Archive for July, 2011

Laughter challenges tears of Kashmir……………………. By Rashmi Talwar

“Kashmir Comedy Theatre Festival -2011”

Laughter challenges tears of Kashmir

By Rashmi Talwar

Bumbroo ! Bumbroo ! at 'Kashmir Comedy Theater Festival -2011


‘Myon Shoosh’–My Love- Whisper the majestic Kashmir Mountains to me, opening their tessellated imposing arms, in a bear hug. I immerse into their beauty. The prickly needles of emerald hued conifers outlining their conical bodies, hurt me no more, they bring tickles at first, a smile and then a rolling laugh. It has been a quarter of a century since I last set foot in this wondrous land. ‘Maayi Barut Istaqbaal’ – Warm Welcome, ‘Khush Aamdeed’ – Happy Tidings, they murmur softly in my ear.

I raise my hand in a silent salute to the Jammu Kashmir Film Makers and Artists Co-operative Ltd (JKFMAC), the organizers who have brought the 10-day ‘Kashmir Comedy Theatre Festival -2011’ to this paradisiacal valley in the throes of tumult, as Shabbir Haider the Secretary General and CEO of JKFMAC puts it, “Where smiles come at a premium and laughter is in danger of growing extinct”.

A whole generation of Kashmiris turning old at 23 years, growing up in lurking fear and a daily call of attending dirges along with their elders, are completely cut off from what ‘normal’ childhood, adolescence and teenage years meant for others in India. For this generation it is so special to feel the emotion of hilarity, few have encountered or tasted in their lifetimes.

I feel there could be no better time. The ‘Amarnath Yatra’ is in full bloom albeit ‘under the shadow of the gun’, that provides pre-set security cover for the ‘laughter challenge’.

Serene, languid, doppling and dancing Dal Lake in Srinagar shows no sign of any fracas, smoothly letting the ‘shikaras’ or oblong romantic boats, slide on its beautiful belly, poked off and on by the paddle and rippling in mirth…

At Jammu and Srinagar airports, the almost embarrassing body search, the feel of metal detectors and human hands (even though female) feel like an amorous encroachment of privacy, not once, as at most airports, but three tier and times. Add to that, is the quick pick of a lady’s ‘tampon’ by a security guard and askance expression of suspicion followed by giggles when explained.

Strange, but some emotions of glee are traceable everywhere. I brush aside realms of media reports on turmoil and blood-baths to a ‘fake sting operation’ feeling some conspiracies lurking beneath the surface to bring disrepute to this virtual heaven on earth.

The grandeur of the inaugural ceremony on June 25th can hardly be gauged from the periphery of the venue of Sher-i-Kashmir International Convention Complex (SKICC) with gun-toting, quick response teams and armoured vehicles lined up, outlined with camouflaged-capped sharp shooters.

Inside, however, the cyan hued ‘pedicured’ lawns and lofty elusive Chinar trees are busy spreading their enchanted halcyon beauty to the surroundings, where guzzling laughter and fragrances of colors will rule for more than a week.

Ravinder Kaul, globally renowned theatre critic, has a wonderful take on comedy and satire in theatre. He puts it thus, “The man who slug out the first ‘abuse’ has done a great service to humanity. He has inadvertently given an alternative to human kind to vent out anger other than to invite the rival for a ‘bloody-duel’ to end the argument. His displeasure therefore has shed no blood or caused no bodily harm to anyone”.

And continues, “In theater, especially in ‘satire’, an alternate way lends itself to vent out pent-up anger against the government policies, inadequacies of administration, all pervasive corruption, excesses of armed forces and of dogged militants with their quirky logic; creating havoc, deeply affecting and attacking the lives and vital ethos of Kashmiris”.

“Kashmiri-a peace loving community, is facing a whole gamut of daily life–threatening situations, robbing them of their privacy, peace and progress. The massive extent of corruption deprives and saps their ‘celebrated strengths’ and relegates their development in multiple spheres, to a mere trickle. For them, comedy and satire has come as a whiff of fresh mountain wind to air their grievances.”

