Shanto, the young man in Riyas Komu’s poster, is not someone you’re likely to know, though that may not preclude you from recognizing in his countenance something familiar. Because Shanto, like so many other citizens of this city, is a migrant—a small-town boy from Kerala who left a life of scant opportunity and money to make it in Mumbai.
He is, in every sense of the word, a real Mumbai Indian, as deserving of the moniker as the city’s IPL (Indian Premier League) cricket team, whose logo Komu has appropriated with intentional irony. “Whenever I think of freedom, I don’t normally think of it in the usual context,” says Komu. “I always notice people who don’t have freedom.”
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For Anjum Hasan, author of Lunatic in My Head, the idea of freedom can be consummated in a work of art (or fiction) if it can accommodate an underlying strain of entrapment. The protagonist of Revolutions, a short story that Hasan conjured up in just about 10 days for Lounge, is a photographer pursuing a dream in Mumbai.
Cryptically named Science, the young man is self-sufficient in his own visual instinct and knowledge until he meets an established photographer who becomes his idol and mentor. His search for creative freedom is tinged with a deep need for acknowledgement by the older, experienced and often uncaring artist.
It would be accurate to say that Rahul Mishra has made full use of his education. But not in the way you might imagine.
The 29-year-old’s background in science (he has a bachelor’s degree in physics from Kanpur University) helps when he’s working on new techniques such as reversible and seamless ensembles. To create tags for the garments and visiting cards for his new company, The Apple Tree, he applies what he learnt about graphic design while doing his masters at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, and the Istituto Marangoni, Milan, Italy.
But what influences the young designer the most aren’t the institutions he’s studied at. His prime sources of inspiration are the weavers of traditional Indian fabrics and the art they’ve been practising for centuries.
While Rahul Akerkar changes into his chef’s coat, white ceramic bowls containing multicoloured ingredients are laid out for him by his staff at his kitchen in Mumbai’s Indigo—arguably the country’s best stand-alone restaurant serving European-Asian cuisine.
Akerkar’s freedom-inspired dish for us—Spice-rubbed Tuna with Clove Reduction, Black Peas and Zucchini—is going to be a part of his new menu that’ll be launched by the end of this month.
The ingredients Akerkar uses are those that he has always seen in his grandmother’s kitchen: coriander powder, brown sugar, cloves, chilli powder, cumin seed powder and a few others. He first readies kaala vatana usal (a black peas preparation). “In my kitchen, this is freedom,” he says, laying out large pink slices of tuna, “to be able to make an Indian-inspired dish and present it in a contemporary, Western way”.
PRATEEK JAIN, GAUTAM SETH
Prateek Jain and Gautam Seth, partners who run the trendy Klove Studio, are quintessential examples of Generation Now. Freedom, they believe, is about the individual.
Seth, 28, a chemical engineer from Ambala, and Jain, a business administration graduate from Delhi, have been family friends for a long time. They started Klove Studio because both were looking for an opportunity to experiment. “Being able to do what you want to and pushing yourself to do the best in that is how I think young Indians define freedom today. I am no different,” says Seth. “For me, freedom is not what our parents, grandparents or even the artisans whom we work with define it as. It’s not about India and the Raj, but about individual growth and expression.”
Writer and Illustrator
Amruta Patil could be describing herself in the opening lines of the comic strip she created for us: “Aditi had the kind of unblinking stare and intensity that can be funny, daunting or exhausting, depending on your emotional weather report.” But don’t go too far with comparisons. “You can’t remove yourself from your writing,” 29-year-old Patil explains, on a drizzly afternoon in Panjim, Goa. “You’re distilling the world through you, but you can’t concentrate just on me, me, me.”
There is an introspective, searching quality in her eyes and voice as she talks, and that quality is mirrored and intensified in her work. Author and artist of the acclaimed graphic novel Kari (2007), Patil’s artistry is, as our Cult Fiction columnist dubs it, “the most original comic strip work I’ve seen in India”.
Browse through Sandeep Biswas’ photographs and you’ll be left wondering where they were shot. Silhouettes stand out against an expansive sky; water reflects the outline of a building; a curved staircase enters and exits the frame—his works deliberately obscure the world. The context of the photograph doesn’t matter because, according to Biswas, his work isn’t about the exterior world; he prefers to interpret his own emotions through surreal imagery. Though he does some commercial work, Biswas focuses most of his energy on his art photography. His last series, Reflections, showed in Pakistan in 2006 and Singapore and the US in 2007.
It came as no surprise that when approached to explore the idea of freedom in modern India through photography, Biswas, 37, began at a private place. As a child in Delhi, he celebrated Independence Day by waving the flag—with pride, but without knowing “what you’re proud of”. Nowadays, though, he uses the day to reflect on whether he can be proud of his own self. “It reminds me that I have a responsibility to keep my work constructive. Every act automatically affects the world.”