the music, and for those there just to “hang out”.

Most music festivals today are thus as much about their destinations, the vibe and atmosphere they exude, as the music. Take Storm for example. The three-year-old Bangalore-based festival actually began as a camping event that would initiate responsible tourism through promoting local, musical talent reveals Lavin Uthappa, festival director. A camping festival is certainly unique to India, especially because, as Lavin says, “we don’t respect Nature”, something Storm aims to change by “bringing people together to enjoy Nature. Think of it as a camaraderie-based event, replete with late-night barbeques and adventure sports!” Tourism is a mainstay for Magnetic Fields festival too, which unfolds within the palatial splendour of Alsisar Mahal in Rajasthan. Live through the expansive worlds of art and heritage while lolling around in Bedouin tents, take yoga lessons or lose yourself in treasure hunts, lounge around at kite-flying parties or art workshops, or even attend costume balls and secret parties. “When we sell a music festival, we don’t just talk about the music; it’s a three-day holiday in Rajasthan that is an experience in itself,” says Munbir Chawla, festival organiser.

Over time, festivals take on a character for themselves defined by the artistes and audience that frequent them, adds Vijay. While NH7 makes conscious efforts to keep the colour black out of its stage designs and signage, in keeping with its ‘happiest festival’ tag, and Ziro draws strict lines about its environmentally conscious model, it’s the attitudes of leisure and comfort that festival-goers bring to these venues that create their spirit of peacefulness. From a broad demographic of listeners in their 20s and 30s, festivals with an air of safety and security, now also cater to families that come with grandparents and kids in tow, each finding their own space of happiness at these festivals.

As business burgeons though, Rahul notes, that there is a tendency to exorbitantly price festival tickets, making the music needlessly elite. “It makes no sense to take the music away from the youth, who are our most ardent fans, and don’t have huge budgets!” Moreover, as the frequency of such festivals draws closer, the more often a line-up of ‘usual suspect’ artistes too repeats itself. Stories abound of festivals that have opened with great aplomb, but fallen in on themselves a year after birth, from poor planning, shoddy artiste management and few sponsors. Magnetic Fields, for instance, has no sponsors (they have private funding), and Munbir says that gives him “the freedom to do what we want and work with a specific vision, while Storm and Ziro enjoy Government sponsorship.” Anup explains: “It’s about finding a sustainable business model between your sponsorships, merchandise, stall rentals, and campaigns, which enables you to subsidise your tickets to reach the audience you want to. It boils down to your intentions, really. Over commerce, you have to believe in the festival itself, in great artistes, great music.”

A year in festivals


Where: Bangalore/Coorg

When: Usually takes place end of January-beginning of February. Storm 2015 is likely to be held between November-December.

USP: A full scale camp-out music festival in the middle of unspoilt natural beauty. Previous acts include Agam, Karsh Kale Collectiv, Indian Ocean, Anthony Daasan.



Where: Goa

When: December 27-29, 2014

USP: The country’s first and arguably most popular Electronic Dance Music festival for seven years now. The festival has also seen editions in other cities like Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi and Indore.


Magnetic Fields

Where: Rajasthan

When: December 12-14, 2014

USP: A festival that takes place in a 17th Century palace in Shekawati, Rajasthan can only be exotic. So expect not just music but everything from yoga to costume balls and treasure hunts.



Where: Nasik

When: February 7-8, 2015

USP: Literally a heady mix of music, gourmet food and alcohol and add to it retail therapy as well. They added fashion to the mix this year.


Bangalore Open Air

Where: Bangalore

When: September every year

USP: For strict metal-heads only. This edition saw German thrash metallers Destruction, Greek extreme metal band Rotting Christ and Italian brutal death metal band Cadaver Mutilator and Bengaluru-based folk metal band The Down Troddence and thrash metal veterans Threinody.


Jodhpur RIFF

Where: Jodhpur

When: October 23-27, 2015

USP: Reportedly, Sir Mick Jagger is an international patron of the festival that takes place at the Mehrangarh Fort and has folk music in its line-up. This year’s main stage events included a mix of blues, soul and Scotland’s foremost drummer James Mackintosh.



Where: Kolkata, Bangalore, Pune, Delhi

When: November 1-2, 8-9, 21-23, 29-30, 2014

USP: There’s five stages of music, from electronica to fusion, rock and acoustic singer-songwriter, stand-up comedy, dance, theatre… take your pick.


