Blogging from Germany: Shany

Shany Mathew Photo: Leonhard Kieffer 
I first met her through gauzy pink curtains and over glasses of Turkish ayran in a courtyard in Jungbusch. There was a party at the Orientalische Musikakademie Mannheim (OMM), not far from the Pop Akademie, and cycling back to my flat, I saw Emiliano Trujillo and Peter Hinz who introduced me to Shany Mathew, glittery jewel-eyed Bharath Natyam dancer from Frankfurt. I was in Mannheim to work with the Schnawwl ensemble for Das Lied Von Rama and of course we had plenty to talk about.

I met her again in April 2013, with the fabulous photographer of musicians - Roland Rossbacher, and she had just returned from a tour of Eastern Europe with Bombay Jayashree and Priyadarshini Govind. She wasn't performing, she went just to be in the atmosphere of the tour. We talked for a long while at the cafe-bar of the Altefeuerwache in Mannheim. 

I was intrigued by her experience as a second generation German of Malayali origin who had somehow and against all odds developed an abiding love for Bharat Natyam. How does it hang, I wondered? A Syrian Christian girl who is clearly devoted to her dance guru.  How do you stretch past the stereotypes (Non Resident Indians attracted to Indian traditional arts etc) and come into your own? 

So...here is the journey of Shany Mathew, a unique and wonderful soul!

About life in Germany:

I was born in Germany. My father took me by my hands and exposed me to the world of Indian dance and culture at a very early age. He was a senior member of the Indian community in Heidelberg and organized several cultural programs that involved Indian musicians and dancers. Sometimes there were professional artistes who came from India and I was fascinated by their stories and performances. For NRIs like us, it was always very special to be dressed in Indian attire thrice a year and participate in the revelry. It felt like a small Indian oasis and a welcome break from the mundane German lives that we led. At the same time I was watching Malyalam movies at home and mesmerized by dancers like Shobhana and Revathy. This upbringing entrenched Indian classical music and dancing deep inside my soul in the formative years of my life!

About that first moment when she fell in love with dance:

I remember vividly the first live classical performance I watched at the tender age of 4. I was awed by the twin sisters from India performing Bharatnatyam in a community function at Heidelberg. Apart from getting swayed by their beauty and costumes, I was lost in a world of expressions and hand gestures, thoroughly impressed by their power and attention to perfection. I had this surreal feeling that they were talking to me and nothing could distract them from anything that was happening around us… as if they were goddesses and telling me something through their story…as if my mission in life was conveyed to me at a very early stage by god through the medium of humans. I felt very peaceful after watching this performance and something deep inside me told me that I have to learn this dance form..
Seven years had to pass till my wish could be fulfilled under the tutelage of Alexandra Romanova  in Germany, who was a disciple of the renowned dancer Yamini Krishnamurthy.

With Alexandra Romanova
About being brown skinned in an all white village:

Indeed I was brought up in an area where there were very few foreigners or Indians. In the bigger cities like Cologne, Frankfurt etc. where there were many foreigners, it was common for the kids to interact and socialize with fellow Indians, who sometimes were in the same school or classroom. They played together,  had a sense of belongingness and never felt isolated. But I was strongly connected with Germans; the German way of life, as my friends and surrounding was predominantly German.  I learnt German folk dances in school, had classes in western violin, went for artistic gymnastics, was an altar girl and an active member of church activities.

My parents claimed that when I was a kid and saw unknown Indian or brown-skinned people, I turned my face and walked backwards to observe them. I must have felt that they somehow belong to us and my original folk.  The aunties would then wave or wink at me! My desire for India and my origin was very strong.

20 years ago it was much more difficult to be brown skinned or “different”. India was only known as a third world country and the media had mostly negative reports to write about Indians. I never experienced overt discrimination or racism, but there was always an underlying feeling that you don’t really belong to this community and that you are “different”. It didn’t matter, how fluent you were in German, how qualified you were or how rooted in the German culture….

Meanwhile I could feel a change and a kind of open mindedness enter society due to globalization and a positive focus on India. To be brown now, seems to be even “in”.  Moreover, Asians and Africans are also taking important positions in the society like teachers, doctors etc. and even the smaller towns are getting more cosmopolitan. I believe that a good period has started; a time of opening borders in the head, interest in other cultures, cross over projects. But still, like every transition phase, it needs time, patience, and understanding.

