Saturday, 27 July 2013

Homelands of my heart

The angst for the far away homelands that emigrants carry in their hearts has been a constant theme for films, fiction and memorials, especially over the past couple of decades as globalization has spread. "Immaginary Homelands" by Salman Rushdie (1992) was part of expressing this angst.  Pico Iyer's talk "Where is home" on TED is another articulation of the feelings of rootlessness. Pico explains that rootlessness is not just angst, it can also be a pleasure, freeing you to decide and choose your homelands.

If you have not yet watched Pico's talk, I strongly recommend it. He is a wonderful speaker with an evocative style.

Pico's talk has two main threads that he uses to weave a word-web of memories, experiences and emotions. First thread is a question asked by others, "where are you from?", and the second is about our own feelings of what defines a home for us. In his talk, Pico often moves between these two threads, implying that both are inter-related.

After watching his talk, I kept on thinking about it. My feeling is that the two threads are not really inter-related in the way Pico seems to suggest. If I ask myself Pico's question, "where is home?", I would not think of the question, "where are you from?", I would ask other questions.


It is the question asked by the new "others", often when we meet them for the first time.It is probably as old as the times when humanity started its journey from Africa and spread to different parts of the world.

In most parts of the world, before the industrial revolution and urbanization, only a tiny percentage of persons ever left the places where they were born. In their life times, at the most they could have hoped to make a few trips to the nearest town. Almost invariably, people married persons from the same region, if not the same village. They spoke the same languages, ate the same food, prayed to the same gods and celebrated the same festivals.

This belonging to the the "birth-place" found common expressions. For example, if Indian traditions forbade crossing of the seas, Italians had sayings like "Moglie e buoi dei paesi tuoi" (Wife and buffaloes should be from your same village). I am sure that different other cultures had similar ideas.

Thus, in those times, when you met new persons, it made sense to ask "where are you from?", because you knew everyone there was to know and you rarely met new persons. With this one question, you were asking many different questions - to which place do you belong? where were your mother and father born? which city/village is linked to your family?

Today the world is profoundly different. Often you do not have the time to listen to the complicated answers to the question "where are you from" and it does not make any difference to you.

Today, even if you never leave your home country, internal migrations are a constant part of urban lives and increasingly, even the rural lives. More than ever before in the history of humankind, people from different cities can get married, have children in different cities, send those children to schools and colleges in different cities, and find work and move to different cities in their life times. Thus, emigrants or natives, it has become harder to answer this question "where are you from?".

You no longer have the name of one place to answer this question. You may need to give long and complicated answers describing your shifting home-cities. I think that most of Pico's talk is about this question. The question of "belonging".

But is this question really about the place identified by your heart as your home, as Pico suggests in the second thread of his TED talk? Not for me.


In his talk, Pico mentions different places, buildings and countries where he has lived at different times in his life. He talks of his schooling in Britain and university in the USA. He also talks of his love for Japan and the burning of the family house in California that had "set him free".

However, people seem to be missing from Pico's world. While he talks of his grandparents' house, he never talks of his grandparents themselves. He never mentions his mother or father or siblings or cousins. He does not talk of his wife, his children. There are no friends of his heart in his speech.

And while reflecting over his talk, I asked myself, how can we talk of our home, without talking about the people we love?

When I had left India, my home was mainly in Delhi, in the rented house where my mother had lived. But parts of my home were also with other family members and close friends. In the past three decades, as our family has spread to different parts of India and some persons have emigrated to other countries, parts of my home have also spread with them. My feelings of "home" are linked to my family.

Over the years, the memories of the intense friendships of adolescence have dimmed and none of those childhood friends is active on the social media or even emails so our contacts are rare - thus today I am not so sure how strong are the links between them and my "home" feelings.

As long as my mother was alive, my strongest feelings of home continued to be linked to her. Today, while I sit in Bologna (Italy) and talk to my sisters on telephone, one in USA and the other in India, I feel at home in that moment. Their voices, and our shared memories are my home.

The voices of some of my cousins are also indelible part of my "home" feelings. Even just to think of them, makes me feel at home.

