That iconic 1980s song by The Buggles, Video Killed the Radio Star, celebrated the romance of the radio. Some of us revel in that kind of attachment to the past. It needn’t always be destructive nostalgia. Tube radios, classic turntables, music boxes, pocket watches and grandfather clocks: These are all objects of great beauty and functionality. But only a few of us invest time, effort and money into preserving and restoring such pieces.
Raj Jain, a Mumbai-based businessman with a passion for antiques, does so because, as he says, “(these things) were created with so much detailing and love that it breaks my heart to let go”.
Jain is currently absorbed in restoring a music box he acquired from a family in Kutch, Gujarat. “It’s difficult to say how old it is, but it would be close to 100 years. Nobody in the Bhatia household had the time for a broken music box, and I was only too happy to pick it up,” he says. It is an ornately handpainted wooden box that used to play eight 1-minute chime-like tunes, which now sits on Jain’s desk waiting for its missing parts. “Music boxes usually have springs and combs; these snap because they’ve been wound too hard or just become brittle with time,” says Jain.
Popular mechanics: Mumbai-based Raj Jain acquired this music box from a family in Kutch, and is now waiting for replacement parts to fix it. Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Restoring anything with such intricate mechanics calls for some luck in finding the parts. Repairmen often use parts from other vintage items that are beyond repair. “Sometimes it could be just be a tiny brass coil that you need but you can do nothing but wait till you find it,” he explains.
Jain’s penchant for antiques dates back 10 years, when his ancestral family home in Kutch was damaged in the Bhuj earthquake. His family’s unanimous opinion was that it should be razed to the ground. But Jain protested; this consequently left him with the responsibility of restoring it. “It was a beautiful experience; my learning curve,” he says.
Elsewhere, there are those who restore vintage pieces to different ends. For US-based Manmohan Durani, born and brought up in Kashmir, it was the memory of his late grandfather that he wanted to preserve in the ticking of a pocket watch. “This is something he carried on himself, touched and wound up every day,” remembers Durani. Bought sometime in the 1920s, this was the Aftab by West End Watch Co.
“While it lay as a keepsake for many years, I felt the urge to make it work again and thus began my search for watchmakers,” says Durani, who eventually got help from his uncle— T.N. Madan, a sociologist based in New Delhi.
“It has a winding key mechanism, like most other watches of the time. You had to wind it once a day, and it would unwind itself in the next 24 hours. The winder moves a coil inside, which was broken. It’s a delicate movement, and needed delicate work. I told Manmohan that this would cost some money, but he said it didn’t matter how much,” says Madan. After checking with many watch shops in Delhi’s Khan Market and Connaught Place, Madan found GangaRam and Sons on Vikas Marg, near their home in Preet Vihar, who agreed to send it to some watchmakers in Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh.
“When the watch came back to us, repaired, after three months, I would wind it religiously every night, but it would stop after 12 hours. So I went back to them,” says Madan. They greased it a bit but said that it’s because the brass part they put in was new and stiff, so there was resistance. They said, ‘have patience and keep winding, it’ll soften in time’.” It has.
2. FOLLOW A DIFFERENT ‘REAL TIME’
Make time for the real world by getting more efficient in the virtual world.
Dealing with incoming emails and notifications on Facebook and Twitter can take up the whole day, and keep you from getting any work done.
Follow these simple tips:
Email: Keep yourself from being flooded with emails by using third-party software like SaneBox, which works with Gmail, Outlook and other popular mail systems. It helps reduce inbox clutter. Mails are rated by five levels of importance, so you can stick to the important ones when you’re busy.
Facebook and Twitter: Cull your lists. You’ve responded to a lot of friend requests over the years, and it’s time to let the cruft go.
They won’t even get a notifier about it, and you’ll stop getting pointless updates about champagne brunches while missing out on news of your school friend’s newborn.
Using a site-blocker such as Chrome Nanny will help too, allowing you to access social networks for only a set amount of time daily.
3. CREATE A HOME RETREAT
Imagine a room with a stunning view: a filigree of green with light filtering in. Outside, on the balcony, there are birds chirping. A part of you just bursts into Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World, but stops in time because you don’t want to ruin the moment. The Armstrong aspiration apart, the rest is realizable, and doesn’t require you to extinguish your savings.
