Room service

Published in May 2016 issue of Condé Nast Traveller India

Hyatt Regency Delhi
Hyatt Regency is centrally located at the hub of Bhikaji Cama Place.
Hyatt-Regency-Delhi-PRINT-16.jpgLong stays
Location: Centrally located in the commercial hub of Bhikaji Cama Place
Look: Native sandstone structure inspired by the Gupta age; interiors in cream, brown, purple and grey
Crowd: Mainly leisure and corporate travellers, hip young entrepreneurs
Rooms: All rooms and suites have free Wi-Fi; there are also fully equipped serviced apartments for long stays
Eating and drinking: While China Kitchen does excellent Asian, La Piazza offers Italian
Best thing: The instant feedback via the dedicated WhatsApp number
Worst thing: Some rooms need an update (ask for a newly renovated room)
Price: Doubles from Rs10,000

JW Marriott Hotel New Delhi Aerocity
The 523 rooms help host large events.
Location: A few minutes’ drive from the international airport
Look: Steel and glass outside, an understated palette of light oak, dark wood and olive inside
Crowd: Think in-transit guests, large groups and well-known names such as P Chidambaram
Rooms: 523 rooms help host large events. Female guests get rooms near the lifts, in case of an emergency
Eating and drinking: K3 for Indian, Italian and Canton fare. Akira Back is a superb Japanese-Korean restaurant
Best thing: Watching planes take off and land from runway-facing rooms
Worst thing: There’s no neighbourhood to speak of, as most of Aerocity’s still being built
Price: Doubles from Rs15,000

The Leela Palace New Delhi
The Leela Palace New Delhi is located in the high security diplomatic area, close to Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Leela.jpgShort stays
Location: In the high-security diplomatic area, close to Rashtrapati Bhavan
Look: Murano glass chandeliers, Turkish carpets, exquisite flowers, modern Indian art on the walls
Crowd: Those who like to work and play, and royals such as the king of Morocco
Rooms: The 254-key hotel has three suites with plunge pools, which overlook the city
Eating and drinking: French-Italian gourmet restaurant Le Cirque and MEGU for modern Japanese
Best thing: The Library Bar (for whiskies and cigars), which serves till 1am
Worst thing: Being popular for weddings, it can get crowded and noisy
Price: Doubles from Rs20,000

Trident, Gurgaon
The Trident, Gurgaon is close to several major company offices.
In transit
Location: Close to several major company offices in DLF Phase II and III, including TCS and Microsoft
Look: A blend of Moroccan, Mughal and Rajasthani styles; plenty of natural light and water bodies
Crowd: Corporate travellers, including young entrepreneurs
Rooms: The plush rooms and suites offer lovely views of the garden or the reflection pool
Eating and drinking: Three restaurants, including Konomi for modern Japanese; it stocks a range of sakes and shochus
Best thing: The heated outdoor pool, especially in winter
Worst thing: There are few dining or nightlife options in the immediate vicinity
Price: Doubles from Rs24,000

Drama, much like life

Published on 10 January, 2014 in BLink – The Hindu Business Line

Two debut plays in the Capital set the stage for hard-hitting reality and provoke the audience towards debate or, at the very least, introspection

On one stage, three women recited three sagas of pain, suffering and survival, while on another, two men shed their inhibitions to fall in love. Had American playwright Arthur Miller watched either or both the plays that debuted in Delhi recently, he would have perhaps reiterated his own words — “The theatre is so endlessly fascinating because it’s so accidental. It’s so much like life.”

A still from She. Photo: Praveen Kumar

A still from She. Photo: Praveen Kumar

White Noise Productions, in association with CurtainCall Productions and Events, introduced the Capital to She — a compilation of three monologues about the hard-hitting realities faced by women today. Directed by Pallav Chander, the play touches upon familiar incidents from the recent past that have been played out by the media in an endless loop but for which justice or closure remain elusive. In the case of the brutal gang-rape in Delhi on December 16, 2012, those convicted have been sentenced to death but have not been hanged. The accused cab driver in the Uber rape case has been discovered to have committed rapes earlier; he remains in judicial custody. Then there’s the controversial decision of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to close the Badaun case by ruling out murder and rape, and dismissing it as “suicide”; the image of the two teenaged cousins hanging dead from a tree in Uttar Pradesh remains seared in our collective consciousness.