And, I have my new home, linked to my wife and my son. Strangely, though I have lived for more than two decades in Bologna and we own a house here, in Italy my feelings of "my home" are stronger towards Schio, the town of my wife's family - again, I think that this feeling has something to do with close family members and not so much with the cities themselves.

So, for me, the place that I feel in my heart as my home, has to do with my emotions - feelings of family, love, affection, friendship - and little to do with geography or other things.

And for you, where is the homeland of your heart?


Friday, 26 July 2013

The Wonderful World of Wall Paintings

Wall painting is an ancient art that goes back to thousands of years, when prehistoric humans started living in caves. The colours and techniques used by prehistoric humans were very different from the way contemporary humans use wall paintings. Yet across these thousands of years, in many ways, wall paintings show a continuity of ideas and functions. This is true across cultures, countries and continents.

This photo-essay on different kinds of wall paintings presents images from my travels in different continents.


Wall paintings, that is using colours to make designs and illustrations on the walls, is one way of decorating our private and public places.

Some other ways of decorating the walls include -

Murals: Mural is a generic term, indicating wall decorations including wall paintings, but also designs made by applying stone or other materials. In the contemporary world, increasingly designs and art works are printed on canvas, plastic sheets or even paper and then fixed to the walls.

Mosaics are designs made by putting together small pieces of glass or ceramics, similar to the way pixels of different colours compose images on the computer screens.


Prehistoric humans used wall paintings for different reasons such as to record events, as part of religious rites and as part of rites linked to hunting.

The image of a prehistoric wall painting shown below is from Chinhampere in Manica region in Mozambique, not far from the border from Zimbabwe. Ms. Mbuye Aghonda is a widow and is the guardian of the sacred paintings of Chinhampere. The paintings are made on an enormous and relatively smooth rock surface that overlooks a valley from the top of a hill.

To visit these wall paintings, you have to be accompanied by the sacred guardian. As you climb up the hill, first the sacred guardian will go to the paintings to pray and ask for their permission, before you can see them.

The paintings were made over different periods of time and show different wild animals and the hunters. Thus, probably they were part of the ancient hunting rituals. Now there is little wild life in Chinhampere. According to Mbuye, the paintings tell the story of persons who had come from some where across the border of the present-day Zimbabwe, and they had some discussions, after which part of the persons had returned back to their original village, while remaining had decided to settle near Chinhampere.

The ancient wall paintings of Chinhampere are part of a living tradition - every year, there is a village procession and festival, when people walk to the wall to pray and to celebrate.


In rural areas, and especially among tribal population groups, wall paintings continue to be part of people's lives. Here are two examples of traditional art.

The first image is from Koraput in Odisha (India) from the museum of tribal population groups. It shows the kind of figures used in traditional wall paintings in this area. These wall paintings have social and religious uses, as well as they are people's artistic expression. Even in cities in India, similar paintings can be made during festivals and marriages.

The second image is from Alua in Nampula region in the north of Mozambique, close to the Indian ocean. The village house-wall shows a contemporary scene with a truck bringing liquor or beer bottles, a bar or hotel, where people drink alcohol and the man with the knife illustrates the impact of alcohol drinking. Thus this wall painting is for public awareness, while the hut may belong to some public building or to a village leader or a pastor.


Frescoes are a special kind of wall painting made on fresh lime plaster, so that the painting becomes part of the building. This art of making frescoes developed especially in medieval Europe. Below you will find an example of frescoes from medieval houses from the city centre of Trento in north-east of Italy.


Contemporary wall paintings can be broadly divided into those that are acceptable to the society and those that different societies usually criminalise. First let us look at different ways in which societies use wall-paintings as a device to attract attention and to tell people about the functions of a building.

The first image is from Guwahati (Assam) in the north-eastern part of India. It shows images painted on a Hindu temple wall. Such use of temple walls is very common in Asia and especially in India. It tells people that the building is a temple. It is also a time-saving device so that if you do not have enough time to go inside the temple to do proper prayers, you can do a hurried prayer, while passing in front of the sacred images.

