ADVICE FOR CHILDREN DEALING WITH THE PANDEMIC’S NEGATIVE EFFECTS - The Daily Guardian
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ADVICE FOR CHILDREN DEALING WITH THE PANDEMIC’S NEGATIVE EFFECTS

Noor Anand Chawla

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The last couple of weeks have tested everyone’s resilience, especially that of children, adolescents and young adults. With a tremendous surge in Covid-19 related cases, we are back to last year’s lockdown situation, in addition to experiencing a full-blown healthcare crisis. Young people have been dealing with the negative effects of studying from home and being locked away without recourse to physical activity or friends, for over a year. As many of their loved ones suffer from grave illness or worse, their anxiety continues to mount. Needless to say, many have suffered academically as a result.

Realising the gravity of the situation, Dr Rashmi Mantri, founder and chairperson of BYITC International, decided to make her exclusive platform available to Indian children as well. British Youth International College (BYITC), originated in the UK and is an online web-based software learning platform for students, parents, teachers and schools that conducts courses in Abacus, English and Coding.

Having made a name for themselves internationally, they are planning to associate with government schools, corporate bodies, private educational institutes, individuals, and franchise models in India, to offer their services to children across age groups and backgrounds. “With the next-gen technological development in the education industry, we truly believe that our online web based e-learning platform, known as the world’s only software for Abacus and English learning, will be greatly beneficial to Indian kids. Our goal aligns with the government’s Digital India vision and plans to advance e-learning post-pandemic learning. We aim to provide quality education to children and employment opportunities to teachers through our Teacher Training Program,” claims Dr Mantri.

An emphasis on the explanation of concepts through tailor-made programmes for every child, is certainly the need of the hour. In particular, their Abacus course content has been created by a team of Abacus experts under the guidance of Dr Mantri, based on real-life situations and observations. Abacus learning has proved to be beneficial for the specially-abled, dyslexic students and academically weaker children. Their English course content has been created by Cambridge-board certified teachers and experts.

Speaking about the harmful effects of the pandemic on the youth of today, Dr Mantri candidly shares that many of her students have been deeply anxious, had panic attacks, or lost motivation and hope for the future. The loneliness and isolation, coupled with concerns about college or university/school work and a breakdown in regular life, has wreaked havoc on many. She says digitisation is a new way of life that we must all learn to adapt to, since people are online for almost everything these days.

Her advice for anxious children around the world is, “keep your courage up and look for the positive in every negative. You will come out stronger with willpower, dedication and determination.” Additionally, she advises them to maintain a routine, exercise regularly—both for the body and the mind, practice mindfulness and meditation, develop new hobbies, build leadership skills, and learn STEM skills (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

Dr Mantri stresses that this time spent at home can be utilised to upskill and prepare for an uncertain future. This can be done by participating in knowledge transfer partnerships across the globe through online meetups. Children can also connect with inspiring people and be an inspiration for others by setting examples. Papers and articles can be researched and written, author skills and creative writing can be pursued, to come up with mini stories or books. Spelling and vocabulary workshops can be attended to further enhance writing skills.

“A focus on early age entrepreneurship is desirable at this point,” emphasises Dr Mantri. For this, she recommends using logical reasoning quizzes and puzzles and math techniques, attending basic coding clubs, and learning the basics of cyber security for online safety. Further, exploring new hobbies like dancing, singing and playing instruments will keep children motivated. Music helps to calm the mind too. Most importantly, children and adolescents must learn to set a routine, be patient, maintain a healthy diet and participate in friendly competitions and challenges to keep busy.

BYITC courses are available for multiple age groups starting from 4 years to 17 years of age, via e-learning through its web based software learning platform, which can be explored on their website.

The writer is a lawyer who pens lifestyle articles for various publications and her website www.nooranandchawla.com. She can be contacted on nooranand@gmail.com.

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Royally Speaking

HANDCRAFTED JEWELLERY FOR THE MODERN WOMAN

Both affordable and wearable, Zariin’s line offers the luxury of gold jewellery in a new and exciting format. Hence, it intrinsically appeals to modern women.