About dreams for her dance:

I am already fulfilled and happy, grateful for all the projects that I have worked on. They have already far exceeded my expectations.

But, I do have a few dreams...

I am blessed to have a wonderful Guru, Rangaprabha Girish, in Kerala, who has been training me under the Guru Shishya tradition for the last 21 years. Normally, people choose a Guru who is very popular and marketable as it helps them in their performances to mention a more international acclaimed and renowned teacher. But I was very much impressed by the value system of my Guru, his passion and true devotion towards the art and especially towards his students. He gets the best from everyone, and magnanimously helps underpriviledged children bring out their hidden talent. These qualities made me always return to him and continue my studies even after my Arangetram. However, though he teaches even renowned senior Gurus in Kerala, due to social ostracism, he never gets his due.  

This is why I would like to bring out this hidden gem and reveal him to the world so that more deserving students from across the world can benefit under his tutelage. This is not just a dream but my primary mission. May my dance always be a dedication to his work and personality and bring an awakening among the people.

And last but not least, I would wish that my performances leave the audience touched. Through art I see a wonderful opportunity to unite people and blur the boundaries between countries.

About life as an "Indian" dancer living in contemporary Germany

I am performing and teaching in institutions where there is a promotion of cultural exchange, especially between India and Germany. On one hand I have my very pure traditional classical programs, where I am explaining exactly the meaning and content of the art forms and the story of the performance.  On the other hand, I am participating in cross over projects with foreign musicians, thereby reaching an extended audience who would normally not go for a traditional performance.
This is the a good time to be in Germany, as a lot of Germans are looking towards Indian values and beliefs to enhance their quality of life… dance being one of them. Moreover, since I keep visiting India often, I am also able to explain to my audience the socio-cultural significance of the dance.

About working with western artists and breaking away from the 'NRI' groups?

There was no significant moment when I decided this. It just happened to me that I got an offer to perform with western musicians and I was open minded to try to implement my ideas and own creativity. Also, since there are dearth of South Indian musicians in Germany to accompany Bharatnatyam performances I was a ‘recorded perfomer’ largely dancing on my Guru’s compositions.
With western musicians and senior Indian musicians, who brought influences from jazz, rock and other genres, a new world was opening to me. It was an amazing energy exchange and I felt that we were speaking the same language though we belonged to different parts of the world. 

At the same time, I wasn’t very motivated with just being an NRI dancer, as largely the performances were for keeping the superficial tradition alive and not necessarily for understanding the soul of this dance.

Nevertheless, I blend my performances effectively, keeping the roots and the traditions of the Indian classical dance so that it doesn’t create confusion.

With a string quartet
About influences:

More than dancers or choreographers, musicians who are experienced in world music inspire me. They gave me ideas and I tried to implement them without losing the roots of the classical dance form. So I am influenced by global artistes - Oriental, African, European. Subconsciously I take something from every artist I meet. Furthermore, my first teacher Alexandra Romanova is definitely an inspiration with her work. She translates poems and uses our Indian art forms as a medium to communicate contemporary themes through -ballet, contemporary dance and the classical Indian dance -Bharatnatyam. 


Blogging from Germany: Of Spargel, Waldbeeren and Baerlauch

In Germany I could easily eat sausage. No problem. One lovely smoky little kielbasa, one grilled weisswurst with sweet mustard and my 10 year meat famine would be done for. 10 years of vege...oops, pescetarianism down the tubes just cause of one nice porky wurst. Sigh...

But I hold out because of all the divine plants and herbs and berries that the German spring has to offer, Spargel, Waldbeeren and Baerlauch being my favourites. And Waldmeister ofcourse, for the delicate grassy magic it makes of a jug of chilled white wine.

Spargel was the first of the trio that we met, on a cool spring evening, in Credi (our set designer) and Anne's garden. Anne had a made a giant pot of boiled spargel and new potatoes. I think there was also a tomato tart and salad. But for me, it was all about the spargel. Dunked in melted butter, some juice squirted out of a lemon and....heaven! Not for nothing is this ivory-white chubby asparagus, virgin, untouched by the sun, called Frühlingswonne or Springtime Delight. A taste so subtle that anything else would kill it, and really, a sensualist's treat: dip, lick, suck, chew. It's no wonder it is also reckoned to be an aphrodisiac. People eat it with Hollandaise, (much like it's chlorophyll tinged relate, green asparagus) with pasta, in quiche, salad and so on. But for me, nothing's better that boiled spargel. Perhaps sometime with some shaved Grana Padano, and that's it.

