Sunday Long Reads: Artists’ exploring relationship with food, Jamdani at Cannes, Coomi Kapoor interview, and more

Read this week's interesting pieces here!

How artists have interpreted the presence and absence of food across the ages

At the 2017 Art Basel, the usually well-turned-out Subodh Gupta was seen walking up and down the aisles wearing an apron. Instead of mixing paints or setting up his sculptures, he was grinding spices, chopping vegetables and stirring a wok in a makeshift kitchen he had designed as part of an installation made of second-hand utensils. Alluding to India’s economic and social transformations, the enormous structure also housed a dining table. Here, Gupta served his seven-course feast of authentic Indian cuisine, including dishes from Bihar, to over 20 guests in four daily sittings, for a week. The spread included lentil soup, bhel puri, khichdi and saffron yogurt layered with slices of banana. The guests ate, chatted and made new friends.

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Why Bangladeshi actor Azmeri Haque Badhon’s Dhakai Jamdani look at an international red carpet is significant for the subcontinental weave

Last month, at the 74th Cannes Film Festival, when Bangladeshi actor Azmeri Haque Badhon walked the red carpet at the screening of her film Rehana Maryam Noor, what stood out was her attire for the occasion. Amid a sea of gowns and dresses, Haque’s beige-olive half-silk sari with gold threadwork on it was a hat tip to South Asia and to a craft form unique to the subcontinent — the Jamdani. In 2011, Indian Bengali actor Paoli Dam had walked the red carpet, too, in a red-and-white Dhakai Jamdani when her film Chhatrak had travelled to the French Riviera.

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When Shapoorji Pallonji funded Mughal-e-Azam and Khojeste Mistree became a religious pop star

Shapoorji Pallonji Jr was Pallonji Sr’s sixth child. He was only 13 years old when he was moved enough by his father’s business struggles to decide he would help out… In 1900, Shapoorji dropped out of school after completing the fifth grade to help his father…

The family’s early contracts were mostly military and PWD projects. In 1919, Pallonji Sr bequeathed his business to his son…

By working with experienced British army engineers and government civil engineers, Shapoorji gained invaluable technical experience and knowledge…

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‘A Parsi could belong to any religion or none’: Coomi Kapoor

Behedins (your father’s side) are distinct from Athornans (your mother’s side). What lines divide these two sections of the community, known for its absence of caste divisions?

I assure you there is absolutely no divide in the community on the Behedin-Athornan question. Parsis pride themselves for having no caste system, unlike most of India. In the 18th-19th centuries, they weren’t as restricted by social taboos as other Indian religions and could mix more freely with European traders and British colonial rulers. They, thus, had a head start in trade and commerce with the Europeans. The only distinction between Athornan and Behedin is whether you can be ordained a priest, there’s no other discrimination whatsoever. Centuries ago, the priestly class may not have married their daughters to Behedins, but as early as 1777, the Bombay Parsi Punchayet sided with the laity (the Behedins) on this question. Today, even the most conservative Athornan family would be thrilled if their daughter married a Behedin and not, horror of horrors, a non-Parsi.

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Why tigers groan at cancelled leaves

It has recently been decided that National Parks and sanctuaries such as Corbett and Ranthambore remain open throughout the monsoon season. Normally, they would remain closed between June and October, giving the denizens a break from their “tourism duties”. Down in Jungleland (DIJ) interviews the alpha male and female tigers of Corbett, who aren’t too happy about this and other wildlife-related issues. Excerpts:

DIJ: What is your first reaction to this decision?

Tigers: We are extremely annoyed! This is our only downtime: to do and wander as we please without being afraid that hordes of paparazzi would be aiming 800mm telephotos at us and sending intimate pictures around the world on social media, or that our cubs would get run over by tourist jeeps. It’s an infringement on our privacy!

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When actor Kabir Bedi took the West by storm

Kabir Bedi wanted his readers to feel like “a fly-on-the-wall” as scenes from his life unfolded on the pages of his autobiography, Stories I Must Tell: The Emotional Life of an Actor (Westland, Rs 699). To that end, he even stuck a note on his computer that said: “Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable”. “Going over some of my experiences was extremely painful and difficult,” recalls the 75-year-old in a video interview, “Yet, writing it was also an opportunity to relive the euphoria of being a very popular TV star in Europe after the success of Sandokan (1976), working in a James Bond film, Octopussy (1983), and being watched by millions across the world.”

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Why Roberto Calasso told stories of the gods

The modern world, it is said, banished stories of the gods. But can the gods be banished? Or, in banishing gods, what exactly are we banishing? What do we lose when the gods are banished? For one thing, the gods gave us great stories. Or, perhaps, one can put it the other way around as well: wherever there is a great story, you can see a trace of the gods at play, the fugitive presence of forces we do not fully understand.

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