Noor Anand Chawla

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India is known the world over for its rich legacy of handcrafted and bespoke jewellery. In modern times, creative young entrepreneurs are taking this legacy forward by crafting beautiful adornments with a contemporary twist. A great example of this is the brand Zariin, founded by talented sister-duo Vidhi and Mamta Gupta, which offers handcrafted gold dipped jewellery playing on the natural textures of semi-precious stones.

Established in 2010, Zariin prides itself on its signature look—raw, uncut gemstones dipped in 22kt gold. Back then, their approach looked in the face of prevailing industry standards of working only with polished, smooth and perfectly defined crystals and stones. By using uncut and unpolished gemstones instead, the brand appealed to modern sensibilities, quickly gathering a fan-following amongst independent women who embraced their flaws and imperfections.

Without a formal education in this field, the founder sisters rely on their creative energies and personal expressions to create eclectic, sophisticated jewellery that appeals across the board. Their Business degrees— Vidhi is an alumnus of Kelley School of Business and Mamta of Delhi University’s Shriram College of Commerce—coupled with their entrepreneurial spirit and passion for their chosen medium, have allowed them to make a successful venture of their dream.

Since jewellery is a form of expression for women, the sisters create their pieces taking inspiration from their travels, latest fashion trends and other experiences. “We create pieces that are deeply rooted in Indian craft techniques and jewellery-making traditions, yet resonate with the global women of today. Jewellery is after all, the most used fashion accessory in people’s daily dressing,” they say with a smile.

Both affordable and wearable, Zariin’s line offers the luxury of gold jewellery in a new and exciting format. Hence, it intrinsically appeals to modern women— those who are empowered, ambitious, and handle numerous responsibilities of home and work, while looking uber-stylish, using their outfits and accessories as mediums of personal expression.

The dedicated team behind Zariin attempts to consistently innovate and create, so they can cater to the needs of women of all ages and stages in life—in India and abroad. The founders claim, “staying relevant in an oversaturated market can prove challenging at times, but if your product is unique, it makes its own place in the market.” Zariin’s success story, since its inception, proves this claim well. The label was quick to gain international acclaim, being picked by popular retail boutiques like Anthropologie and Calypso St. Barth in the United States, and Babylone and Hankyu department stores in Japan. Quite early in its journey, Zariin received the GRAZIA Young Fashion Award for Excellence in Accessory Design in 2013, along with being awarded the prestigious ELLE Graduate recognition in Jewellery. Apart from retail success and awards, the real reward is always reflected best through loyal patrons. Zariin has been adorned by celebrities like Sonam Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra, Nargis Fakri, Soha Ali Khan, Kalki Koechlin, and the international stars of hit TV series All My Children and Gossip Girl.

Vidhi and Mamta Gupta credit the international success of their brand to its being launched originally in the US. “Before shifting base to India, the label first established itself in the US, while staying true to its Indian roots. Today, Zariin is available in 21 countries and retails in over 200 stores worldwide. The major international markets for our brand are Japan, China, Korea, United States, UAE, Bahrain, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Australia, Mexico, among others, with a number of reputed stores stocking our wares including the ones in USA and Japan mentioned above and Saks 5th Avenue in UAE and Bahrain and Husk Chain Stores in Australia,” explain the founders.

By staying true to their brand value and catering to the ever-changing tastes of a wide customer base, they have consistently provided unique and high quality artisanal products at accessible prices. These qualities have kept Zariin at the forefront of the jewellery creation business. The brand has pioneered the usage of uncut stones that can be integrated seamlessly into a woman’s daily wardrobe, and is occasion-neutral.

Zariin’s artisanal accessories are innately Indian, with a contemporary twist. Their selection consists of chunky statement pieces, dramatic layers, minimal and delicate designs, and stacking basics. Ranging in price from Rs 2,000 to Rs 20,000, there is something for everyone in this line.

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Kampai is recreating sakura season in Delhi

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It’s that time of the year again—cherry blossoms are blooming across the globe and social media is flooded with photos. Since catching a quick flight to Tokyo to see the sight for ourselves is out of the question this year, Kampai is here to help us usher in spring (or rejoice in what is left of it in Delhi) with its new hanami menu.

Avantika Sinha Bahl

Hanami, or the Japanese custom of ‘flower viewing’, is an annual celebration of the sakura blossoms which cover cities with a delicate veil of pink this time of the year. Keeping that aesthetic intact, Kampai’s special springtime menu is predominantly pink—from all five of its rose-tinted cocktails to the blush pink mijinko-crusted ebi tempura and agedashi tofu and the raspberry and mulberry cheesecake. The interiors of the restaurant are also in tune with the theme, decked up in hues of the cherry blossom.