The playwright, 19-year-old Debontika Das, says of her debut work, “Both Pallav and I felt it was time for a strong message through a new medium, because people have become numb to the topic by watching the same stories on television over and over again. The stage is the perfect platform for communicating any message, because the audience can see and experience it live.”

Each monologue is inspired by a true incident. In the first, a young, independent woman describes what her life is like after being gang-raped by five men on a bus — that even three years after the horrific crime, people continue to look at her as a victim and not a survivor. Up next is an account of a victim of domestic violence who is too afraid to speak up; fearful and helpless, she continues to hide her wounds from the world. The last monologue touches on honour killings and describes the dire consequences faced by a young girl who dared to fall in love. “I wanted the audience to connect with the emotions of the characters rather than identify with the stories, because scenarios and stories might be different but emotions are universal. It was about connecting with the anger felt by the rape victim, the helplessness of the victim of domestic abuse, and the shred of hope felt by the honour killing victim in a time of despair,” says Das.

_MG_0687Around the same time as She, there surfaced in Delhi a second play dealing with homosexuality. Writer-director Neel Chaudhuri’s Still and Still Moving recreated an extraordinary love affair between a writer in his 40s and a young college student. “I wanted to write a love story that was characterised by the proximity and distance between two people, and the bridges and fractures in that distance. And when I started writing the story of two men, specific issues relating to their sexuality came up naturally. Also, I was writing it at the time of the High Court Judgement on 377, the quickening of the pulse of queer politics and gay pride,” says Chaudhuri.

Referring to the Delhi High Court judgement regarding Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalises ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature’, and its reversal later by the Supreme Court, he says, “The verdict (and the law itself) is ludicrous, one of many outdated, bigoted ideas we inherited from the British. However, I think that despite what is an immense setback for LGBT rights in India, the awareness of queer politics has become more acute and more critical in public discussion. We must continue to engage in this debate out in the open — through activism, social and corporate policy, storytelling, music, literature.”

Presented by The Tadpole Repertory, Still and Still Moving is a layered narrative. Partho is twice Adil’s age and the two come from diverse backgrounds — while Partho has lived in Gurgaon for years, Adil is a newcomer discovering the Capital. Besides the difference in age, Adil has lost his father and Partho has a son. “It is primarily the story of difficult love — of the sharing and negotiation of space and circumstance, the gap in generations, and in expectations. These subjects, I believe, are central to our understanding of any emotional relationship — familial, romantic, homosexual or heterosexual. How do the two men negotiate their attraction and love? It’s not really about what happens but why and how it does (or doesn’t). At varying points the relationship wavers — from the paternal, to sexual, to confrontational. It is untidy. Most love stories are too neat,” explains Chaudhuri.

With plays like She and Still and Still Moving, the stage is clearly set for modern dramas that seek to provoke the audience towards debate or, at the very least, introspection.

Retelling the epic stories

Published on August 1, 2014 in Mint 

Witness a retelling of two of the greatest epics of our times, Mahabharata and Ramayana

Love, lust, power, revenge and war—five words enough to sum up two of the greatest and celebrated epics of our times, Mahabharat and Ramayan—come strung together in a theatrical presentation, Revisiting The Epics, in the Capital on Friday.

DSC_0213Directed by Sujata Soni Bali, founder of Miran Productions, the performance is a unique rendition of the two classics, their scenes blended together with a contemporary twist. “I’ve always been inspired by the Mahabharat and the Ramayan. They’re the two most well-known scripts of India and their tales have always fascinated me. The fact that they’re relevant even in modern times is what makes them extraordinary,” she says.

The 1-hour show is an amalgamation of dance, performance and recital. It combines three significant scenes —Sita’s Agnipariksha, Draupadi’s insult in the royal court following the game of dice, and Abhimanyu’s death in Kurukshetra—to capture the essence of mythological lores with thought-provoking twists. The performances are staged by well-known artistes such as Tom Alter, Charu Shankar, Chander Khanna and Bhavini Misra.

Revisiting The Epics is an adaptation from various translations of the original, using two contemporary dances based on the folk forms of chhau and kalaripayattu. It employs ancient scripts but the context, says Bali, is fairly relevant to modern times. However, there is no attempt to build direct linkages though the play does allude to present-day politics and manipulation, morals, dilemmas, and gender issues.

“The idea is to revisit these amazing tales yet again and find new meanings. For instance, Ravana kidnapped Sita and was overcome by her beauty, but he never violated her. We try and bring forth the other, lesser-known side of him being the most learned man in that era who knew scriptures and wrote poems and songs. Few folks know that the game of dice was played not once but twice, and that there was a chance to walk away, to recover what was lost. But human emotions sometimes get the better of us, leading to loss and destruction,” explains Bali.