The ceremony of the book release “Theatre Akh Tarruf”, authored by veteran theatre personality and Additional Director General, Doordarshan, Ashok Jailkhani is equally ‘theatrical’, albeit in the positive sense. Seeds of ‘Issbad’ are touched upon the heads and shoulders of the author, the chief guest and others at this auspicious occasion, as a tradition practiced by both Hindu and Muslim Kashmiris, and then thrown over the simmering coals in a ‘Kangri’ or a traditional vessel kept burning for warmth in the winter chill. A ‘pious’ fragrance emanates from the burning seeds and envelopes the surroundings, warding off evil spirits.

Thereafter, the Governor of this beauteous state Mr. NN Vohra unties the ribbon on the book, declares the Festival open with lighting of the ceremonial lamp to the flash of festoons and a swirl of colors of rainbow ‘phirans’- a typical Kashmiri garment, and matching swinging jewellery, classically Kashmiri.

It is ‘Bumbroo, Bumbroo’ time, a melody, as ten lovely lasses of Kashmir roll their ‘mehandied’-henna patterned hands-and lift themselves to melt into a frenzy of dance, bringing the audiences in close clasp of what one could say ‘befikri’-unmindful of worries.
Jammu girls match their Kashmiri counterparts in obvious competition with gusto on a Dogri dance and song and steep the audience into an untamed, full-blooded frolic.

‘Local Taxes Extra’- the opening play releases the first choking veil of curtains restricting the overenthusiastic actors waiting to showcase their talent for the Comedy Festival.

Written by Dr Sohan Lal Koul and directed by Ayash Arif of the Kalidas Theater Group, the play revolves on social issues facing a Kashmiri Pandit couple Bhushan Lal and Usha Rani who fall on the mercy of a quirky landlord out to take advantage of their plight in a series of hilarious situations wherein the servant Gash Ram too develops a taste for intrigues to create misunderstandings between the couple.

That the play in Kashmiri language sustains the attention of the State Governor, one known to have just a formal flavor of the Kashmiri language and constrained for time as dignitaries are wont to say for effect, speaks volumes about the histrionic prowess of the actors on stage. Of more significance, however, is a largely Kashmiri ‘Muslim’ audience glued to their seats watching the play with all Kashmiri Pandit characters. It seems to me, to be the true bearing or ‘icing’ of the lurking agony of separation of these two ethnic communities both of whom claim Kashmir as their rightful home and hearth.

It is this spirit of communal harmony and a composite culture that truly spells the values of the lush valley wherefrom many a Bollywood movie scripts have taken their first cues of unbridled love.

Kashmiri Pandits have been pushed, evacuated and left to fend for themselves due to hatred of alien mercenaries in cahoots with some local hawks and hardliners. Their Muslim brethren still hold them dear in unconditional love, that is what the attendance and attention at this Festival reinforces.

The Festival continues for the next ten days, bringing in fun and tears of joyous laughter. The themes revolve around overall corruption in high places and at the grassroots level. Even state run ‘Doordarshan’ is not spared to bring in guffaws while a play by tiny-tots takes the audiences to matchless taste of twists and turns in the ‘kiddy’ world.

Artistes include Bhands from Akingaam and Wathoora, the Akingaam Bhands’ group being in existence for many centuries, having been elaborately mentioned in Sir Walter Lawrence’s seminal book ‘The Valley of Kashmir’ (1895). As it began, the Festival ends with another hilarious tale revolving around a Kashmiri Pandit family. ‘Dastaar’, the play, has already become a part of the popular folklore of Kashmir with legendary actor Hriday Nath Gurtoo’s inimitable dialogue ‘Dastaaras karizam raachh’–‘Protect My Turban’-albeit ‘Honour’; on the tip of everyone’s tongue.

That Gurtoo died in a miserable condition in a migrant camp in Udhampur soon after being forced to migrate from his happy dwellings in Kashmir, in the early 1990s, has in no way dimmed his creation but rather highlighted the plight of some of the ‘Jewels of Kashmir’ being ostracized from their beloved land and perishing in misery.

The Festival comes to an end, the armored vehicles and sharp shooters leave the venue, but it has successfully scattered the seeds of tangible merriment in the entire valley.

My eyes scan the picturesque landscape and rivulets flow down my cheeks, I feel a tug, as if a dear one says ‘Maty’e Rozu Dama Roz Dariyam Chany’e Lol Re’! ‘My love, stay a while longer’. However agony of separation from Kashmir is lesser than the wish that Almighty may shower His choicest blessings and cheer to this Land of the Gods.