“Hanami is a special time in Japan and a symbol of new beginnings,” says founder Avantika Sinha Bahl, explaining that the menu has been curated in a way which can translate the qualities of the sakura season into food and drinks. With summery salads, light sushi rolls and rice bowls, and fruity cocktails, the menu is a welcome escape from the temperature outside, which is already crossing 35 degrees Celsius on most days.

A good start is the cured tomato and seaweed salad, which is a refreshing balance of flavours and textures—the salty seaweed offset by the sweetness of grapes and mulberry, rounded by the cured tomatoes and ume plum dressing, with the green apple and cucumber adding a crunch. The tangy salmon tataki with capers is also a great option for a hot day. The salmon futomaki and grilled eel and avocado sushi roll are delicious. Pescetarians would also enjoy the special selection of donburi bowls with fresh fish and pickled ginger. If the heat is too much of a bother, the chilled soba with a tsuyu dipping sauce can be quite satisfying too. All of the food is very easy on the palate, but some of it does require a certain familiarity with the smell of seafood—but you would already know that before stepping into a Japanese restaurant.

The sakura-inspired cocktail menu complements the food well. The Hanami G&T is light and floral and the citrusy Leisure Sheet is perfect for a summer afternoon. “The cocktails are all made with in-house infusions and liqueurs using different ingredients,” shares Avantika. Her picks are the special Sakura Martini and Geisha prepared with the special Kampai hanami liqueur which taste bold, fresh and sweet.

For dessert, the menu offers a slice of raspberry and mulberry cheesecake, whose creamy texture and rich buttery taste is slightly at odds with everything which comes before it, but would be a treat for those who like to end their meals on a syrupy sweet note.

Besides the ingredients used and the flavours of the food and drinks, the hanami menu evokes the essence of the season through its colours and plating too, soothing the eye and the hearts of those who cannot experience spring in Japan. The special menu is available throughout the month of April at Kampai which is located in the national capital’s Aerocity.

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REMEMBERING THE LITERARY MARVELS OF AMAR SINGHJI OF KANOTA

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The third Thakur of Rajasthan’s erstwhile thikana of Kanota, Late Major General Amar Singhji’s military, sporting and literary contributions to Rajputana and modern India have been profound and long-lasting. A keen pioneer of the idea of Rajputana, Amar Singhji was an avid polo player, shikaar enthusiast and a devoted family man. Most famously, he went down in history as an extraordinary consumer and producer of the written word, having produced what is today recognised as the longest known and consistently-kept diary in the English language. The renowned modern-European Diary of Samuel Pepys, in its eleven volumes, is at best, a distant second to the passionate and meticulous documentations of Amar Singhji that collectively account for annals that are 89 volumes large and 800 handwritten folios long. Present-day artefacts of unsurmountable value, they lie nestled in Kanota’s General Amar Singh Memorial Museum and Library. 

This February, Rajputana Collective takes great honour in commemorating the bygone legend’s marvellous spirit, based on personal archives provided by none other than his granddaughter-in-law Vidushi Pal herself, who is also a present-day custodian of Kanota’s historical and cultural legacy. 

THE LANCER

Formally speaking, Amar Singhji’s military career began under the mentorship of the celebrated Jodhpur regent, Sir Pratap Singh. As a newly-appointed rissaldar and commissioned officer in the Jodhpur Lancers, a 22-year-old Amar Singhji was sent to China as a part of the Allied Expeditionary Force to quell the Boxer Rebellion of 1900. 

Soon after he returned, Amar Singhji was integrated into the Imperial Cadet Corps, a newly-established military cohort formed by none other than Viceroy Curzon. Amongst the first four in his batch to graduate, the young army recruit swiftly advanced to support the Command Headquarters at Indore’s Mhow cantonment as an officer. 

