Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Short Putt!

Everyday between 5:30 and 8:00 p.m., standing behind the counter at the kiwi sport’s wear store on Gokhlae marg will be Ashok Bambi, chatting up one of his satisfied customers. You will find him there, laughing his hearty laugh as he bustles about finding his customer a golf club, tees, balls and anything that might have caught the golfer’s fancy. “He sells golf clubs at one third their price, it’s tough to find that kind of bargain anywhere”, muses Eshanvir who is looking for the perfect putter, a surprise birthday gift for his father. Bambi pulls out five putters and lists the merits of each, adding information about the previous owner.

The store sells second hand golf equipment which is imported from the US. “Americans generally play golf twice a week and for six months a year because of the climate. Their clubs are in really good condition and it’s easy to sell them at one third their original price”, says Ashok. He is quick to add that his cousin, Raja who is a single handicap golfer and in the US was the driving force behind his interest and this enterprise, afterall Bambi wasn’t always a golfer.

“I was the captain the state cricket team in 1982,” he states matter of factly. The first cricketer from UP to score a century in the Ranjii Trophy, he has also played a season of cricket for Middlesex, England and is one of the few coaches in UP to have a second level certificate in coaching from the BCCI. “I was trained in Bangalore by the legendary Frank Tyson”, says this middle order batsman who used to play two or three down. He laughs while calling himself a “ Good club level bowler” and continues about his favourite game, cricket.

“I grew up in Narhai and enjoyed the privilege of playing cricket with fourteen to eighteen year olds whilst I was eight! In college I was spotted by some senior players and within two months was selected for the Lucknow 11,” reminisces this accomplished cricketer. He claims that it used to be tougher to get into the UP cricket team than it was to get into the IAS or IPS. “It was rigorous, I remember the trials!” he laughs. Bambi has coached the UP Ranjii team for four years and been on the selection board for seven years. “There is so much talent in UP and it is finally being tapped, earlier, the national team had boys from Delhi, Bombay, Chennai and other big towns. But today Kaif, Raina and others have done us proud”, he adds on a serious note. Eagerly citing an article he read in the papers a few days ago he says “The person to watch out for is Praveen Kumar, he’s going to beat them all to it!”

It was Ashok Bambi who introduced the cricket helmet and Aussie cloth to India. “I worked on making helmets for over eight months! And after selling them for a while got bored and decided to continue with the family business of garments” he laughs when he remembers how t-shirts weren’t used in cricket till 1979. “We played in full sleeves terracotta or cotton shirts and pants! I felt the need to introduce something lighter and more casual, then we started manufacturing Aussie cloth t-shirts” he says.

A good friend of Suneil Gavaskar’s, Ashok has named his elder son after him and his younger one after Suneil’s son “Rohan”. “Both my sons play cricket too, not professionally though”, he laughs when he says that none of them took to golf. “There are around 250 golfers in Lucknow, I noticed the trend and set up this shop two years back,” says Ashok who took to golf in 1999. He believes that in the next ten years golf will be an extremely popular sport in India. Today, Kiwi sports is increasing it’s customer base across North India, all it took was an observation, some good advice and a passion for sports.

While Eshanvir settles for a “No compromise” putter and leaves the store beaming at his “steal”, Bambi promises not to breathe a word about the buy to the young customer’s father and smiling to himself he welcomes his next customer.

Friday, August 10, 2007

This Independence Day

It is a rainy day in Barabanki, but everyone seems busier than usual at the Gandhi Gram Udyog which sits nestled in a grove of neem and banana trees. A stream of a familiar green colour is flowing in the drain that runs outside the various departments in the Udyog. Following the trail, one reaches a dark room, heavy with the acrid smell of dye. Two men, Brajesh and Sunderlal are busy at their table dyeing yards of khaadi with the familiar green colour. “We make over five thousand national flags a year,” says Sunderlal matter of factly, while wiping the sweat off his brow with his angocha, gingerly avoiding the dye on his hands from leaving a stain on his face. The rest of his and Brajesh’s bodies are a riot of colours from the dyeing process. They, alongwith over two hundred others have worked at the Udyog in Barabanki since 1980.

Peeping into the dark room is Dudhnath, “He is our chief designer” Chaggu ji, a head of one of the many departments at the Udyog and one’s guide says. Dressed in a plain khaadi kurta and
pajama, the diminutive and shy Dudhnath shows us his designs. “I was trained in Bombay”, he smiles. The intricately designed traditional motifs are spaced out on tracing paper. Spreading his charts out on a glass table with two tube lights under it he looks at Chaggu ji for approval. “It is his duty to see that the proportions of the charkha in the center of the flag are perfect”, says the friendly Chaggu. Folding his hands before a picture of Goddess Saraswati, Dudhnath gets back to work, reminding the supervisor that one of the tubelights is fused.

Back in the dark dyeing room, Sunderlal and Brajesh continue explaining their role in the making of the Tiranga. “We press the white cloth in this wooden frame and let the ink soak in, one has to be extremely careful”says Brajesh, demonstrating on a piece of white khaadi. Sunderlal who continues dyeing the khaadi adds, “The flags cannot have a defect, it’s easier to dye and print motifs on bedcovers and saris”! Brajesh nods his head, he says that nothing can pass the watchful eye of Mataprasad Sharma ji, who checks all the flags.

Mataprasad ji is busy overseeing the washing and drying of khaadi in the next department. Extremely proud of his “big machines”, which “fall sick every two years” he points out at a large roller being manually turned by two other men, “We use a binder for making the cotton stronger and after dipping it in the binder we roll it into thaans”.