In their forlorn imploration, asking me to return to the valley blooming with spring flowers ‘Rosh wala myani dilbaro, poshan bahaar aav, yoori walo’– I peer to look for smiles down from the window of the plane. The arc that begins at one mountain top and, after covering the flat valley, ends at another mountain top, seems like a broad smiley like smile. Today, even the sun has been veiled by clouds on the top to spread the huge glowing smiley that I look for in the crinkly as well as reddish lips of Kashmiris blessed with unsurpassed beauty and as I place my hand on my heart it leaps and cheers ‘Aall izzz well’!


The day OSAMA was killed ———— By Rashmi Talwar

With Due apologies to those who lost their near dear ones in 9/11

The day OSAMA was killed ————

By Rashmi Talwar

Noora as Osama in Tere Bin Laden played by Pradhuman Singh

May 2, 5.15 am- Twitter was bursting with news ‘Osama killed!’. The magnitude of ‘Op Geronimo’ in Abbotabad, Pakistan, flushing of the elusive ‘Osama bin laden’was all over cyber space. I slumped into my Shahtabdi Express seat, Mortified! Osama’s end, left me crestfallen. Not that I had any love lost for the ‘world’s most wanted’, but in his death, he had turned the tide against me.
At 4 am before departure to Delhi, It felt like a ‘shoot and scoot’ mission to procure visas for a 9-member ‘Amritsar Sacred Heart Alumni’, headed for its first International tie –up with a sister school –Sacred Heart School (SHS), Lahore, Pakistan. Now, it had turned into ‘ironic’ confetti via CIA’s stealth choppers.

Expletives adorned my tongue in unbridled measure as I muttered -Why was Osama killed in Pakistan? Tora Bora was only a few miles? Why not in hotter months when no one ventures to SA countries? I raved and ranted against this unfairness. Sparing hardly any thought for the lives, Osama had stilled and silenced in 9/11.

Shooing away, the swift waiter’s tray of tea-biscuits, I stuffed a tetra juice, garrisoning a back-pack for a formidable “D-day” at Pak embassy.
Two months of the hardest synchronization on this ‘tie-up’ had caused cramps in my grey cells and bodily tissues seemed to be on a cracking assignment. It was just a few ticks away, I moaned; Why Osama, of the entire ‘world’s dreaded’? God, if sinful Earth was heavy, why couldn’t it be, Hafiz Sayeed or Dawood Abrahim or any other now?

Nearing the journey’s end, I looked up and light dawned. Chalo! Doesn’t it make it easier to tell the group – ‘Osama killed, Visas rejected!’ I sighed purring a ‘Roger -Over and Out’ with a smile, ready to embark on a new self–styled ‘Op Chak De Fatte ’.

Baggage et al, I trooped down to a dhaba, outside Delhi station for a quick bite. A battle of grit and wits needs all strengths covered and fulfilled, I told myself. But soon another awakening donned ‘A stitch in Time saves Nine’. I rushed, even as the waiter held up my order, gave him a beggarly smile. ‘Urgent phone call’ ‘How much, I pay? I muttered. Strangely –He broke into a smile and saluted –App kamyaab hoyenge! In the auto-rikshaw to Embassy, I relished his comment, it added to my damage control plan Op CDF.

I was banking on a rock solid recommendation of a top-notch embassy officer’s wife that can be best explained as –‘Saari Khudai Ek taraf, Aur Jorru ka ‘Bhai’ ek taraf!

Geared with paraphernalia, landed at the embassy to see TV reporters sprawled all over, cramped above single rat-hole window. Heat, luggage and water-bottle in hand, I coursed through to the magic window. ‘NINE! Passports! Madam? Very difficult, Look at these TV crews.
I named someone, and was ushered in, while jotting details on 36 forms, someone asked for an application form, I handed him an extra one and surprisingly, got ‘chicken kathi rolls’ as return gift in a near famished state.

It was nearly 5 PM. Interview called! Interviewee shook his head –Apply now and visas in a month. ‘Does anyone go to Pak in scorching heat of June?’ I asked innocently. Bravely, took his number with Shooter Olympian’s words ringing – ‘It is not Over! Till its Over’. Next morning, Phone answered ‘Madam, bas aa jao’! I rushed, to find all 9 visas ready for Lahore- Nanakana Sahib. Faxed to MEA for foot visa and called the group. Everyone was expectedly –Shocked, dismayed anticipating the worst over post-Osama situation in Pak, till I announced to venture alone. Gradually, all nine pins rolled and we made it to Lahore, surprisingly on a date that read May ‘9’, this year. Perhaps the waiter’s blessings Hit the Target Nine….. Just days later I learnt 340 visa of sikh jatha to Pakistan were rejected.