The prevailing historical advent of World War I led Amar Singhji to serve the Indian Land Forces as a Captain and served as aide-de-camp (ADC) to the then Commanding Officer of the Lahore Division. The valiant Indian Corps officer stood his ground through various battles across the war-torn turfs of Ypres, Bethune, St. Omer, Hazebrouch, Neuve Chapelle, etc, to name but a few. As a result of his exemplary service in Flanders and erstwhile Mesopotamia, Amar Singhji was amongst the select few Indian officers to be awarded a gallantry medal; and a King’s Commission upon his post-war return. The subsequent Afghan War provided Amar Singhji the honour of being one of the first Indian officers ever to lead a mixed race regiment (of Indians and Britons) in active combat. At the end of this three year-long strife, Amar Singhji retired from the Indian army, for another military venture awaited his presence in Jaipur. 

Taking immediate precedence over the Jaipur state forces, the freshly-retired army veteran raised the Jaipur Lancers, the infrastructural continuance of which is today known as the 61st Cavalry headquarters. His close friend and patron, Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II elevated his esteemed advisor and his credibilities to the rank of a Major General and Commander of the Jaipur State Forces. 

THE SPORTSMAN & HUNTSMAN

Immediately after his recruitment into the army in Jodhpur, Amar Singhji had made no delay in enhancing his equestrian calibre. The combined mentorship of Sir Pratap Singhji on and off duty had helped make the discovery of Amar Singhji into a skilled polo player. Incidentally, his formative years as an upcoming defence personnel had coincided with Polo’s rising eminence as an elite sport in the region under the guidance of polo maven Stweart Baetson. The rest, as we all know, became history. 

Not only did Amar Singhji herald a familial legacy of polo talent, but also in the training of the majestic four-legged beasts for the art of equestrian sports as well as shikaar. 

A LITERARY LIKE NONE OTHER

An old couplet from erstwhile Rajputana claims, “A Rajput who reads will never ride a horse.” What greater exception existed to this norm than good old Amar Singhji, who was shared unparalleled comforts in his elegant juxtaposition between the saddle and the pen. In fact, his agility with the pen gave further flair to his horse-mounted experience, which he has vividly recounted in his diaries. Amongst these, a sentimental description of his pilot polo season in Jodhpur goes as follows:

24 November 1899: “At 2 p.m. commenced the first match between ourselves and the 7th Royal Fusiliers. We beat them by three goals and three subsidiaries to one goal and two subsidiaries.” “…As regards my not taking interest in any other games than Polo… I do not care for them…”

“We play Polo, we talk polo, and we even dream polo… Here in Jodhpore, and especially with Sarkar, or when we all companions and polo players chance to meet we have next to [nothing] to talk but only polo! Polo!”  

31 October 1902: “In the evening we went to play polo. I played six chukkers of which the four fast ones with the cadet corps team…Major Watson was quite pleased with my playing and I wanted nothing more.”

It wasn’t merely autobiographical journalling that Amar Singhji indulged his pen into. His comprehensive literary works also reflected the social reformer that he was. For example, his acute consciousness vis-a-vis the degraded social position of women in his times reflects in statements such as the following:

“We people have trampled upon the rights of women. We look upon them in light of playthings.”  Similarly, he also condemned the lifestyle of the thikanedaars and their self-indulgent traits that grew symbiotically alongside idleness and promiscuity. His heightened disconcertion in this regard could be duly explained by Amar Singhji’s personal preferences of monogamy and a strictly disciplined work ethic. Another social custom that Amar Singhji’s diaries reflect in terms of personal opposition is the then-rampant practice of hypergamy, which implied marrying girls into superior households. 

While these brief remembrances only go thus far to touch the surface of vaster archival depths, they substantiate the imperatives of conducting a more reasoned posthumous interaction with Amar Singhji through his remarkably calligraphed remnants. The poignant forthrightness and perennial wit that frequently interlude his memoirs add subtler nuances to what have already been established as records of unmatched historical and ethnographical importance. These literary marvels that chronologically span from 1900 to 1942 unitedly reflect a rare account of military history, court life, social metamorphoses and family life in a measure that is as intimate as it is inimitable. In the due evolution of time and historical sensibilities, the literary marvels of Amar Singhji and the insights they compel their readers with is a cultural resource of utmost value for the generations to come.

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THE MAHARAJAS AND THEIR LOVE FOR ‘HORSELESS WONDERS’

In his new book ‘The Automobile’, Gautam Sen chronicles India’s love affair with cars ever since they were first paraded by the British and Indian royalty in 1897.