Waldbeeren or wild berries are omnipresent in Germany. A sour mix of purple and red, tiny berries sourced in the woods; fairy-sized blackberries, rose hip, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, hawthorn... Mix them with natural yogurt or muesli, they make the prettiest cheesecake or panna cotta topping, lovely as a compote with plain vanilla cake. I even had a voluptuous velouté of spargel with sundried waldbeeren that was quite exquisite.

Now if spargel and waldbeeren are the girly-girls of the German springtime, you couldn't find a wilder punk rocker than Baerlauch or Bear's Garlic. Also known as wild garlic or ramson, the treat here are the leaves. You've got to be brave, 'cause this one is seriously strong. It looks like it could be a lilly, but rub the leaf on your palm and sniff... no lilly of the valley, this! It grows wild in damp woodlands and in ditches and makes a beautiful, robust, really different pesto. No basil, just baerlauch. I haven't seen it in India, so if anyone has, please tell me where to get some!

Wild Garlic Pesto

1 large bunch of wild garlic, washed

1 small bunch of parsley, washed

60gms pine nuts, toasted

60gms parmesan cheese

150mls olive oil (no need for extra virgin)

squeeze of lemon/lime juice

salt and pepper to taste

Place all the ingredients into a food processor apart from the olive oil and blitz for a minute or two then slowly pour in the olive oil until blended.

Waldmeister! ah....The infusion of this herb (Woodruff in English) in white wine resulting in the delightful Maibowle is one of those eternal matches. Bogey and Bacall, Raj and Nargis.....waldmeister and Reisling. Reminiscent of la fée verte, but lighter, not so scary.

Apparently Johann Strauss II wrote a lesser known operetta called Waldemeister, but that takes me nowhere. This much I know, all of the above quite made up for the sorry glutenfrei Tofuwurst I tried to cheat my taste buds with. 


Boy with a Suitcase: 4 Reasons to love the Play

I have been with it for three years now. Have travelled with it and lived with it in close, no, very close quarters. I have watched about 60 performances of it in Bangalore, Mannheim, Bombay, Madras, Pune, Stuttgart and Berlin. And I have been at perhaps 5 or 6 times as many rehearsals, meetings and discussions, so, yeah, I'm super-objective.

Berlin was simply the cherry that did it. The magic catalyst that moved the play from being a wonderful collaboration between two theatres in two countries (Ranga Shankara, Bangalore and Schnawwl, Mannheim) to the big league - a successful, traveling production that draws in large audiences. 

The team was performing at Augen Blick Mal! the famous festival of the best of German theatre for children and young adults. This takes place in gothic-mad-wonderful-tear-drenched Berlin at the Theatre an der Parkaue. There was theatre from all over Germany and about 6 invited international productions or collaborations. For instance, The Blue Boy from Brokentalkers, Dublin and A Papnő from Krétakör, Budapest. 

And there was Mike Kenny's Boy with a Suitcase.

I saw Roberto Frabetti, the godfather of theatre for toddlers and director of La Baraca Testoni Ragazzi at one show and Dr.Wolfgang Schneider, the president of ASSITEJ, was at the premiere. There were many who had come from great distances, dramaturgs and directors, who had heard of this play and didn't want to miss it. Our friend, Agnes Stache-Weisk, who had seen it in Mannheim drove all the way from Munich with her daughter Johanna, to catch a show. There were musicians and young people who came for the music. There were actors, students, friends from JES, Stuttgart who wanted to catch one more viewing, critics, academics. And without exception, they were blown away. The last show saw the cast getting 8 curtain calls and a heartfelt standing ovation. People would wait for the actors after the show and tell them they wept through the play. Others were overcome by the performances (Nikolai Jegorov plays 6 finely defined characters and everyone is so impressed by the quality and emotionalty of the Indian actors). All spoke of the music.