Amritsar’s grandson and Indian chef invited at White House…..

Amritsar’s grandson and Indian chef invited at White House

Shara Ashraf, in Hindustan Times

The White House will eat out of an Amritsar’s grandson and Indian chef’s cooking pot on July 29. India-born Vikas Khanna, who has also been voted New York’s hottest chef, has been invited to whip up some ‘spiritual food’ at the ‘Hindu American Seva Conference’ to be held at the US President’s home.
Khanna, who’s chef, writer, film maker and humanitarian, has chosen temple fare to present at the White House Dinner. “It is a great honor for my family, my city and my motherland India,” says the dishy chef who learnt cooking in his grandmother’s kitchen in Amritsar

Vikas Khanna -Grandson of Amritsar


About his choice of Iskon inspired food for the White House Dinner, he says, “I just released my second film- Karma to Nirvana, a part Holy Kitchens film series. The film focuses on sharing food in Hinduism, essentials of ‘Atithi Devo Bhavo’ -and life of Krishna.

Working in the ISKCON in New Delhi and serving free meals to children in schools made me realize the power and purity of temple food.” The chef plans to make a very simple meal for the dinner. “I have been asked several times in my career about the person I would love to cook for, my answer is always “Mahatma Gandhi”, so to keep that inspiration alive, I will be cooking a simple meal.
It will include Vada Pao from the streets of Mumbai, Sookhi Yellow Daal from ISKCON, Aloo Tamatar from the Langar at the Golden Temple, Amritsar Tawa Roti – to honor my grandmother Biji, who taught me how to cook and Seviyan – to honor Ramadan,” shares Khanna.

The chef grew up in Amritsar, started his own catering business at 17, graduated from Welcome-Group Graduate School of Hotel Administration, and trained with Taj, Oberoi, and Leela. He later went abroad to study at the Culinary Institute of America and Le Cordon Bleu, Paris. He has some great memories of Delhi. “The vibrancy of the food of Delhi is legendary. Paratha Wali Gali, Bengali market, Connaught Place, Street Vendors, – the simplicity of the foods have helped inspire my restaurants, events, books, foundations and lots more,” says the chef who’s favorite food is the Langar at the Golden Temple in his grandparent’s city of Amritsar. Given his looks and six-pack abs, you’re not surprised when he tells you he has lots of Hollywood directors coming to him with film offers. But Khanna is not very keen. “My kitchens are my stage”, he tells them with a smile.

Khanna has worked with the most celebrated chefs in New York and is also the recipient of Access to Freedom Award from SATH (The Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality), that was also awarded to George W. Bush and Prince Charles.
His documentary series Holy Kitchens frame his journey to discover spiritual foods. He is also the founder of Sakiv foundation that supports relief efforts across the world. And does he plan to open any restaurant in India? “It will be a dream come true for my team and me,” he says.

“Bumbi Days”!…… by VIVEK MEHRA

Thank God this post did not reach the winters ..otherwise it would have been ‘Shivering Bumbissss”
Heritage conservator Balwinder Singh once quizzed me –‘What is Chaali Khoo?’-‘Forty wells!’ I answered. ‘What is Chaati khoo?’ I twinkled, smiled, knowing it had a catch, ‘You Say?’ –‘It is ‘a’ well with a ‘chaat’(roof)!’ , he laughed. ‘What is Bambe Walla Khoo?’ –‘This has to do with robust Male gender of ‘Bumbi’-I replied. As the day’s banter on Heritage buildings and stories of yore connected to Amritsar saw a free flow,
I was reminded of a beautiful post ‘Bumbi Days! , written by Vivek Mehra. …………….


When ever I meet my cousins, these days, whether electronically or physically, the conversation invariably veers to our ‘Bumbi’ days, sooner or later, and more so if they are a few drinks down. The truth however is, that be it guys or dolls, all of them are hopelessly nostalgic about those days.