This can be your own home, and the idea is to transform it into the ultimate holiday retreat in 2012. Begin by de-cluttering. Let there be pockets of your home that are secluded. If there’s a storeroom, convert that wasted space into a reading room or a music room or just a room to dream in. Keep your books here, a music player, the old guitar or tabla that you’ve lost touch with. Do it up with photographs that make you happy, a couple of rugs, and string lights.
Elsewhere, introduce nature into your home. If you have a terrace or a balcony, fill it up with plants. Add a bird feeder, and some wind chimes; let it morph into an eco-lodge. If you have pets or children, watch how thrilled they get with the new surroundings (although there is a chance your dog might try to have a bird every now and then for lunch. Train it!). You’ll savour every moment you spend at home. And every time you want to run off to some place on holiday? Just run home instead.
4. STICH IN TIME
Don’t let your favourite pieces gather mould in the back of your closet because they need a little repair and you don’t have someone on hand to fix them. No number of trips to the mall are perhaps enough to replace that perfect white shirt; or the dress that has, over the years, learnt to flatter your curves just right.
Learn easy garment maintenance: Sew a button on, for a start. If a simple hem is beyond you, keep some double-sided fusing on hand so you can iron a hem in place.
5. MEND THE CRACKS WITH THAT FRIEND
It was a misunderstanding you haven’t bothered to fix. You didn’t have the “time”, you told yourself. The days have melted into weeks—and months—now you couldn’t care less. Make that call, write that email, do whatever it takes to fix things before the friend you learnt how to bike with becomes nothing more than a social acquaintance.
6. BACK UP THE PHOTO ALBUM
You’ve ditched your film rolls and gone digital. Fair enough. But don’t stop at storing photographs on your computer and displaying them on digital photo frames. Go for something more tangible, at least for those special albums: the Ivy League graduation, the scuba-diving trip to the Andamans, the 25th anniversary of your wedding.
You can create photobooks, a more polished version of the photo albums of yesteryear. Upload your photos on websites such as Zoomin, iTasveer or Snapfish—all of which have simple user interfaces—and choose from custom cover options for affordable photobooks in a variety of sizes. These are priced affordably, in the Rs 500-1,500 range, and shipping is usually free.
7. PUT TOGETHER A FESTIVAL CALENDAR
Let 2012 be the year you organize your life around your biggest interest. India’s cultural calendar is full through the year, so it shouldn’t be hard. Enjoy books? Plan your vacations to Jaipur and Kerala for the literature festivals—you can get the sightseeing in edgeways. Want theatre? Clear your schedule for the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) and Ranga Shankara festivals. Music? Take a look at the beautiful locations and timings of some of next year’s greatest festivals.
20-21 January:The Storm Festival in Coorg involves camping out and listening to some of the best Indian bands playing today:
Swarathma, the Raghu Dixit Project, Parvaaz and Indian Ocean, among others. For details, visit Stormfestivalindia.com.
Winter sunshine: Held in December every year, Sunburn is the biggest electronic dance music event in the country. Courtesy Sunburn Festival
5 February:Sulafest in Nasik is held at the Sula vineyards. There’s music, wine and winter sunshine just a few hours drive from Mumbai or Pune. To reach the organizers, visit Sulawines.com.
May: The Escape Festival of Music and Arts at Naukuchiatal, Uttarakhand, is three days of summer in the Himalayas, and 30 indie bands playing at a scenic lake resort.
26-30 October:The Rajasthan International Folk Festival at Jodhpur
combines the best of local and global folk music, and happens over Sharad Poornima, the brightest full moon of the year, at the gorgeous Mehrangarh Fort. For details, visit Jodhpurfolkfestival.org.
Musical pilgrimages: Raghu Dixit; and (top) members of the Mumbai-based metal band Bhayanak Maut performing at the first NH7 Weekender in Pune in November
November: The Bacardi NH7 Weekender in Pune is a three-day festival of independent, offbeat and off-the-record music, inevitably featuring some of the best and most eclectic live acts in India. For details, visit Nh7.in.
