Finding Irshad: A Google-yuga saga

My search for Irshad Panchatan started a couple of years back,  with a blog-post – Irshad Mia, where are you ? –  about a long-lost coffee-house comrade.  We were regulars at New Delhi Janpath coffee house in early 1960s.  It has been so long ago that  Irshad  had remained in my fading memory cells  a forgotten folder , waiting to be retrieved.

This was till a couple of years ago when I happened by on TV a familiar face  in the telecast of  this German movie – Reclaim Your Brain.  The face was that of  Irshad Panchatan,  my coffee-house  friend.  I couldn’t contain my excitement. Of course,  Irshad wasn’t a close pal,  but  sharing a coffee-house table tied us into a biradari (brotherhood).   And then,  it has been over 50 years – time lapse of a yuga,  after which a re-connect triggers excitement of its own. During our lost decades  we   drifted away from New Delhi,  into our separate work life,  and into marriage,  family,  retirement, and now,  ageing .  He must be 80 ;  I am 73.

We now have the Internet,  Facebook,  Linked-in and other social networking tools.  They weren’t of any help in finding Irshad.  Wikipedia entry on him is in German.    I blogged about him – Irshad Mia, where are you ? – in the hope that if Irshad or someone who knew of his current whereabouts were to read my piece in DadiNani ,  he or she would know where to find me.  This was my way of sending a message-in-the-bottle,  tossed out  into cyberspace.

After doing the blog-post I sent the link to  another coffee-house friend S P Dutt  (NDTV Barkha’s dad),  and  he forwarded it to his friends.  Speedy’s (is how friends call S P Dutt) networking  produced a Berlin phone number.  As part of the Janpath coffee-house brotherhood  Speedy got involved in the search for Irshad.  For the next few days the three of us –  Speedy (in New Delhi), Sushil Nangia (in London),  and I (from Mysore) called Berlin. No response.

Stonewalled by unanswering ringtone from the Berlin phone line, we gave up our search.  My wife and I moved base from Mysore to Chennai – this was an  year back.  Irshad lapsed out of mind, till the other day when DadiNani  editor Subodh Mathur    e-mailed, saying,  your message in the bottle made it to Irshad Mia’s daughter.  Rita Sonal Panjatan had left a  comment in my blog post – The message in the bottle has reached, I will forward this to my father.

And within the next two days I get a mail from the man himself –   ‘Your bottle must have touched so many shores of different planets before it was fished by Rita in a German space shore’.  Irshad quoted Firaq to convey his feelings at  hearing from someone he didn’t ever think  he could –   Urdu poets  have a couplet for  every thing,  don’t they.

And then,  added Irshad: I was stunned…your message took me back into the 60s, to beautiful days of our meetings at Delhi Coffee House …. Those meetings played a very important role in my life,….am thankful to my Coffee House friends. Their critique helped me become a Pantomime. You,  RG Anand and Balraj Komal were my main critical guides.  M S Mudder who put me on stage on and on (with whom I’m still in contact) and O P Kohli  (died decades ago) who used to do the lights for me…Two years back,  moderator of German TV show  ‘Weltspiegel’ (World mirror)  Navina Sudarum,  niece of painter Amrita Sher-Gil, sent me the newspaper cutting relating to Dr.Charles Fabri (The Statesman dance critic), who loved and encouraged me as you also know.  It was a lovely and very important time for us all,  that we can never forget.

I left India again in 1971….for Europe, where I stayed, as you know, with Ingrid in Berlin, and later, opened a Pantomime School also. But that I closed in 1995 and after some time also stopped performing. Now from time to time I get offers to act in small roles in German TV and Films.

I am eighty and Ingrid is still beautiful and active. Rita, who did her MA from London School of Economics,lives close to us.


TED-India meet in Mysore

TEDIndiaFour-day TED-India conference to be held in Mysore (Nov.4-7) is reportedly sold out. The meet is expected to attract people from 46 countries, according to a media report. With some 40 speakers on the card, drawn from varied fields – scientist, artist, playwright, photographer, marine biologist and sports commentator – the event promises to be a mela (marketplace) for ideas.

As a resident of the host town, my concern, or rather my poser to organisers, is: Shouldn’t local residents be allowed to benefit from the proceedings ? In a global event of this nature local enthusiasts tend to get crowded out by those from elsewhere. And, understandably, the organisers face severe space constraints, however big the venue.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the they could arrange to have the conference proceedings screened through closed-circuit network in another hall – Kalamandira or some other place – for the benefit of local audience ? Or they could tie-up with the city TV channel for live-telecast of TEDIndia, as they do with Dasara concerts held at the Mysore palace grounds.

Would local residents be interested? How would TED proceedings be of local public interest ? I can’t answer this question better than TEDIndia co-host Lakshmi Pratury. She says she would like those attending the Mysore conference to take back three things:
1) No one who sits through a talk or seminar is with it all the time, a hundred percent. Even if they stay focused on what they hear, for a brief moment , they should feel it is a moment when they would rather be here than anywhere else;
2) Her expectation is that on gatherings like this one meets at least one person who becomes a friend for life; and
3) Her hope is that those who sit through the proceedings would pick up an idea or two that is not necessarily related their prime interest.

Cross-posted from Giving It A Shot

Sai shrine on Bangalore farmland

 BangaloreOct.3. 034A Saibaba image one doesn’t get to see in other temples. I happened by this painting at a shrine on a farmland not far from Bangalore. It has come up on a patch owned by a retired Air India pilot, Capt.V V Mahesh. What struck me about the painting is its creator’s perception of Saibaba. The message it conveys is that even a saint needs his afternoon rest.  And the setting in which the Baba is cast is  absorbingly down-to-earth. 