Nikolai Jegorov

I could understand pretty much all of this because by now the play has found its feet and become quite seamless. It flows beautifully and always pushes the right emotional buttons. But what is interesting is that I can still stand to watch it. No, seriously, anyone in the theatre will understand that however fond or invested you are, it gets insane watching performance after performance. But why do I still watch and enjoy this play?  Here are 4 good reasons:

1. The actors and musicians appear to care for each other, in that they actually listen to each other and perform so as to lift each other. BV Shrunga and David Benito Garcia, are as different as two human beings could be, the one satvic and vegetarian, the other hedonistic and deeply carnivorous. The one from Hanumanthnagar, Bangalore and the other of Spanish origin from Luxembourg. Yet when they perform, we've been asked so many times if they are brothers, so lovely is their synchronicity, keeping it spare, keeping it upbeat. When they run forward in fear and wonder, the Naz and the older storyteller Naz, to look at the guns, they have a certain step and angle to their necks that is full-on doppelgänger. The Naz that we see in Shrunga is as yet naive, underexposed, over emphatic. David's Naz has been through it all and is ironic and acerbic in his view of the world.

David Benito Garcia

BV Shrunga

2. It has moments in it that I find subtle and deeply touching. Bookending the play are two such emotional milestones. When the play starts, the adult storyteller Naz recollects home and wonders what it means, this word - HOME. In the same frame we see the young Naz asleep in his tiny home as his mother, played by MD Pallavi, covers him with a blanket and sings a Kannada lullaby - Haavi kandamma. One single moment and it conveys so much. A blanket and a lullaby: the multi-lingual quality of the protagonist's adventure, a mother's love, memories of security, nostalgia for a time that has passed. At the end of the play, Naz reaches London, the city all his dreams are built on. He comes to his sister's home, the sister who migrated years ago and whose postcard has been Naz's inspiration and lodestone. In a heart-stopping moment, his sister (also played by MD Pallavi) screams at him - "Why did you come....it's the same old world....people spit at you in the streets....there's work for everyone who will do the dirtiest jobs...it's like hell on earth" and we see Naz's dream world slip away from him. His world of Sinbad stories and fantastical escapes from evil antagonists. In that moment the play becomes hyper-real and you see in the sister and Naz what it really means to migrate: the loss of home. There is a third moment that I always wait for. Naz and his mother are in a refugee camp. A human-trafficker, played by Nikolai Jegorov, is present. The mother tries to negotiate with him to take them away from the camp. But she doesn't have enough money so he walks upstage, away from her. She harshly says to Naz "Wait here"and briskly releasing her scarf covered hair so it flows loose she walks to the trafficker. On the sarod, Konarak Reddy, plays Kaushik Bhairavi. We don't hear the exchange between the mother and the trafficker, but so much is implied.

MD Pallavi

3. What a work of art a good set is. Our set designer, Christian Thurm, went through many variations - with projections, without, an arc-like set, dark brown walls and then finally settled on a set that consisted of 2 parts:
(i) The upstage musician's area which consisted of an installation of metal stands and instruments. This was a complex arrangement with a large curved metal frame for the thunder sheet marking stage right and the guitar stands and an interesting horizontal stand for the sarod marking stage left. Centrestage was an array of drums including a cajon, darbuka, wind chimes and bows. In between were 2 rigged sewing machines, small instruments such as cymbals, rattles, a shruthi box, ocean drum, horns and a large basin of water 
(ii) The downstage actor's area which consisted of 4 canvas covered boxes about 6ft x 2.5ft and one small bench of the same fabric. That's it. 4 boxes, 1 bench, the actors and the stage. Un moment...one details should not be omitted. The boxes were covered with an off-white canvas as I mentioned before, but their corners were finished with beige leather, much like the corners of suitcases! I thought this was a marvel of deconstruction and wit.  
As I watch the play I always wonder at the mind of a set designer and particularly the mind of this one. The contrast between the density upstage and the vacuity downstage, the metal versus the wood. How did he come up with such a simple set that allows the actors to create stories on stage that stimulate the imagination of the sudience. In the course of the play the boxes are different homes, walls, the mountains, a boat, a lorry, shelter and eventually a tiny ghetto allotment. No tricks, everything in evidence. Spartan.