Mataprasad ji is one of the most enthusiastic workers at the Udyog, he lives with his family on the campus and insists that nobody celebrates Independence Day the way the workers here do. “We have three special days every year, one is Independence Day, the other Gandhi Jayanti and the last Republic Day. This year we will march five kilometers with the national flag and sing vande mataram! Then we will collect under the national flag and mantri ji will deliver a speech, after which everyone will get mithai” his face lights up while relating the details of their plan. A day in the life of these workers begins as early as 5:00 a.m., after an hour of mandatory shramdaan, in which they weed the gardens or clean the departments they proceed for the 9:00 a.m. assembly. “After singing vande matram together, we sit at our charkhas for an hour”, smiles Chaggu guiding one to the next department.

“This here is an important department! And that is Ramkripal, he has been working here for seven years” Chaggu points at a harried young man with spots of green paint all over him. “I mix the colours here,” Ramkripal says while picking up blue cans of dry paint powder. “First, I put the powder in this can and then slowly add kerosene, the fixer, glycerin and finally urea. Then I switch on the highpowered machine!” he says in an officious tone, everyone else in the room looks at him with respect as he demonstrates the entire procedure, concentrating on the compositions “The most important thing is, you must add the kerosene slowly, otherwise everything will go wrong!” two young students from a nearby high school observe him carefully as he turns his “highpowered machine” in the can, churning out a consistent paste of white colour.

Guiding one back to the center head office, Chaggu ji continues “We start making the national flags two months in advance before Independence Day and Republic Day. The stitching is done by local women, khaadi is made in the surrounding villages and everything else is done here”, he concludes with a smile.

When one asks Mataprasad ji who is walking alongside us, which teaching of the Mahatama’s he finds most significant personally and especially on the eve of Independence Day, he says “I like Gandhi ji’s charkha. While I work on it for an hour every morning, it teaches me two things one is to control my anger and frustration whenever the yarn breaks and the second to never give up, because each time the thread breaks you have to attach it and start spinning all over again.” He believes that these are the two qualities that helped Mahatma Gandhi win us independence.

But to Ramkripal Independence Day isn’t just another day, “All these colours I make go into making our flag every year. I feel the spirit of freedom while mixing the colours here for the flag that waves in Lucknow.” Mataprasad ji, Ramkripal, Suderlal and Brajesh may have never seen the Vidhan Sabha but it is from their labour that the Tiranga we salute flutters…in freedom.

Friday, August 03, 2007


In the Newsline--

On walking up the stairs to Kalbe Abed Plaza, Chowk and asking a bystander where one might find Hashim Akhtar Naqvi, the bystander’s face immediately lights up. “Hashim bhai!” he beams and without much ado guides you to Iqbal Manzil. “Is this the house of the famous calligrapher, Hashim Akhtar Naqvi?” one asks, nodding his head the guide confirms the obvious and takes you into a courtyard with pomegranate trees and henna bushes.

Just back from office, Mr. Naqi smiles as his wife Shehna points at a large creeper painted on the purple wall, “He painted that creeper and he shaded that wall too”. The large leaves of the creeper look life like while the tri-shaded wall, which is in lemon, green and yellow lights up their dining room. “It needs a touch up”, says Hashim modestly.

This architect, who studied architecture at the government college of arts and crafts Lucknow is listed in the Limca Book of Records for writing a single verse from The Koran “Bismillah-ir-Rehman-ir-Rahim”over five thousand times in different designs. “No two designs have been repeated,” he says with a sparkle in his eye, “Many people ask me how I remember whether I’ve made a design before or not. I have no answer to that question, when I sit down to write it is a form of prayer to me”.

Hashim Akhtar Naqvi was inspired by the calligraphy of his father, the Late Hasan Akhtar, who died when Hashim was barely two years old. In school, Hashim was fond of writing names in English and Hindi in different styles, “I started writing in Urdu much later” he laughs, remembering how his friends would coax him to write their ‘notes of love’ because his of his beautiful handwriting.

A painting of his most innovative design, a house designed in such a way that each letter of the Bismillah inscription forms a part of it, is mounted on one of his walls. There is another painting of a tree with 170 leaves, each of which is different from the other reads as Bismillah. “I was reading The Koran one day and thought of writing the verse 786 times, since the Arabic equivalent of Bismillah is 786”, he adds.

His first exhibition was in 1986 and he has had three since, “It is difficult to find sponsors for my work but it is Shamsi & Sons who have always encouraged me to continue with my passion for calligraphy” he says. In 1989 Hashim was awarded the first prize for “Innovative Calligraphy” at the All India competition of calligraphy organized by the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Arts in Srinagar. He has received no official recognition from the state or the Urdu Academies at Lucknow so far. Hashim believes that such an art has no future in the era of graphic design. But with glee he adds, “I have been invited to Iran to exhibit my works this year!”

But Shehna quickly quips“Very few people in our own neighborhood know he is a calligrapher”. Shehna is an extremely creative lady herself, “She is known to make dolls from vegetables” laughs her husband. Their daughters, Mansha, Kisa and Eema enjoy art as a hobby while Naqi’s mother’s hand made dolls are on exhibit at a museum in Delhi.

Hashim is also credited for making efforts to ‘Indianise’ Bismillah’s inscription, “I have written Bishmillah in every regional language and some foreign scripts such as Chinese and Hebrew as well” he muses. While out of the 113 Bismillah inscriptions used by the Dar-ul-Quran publishers, Bombay for their “Al Quran” 52 designs used are Naqi’s.

As he gathers his designs and puts them back into their shelf, he softly says that the verse means “In the name of God the merciful and compassionate” and so is his art.