Enchanted Valley Carnival

Where: Amby Valley City

When: December 19-21, 2014

USP: Three days, four stages, and over 25,000 people, with a focus on EDM, live bands, adventure and watersports, hot-air ballooning, a flea market, campfires, barbeques and live music all night.



Where: Ziro village, Arunachal Pradesh

When: September every year.

USP: Set in the pristine hills and valleys of the village of Ziro, a 14-hour journey from Guwahati, home to the Apatani agrarian tribe who are Animists, the festival blends the local culture with the best of singer-songwriters from across the country, besides nationwide folk acts aplenty.


Mahindra Blues Festival

Where: Mehboob Studios, Mumbai

When: February every year

USP: In its just-concluded fourth edition, Mahindra Blues brought home different kinds of blues from, the New Orleans and Chicago blues, to more young and contemporary varieties with Blues legends such as The Tedeschi Trucks Band, besides Indian acts such as the Soulmate duo from Shillong and Mumbai’s own Warren Mendonca of Blackstratblues.


India Bike Week

Where: Vagator, Goa

When: February 20-21, 2015

USP: The festival rallies together bikers and musicians for two days featuring DJs, race tracks, live bands across three music stages, stunt and dance zones.


The Great Indian Octoberfest

Where: Bangalore

When: October every year.

USP: The just-concluded tenth edition of this festival featured The Raghu Dixit Project, Benny Dayal and Funktuation, besides the Manganiyar Seduction, the Down Troddence, Thaikkudam Bridge and many more. Of course, food, games and great beer come with the three days of revelry.


Kasauli Rhythm and Blues Festival

Where: Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh

When: April 3-5, 2015

USP: Organised by the Genesis Foundation, this year’s edition of the festival was its third, and included 10 bands such as Bangalore-based Lagori, Shillong’s Soulmate, folk rockers Susmit Sen and Indus Creed.

October 24, 2014

Finding the lost sound of a generation

Sidharth Bhatia’s recent, debut book India Psychedelic fools you with its cover of crazy colours spiralling wildly around a silhouetted guitarist. If this seemed like the story of sex, drugs and rock and roll blossoming in an India barely 10 years into Independence, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Rock and roll, yes. Sex and drugs, hardly. Struggle, guts, perseverance and some wild adventures, most certainly, yes! As the book’s tagline ‘The story of a rocking generation’ prophecies, India Psychedelic unearths the roots to the nation’s independent rock culture, born in the 60s, and reaching its fullness by the mid-70s.

It drew me into decades I’d only heard stories of from my parents’ generation, of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones seeping into the nation through Radio Ceylon broadcasts, of records bummed off hippies in the Himalayas and replayed to decipher chords frequently enough to scratch their surfaces dead, of bands put together from leather police-troupe drums, smuggled guitars and political rally microphones, and most importantly, of a music sprung from an ‘in between’ generation that neither knew the struggles of Independence, nor was caught in socialist, nation-building fervour. Eager to find their own voice, they found resonance in the hipster messages of the music that was sweeping the U.K. and U.S.

Thus, Bhatia hunts down in meticulous detail the origins and growth of our first independent bands, such as Madras’ Mustangs, Bombay’s The Jets and The Savages, Calcutta’s The Cavaliers, The Flintstones and Great Bear, among numerous others. What he finds is first a poverty of our commitment to historicising popular culture; few records remain of these times for the newspapers hardly documented this easily-dismissed, ‘aping the West’, marginalised culture. Beside the stories of individual persistence to passion, Bhatia also paints a narrative that mirrors the social and cultural history of the times, of how morphing national events shaped the music locally made. On one hand, he finds songwriters vastly disjointed from the turmoils of the times, happy in the bubbles of their own making, and on the other, he finds those like Calcutta’s Gautam Chattopadhyay and Susmit Bose writing deeply political lyrics spurred by the Naxalite movements and language politics. The book concludes in the mid-70s, where these young movements of rock are eventually bellowed out by the louder, more lucrative trumpets of Bollywood and disco music.

As with all books of history, India Psychedelic’s relevance lies in the echoes it spills into our present. Nationwide, devoid of the backing of large music labels and marketing agents, a host of independent singer-songwriters still write consistently of our times. In Delhi, Adil and Vasundhara sing of urbanity and its Indian quirks and in Kerala, White Sugar sings of corruption and injustice, while from Darjeeling Bipul Chettri bleeds Nepali folk strains into his songs about the hill town. If there’s one takeaway from India Psychedelic, it’s to not let the voices of this generation die unheard, once again.

October 24, 2014