The image below is from Kunming in Yunnan (China). I am not sure if it is a wall painting or if it is a painted canvas or plastic sheets fixed to the wall. It shows tribal dresses and costumes. As the contemporary world moves away from traditional societies to cities where people are more homogenised with western clothes and apartment houses, often cities create museums and images in public spaces to remind them about tribal dresses, songs, rites and customs. Usually this means simplifying the earlier complex societies into something that can be marketed for selling souvenirs and attracting tourists.

The next image is from the university area in Bologna (Italy), showing the shutters of a restaurant that have been painted to make publicity for the restaurant and to tell the passers-by about the kind of food available there.

The next image is once again from a rural area in Yunnan province of China and shows a nursery school. Often schools and children's wards in hospitals have bright and colourful images of happy and playing children, to increase their attractiveness and to make the small children forget the pain or the separation from their families!

The image below is from Amsterdam (Netherlands) showing an art shop for tourists. Here wall paintings are useful to attract customers.

The next two images are from the tiny medieval town of Dozza, near Bologna, in Italy. Every two years, Dozza invites some painters to come and use its houses as a canvas for making paintings. Over the decades, this has turned Dozza into an open air art gallery, where most houses have paintings on their walls. In a country full of quaint medieval towns with cobbled streets and castles with moats, the wall-paintings of Dozza help to give it a distinct image for attracting tourists.

The image below is one of my favourite paintings in Dozza, because it uses the windows of the house as the ears of the two gossipping neighbours.

Similar to Dozza, the seaside holiday town of Caorle near Venice (Italy) uses colours in two ways - for wall-paintings as shown in the image below, and also to paint the different houses in bright colours so that together they give a bright colourful look to the city. Once again, colours are used here to attract tourists.

Some time back, on TED video talks, I remember watching a video in which Mr. Edi Rama, the mayor of Tirana in Albania, tells of how he used colours to give optimism and self-confidence to his city. Do watch this video if you have not seen it.

The next image is from Vienna in Austria, showing a hotel that uses colour on its walls to give itself a distinct image and to attract people. As you walk in front of such a colourful building, it is natural to feel curious about it and to remember it.

All the above are different examples of how societies use colours and wall paintings as part of their information-providing, awareness raising and marketing.


Some times persons, especially young people, use wall paintings in street art to express their anger, to provoke and to protest. Often, such wall-paintings are done at night and in most countries, making such paintings is considered as a crime. However, sometimes, cities provide space to their young people where they can express themselves freely, without criminalising it.

Here are some examples of this rebellious art, also known as graffiti. The first two examples are from the university area in Goiania in Brazil (South America). Note the person with a cape on his/her head and the face covered by a handkerchief in the second image, an almost universal sign of protesting youth all over the world.

The next two examples are from Bologna (Italy) and are the works of a young artist called Ericailcané, who makes graffiti on abandoned buildings. Giant sized animals are a characteristic of his works. He expresses the alienation of youth in the contemporary society, usually seen as controlling (like the robotic hand turning the key in elephant's ass in the second image).

The next two images are also from Bologna, from the university area and these show expression of protest. The first one is about economic crisis and it has a message targeted at banks and governments, it says "We won't pay the bill for Your crisis".

The second image was made during Libyan war, probably by Libyan students (it is signed as "autonomous collective of students"), and shows Qaddafi with a no-entry sign and expresses solidarity with Arabs (it also has the student's website address, so even while protesting, students use it as a tool to get interested young people to their website).

The last image of this photo-essay is from the downtown in Nairobi (Kenya) and was clicked during last year (2012). It is a scathing satire, protesting against the political corruption and abuse of democracy.


Today as we move towards the digital world, perhaps our blog-walls can also be considered as wall-paintings - they are certainly used in different ways like the wall-paintings - to inform, to protest, to pray, to market or may be, just to express our sense of beauty. What ever be our goal, the wall paintings continue to be a potent and contemporary medium to share our message.

I hope that you liked this quick world-tour to the wall-paintings in different continents.

Personally, I feel that the graffiti made by the protesting youth, is also an art form. It is an important way to let people express themselves. I agree that if someone uses the wall of my house to give a protest message through graffiti, probably I would not be so happy about it. Still, I think that the cities can provide official spaces to graffiti makers. Apart from the protests, it also brings some vibrant colours and a human touch to our cities. What do you say?