Mid-December: Sunburn in Goa is the biggest electronic dance music (EDM) festival in India and has been a one-stop shop for some of the most exciting EDM acts in the world. For details, visit Sunburn.in.
December-January (till 1 January): The Margazhi Season in Chennai is the ultimate platform for Carnatic classical music. With a month-long gala of sophisticated concerts organized by Chennai’s music sabhas and attended by a crush of Carnatic fans from all over the world, it’s a chance to hear the legends as well as exciting new voices. Additionally, the canteens are a historic byword all by themselves. For The Music Academy’s calendar, visit their site Musicacademymadras.in.
8. MAKE YOUR HOME PLASTIC-FREE
Know that faint ductile smell emanating from your plastic lunch box? It can convince a stubborn Tupperware-ian to convert.
Making your home free of plastic is impossible. The buttons on your remote control are likely to be plastic. So are some medicine bottles. But the kitchen is a good place to start. You will stumble on a lifestyle change—it’s been more than four months since the project at this writer’s home began, and there’s a long way to go before it can be a 95% plastic-free home. All junk, non-perishable foods such as instant noodles are wrapped in plastic and they’re difficult to preserve without the plastic unlike, say, breads or biscuits. Outlets of the Lifestyle chain of stores have limited and infrequent stock of wooden bread boxes, available for around Rs 1,300. Websites such as Indiamart.com and Alibaba.com provide telephone numbers of bread box manufacturers. Or find a local carpenter for a custom-made one.
The three golden, proven and tested steps for a plastic-free kitchen:
• Take a few weeks to replace all your plastic
containers with steel or glass ones. The best stainless steel product costs less than the Tupperware of the same size. Indian kitchens traditionally use steel, cast iron and copper. Embrace your Indianness. Most steel water bottles do contain some plastic, but the degree of toxic transfer to your drinking water, which is inevitable in plastic bottles, will be far less. Another bonus: Water remains cool in steel bottles. In Mumbai, The Bombay Store and most malls stock stylish glass and ceramic jars and bottles. Steel of the highest quality can be found in every supermarket or utensil store everywhere in India.
• Buy jute or cloth bags for your vegetable shopping. For meats and fish, carry your own container. The neighbourhood butcher’s initial amusement will soon wear off. Staying away from plastic makes supermarket shopping difficult as everything in a supermarket, including vegetables, is wrapped in plastic. You will go more to the local vegetable vendor or farmer’s market.
• Use a steel garbage bin (although that has some plastic in it too). Layering the bin with anything but plastic garbage bags is difficult to imagine, but three layers of newspapers works and makes you conscious that you shouldn’t throw wet garbage in your bin unless absolutely necessary. You are likely to waste less food. The steel bin lined by paper requires a wash every day.
It is a cycle, a slow process that takes getting used to, but freeing your body of even the smallest amount of dioxins, a kind of toxic chemical used in making plastic which transfers to food, will have long-term rewards.
9. PURGE THE FAST FOOD
Everything that can be preprepared, is. Supermarket aisles stock parathas, bhuna (roasted) masalas, coconut milk, and even mashed potatoes in packets. Convenience is a slippery slope. Why bake a cake when you can order one?
Mumbai-based nutritionist and Mint columnist Vishakha Shivdasani explains why throwing out pre-packaged food at all levels is the best thing to do: “Anything that is processed is not healthy. There are no FDA (US kind of) regulations that require bread pegged as ‘brown’ to mean it’s wholewheat.” Processed and pre-packaged foods spell convenience, but also include additives, toxic food colouring, chemical sugars and preservatives that cause hormonal imbalances.
You don’t have to be radical. Begin by local sourcing; find a local bakery for bread. Use the “whole” product; buy wheat instead of pre-packed flour, and search for a local flour mill. Buy curd, milk from a dairy, and seasonal vegetables from farming communities. Make your own masalas; they are fresh and enhance the flavour of food. It takes 5 minutes more than cutting open a carton of reddish-brown powder. Jams and sauces, bottled in-season when fruits or tomatoes are cheap, are a fun kitchen activity. The more you do, the more ways you will find to connect with the food you’re consuming.