The script goes a step further and uses the work of Hindi poet Maithili Sharan Gupt, best known for writing verses in Khari Boli (plain dialect). “We’ve used a small portion of Gupt’s epic poem Jayadrath Vadh, which tells the story of the killing of the Sindhu King Jayadrath by Arjuna and Abhimanyu’s bravery in battle. Veteran actor Chander Khanna will be seen narrating the part of the young 16-year-old Abhimanyu tackling seasoned warriors, fighting the tough and unique chakravyuh formation, and dying a martyr,” says Bali.

Revisiting The Epics was staged on 1 August, 7.30pm, at Epicentre, Apparel House, Gurgaon.

Monumental Pride

Published on 28 March, 2014 in Time Out Delhi

Artist Kavita Iyengar sketches Delhi’s architectural legacy with rich inklines

Delhi is as wondrous a historical city as it is modern. Its architectural legacy is proof of this. If on one hand there is the Qutub Minar, one of the earliest and most prominent examples of Indian-Islamic architecture, on the other is the Lotus temple, the Bahá’í House of Worship, built less than 30 years ago. If Purana Qila marks the beginning of the Mughal era, barely a kilometre away is Pragati Maidan, built in 1982, a grand venue for trade fairs and exhibitions. This mélange of architecture and history has been translated into captivating line drawings by Kavita Iyengar in Delhi, Old and New: Inkline Drawings. Iyengar captures the burgeoning spirit of the city in her book, with confident ink strokes recounting its formation over the ages.

Iyengar is an economist by profession and an artist by choice, the book is Iyengar’s first solo venture in the field of fine arts after two successful group exhibitions at the Epicentre in 2011 and at the Lalit Kala Akademi in 2012. Iyengar claims she has always had a knack for painting but the decision to pursue it seriously came in 2009. “I wanted to take the art classes at the Triveni Kala Sangam but the timings were not compatible with my work hours,” she said. “Luckily, I found weekend art classes conducted by artist Jitendra Padam Jain, an alumnus of Jamia Milia Islamia, near my house. Ever since, my Saturday afternoons have been spent in the company of brushes, colour tubes, pens and palettes.”

Back then her focus was on perfecting oil paintings, but her inklines came out better. With Delhi celebrating its centenary year in 2011, Iyengar decided to commemorate the occasion with 50 large and 50 small drawings of the city’s major monuments and buildings. “One large inkline drawing takes me three days, and that is if I keep at it continuously,” she said. “The entire work took me a year and a half.”

Delhi, Old and New chronicles the formation of the gateway city. It opens with two illustrations of Indraprastha, the fabled capital of the Pandavas – the Kalkaji Mandir, one of the oldest shrines in the city, and the Ashokan Rock Edict. Other noteworthy architectures include Qila Rai Pithora, formerly known as Lal Kot, Siri Fort and Hauz Khas, Humayun’s Tomb, Jama Masjid and Lal Qila among others. Since the waning of the Mughals and the gradual establishment of British rule, Delhi received a facelift. With Sir William Fraser’s arrival in 1803, Civil Lines became the official residential quarters. Other construction came up under the Raj, including the Rashtrapati Bhavan (1929), India Gate (1931), Parliament House (the foundation stone was laid in 1921) and Connaught Place (construction began in 1929 and was completed in 1933).

Iyengar then goes on to sketch some of the sculptures and buildings of independent India – the yaksha and yakshini at the entrance of the Reserve Bank of India’s office, Devi Prasad Roy Choudhary’s Gyarah Murti, Dilli Haat, Akshardham Temple, the Rashtriya Dalit Smarak in Noida, and Gurgaon’s high rises.

Complementing Iyengar’s drawings are select portions of texts from various sources. Verses by scholars such as Amir Khusro, Mirza Ghalib, Ibn Battuta, Al Badauni, Gulzar and Amrita Sher-Gil are combined with quotes by Rudyard Kipling, BR Ambedkar, Anita Desai, Mark Twain, Sarojini Naidu and Mahatma Gandhi.

All royalties from the sale of this book will go to Salaam Baalak Trust, a non-profit organisation established in 1988 by Mira Nair with the proceeds from her film Salaam Bombay.