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Ever since 1897, when the British and Indian royalty paraded cars in India, it has been viewed as status symbols across the subcontinent. Chronicling this passion, author Gautam Sen has come up with a new book The Automobile: An Indian Love Affair, that goes back to the time when the first car reached Indian shores, to the current times when a number of global carmakers are vying to woo Indians to grab the growing market.

The heart of the book, however, is the fascinating nuggets of history, especially those belonging to the Indian royalty and its fascination for these “horseless wonders”. Like how the Maharaja of Nawanagar, popularly known as Ranjitsinhji, was the first Indian to drive his own automobile. Or how Maharajkumar Bhupal Singh of Mewar, who was paralysed from the waist down, had a special hand-controlled Rolls Royce he could use by himself as far back as 1923. Another fascinating saga the book chronicles is the great Indian fascination for the motorsport and its Calcutta connection, though several other cities in India too had caught the racing bug. “Pune, Bombay and Bangalore followed with a very active motorsport scene during the 1950s and 1960s,” Gautam Sen writes.

The following is an edited extract from the book, The Automobile: An Indian Love Affair (Penguin, Rs 699):

On that fateful Sunday, fifteen petrolheads turned up, and the Calcutta Motor Sports Club (CMSC) was born, with the wealthy enthusiast, the Maharaja of Burdwan, Uday Chand Mahtab, as a patron. At Red Road and in the central Maidan area of Calcutta, the drivers took part in trials to gauge ability, and finally, scratch races were organised, with races held every Sunday. In true tally-ho fashion, a hat was passed around for expenses, everything was done in a friendly, picnic atmosphere, and skills improved imperceptibly yet steadily.

Then, the CMSC finagled permission to use the Alipore Mint airfield, in the southern part of the city, and the heat was on. At the Alipore Mint airfield (which used to be a base for a couple of squadrons of Supermarine Spitfires during the Second World War), a track was marked out and people started turning out in droves, both in stock machinery and in specials—one-off cars knocked together from assorted parts, normally existing chassis-power train set-ups with lightweight bodyworks. Along with the cars came the spectators and hangers-on. Calcutta had its own Grand Prix, the first ever in India. For the record, Robbie Robertson won the first Calcutta Grand Prix in 1953. Tutu Imam driving a strangely modified Lagonda took the prize the next year. Eddie Isaacs—who raced an SS100 and which was with Jackie Shroff as of 2019—won in 1955 and again in 1957.

It was a cavalier exercise, though. People turned up in pretty much anything that they could knock together, oddities like a Land Rover-based single-seater and a contraption with a Jaguar engine in an Avon body, challenged serious racers, which included an Allard, a Lancia, MGs, Jaguars, a Bentley, a Lagonda, even Citroëns and Studebakers. Eventually, Calcutta had a serious racer in the form of a pre-War Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Monza.

The cars were indeed interesting, some with fascinating histories. The Alfa Monza was far from new—chassis # 2311206 had been delivered new to Renato Balestrero in Genoa, Italy, way back in June 1933. Balestrero campaigned the car in several races and hill climbs and had to his credit one outright win at the Varese Campo dei Fiori hill climb. In 1934, the car recorded three sports car class wins at hill climbs in France, Germany and Austria. The car was also raced at the Monaco Grand Prix of 1934 but it failed to finish. In 1935, it had less success, other than a class win at the Kesselberg hill climb. The car was next sold to Giacomo de Rham, a Swiss living in Italy, in December 1935. Participating in the 1936 edition of the Mille Miglia, chassis # 2311206 finished a creditable seventh overall.

The car changed hands several times. By September 1937, the Alfa was in the ownership of Emilio Romano, who participated in the 1938 Mille Miglia, where it failed to finish. The body was then modified— ‘modernized’ essentially—and the car raced at the Coppa di Natale on Christmas Day in 1938 at Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, which at that time was a part of Eastern Africa, and was under the occupation of fascist Italy. The car stayed there during the war years and was, at that point of time, owned by Mario Riccioni. The Monza was finally ‘liberated’ by British troops in 1942. A certain British Army officer, Lieutenant Marsden, picked up the car and brought it to India, when he was transferred to the subcontinent.