Thursday, 25 July 2013

Advertisements in Rome

I love to take pictures of ads. While looking at my folder of pictures from Rome, I suddenly realised I have a nice collection of some ad-pics. So here is a selection for you.

It seems that the old monuments in the centre of Rome, are wonderful places for advertising. Since tickets don't seem to generate enough income, rennovation gives the opportunity to cover up the monument, and use it for placing ads and earning money. Rome municipality is discussing what to do about these never-ending rennovations around old monuments.

The image below shows the advertisement placed around the Egyptian obelisk in Piazza del Popolo in Rome. This is one of the most beautiful squares of Rome.

Advertisements in Rome, Italy - images by S. Deepak 2005-2012
The next image is also from the same Piazza del Popolo square, showing ads on one of the churches, closed for rennovation.

Advertisements in Rome, Italy - images by S. Deepak 2005-2012
The Spanish Steps near Piazza del Popolo is another favourite tourist stop with thousands of persons passing hours sitting here and admiring this beautiful square with the sunken boat fountain. Thus, big brand names put their ads in the areas surroudning it.

Advertisements in Rome, Italy - images by S. Deepak 2005-2012

Rome also hosts one of the U.N. organisations - the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Usually the FAO building presents socially useful ads, as shown in the image below.

Advertisements in Rome, Italy - images by S. Deepak 2005-2012

Termini railway station, the main railway station of Rome, is a popular site for ads because so many persons pass from here every day. Often the advertisements placed here are huge, since the railway station has very high roofs. Here is a sample of ads from the Termini Railway station.

Advertisements in Rome, Italy - images by S. Deepak 2005-2012

Advertisements in Rome, Italy - images by S. Deepak 2005-2012

Advertisements in Rome, Italy - images by S. Deepak 2005-2012

Advertisements in Rome, Italy - images by S. Deepak 2005-2012

Advertisements in Rome, Italy - images by S. Deepak 2005-2012

Advertisements in Rome, Italy - images by S. Deepak 2005-2012


Joys of Kathak

Welcome to the magical world of Kathak, one of the classical dances of India. Kathak is the dance from the Hindi heartland of northern India. Generally speaking, most of the classical dances of India like Kathakkali, Bharatanatyam and Mohiniattam with elaborate choreographies and exquisite costumes, originated in Southern part of India. Probably it has something to do with the peace and prosperity in that part of India over a period of centuries, so that cultures could develop more elaborate forms of artistic expressions. On the other hand, historically northern parts of India, especially on the west, over periods of millenniums, had repeated invasions and wars.

The same is true for the two other classical dance forms of northern India, Manipuri from the north-east and Odissi from Orissa (Odisha). Both have elaborate costumes, makeup and gestures. This part of India could also develop traditions of artistic expressions because it was far away from the invading armies coming from the west.

Kathak is the dance of north and north-western part of India and has been heavily influenced by the different cultures that reached India from the west, especially the Mughals.

To be classified as a classical, apart from the antichity of its traditions, a dance must also have a codified set of rules that govern all its movements, gestures and costumes, as well as the music that accompanies it. I think that Kathak was devalued and vulgarised over the past century as it lost patronage of the kings and nawabs, and was seen as the dance of prostitutes. Even if it developed in the Mughal courts, it took many traditions of Hinduism from the Hindi heartland, especially the traditions linked with Krishna.

The distinctive feature of Kathak is the foot-work. Vigorous thumping of feet along the rhythm of music from tabla, that may seem very similar to the Spanish flammenco dance in some ways, is a key part of the dance. Expert dancers take that to the extremes with such quick footwork that only the more experienced can understand the nuances and complexities of the dance. Yet, even if you don't understand all the complexities, you can always enjoy its simple gestuality and its vigourous gestures and movements.

All the pictures below are from a kathak performance by guru Birju Maharaj's dance troupe held in New Delhi in October 2005. Birju Maharaj ji is one of the leading exponents of this dance. The dancers in his troupe included Sashwati Sen, who had become famous after her dance in Satyajit Ray's film Shatranhj ke Khiladi, that was choreographed by Pandit Birju Maharaj.