The book is one of the few artist­ic representations of the city to take the reader through 2,000 years of history. While some are wide-angle perspectives of the cityscape, others are intricate close-ups. It should help readers remember the city’s glorious past and at the same time, embrace its evolution.

Delhi, Old and New: Inkline Drawings, Bloomsbury, R495.

Call of the Wild

(Published on December 20, 2014 in Time Out Delhi)

A hidden lake nestled in the Asola Wildlife Sanctuary is gaining popularity among nature buffs

Bhardwaj lakeSprawled on one side of the pahari road connecting Faridabad and Gurgaon is the campus of Manav Rachna International University. Facing it is a muddy trail flanked by untamed bushes of thorny keekar trees. Beyond its dense foliage lies a spectacle known only to a select – a clear blue lake approximately 500 metres wide with the imposing Aravalli hills gracing its backdrop, and identified by the locals and few travel groups from Delhi as “Bhardwaj Lake”. The unforeseen emergence of a lake in the suburbs of land-locked Delhi couldn’t have gone unnoticed for long, and over the last couple of years, it is being viewed as a viable picnic and trekking spot.

Rumour has it that Bhardwaj Lake was formed as a consequence of illegal open-pit mining. Four more neighbouring lakes lay unclaimed in this region, commonly referred to as Bhatti mines. Even after the Supreme Court passed a blanket ban on illegal mining in the Aravallis (Delhi-Gurgaon stretch) in 2002, to prevent the destruction of natural forests in the area, illegal open-pit mining continued. The outcome was five pit lakes, each equally clean and stunning to gaze at. “The rocks around that area are quartzite, which means they have no porosity,” explained Naresh Chandra Pant, from the department of geology at Delhi University. “As a result, ground water collected after illegal mining and formed a lake. Certain quartzite rocks may have secondary porosity levels, so there are fractures that have allowed the water to pass through and form the adjoining lakes.”

The lakes have been around for quite some time, but it caught the attention of city adventurers only a couple of years ago. Sehba Imam, founder of Let’s Walk Gurgaon, an eclectic group of people who organise walking tours, has already made ten trips to the forest. For her, the lakeside is an ideal retreat away from the noise of the city. Vaibhav Gupta, event organiser of Backpackers Club of Delhi, echoed her sentiment. “The sheer beauty of the lakes is refreshing and soothing,” he said. “They’re spread around the Asola Wildlife sanctuary, and we encountered them during a walk tour conducted in October 2012 when as many as 65 members participated.” Owing to the ambiguous location of the lakes, its vastness, and multiple entry and exit points of the region, it is difficult to plan any activity due to security issues and non-availability of guides. One of the easier ways to approach the lakes is to walk or ride (only on regular or mountain bikes) along the gravel tracks. The stretch is roughly 4km long and has an ambience that screams wilderness.

Suchita Salwan, founder of the online magazine Little Black Book Delhi, escorted a group of 35 people to the lakes earlier this year. He was introduced to this area by Archit Rakheja, a trained mountaineer and climber. “The lakes are stunning, seem very clean, and are frequented by locals,” Salwan said. “But we highly recommend that no one wanders off to this part of town on their own. It’s best to go with a large group.”

It’s true that the lakes and its adjoining area fall into the “lesser known” category of recreational destinations around Delhi. Nonetheless, with at least three travel groups having discovered the unattended pastoral beauty of the lakes, it comes as a surprise when the Geological Survey of India refuses to acknowledge the existence of Bhardwaj Lake. GSI’s report about the scientific study on illegal mining in the entire Faridabad region was presented to the government almost two decades ago. A representative of the organisation who did not wish to be named said, “Unless the lakes pose a specific threat to the environment, landform, ground water, landscape or drainage, their anonymity is harmless.”

Adventurers who have gone hiking into the jungle offer rave reviews, but the locals have a completely different story to tell. “The area is not safe at all,” said Davindar Kumar Arora, who runs a dhaba next to Manav Rachna International University. “Thugs lurk about waiting to rob people of their belongings. Eve teasing is also common.”

There are also severe ecological concerns about the place. “Currently, there is no scientific study to prove whether the lakes are permanent, as several pits have already gone dry naturally, according to Pant. “Recreational and ecological benefits of the lakes could be enhanced by re-landscaping the shoreline, but the government has to show interest.”

Surajkund Badkhal Road, Faridabad, Haryana. Nearby landmarks: Manav Rachna International University, Karni Singh Shooting Range and Asola Wildlife Sanctuary.