Marsden then sold it to a fellow officer, Jimmy Braid. It was then rumoured to have been acquired by a raja, who exchanged the Alfa for a Fiat 1100 (!) with American Howard Jackson. Though Jackson worked and lived in Jamshedpur, the car was garaged in Calcutta. Jackson was a regular on the Calcutta racing scene in an SS100 (probably the same one with Jackie Shroff). When he acquired the Alfa, though, the SS100 was disposed of to a fellow racer, in all likelihood, Eddie Isaac.

The other famous car in Calcutta was the Allard J2. Delivered new to Desmond Titterington in the United Kingdom on 1 September 1951, the Allard made its first public appearance on 19 April 1952 (after a running-in period), at the Mansbery hill climb in Northern Ireland, where it took two firsts, two seconds and fastest sports car climb of the day. Subsequently, the car participated in Phoenix Park, Dublin, and Dundrod in Northern Ireland. In two full seasons, this Allard managed fourteen podium finishes in twenty-four starts.

Even though just ninety-nine of these J2s were ever constructed, all between 1951 and 1953, the cars had done very well on the sports racing scene in the early 1950s. An outright win at Watkins Glen in the USA, a first-in-class at the 1950 Le Mans and at the Scottish Rest-and-be-Thankful race, outright wins at the Portuguese and Danish hill-climb championships, as well as being declared the fastest sports car at the Brighton Speed Trials and the fastest un-supercharged car at the Swiss Vue des Alps.

Titterington drove a Jaguar for Ecurie Ecosse several times, and then later on, a 300SLR for the Mercedes-Benz works team, which was made up of legends such as Stirling Moss, Juan Manuel Fangio, Peter Collins, John Cooper Fitch and Karl Kling at the Targa Florio, a legendary race in Sicily, Italy. Titterington eventually competed in Formula 1, too, in a Connaught in 1956 for one race.

The other Italian machinery starring in Calcutta during the 1950s was a dramatically modified Lancia—campaigned by Allan Ramsay before he switched to the Allard—which was based on the chassis of an Astura. Produced between 1931 and 1939, the Astura featured a narrow-angle V8.

Though the Astura was designed as a large, flagship product, and most Asturas which survive (including a very beautiful example in Mumbai) are mainly elegant and luxurious tourers and saloons, some were modified into racing specials.

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Importance of leisure travel during Covid 2.0

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Just this morning, when I was washing down my last omelette morsel with coffee did I read the Covid 2.0 news bulletin: “India overtakes Brazil as world’s second worst-hit country by Covid-19 with a record rise in daily cases surpassing the 12-lakh mark.” The ghastly picture of this time around last year sent a shudder down my spine. Another national lockdown? More casualties, an overloaded medical infrastructure and the continued crippling of our economy?

Would 2020 repeat itself after all?

Having had little interim period to recover from the dread of last year, will our rising pandemonium plummet us into a global mental pandemic? With the drastic surges in daily cases, even the nonchalant fence sitters amongst us are beginning to feel a tad bit anxious. And what frightens us all is the continued lack of protocol adherence in densely populated hubs around us. In his recent news broadcasts, Prime Minister Narendra Modi makes frequent reassurances over the surging numbers: higher tests being conducted amount to higher figures. The Covid vaccine will slowly but surely immunise us all. This strain is more virile but less lethal. And the speculations continue. Cases rise, as does existentialist dread. 

By the time this feature is published in my column, Himachal Pradesh would be on its last date of permitting entrants without a negative RTPCR report. Regulatory bolts by state governments are already tightening as I write, and for the best reasons of course. But amongst the endless obscurities lies the fate of the hospitality industry during Covid 2.0. 

Pardon me for sounding frivolous if you might, but as an independent hotelier in Manali, I am responsible for raising over 50% of my annual revenue in the brief window that lies between April and July. With this, I must secure the livelihoods of dozens of my employees whilst also ensuring their utmost safety at work. My staff and I are fully prepared to comply with more stringent safety protocols, to put ourselves out there in a way that best assures forthcoming visitors as they count on us. But here is why I am more pensive than ever: Despite the hospitality industry being amongst the world’s largest employers, Indian hotels received as little as zero SOPs during the initial stages of last year’s lockdown. As the months straggled by, finances dwindled and many players in the trade were compelled to either lay off their manpower or close down altogether. And what’s more, the lack of leisure travel weighed down more heavily on the global population that underwent indefinite months of the lockdown. 