Kathak dance by Birju Maharaj troupe, Ananya, Delhi, India - images by Sunil Deepak, 2005

Kathak dance by Birju Maharaj troupe, Ananya, Delhi, India - images by Sunil Deepak, 2005

Kathak dance by Birju Maharaj troupe, Ananya, Delhi, India - images by Sunil Deepak, 2005

Kathak dance by Birju Maharaj troupe, Ananya, Delhi, India - images by Sunil Deepak, 2005

Kathak dance by Birju Maharaj troupe, Ananya, Delhi, India - images by Sunil Deepak, 2005

Kathak dance by Birju Maharaj troupe, Ananya, Delhi, India - images by Sunil Deepak, 2005

Kathak dance by Birju Maharaj troupe, Ananya, Delhi, India - images by Sunil Deepak, 2005

Kathak dance by Birju Maharaj troupe, Ananya, Delhi, India - images by Sunil Deepak, 2005

Kathak dance by Birju Maharaj troupe, Ananya, Delhi, India - images by Sunil Deepak, 2005

Kathak dance by Birju Maharaj troupe, Ananya, Delhi, India - images by Sunil Deepak, 2005

Kathak dance by Birju Maharaj troupe, Ananya, Delhi, India - images by Sunil Deepak, 2005

Kathak dance by Birju Maharaj troupe, Ananya, Delhi, India - images by Sunil Deepak, 2005

Kathak dance by Birju Maharaj troupe, Ananya, Delhi, India - images by Sunil Deepak, 2005

Kathak dance by Birju Maharaj troupe, Ananya, Delhi, India - images by Sunil Deepak, 2005

Kathak dance by Birju Maharaj troupe, Ananya, Delhi, India - images by Sunil Deepak, 2005

Note: This post was originally written in 2005

Tourists in Bologna

I love this city, Bologna, where I live. Lot of persons from India pronounce it in an incorrect way, like in a story of Gulzaar I had read in the Hindi magazine Hans a couple of years ago. But actually, it is pronounced Bolonia because in Italian, the 'gn' together produce a liquid sound of 'ni'.

When friends and relatives come to visit us, I often take them around the city, explaining the history, architecture and the art. However, most of the time, I know that our guests are very easily bored. I guess that coming from India, for us "tourist place" is meant to be something imposing, huge thing otherwise, it leaves us indifferent. When I go out, the colours of buildings, the shapes of spaces, small details of understanding how people lived two hundred or five hundred years ago, fascinate me, but they bore most of our guests.

"Yeah...", they say, scratching their heads, trying not to hurt my feelings, trying to hide their boredom, showing more interest in front of electronic shops or Armani boutiques.

Where I can buy nice Italian shoes, they ask, not even looking up at the wonderful lattice carving from fourteenth century in the Piazza della Mercanzia. They complain about the cobbles in the medieval streets, ignoring the harmonious beauty of the church's façade.

"What is there to look inside a church?", they seem to ask me silently as I take them around inside a church, unable to see anything worthy of their attention in the paintings or the architecture.

I would like to go to Pisa or Venice they say. Of course, Pisa and Venice are more touristy, they have things to show that are more imposing, huge, monumental. And, I also like going there. But I also love Bologna, and its more delicate, less in-your-face beauty, and it is full of small things laced with history hidden at every corner.

Like the terracotta statues in the church on Via Clavature right in front of the main city square, Piazza Maggiore. They are in the "Santa Maria della Vita" church. I had walked around that church at least hundred times, never knowing that theose sculptures existed, till suddenly yesterday I had gone there. Actually, I had gone inside the church to take a picture of the statue of St. Teresa d'Avila, a saint whose prayers I like very much. Her poetry reminds me of the bhakti songs of Mira, simple and poignant.

A woman cleaning a candle stand had seen me, standing there, perhaps looking a bit uncertain. Actually I was wondering if I could use a flash without disturbing the persons praying there.

She had pointed towards the alter, "There, behind the stairs are the statues", she had told me. Which statues, I had wondered but then curious, I had gone in the direction she had indicated. There, behind the stairs in an alcove, hidden in the shadows was a group of most wonderful terracotta statues I had ever seen.