4. The music is always a live concert. This is not theatre music playing some kind of background-soundtrack-musak role. This is bold, rock-worthy, emotional and skilled. Embedded in the dramaturgy and in each the scene, always with the actors, lifting every moment, every character. Nothing remains static because of this. Another feature of the music is the sense of irony and subtext it imbues the narrative with. The play begins with Pallavi singing Padharo Mhare Desh against the other actors murmered chant of the word for 'home' in their native languages. So... Zuhause, Mane, Veed, Dom, Casa and so on. Padharo Mhare Desh is itself a Rajasthani song that rings a welcome. 'Welcome to this great land', goes the song. And the audience indeeds hears the invitation in Pallavi's singing.    
The first turning point, the arrival of guns in the village, is marked by loud rhythm guitar and cajon on the public address system. This jolts even the most somnolent child into feeling the danger of the situation. Cheap toys are used to make a soundscape in the refugee scene. A Kannada lullaby becomes the essence of the mother. Sarod, the descendant of the Afghani rubab, is used to communicate the desert feeling of the refugee camp as well as the loss of something great. Real sewing machines create a drone against which Konarak taps his guitar to create harmonics and Coordt plays polyrhythmically against a standard 4/4. Windchimes play Big Ben to signify Naz's arrival in London. Konarak's heart breaking harmonic minor alaap on Sindhu Bhairavi is the undertow of the conversation between the siblings that culminates in the sister's breakdown.

I was always against the last song, rhythmic mash-up of Padharo Mhare Desh and the Home chant. I felt it was a bit of a pastiche and added on simply to create a shiny-happy feeling after what is clearly a sombre moment. So I couldn't explain why my heart soared every time I heard Pallavi's voice begin singing after the last line, Naz's "And thank you for all the stories." And then I heard the director, Andrea Gronemeyer, once tell a discussion group that, for her, the most important moment in the play is when Kryzia, essayed with magic and charm by Simone Oswald, replies to Naz's bleak retort about having nothing - "Nothing? You've got stories."

Simone Oswald           Photo credit - Christian Kleiner

So that's why my heart soars. Because this play is eventually about that backpack that we carry, which contains something far more precious that smartphones or fast cars or whatevs. Our past. Our stories. That is why.

So, yeah, I figured who better than me to write a review :)

Andrea Gronemeyer


Blogging from Germany: Interview with Sophia Stepf

(Let it be noted that Sophia Stepf answered these questions from Kreuzberg, Berlin while eating dosais and pesto with M.D.Pallavi, protagonist and sole performer of C Sharp C Blunt. Let it also be noted that I have absolutely no idea why this blog post suddenly has a white background. One hour of trying to undo this has further convinced me that the limited intelligence of APPS like Blogspot compels me to put my heft behind SHILPA and pick up a hammer.)

Sophia Stepf was born in Kassel /Germany and lives between Berlin and Bangalore. She has studied dramaturgy for theatre and media and now she does all sorts of things with her company Flinntheater and her lable Culture for Competence. She believes in the power of life experiences and experiential learning, she likes to watch HBO series and to run in the forest, she is not into capitalism too much but benefits from it, she wants a lifelong visa for India and more funding for the arts world wide.

1. As an expert on inter-cultural relations Sophia, what is your personal opinion on Ragi Mudde? Have you tasted it? If so, did you swallow or chew? Can you imagine a mudde-spargel combine? Please describe.

A: Yes I have! Many times. I love it now, but its an aquired taste. I was told to swallow it and not chew. I chewed it and I like the consistency now. It also tastes insanely healthy. Mudde Spargel, difficult.
Option 1: 2 asparagus and bechamel sauce wrapped in Ragi Dosa
Option 2: The mudde demands a spicy component which asparagus is not, so with mudde you'd have to make the asparagaus in some spicy way. So the sauce would be the thing: I would suggest fry the asparagus in a little olive oil, add pepper and salt and maybe some thmye or estragon. Then make a bechamel sauce with a lot of the sour component in it like vinegar.

2. You have lived and worked in India. Have you ever had Gobi Manjoori? How's that for     intercultural? Please comment.

A: Apart from the name it does not taste or look intercultural to me. It looks and tastes and is produced very Indian, much like Pakora, no? I feel it is the vegetarians substitute for chicken, as it is fried to a chickenlike consistency. If it was ever not Indian, it has been completey appropriated: sinful and spicy street food.

3. But seriously, do you think Katrina Kaif has a future in India after Sheila ki Jawani? Will anyone marry her or is she simply too sexy for us? 

A: Can you ever be too sexy?????? Maybe she doesn't want to get married?

4. You do recall our conversation about said star of Yadon ki Baraat - Zeenat Aman. Would she have had a future in Germany? Would anyone marry her?

A: Who is that woman and what kind of future? I would not marry her, she is too old for me. 