BangaloreOct.3. 039It was Mrs Samyuktha Mahesh’s  idea to portray the secular sage as a person,  not a deified entity placed on a pedestal;  as someone with whom the poor and the humble among his devotees can relate.  She conveyed her thoughts to an artist who put them on canvas. Maybe Samyuktha was motivated by what she read,  and, as her husband put it,  she has read almost everything  nearly everyone has written on Saibaba.

Shirdi Diary by G S Khaparde, they say, describes the life and times, and daily routine of Saibaba in his later years (1910-18).  Though his birth and early life remain  a mystery, Saibaba’s death is recorded history – Oct.15, 1918.  Wikipedia  refers to his taking samadhi on the lap of a devotee,  at 2.30 in the afternoon.

A Saibaba devotee since the age of 12,  Samyuktha spoke of a dream  that prompted her to build this temple.  She consulted her husband,   who agreed to do it on their own farm near Bangalore, though  “he wasn’t then a Saibaba devotee like his wife”.  Their three sons,  one of whom is also a pilot,  helped to make their mother’s dream  a  reality.

BangaloreOct.3. 040This shrine came up seven years ago.  Capt.Mahesh  says the main prayer hall and a smaller one for meditation,  and  the landscaping have been completed.  What remains is  Nandadeep –  a cluster of 108 brass lamps to be placed in enclosed space in the temple courtyard.

They have timeline for its completion –  by January next – whether or not they raise funds through donation by this time.   “We are confident of meeting the requirement, ‘observed Capt.Mahesh,  adding that the project  is estimated to cost  Rs.6 lakhs.  Samyuktha is modest about whatever  they  have accomplished till date.  She referred to an anonymous devotee who has donated Rs.62 crores for infrastruture improvement at Shirdi  to facilitate visitors.  “What we are doing here  isn’t much in comparison,”  says Samyuktha.  

BangaloreOct.3. 037The Saibaba shrine built by the Mahesh couple is located near Bididi,  on a farmland some three km off the Bangalore-Mysore highway.  They also run a special school for 40-odd mentally challenged children. The Mahesh’s spend much of their time  out here,  though they have  a town house on Bangalore’s Richmond Rd. “The city traffic being what it is,  we  find daily cummute a hassle,” says Capt. Mahesh.

We visited the temple shortly before the mid-day prayer.  Capt. Mahesh persuaded us to stay till aarthi, followed by prasad. Which gave us time to interact with the Mahesh couple.

BangaloreOct.3. 033The setting is conducive to contemplation. A visitor to the prayer hall tends to sit in silence for a while.  Capt.Mahesh has thoughfully placed plastic chairs in the hall for the benefit of aged and the handicapped.

BangaloreOct.3. 032At the far end of the courtyard  across the main prayer hall is a smaller hall where they keep an eternal fire going.  The sanctity about it is that this flame was lit with  the embers  from a piece of firewood brought from dhuni in Shirdi.  “We couldn’t bring it by train; they wouldn’t allow it on a plane,” said Capt. Mahesh,  adding that the sacred fire from Shirdi was brought by road in a hired van. 

The dhuni is the perpetually burning fire  that Baba had built. The fire is today much bigger and is enclosed in a wired cage. It is said that Baba, when asked why he had the  fire going,  replied that it was for burning our sins, or karma. It is reported that Baba spent hours sitting in contemplation by the dhuni.

I heard about the Bangalore farmland shrine through word-of-mouth. Capt. Mahesh can be contacted at

Getting people to smile

It may be bit of a tall order – getting people to smile, and  spread  cheer,  in trouled times such as the present  economic meltdown.  But it hasn’t deterred Bren Bataclan from trying.  In fact he has made it one of his life’s social  missions to engage,  literally,  people on the street to spread a bit of cheer around their neighbourhoods.  And here is how he goes about doing it.

 Boston-based ‘smile artist’  Bren Bataclan  leaves his paintings  around in public places for the taking.  The catch is in the note stuck to his paintings, which says, ‘This  painting is yours,  if you promise  to smile at random  people,  more often’.

Folks who pick them up are asked to e-mail Bren how and where they found his painting and what they felt about his idea. The  Filipino-American calls his excercise Smile Boston Project.  In his website  Bren says he leaves his paintings  at employment agencies,  hospitals,   stores and commercial estabishments that are about to close down under recession.  Folks who frequent these places  need cheering up.  And the ones who pick up Bren’s paintings feel obliged to walk the extra mile to spread smiles around them.  Bren says the purpose of  his paintings, and rather the unique  way of their disposal, is to make people in Boston and beyond smile more. positive_thinking_articleA graphics designer with masters degree in computer  animation Bren reportedly turns out 25 paintings every  week to be placed  at  sidewalks,  park benches, airport terminals, trains,  senior citizens’ centers etc. His cartoon-like paintings have found their way to many US cities and abroad.  It is said Bren has had his friends carry his paintings to be placed on  public space in New York,  San Francisco,  Djibouti,  Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and his native Manila.

It’s about giving,  sharing, and spreading smiles around, says Bren.  His  Smile Boston Project website  makes a cheerful read ,  of feedback from follks who picked up his paintings;  media reports, and  blog posts.  I reckon I am the 36th blogger to do a post on Bren Bataclan