They post sepia tinged ‘Bumbi’ pictures on face book and get a lot of ‘wows’ from our kin, now spread all over the world. They love to take, an almost vicarious pleasure, as they recount, with a child like delight, countless stories about those days; much to the utter mystification of their kids and spouses. These relations came much after the ‘Bumbi’ days were over, so they wonder, with justification, “What the hell is this Bumbi?”

Any body who knows Punjabi language would tell you that a ‘Bumbi’ is a Punjabi name for a tube well. You would find one in every farm in rural Punjab, gushing out a thick stream of pristine, crystal clear, silvery water from its gaping mouth.

Our Bumbi was different!

Yes, it too was a tube well and yes, it too was located in a huge agricultural farm, but that is where the similarity ends.

Back in the 1970’s it was a heaven, a paradise on earth.

First, it gave its huge stream of fresh water not to the fields but into a good sized swimming pool, that was our very own! But it was even more than that. Much more.

Back then, it meant a place where more than a score cousins, uncles and aunts spent their summer holidays, together without any of the petty, selfish, jealousies that plague us today. They traveled from all over India to be there. Every year, they preferred Amritsar to any hill station or any other holiday destination.

From Nagpur , Delhi, Bombay (yes not Mumbai) Moradabad, Kanpur . As each group unboarded from their train, the buzz was always, “Man! I am going to the Bumbi tomorrow morning. And every day after, for the next month and a half!”

‘Bumbi’ was Joy with a capital J. Pure and unadulterated. It was unlimited fun without the aid of a single gizmo of today, be it a television or a mobile or an iPad or what ever. It was youth as youth should be, without a care in the world.

The school bags along with their burdens were thrust aside, forever, after the usual inquires “How did you fare?” “Well I flunked Marathi even after the exam paper was leaked to me!” “Shucks! Same here yaar, with me, for Math!” and that was the end of such boring conversations for the next six weeks or so at least.

During the early day time, Bumbi was the ultimate all males only club. Outsiders were also welcome to come and enjoy their mornings there. The family’s ladies were allowed only in the afternoons after the outsiders had left the place and the gates were closed.

Bumbi ! Bumbi ! Bumbi ! All the way

For the boys, Bumbi meant getting up early in the morning and drinking piping, hot milk, from the udders of our own cows, duly supervised by a strict aunt who ensured that every one finished his tall, steel glass. A future doctor to bew, would however, usually hoodwink her, and surreptitiously pour his share into the glass of any cousin who was not looking.

The dirty dozen or so would then stuff themselves into an Ambassador and off they
would go, yelling and jostling and happy, all of them in one car , piled on top of each other. Talk about public transport!

Bumbi meant an effeminate ‘Gawala’ (Cowhand) and his grossly overweight wife who were care takers of the place. The kids would love to tease him and whoop in delight as he chased them.

Bumbi meant applying a lot of mustard oil to your bodies and wrestling in the mud ‘Akhara.’ It also meant Channi, a rather dimwitted sardar, who worked on his immensely muscular body all day, but never a minute on his brains. The rowdy crowd loved to rag him as he showed them his ‘body.’

Bumbi meant a “Dilruba Dilli Wali’ a male cousin, so fair of skin, that a mere touch would leave angry red marks on it. It also meant being treated to a cabaret dance by another cousin, full adorned in flowing skirts. I dare say he got more cat calls and wolf whistles then any ‘Munni’ or ‘Sheela.’

Bumbi meant bathing all day in that lovely pool of cool water, shaded by huge trees. It meant planning to dunk the girls in it when they were allowed to join us and hear them shriek in fear. It meant laughter unlimited. It also meant an infinite number of mangoes and pakoras and rich Amritsari food in pure desi ghee, when the aunts too joined us. I am sure no one had heard of diabetes, BP and obesity back then.

It meant raiding the cupboard of our grand dad and finishing off all his eatables in one go, only to find it fully replenished the next days and never ever being ticked off for it. It meant being given hundred rupee notes to spend at the local cinemas and eateries almost everyday. It meant being told at a cinema booking window, that they could not sell two dozen tickets to a single buyer as he would ‘black’ them. It meant that the ticket vendor was shown all the two dozen lined up in their best finery, eagerly awaiting the show to start.

It meant crying at the railway platforms as each group went back, promising to come back next year. It meant awaiting all year for the summer holidays to bring them back. Do you still wonder, what the hell is “Bumbi ?”