10. GET FREEWHEELING
How do you help the environment, save on fuel costs, get a complete workout and get to work at the same time? Ditch the car and get a bicycle. Before you know it, biking enthusiasts say, it will become a way of life (maybe not in peak summer). Despite the fact that most motorists in India treat cyclists like they are the lowest life form on the roads, urban cyclists are a fast-growing tribe. And they are exploring every bit of India on pedal power. Ladakh, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh are favourites for intrepid mountain bikers, both the ones who pedal gently up and down winding switchbacks and soak in the view, and those who crank it up by hurtling downhill on dirt trails.
Bangalore is the biking capital of India, with dozens of biking groups and organizations such as Ride A Cycle, which organizes India’s premier bike race: the BSA Tour of Nilgiris. In Delhi, biking group PedalYatris goes on daily trips exploring the Aravallis. Rajasthan, the backwaters of Kerala, and coastal India are all prime destinations for bike tourists. If you are not part of a group, most adventure tourism companies arrange biking trips, and there are dedicated bike tour operators like Art of Bicycle Trips (www.artofbicycletrips.com) as well. Apart from Indian bikes, such as Hero Cycles and BSA Hercules, some of the world’s best bike brands, such as Merida and Kona, are now available in major metros.
11. REDISCOVER SLOW FOOD
Sealed handis of dum biryani, baked until the meat is tender; dal simmered for 36 hours till it’s creamy without the addition of cream, and Peking Duck hung over an open flame till crispy and flavourful. Slow Food is not just about taste though, it’s about awareness—where each ingredient of your food is coming from, how it’s grown, what’s gone into it, how it’s processed, cooked, and how it tastes. It is what the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh calls “Mindful Eating”.
Food activist and vice-president of the Slow Food movement, or the Terra Madre worldwide network, Vandana Shiva promotes the movement through her Navdanya Slow Food cafés in India. Shiva says it is about “replacing carelessness with care in food. It’s cooking with a sense of knowledge”. There was a time when Slow Food was about the deliberate tasting of high-quality food—cheese and wine, which made it elitist. Restaurants became the few able to devote time to slow cooking. So you’ll find an ITC talking about its Dal Makhani simmered for 36 hours or an Aurus talking about the 3 hours it takes to slow-cook lamb shanks.
Slow Food initially started off to counter the fast food culture, it then became about the cooking process itself, but has since moved beyond to become a grass-roots movement inclusive of biodiversity. Today, slow food is artisanal food vs industrial food; the Lijjat papads vs the factory papads; home-made pickle vs a store-bought pickle.
How does one join the Slow Food movement? In Thich Nhat Hanh’s famous eating-an-apple illustration, he says: “Look deeply at the apple in your hand and you see the farmer who tended the apple tree; the blossom that became the fruit; the fertile earth, the organic material from decayed remains of prehistoric marine animals and algae, and the hydrocarbons themselves; the sunshine, the clouds, and the rain. Without the combination of these far-reaching elements and without the help of many people, the apple would simply not exist.”
One part of it is this mental exercise.
Physically, goals to set yourself include setting a time apart to eat; seating yourself to eat, not reading/watching TV/talking while eating, and understanding the play of flavours in taste. Shiva busts the myth that Slow Food means cooking for hours together. “It’s slowing down in the overall preparation of food,” she says, “In the cooking process, it means educating yourself on how the ingredients react in different methods of cooking, and with each other.” This knowledge extends to using vessels that enhance the flavour of the ingredient rather than chucking everything into a microwave or pressure cooker.
1/2 cup jhangora/barnyard millet/samak
1 onion, chopped
1 green chilli, chopped
1/4 cup green peas, boiled
1/4 cup carrots
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp oil
2 tbsp coriander, chopped
Salt to taste
Clean jhangora thoroughly. Blanch it in two cups of hot water for 4 minutes. Drain and keep aside. Heat the oil in a pan. Add the onion and green chilli and sauté till the onion turns translucent.
Add peas, carrots, jhangora and salt, and sauté for 3-4 minutes. Add 11/2 cups of water and cook. Add lemon juice and garnish with the coriander. Serve hot.
Recipe courtesy Vandana Shiva.