"Crying for Jesus" is the name of this group of statues made by Nicola dell'Arca in 1463. They were kept hidden for a long time since people felt that some statues were too vulgar as they showed shapes of breasts with clothes clinging to the bodies in an "improper" way! The two Marys in the right corner with their mouths open in a never ending scream, their bodies contorted in desperation, are the ones I like most. They remind me of the more famous Scream by Edvard Munch that was stolen from Oslo two years ago. To be honest, when I had seen that painting, I had not been particularly impressed by it. If you are in Bologna, go to the Santa Maria della Vita church and take a look at the two Marys, and then tell me if you don't think they are wonderful!

The two crying Marys also explain a common saying in Bologna. When they say, "She is like one of the Marias", they mean to say that she is very ugly. Actually, I think that the two Marias are beautiful, but then beauty is subjective!

Bologna by night is even more beautiful than by day. Perhaps, that is not very accurate. There are parts of Piazza Maggiore, that I absolutely love in the light from setting sun, but in the night the city acquires shadows that soften the rough edges, hiding forbidden pleasures in the dark corners.

Like the view of Piazza Maggiore from Via Clavature. I love the small pieces of sky peeping in from beneath the arches. Bologna is full of archways. On a rainy day, very convenient. Or like the small old street with restaurants next to the medieval art museum.

Yesterday there was this couple singing under one of the archways. They must have been British or Irish. The girl had a wonderful voice, touching the high notes effortlessly, while the wonderful acoustics from the archway echoed her voice, making it seem even better. They received lot of coins from the passersby and their bag was full.

After the musical couple, it was the turn of the juggler in the main square. With a big handlebar moustache, he seemed to be from another time. And, he was wonderfully clumsy with the flying dumbells. I don't know if it was intentional but when he missed to catch one in time, everyone roared with laughter. Then he took out a funny bicycle.

As soon he saw me clicking his pictures, he posed for me a few times and then, showing me his tongue, went on in his clumsy way on the bicycle, falling down soon after, provoking another roar of approval from the crowd.

It is election time in Italy. Voting will be on 9 April. Mr. Berlusconi, the present prime minister is everywhere, with new hair transplant, rosy cheeks and fake smile chosen by his spin doctors as the most authentic ones to vow the voters. He uses the Government machinery for making publicity about all the good things his Government has done.

In the last one week, three letters have arrived at our home from him and other ministers, reminding us of the good things they have done. Your life has improved, he tells us.

Sure, we are stupid and can't make it out ourselves, that we much better off.

"Do you want more taxes? No thanks. Do you want more illegal immigrants? No thanks." These are the main messages of his campaign. And, in the mean time he merrily makes new laws to safeguard and strengthen his personal empire worth in millions.

"We are already rich, so elect us, we will steal less!" that is a common message that people give in different countries and voters are easily taken in. Politicians are thieves is a common perception so one hopes that the rich ones will be smaller thieves!

Anyway, I don't like Mr. Berlusconi. But he has huge fan following. People seem to lap his words as the truth and the only truth. I hope he won't win. I had also hoped that Bush won't win. And, Blair too. But, it seems voters any where, don't share my concerns. Perhaps I bring good luck to people, I don't like?

Mr. Romano Prodi, is the main candidate opposing Berlusconi. The professor, as he is commonly called, is from Bologna, is ex-president of European Commission. His campaign style is more people friendly but he is serious and boring. To listen to him speak, I tend to sleep off.

I like to listen to some other Italian politicians like Bertinotti (head of far left party) and Fini (head of far right party), even if I don't like their policies one bit. But they speak very well. Yes, I know, it is confusing, the people I like, they put me off to sleep and those, I don't like, I like listening to them!

So who do you think I am going to vote for?

Here are some images of Bologna:

Bologna, Italy images by Sunil Deepak, 2006

Bologna, Italy images by Sunil Deepak, 2006

Bologna, Italy images by Sunil Deepak, 2006

Bologna, Italy images by Sunil Deepak, 2006

Bologna, Italy images by Sunil Deepak, 2006

Bologna, Italy images by Sunil Deepak, 2006
Note: This post was originally written in 2006
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