Sunday, 4 May 2008

Mousetrap - 147

unseen dharamsala
Dharamsala, quiet little place that is, has been in the news a lot lately, thanks to its most famous resident, the Dalai Lama. You see, after he made his escape from Tibet, the Indian government shunted him around a bit before giving him a place of residence in Upper Dharamsala, also called McLeodganj. Mcleodganj was a sort of hangout for army officers and their families in British times (there’s a cantonment nearby, in Forsytheganj), but, so I’m told, became pretty much a ghost town after independence. Other Tibetan refugees flocked to the place, and it became the seat of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile. Little Tibet, as some call it, also has a library, monasteries, schools and cultural centres that attempt to keep the culture alive. This site is part of a larger photo-project, an ‘international arts project for workers and refugees to describe their lives through photography.’ The site introduces eight Tibetan refugees, and links to their blogs. It’s a look into the live of a dispossessed people through their eyes and words.

Wired How-To Wiki
Wikis epitomise the whole user-generated content revolution. Sites like Wikipedia and its offshoots are abuzz with activity, generating volumes of content, some of it downright dubious, some of it of questionable value, especially for fogies like your columnist. Where we we? Where are my dentures? Ah yes. This wiki has a more specific focus: it’s a how-to site, with a tech slant. Naturally considering that its parent, Wired magazine, is an iconic geek publication, one that has chronicled the rise of the web and grown with it, and features some of the best, most lucid writing on tech topics. The site offers ‘projects, hacks, tricks and tips you can edit.’ It isn’t all geeky though. Amidst advice on adapters for electronic devices and building servers, you’ll also find ways to reset a dislocated shoulder, alternative ways to lace your shoes (there are 43,200 of them, would you believe?), or bar tricks. There’s a bonus: a small section of how-tos written by Wired staff.

Are you a CA?
The ‘CA’ that your columnist uses in the title doesn’t stand for Chartered Accountant. The ‘C’ is for Certified, and the ‘A’ refers to the, um, tail-end of your digestive system. Also known as the the A*****e Rating Self-Exam (ARSE), it is a set of 24 questions set in the work environment, by the writer Bob Sutton, part of his promotion for a book. If you’re enough of a, erm, navel-gazer to be reasonably sure of your own status on this important question, try taking it as if you were someone else: a colleague, perhaps. or your boss.

Clean Journeys
Responsible Travel
It’s summer. You’re off on vacation with the spouse and the brats. But have you thought about the impact of your vacation on the planet? This site has listings for 270 tour operators all over the world, with n array of activities and countries. It’s not just for the well-heeled westerner or the global traveller. We desis and impoverished columnists have some choices too. There are 181 India holidays listed as of this writing. Not solely travel agents, mind you. There are less-known things like self-catered holidays and volunteering opportunities. And there are loads of user reviews of the listed holidays to help you make up your mind. Have a good trip!

Reader suggestions welcome, and will be acknowledged. Go to for past columns, and to comment, or mail The writer blogs at

Published in the Times of India, 4th May, 2008.

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Thursday, 1 May 2008

Siteseeing - 18


When teh interwebs were still young, my webpage proclaimed the intention to get to know people around the world, so that when I finally had enough money to backpack around the world, I’d have places to stay, friends to hang out with who’d point me to the good, cheap food, the cool places to go, and so on. Having the foresight of a new-born puppy, I didn’t start a dot com, and here I am earning my holiday fund, peanut by peanut, writing for this travel mag.. Never mind. This company takes that basic concept and adds a fee to it, to save you the trouble of actually making new friends. It operates in just seven countries in Europe as of this writing: Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and the UK. And you can choose to ‘live’ (€25) ‘eat’ (€15) or ‘go’ (as in ‘go see stuff,’ (€15) like a local by registering on the site and stating your requirements. The site will then link you up with pre-vetted locals. Or you could choose to search for what’s on offer and make up your mind when you see something you like. The company’s also open to people volunteering to sign up as locals, by the way. Though there’s no mention of any plans for this part of the world. Hm. Perhaps it’s not too late..

Published in Outlook Traveller, May 2008.