5. As the director of the recent C Sharp B Blunt in Bangalore, what is your opinion on blunt female APPS? Do you think they should zip it? Are sharp female APPS too much for the Indian market? How do Germans like their female APPS? Also, what do you think of Michelle Obama's blunt? (Just askin')

A: In the digital world there is a new fight against sexism. Because there is more and more sexism in the digital world. I think it is time to offer alternatives. If they come in form of APPs or movements like FEMEN, or initiatives like "MissRepresentation" or "A girls guide to taking over the world" - we need a new global feminist movement. Its not about India or Germany, sexism is all over capitalism, because sex still sells best. (Note: She pointedly ignored Michelle's hair, she must have something against capitalism)

6. Were you supplied tea during your rehearsals in Bangalore? Masala or plain? Any other snacks? Bonda, Vade, Maggi noodles? 

A: Coffee, Masala Chai, Dosa. We all decided that Maggie is evil and banned it, although we like it. Idli / Vada we had a lot too. Tonight I am making Dosa with Pesto, if that works out, tastewise, I am in culinary heaven.

7. What would you say are the critical differences between Indian and German rehearsals? Be blunt.

A: My rehearsals are not "German" as I devise my plays in both countries and my process might seem completely chaotic to a German subsidised theatre person. The morning to evening 8 hour rehersals was new for my Indian team. 

8. What are your future plans for the play? Do you foresee any additional activties for the perfect Shilpa? Would she dance? Cook? Iron? Mastur...oh, never mind.

A: Shilpa 404 might become a little more dangerous in the next run of show. Yes, she will. And then there will be the German version of Shilpa for the Berlin shows, who can be even blunter and wilder.
We see this show travelling, hopefully more in India and the Indian diaspora. 

9. Is there any likelihood that there will be a new male APP in the future? Would your APP have abs? Will he and Shilpa marry (like Ken and Barbie)? In Germany will they live together? Would your Indian audience accept this?

A: Shilpa 606 will be a giant like google or facebook. She will decide what you see and what you want. She will never marry, she will fuck your brain gently and you won't know it. 

10. Do you have any final words of advice to young theatre artists...Black or white? Sunnyside up or double fried? Polka dot or checks? Paul or John?

A: Do your own thing, experiment, follow your instinct, find new forms, keep working relentlessly and never lose faith that you can change your world.

MD Pallavi in C Sharp C Blunt
Thank you Sophia Stepf. We await, with bated breath and much optimism, the arrival of Shilpa 606. 

Postscript: For my readers who requested an explanation of ragi muddhe and gobi manjoori, I resort to trusty Samosapedia, the last word in South Asian lingo.

Ragi mudde: http://samosapedia.com/e/ragi_muddhe Ragi is a super healthy iron rich indigenous millet. 

Gobi manjoori: http://samosapedia.com/e/gobi_manchurian Locally, no one says Manchurian, that's too esoteric, so Manjoori is what it is.

Spargel: The German word for asparagus and specifically the gorgeous fat white asparagus that is in the markets in spring, a specialty in Mannheim.

Blogging from Germany: Strawberry und Chilli Chutney (dedicated to Ruhi)

This post is dedicated to Ruhi Jhunjhunwala ;)

Last year in Amsterdam, Ruhi and Zui, developed a sudden craving for Indian food. Dunno why, considering they were steeped in the history of the Red Light District and anything from a coffee shop should have sufficed. Eat Space Cake, Ruhi.

Cooking Indian with no spices is super interesting. I always enjoy buying whatever is available and seeing what one can cook up. So.....No jeera, no haldi, no mustard seeds, no whole garam masala, no curry leaves, no chilli powder, no dhania.

I made a Peach Chutney to eat with vegetable pullao and raita and Ruhi has wanted to recipe ever since. In the same way, I made a cool Strawberry and Red Chilli chutney yesterday in Münster.

Here's an approximation:

Strawberry und Red Chilli Chutney

1 punnet of strawberries (500 gms) - cut into quarters
I medium onion - chopped
4 or 5 or 10 fresh red chillies - cut into rings
erm....everything else is just bits of bobs, so go with your nose and tongue.

In a small pan, warm about 1 tablespoon of oil (I used sunflower) and add 1 stick of cinnamon and a few whole peppercorns (black or pink). Then a teaspoon or so of brown sugar (or white or honey) and the chillies. Let this soften for a minute or so. Remember, to use nose to sniff for goodness and tongue to taste for rightness. Then add the strawberries and salt to taste. Finally about a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar.