2021 offers us the rare hindsight that we lacked last time around. Without dismissing the paramountcy of disease mitigation to the very least, I make a sincere bid in favour of systematising our prevention and containment strategies with an increased commitment vis-à-vis mental health. It is typical for the average citizen to dismiss this plea as superficial and disregarding of collective health and immunisation. In truth, it is quite on the contrary. Urging the supervised continuance of leisure travel in fact, garners our prolonged resilience to the pandemic. In other words, the power of a physical, emotional and mental recess from our daily mundanities only renews and strengthens our coping mechanisms towards those mundanities. Add on top of those mundanities a global pandemic, and the sanctity of that recess only becomes more apparent. 

Take for example our most cardinal set of practitioners: The military, medical professionals, lawyers, engineers, teachers and so on. Whom do they turn towards for their daily recesses? Artists, entertainers, creators. And ironically enough, their relative lack of monetary opulence has led our economies to regard them as redundant or secondary professions. This tendency of ours to generalise holds account for our similar relegation of the hospitality industry as not so cardinal. For a social-scientist, this is barely surprising. After all, doesn’t capitalism condition us all to believe that in order to pursue anything at all, we must derive its commercial worth? So much so that never mind its role in our essential functioning, a general lack of its economical yield must instantaneously induce shame?

A second irony springs out here. How can an economy maximise itself while neglecting the very source of that maximisation? No wonder most gym goers (in that very economy) are unaware of muscle development taking place during the recovery hours/days without which, all they’d be left with is muscular damage and injuries. Why must we then deny ourselves those essential recesses that further not only our survival, but enhance our growth?

On the brighter side, adapting to the new normal has equipped the hospitality sector with tremendous means of innovation that are strengthening its resolve. Contactless check ins and check outs, state of the art fumigations, contactless services, social distancing, QR code menus and responsible tourism is not just the need of the hour, but also a promise for a brighter and better future. And what better symbiosis than one that trades off service, rejuvenation, economic empowerment and experience all at the same time? An answer is yet to appear in sight, but these questions must be asked and pondered, over and over again.

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CELEBRATING THE FESTIVAL OF GANGAUR

As Gangaur remains a relatively understated affair this year, the noble families of Mewar, Marwar and Shekhawati offer a throwback into the glorious festivities of the pre-pandemic era.

Priyamvada Singh

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Ever since I shifted to my ancestral village, Meja, a few years ago after a long stint in Mumbai, I began to realise that one of the best things about residing in rural Rajasthan in the scorching heat of April is that you get to witness the fortnight-long festivities of Gangaur in all its pomp and pageantry. The celebrations commence with the advent of the Chaitra month of the Hindu calendar and continue for eighteen days culminating on Teej.

Each year, from the day following Holi, the corridors of Meja Fort resonate with the laughter of giggly village girls who arrive here straight after school carrying festive garments in their school bags. More giggles and quick makeovers later, these excited teenagers step out donning vibrant “ghaghra-odnis” gorgeously accessorised with colourful bangles and ethnic jewellery. Singing the Isar-Gangaur song in perfect harmony, they gather around and pray to the pindiyas—round-shaped figurines made with ashes of the Holi pyre considered to be symbolic representations of Gangaur.

Elaborating upon this tradition, my grandmother Maaji Saheb Hansa Kumari of Meja explains, “Gan signifies Lord Shiva or Isar Ji and Gaur denotes Gauri or Goddess Parvati. Gangaur is revered as the perfect embodiment of conjugal bliss so women pray to her for marital accord and unmarried girls pray with the hope of being blessed with ideal life partners.” The pragmatist in me knows that these prayers may or may not be answered, but the optimist in me silently prays along with them, hoping their wish is granted. As my grandmother says, “Hope can be a powerful force. When you hold onto hope like a light within yourself, the universe sometimes conspires to make things happen—almost like magic.”

Echoing my grandmother’s sentiments is Rani Manjushree Kumari of Bhadrajun who has been diligently doing the Gangaur puja since her adolescence. She likes to believe that divine intervention may have played its part in finding her a perfect match in Raja Karanveer Singh Ji about three decades ago. “I used to pray to these tiny idols of Isar-Gangaur at my parental home for years. When I got married, I brought them along from Poogal-Bikaner to Bhadrajun. Each year, I pray before them throughout the festival, and on the last day, I pray to the big ancestral idols along with family and the people of our village.” 