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A midsummer evening’s dream

Act One
Grizzled narrator ambles in, props butt against large black cube, the only prop on stage.
Narrator: Back in the day, I appeared in a musical, and got to see a few Bombay theatres from what has always been the right side of the proscenium for me. Later, performance put aside, I did reviews, visited pretty much every theatre in the city. And, despite my early pash for stages large enough to swing a cat (or Cats) in, I fell madly in love with little Prithvi, the first of its kind that I’d ever set foot in. One day, I said, one day..
Editor, off-stage: Get on with it, dammit!
Narrator: Enough about me. A little background to, heh, set the stage?
Lights fade.

Act Two
A clock face is projected on to the backdrop, its hands spinning backwards. Dissolve to sepia-tinted vignettes. A rich, warm voice, Naseerbhai for choice, speaks..
Father Time: In the 1940s, Prithviraj Kapoor strode majestically across our silver screens. He was also actor-manager of his touring theatre group, Prithvi Theatres. And he founded a film dynasty: his sons, Raj, and then Shammi, moved quickly from stage to massively successful film careers. As did the youngest, Shashi; but not before falling, hard, for the beauteous Jennifer, lead actress of Shakespeareana, the travelling theatre company led by her father, Geoffrey Kendall. The story goes thus: at the now-defunct Royal Opera House in Bombay, Shashi peeped through the curtains at the audience, and saw “this fabulous looking girl who looked Russian.” Shakespeareana had the next run after Prithvi vacated; so she was at a loose end. Shashi worked up the nerve to first ask Jennifer out, then propose to her, and eventually, despite initial parental disapproval, marry her.
In 1975, the couple set up the Shri Prithviraj Kapoor Memorial Trust (the patriarch’s died in ’72) and then, in ’78, Prithvi Theatre, on land the old gentleman had once leased, intending to set up his own theatre.
A voice from the audience chimes in. Spotlight on pretty lady sitting on the steps near the exit.
Sanjna Kapoor: I remember a peculiar L-shaped building completely unsuitable for theatre. My grandfather eventually used it to store costumes! The trips out to Juhu were wonderful; I played on the beach with my dog while my mother pored over plans with the architect. Prithvi opened when I was ten. I used to fall asleep in the sofas in the last row! I turned sixteen during the first Festival my mother organised.
She ran Prithvi until she died in 1984. Then my brother Kunal, and Feroze Khan, kept it running smoothly. I apprenticed under them, learnt a lot, and in 1990, I joined in.

Act Three
The narrator saunters back into the spotlight like he owns the damn thing.
Narrator: Prithvi is a ‘little’ theatre, seating 200 on three sides of a ‘thrust’ stage that places the action intimately close to the audience. Despite its tucked-away-in-Juhu location, convenient only for residents of the not-too-far-flung western suburbs, almost every actor of consequence who has set foot in the city has passed through its green room, every theatre lover in the city has applauded here at least a few times. Prithvi also hosts workshops, exhibitions, films, music, and poetry. Integral adjuncts are a wee bookshop, and Prithvi Cafe, hang-out not just for the after-theatre crowd and off-duty actors but also for the suburban folk acquiring cool cred over coffee. Sanjna, fortified by two strong theatre bloodlines and a deep love of the stage, has kept it going—and growing—against the depredations of weekend movies on TV, 24/7 channels, video (and VCD, LD and DVD) libraries, and if that wasn’t enough, multiplexes, malls and downloadable entertainment.
The spotlight shifts again, to the last row, where Sanjna sits, smiling..
Sanjna: I don’t fall asleep in the last row anymore. At least not lying down! (She continues, more seriously..) We have kept Prithvi affordable, both for the players (charges go as low as seven rupees per ticket sold, basic lights and sound free) and audiences (you get 50 rupee tickets on Tuesdays and Wednesdays). Sponsorship has kept us going. The Trust, a non-profit, is building up its own corpus. Donations are welcome; you’ll find details at We have great plans for the thirtieth anniversary. I don’t want to let out too much just yet, but it will be a mix of local, national and international theatre, and I wish my days had thirty-six hours!

Curtain Call
The narrator stands on the black cube, beating his chest, Tarzan-style, and simpering coyly. Simultaneously. Obviously we’ll need a virtuoso performer.
Narrator: Recently, an old, secret dream came true: I was centre-stage at Prithvi. Not quite in the way I dreamt of, all those years ago; it wasn’t a play, it was an evening of poetry, and I was the obscure newbie reading with a half-dozen luminaries; and no, it wasn’t packed to the rafters with screaming groupies. But they clapped. And it was sweet, so sweet.

Published in Outlook Traveller, May 2008.