Man who dared to pursue his dreams - The Daily Guardian
Connect with us

Royally Speaking

Man who dared to pursue his dreams

The incredible journey of Shivendra Singh Dungarpur to become India’s Celluloid Man, against all odds.

Urvashi Singh Khimsar

Published

on

Shivendra Singh Dungarpur.

Summer vacations during his childhood years meant a visit to his maternal grandmother in Dumraon, where the two spent their time indulging in their love for cinema. Those were princely times in which, his grandmother wielded her regality by booking the entire theatre hall for a private screening of two. Seated in the stalls, the grandmother and grandson would savour cinematic montages all day long. The star-struck little boy was captivated in absolute wonder as Pakeezah’s Meena Kumari scintillated to “Inhi Logon Ne”. His liberties extended his small hands towards the film cupboard, which the projectionist would open up for him to pick from a series of Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, John Ford and Frank Capra films.

 Even today, he fondly recalls the nostalgic smell that emanated from the cupboard. This early interaction with moving images drove Shivendra Singh of Dungarpur to become one of India’s pioneering film veterans and its foremost film conservator. With a legacy that includes nearly 600 commercials, documentaries and short films, two national accolades and the foundation of India’s very first conservatory initiative for films, Shivendra’s journey makes for a compelling story of an extraordinarily spirited man, who dared to pursue his dreams.

Hailing from a lineage of Oxonians and Cantabrigians, the professional expectations held out of Shivendra maintained their predicted loftiness. His exemplary record as a student of Delhi’s St. Stephens’ College paved a likely path towards law. Back in the days, filmmaking was not frowned upon so long as it remained a hobby in the mere shadows of a conventionally approved career. So when Shivendra voiced his dream of becoming a professional filmmaker, his family’s vehement disapproval came as no surprise.

But just then, there emerged a silver lining that would drive away the young man’s despair. His uncle, the notable cricketer Raj Singhji of Dungarpur invited him to pursue his struggles in Mumbai and proffered him his shelter with open arms. In reminiscence of those days, Shivendra says, “I came to Mumbai to assist Gulzar Saheb. For the sake of my father’s wishes, I enrolled at the Government Law College, although I didn’t attend a single lecture there.”

Upon the advice of Gulzar Saheb, Shivendra departed Mumbai for his film scholarship to Pune’s FTII (Film and Television Institute), which placed him under the mentorship under India’s greatest film archivist — P.K. Nair. This would bear resonance with the latter half of his career in film conservation, but he only arrived there after tedious years of hard work and struggle. At 23, the fresh FTII graduate was offered his big break in a known production’s multi-starrer, which also happened to be music maestro A.R. Rahman’s first Hindi film. But before he could fully rejoice this opportunity, financial impediments stalled the project mid-way. Fate seemed to have other plans for Shivendra, as the following six years would come to prove. “I had no financial assistance from my parents and had to live hand-to-mouth, living off the generosity of my uncle and friends, who gave me a roof over my head. It was perhaps the hardest time of my life, but I stuck it out”, he says.

One day, Shivendra’s unflinching patience and perseverance encountered his first break in the form of a Lux soap promo. An absolute lack of advertisement shooting notwithstanding, he took the plunge and created history. Soon after, in 2000 he launched his very own production house, titled Dungarpur Film, which waddled through its initial years with hit-and-tries for Shivendra, who was still only learning finer nuances of the craft. Then, a Vim bar commercial starring Rajpal Yadav and Rimi Sen formally launched him into the world of advertisement films, where he became an artist well reputed for his natural style, eye for casting and detailing. Dungarpur Films then became one of the most successful production houses, winning him several awards for his work.

Shivendra attended a cinematic festival in Bologna, Italy, in 2009, which exclusively dedicated itself to preserving and restoring films. It was here that he noticed India’s hapless absence despite being the largest film-producing nation in the world. There wasn’t a single Indian film to be screened at this festival, and Shivendra returned pensive and fixated on changing this. By virtue of being the erstwhile Director of the National Film Archive of India, P.K. Nair guided his erstwhile student to Pune’s film archive vaults. He was stunned at the dismal condition in which India’s most prized films were kept. Their unfavourable temperature conditions had caused the films to emanate a negligent odour of decay.

“Despite the fact that we have been making films for over a hundred years and that we are currently the largest and most diverse film-producing nation in the world, making close to 2,000 films a year in 36 languages, our record of film preservation is abysmal. We made 1,700 silent films of which just about five or six complete films and about 15 films in fragments survive. Our first talkie, Alam Ara (1931) is lost as are most of the first talkies in other languages. By the 1950s, we had lost almost 70 percent of our film heritage and we continue to lose more every day — even films as recent as Mansoor Khan’s Quayamat Se Quayamat Tak (1988) and later films. Many films were sold for silver, others lost in fires and most of all due to apathy and neglect”, he explains.

His intention to preserve films was further encouraged by the Bachchans, and Shivendra finally established the Film Heritage Foundation (FHF) in 2014, which continues to remain India’s only non-governmental organisation dedicated towards the preservation of films. In his words, “FHF is dedicated to supporting the conservation, preservation and restoration of the moving image and to develop interdisciplinary educational programs that use film as an educational tool and create awareness about the language of cinema.”

 Ever since then, Shivendra has been conducting workshops to aptly train film archivists and has even solicited the mentorship of the highly acclaimed Hollywood director, Christopher Nolan. Moreover, he has carefully cultivated a film collection across the 8, 16 and 35 mm spectrums in a temperature-controlled storage facility. It ensures the periodical checking, cleaning and winding up of its collections, with inspection reports that record the condition of its stored films. He has successfully published two books, From Darkness Into Light (2015) and Yesterday’s Films for Tomorrow (2017), compiling the topics of film preservation and writings of P.K. Nair respectively.

 Today, FHF has Amitabh Bachchan serving as its brand ambassador and is governed by a diverse and credible board of advisors, including veterans such as Shyam Benegal, Gulzar, Jaya Bachchan, Kumar Shahani, Kamal Haasan, Girish Kasarvalli, Gianluca Farinelli, Krzyszstof Zanussi and Mark Cousins. Within a year of its inception, FHF became an associate member of the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF), which elected him to its executive committee last year. Shivendra is only the second Indian to ever be elected to this august body, after his mentor, P.K. Nair.

He concludes by voicing his future vision, “Given what a cinema-crazy nation we are, it is astounding that we don’t have a centre for cinema. My vision is to build a world-class centre for film that will include a film archive, a museum, cinemas that will screen films in all formats, a library, research and training centre. We are in the process of raising funds to make this dream a reality.”

The Daily Guardian is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@thedailyguardian) and stay updated with the latest headlines.

For the latest news Download The Daily Guardian App.

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

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

Royally Speaking

Kampai is recreating sakura season in Delhi

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

Royally Speaking

ADVICE FOR CHILDREN DEALING WITH THE PANDEMIC’S NEGATIVE EFFECTS

Noor Anand Chawla

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

Royally Speaking

REMEMBERING THE LITERARY MARVELS OF AMAR SINGHJI OF KANOTA

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

Royally Speaking

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.

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

Royally Speaking

Importance of leisure travel during Covid 2.0

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

Trending