Public participation has always been an integral part of this festival and people come together irrespective of their social milieus to celebrate one of the most revered female divinities. The eve of Gangaur holds special significance for the potter community as they are visited by a pageant of women dolled-up in fineries accompanied by local musicians to bring home the ladolas or clay idols of Isar-Gangaur. The procession receives a grand welcome on return to the forts and palaces across Rajasthan followed by an evening of festive revelry.

“The final day begins with the puja of the clay idols with sprouted jowar (sorghum) germinated over a fortnight at home,” says Kawarani Rudrangda Kumari of Kankarwa. “An array of ornaments gets made for the Gangaur using besan (gram flour dough) and it is rather intriguing to see pieces of traditional jewellery from head to toe like the tevta (a regal neckpiece), rakhdi (a spherical maangtika), bajubandh (armlets), paijeb (anklets), etc, being created with such an unusual ingredient. The last day is considered the day of Gangaur’s departure from her parental home to her husband’s abode, so this jewellery forms a part of her trousseau.”

Most noble families have their ancestral idols passed down through generations and many of them have captivating stories attached to them. Rani Sugan Kumari of Bedla shares the fascinating history of her family’s fragmented Gangaur whose body was damaged during a battle many years ago and what remains is just the head. “The idol cannot be repaired as per tradition but it is dressed in a way that its disability is not revealed and reverently worshipped year after year.”

Baisa Swati Kumari of Chanoud narrates an interesting tale about a century-old miniature Gangaur in the possession of her family. “We have the regular size wooden idols just like other noble families but our mini-Gangaur was fashioned more than a hundred years ago exclusively for the convenience of little girls to pray during the festival.” The silver coating embossed on this idol has withered with time but the delicate figurine glazed with natural colours beautifully adorns a stone niche at Chanoud Fort even today.

Another anecdote that deserves special mention is about the Gangaur of Kota which was tactfully stolen by Kunwar Lal Singh of Gogunda on being challenged by the Maharana of Mewar. Rajrana Rohitashva Singh relates how his ancestor appeared before the Maharaja of Kota disguised as a skilled rider who could make the wooden Gangaur dance on his horse. “Once he got hold of the Gangaur, he heroically escaped from there and presented it to Maharana Saab on return. Rewarding his daring act, MaharanaSaab asked him to retain this Gangaur at Gogunda. This idol remains a major attraction during our procession every year.”

Processions are carried out throughout the state on the last day of the festival for which the idols are dressed in ceremonial poshaks and traditional ornaments. They are first seated in the zenana chowk where women offer their prayers and later brought out in the mardana chowk where the men seek their blessings. While the women indulge in ghoomar, men perform the gair dance—a local equivalent of the dandiya. Certain families enact the entire wedding ceremony between Isar and Gangaur. Rani Kavita Kumari of Kharwa reveals how their family’s sole Isar weds their two Gangaurs each year completing four pheras with one idol and three with the other! 

After the initial ceremonies at the royal residences, the processions head out in the respective villages. One of the most distinguishing characteristics about the Gangaur procession in Mandawa is that parallel celebrations take place in the abodes of the kingdom’s two founders Padam Singh Ji and Gyan Singh Ji, as accounted by Thakurani Manjul Kumari of Mandawa. “There have always been two sets of Isar-Gangaurs which are taken out every year for the procession. Care is taken to ensure that neither one of them is even slightly ahead of the other. In earlier days, this was reason enough for swords to be drawn and a skirmish to take place!”

In its last lap, the regal spectacle passes through lanes and by-lanes of the villages accompanied by colourful dancers, indigenous musicians and a sparkling display of fireworks. Making a final halt at a nearby lake or pond, the convoy performs the puja one last time before immersing the eco-friendly clay idols—the pindiyas and ladolas in water. This signifies Goddess Parvati’s farewell to Lord Shiva’s abode from her parental home. As emotional songs of vidaai reverberate under starlit summer skies, heavy hearts and tearful eyes lovingly bid adieu to the dissolving effigies of Gangaur, while the tangible wooden idols return to their chambers in the forts and palaces to hibernate for the next twelve months.

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