It should all be ready in less than 5 minutes from start to finish and should taste spicy/tangy/a little sweet and a little salty but truly, truly, truly yummy.

You could substitute peaches, nectarines or apples for the strawberries...toss in some raisins or sultanas. Use green instead of red chillies. Dry instead of fresh...There's just no stopping you on your search for mirchi on your tongue.

Wow. That's really precise. Alles klar?!

Blogging from Germany: Institut für Angewandte Wirklichkeitsverwechslung

This is becoming a motif. Reality messed up, yo.

Today I'm facilitating an actors workshop at Theatre Münster on Illusion and Reality. http://www.theater-muenster.com/

The artistic director of the Junges Theatre, the superbly witty und pretty Julia Dina Heße, has set up an imaginary Institute for Practical Mixed-Up Reality or Institut für Angewandte Wirklichkeitsverwechslung. Imaginary scientists and educators from the imaginary institute go off to real schools and devise magical games for real children. All towards a common end: Is what we are told by the adults around us the absolute truth? The rules we are asked to follow, are these the only possible rules?

Julia Dina Heße In Kerala, India
For instance, Manuel, an actor from the ensemble, set himself up as a teacher of Math and English. He told the children they were experimenting with some state of the art new learning methods. He spoke to the children in English peppered with German (This is the modern approach to learning languages, he said, when the children tittered) and handed out a math quiz and said they'd have 20 minutes to complete it. He then began humming high pitched monotone, saying this would improve concentration. He also established a rule that said they must all stand and massage their temples every ten minutes. The children stood, massaged their temples and began work on the math quiz. In 5 minutes, Manuel took away their sheets. When they protested, he said the time too was part of the plan. He didn't want to stress them out when they began. German children are brought up with the desire to excel, get better grades...so never doubted him for a minute. They objected, mildly, to the humming, but said - 'If it improves our focus, why not?' They accepted what was offered to them as truth inviolate: hook, line and sinker. When they were told it was just an experiment with reality, ah, that's when the dialogue actually began.

As I was devising my games for this afternoon, I realized that anything I said about Indian rules or rituals to a western group would seem like an out and out fabrication. Try this:
- Menstruating women mustn't touch pickles for fear they will spoil
- Buying gold during Dhanteras will appease Goddess Lakshmi who will then make you very rich
- Don't look at the moon during Ganesh Chathurthi or Ganesha, the Elephant God will get mad because the moon laughed when his (Ganesha's) stomach burst after eating too many modaks.

At dinner last night Julia insisted that everyone eat with their fingers. There was shock, discomfort and a feeling that we are doing something radical, unseemly.

Alternate readings.

A dramaturg from Münster, Anna, told me a friend had visited India but was so culture shocked she couldn't step out of her hotel for 3 days. I told her I sometimes felt the same in Germany. Not to the same degree because we have so much more exposure, but culture shocked nonetheless, by the alone-ness on the streets amongst other things. So, yes, I know what she means.


But give me the serpent over the rope, it's alive, it's vital.

At workshop yesterday, Oliver, a film maker from  Fetter Fisch (http://www.fetter-fisch.de/) a group of Free Artists who are collaborating on this Illusion and Reality project was shooting some interviews for a film on the same subject. He asked me about the presence of illusion in Indian theatre and I just went 'glub glub glub'. I simply couldn't figure out what's what. Where does the one end in India. Nyaya or logic has gone for a six and everything exists in 600 shades of gray.

Dinner at Julia's home

Tamarind Seed Game


Snakes and Ladders
Life itself is a constant tussle between illusion and reality. On my lane for instance, this is what morning sounds like: Mrs. D'mello's hens making a racket on the roof, ghosts of Geeta doing kolam and then her Friday tulasi pooja, Jyoti combing her hair while looking at her reflection in the jeep mirror, Kuki practising Handel, Narsimha sweeping the garden while simultaneously fending off Mushroom's amorous advances and Tommy D'mello calling 'Ma, Ma, Ma, Ma.......' non stop for 45 minutes. Tommy is schizophrenic. Overtones of Tommy's father, dead for many years, singing the Ave Maria.

Next to this theatre feels like the place one can go to for some reality checks.