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Often when you think about food-based experiences, festivals, curated menus, and pop-ups might come to mind. And it is true that most of the culinary innovation on a smaller scale occurs here. So while you must have heard about pop-up restaurants centred around your favourite fictional creations (we still want to know what butterbeer tastes like), complete with a fantastical ambience, specialised culinary experiences in India have taken another step forward.

Not just grub

Lesser-known cuisines have seen a rise in the recent past where you enjoyed the baithak atmosphere with home cooks organising a small feast for curious foodies. This also went a long way in spreading more awareness about culinary cultures and food-based experimentation evolved as hosting spaces as well. Indica, which is a studio space in South Delhi started by veterans of the food space, Damini Ralleigh and Sandeep Garg, is one such space.

In part inspired by the international organisation Slow Food, which promotes traditional cooking techniques and local cuisines across the world, the founders at Indica felt the need for a space that discusses the process of making and growing food, rather than just savouring it. As a result, sustainable sourcing plays a big role in immersing you into the culture of cooking. “We want to take a less esoteric approach towards sustainability that includes watching the food and water wastage on a domestic level, eating seasonally and buying locally”, Damini Ralleigh explained.

Space and sensorium

Places like Indica are just beginning to spread across India. With an increased interest in sourcing and growing organically, people are interested in more than just exotic sounding ingredients or dishes. What such experiences engender are discussions around culture. By engaging in a conversation about the history of an ingredient and tasting it in varied ways before seeing it in action as a star attraction of a dish, people come away with an understanding of history and people at large.

Indica’s recent milestone is looking into the cooking history of a community from Jammu who later migrated into regions of Maharashtra. As they moved, so did the way they cook. Some ingredients were replaced while new ones were brought in. And so the story of this community can be traced in the food they eat. And with these initiatives, you have access to that story, too. And what could be better than that?

Ever noticed how certain cuisines find creative ways to use every part of a plant to ensure nothing goes to waste? For instance, not only are bananas consumed in every shape and form by the Bengalis, but few of their dishes are made by using other parts of the plant – the stem in shukto, the flower in mochar torkari, and then there’s the famous paturi maach which cannot be done right without banana leaves. Well, the Japanese have a term for it (not surprisingly so). It’s called mottainai.

Mottainai translates to, ‘What a waste!’. The idea is to minimise waste by finding ways to cook every part of a plant or an animal and leftovers. If you’ve ever found a Punjabi turning last night’s daal into warm, buttery paranthas in the morning, you know what we’re talking about. 

The principle behind mottainai became stronger in Japan after it was struck by frequent famines, especially after World War 2. Necessity brought out their creative best, resulting in the creation of iconic Japanese dishes like ochazuke which is made by pouring green tea over leftover rice, and kasu jiro – a soup made from spent sake mash. So the next time you think of throwing away any leftovers, you can use mottanai to come up with a fun dish of your own.

Move over awards season, say hello to the literary festival season. In the last decade, several literary festivals have cropped up across the country. Taking their inspiration from JLF, these festivals have evolved into unmissable events in themselves. From genre-specific or region-specific, there’s a literature festival for every kind of reader. But how has India become the country of lit fests? And what does this mean for our literature scene at large?

The font of all festivals

Hot on the heels of the monumental success of JLF, other literary festivals cropped up. These were organised by either media houses or huge conglomerates wanting to replicate the fascination that Jaipur’s premiere literature event had created in readers and non-readers alike. In the last two decades, these fests have grown to an extent where they are a permanent fixture in every bibliophile’s calendar, much like JLF.

While continuing to be popular, these festivals have usually concentrated on English literature, due to the common nature of the language among readers. However, a parallel current has been running alongside these major literary events. These are regional lit fests, which, although smaller in magnitude compared to the bigger ones, have a much more devoted base of visitors and participants.

Festivals like Neev Literature Festival in Bangalore, Kalinga Literature Festival, and The White Owl Literature Festival held in Nagaland have a dedicated audience. Unlike the bigger festivals, these fests don’t only focus on English narratives, and instead feature a diverse array of genres and literary traditions. 

Not niche, but emerging

While it was JLF and The Hindu LitFest that got the ball rolling, interest in reading and exploring new writers has been maintained by these smaller literature festivals that are steadily expanding their reach. Due to their smaller size, these festivals are also open to a diverse array of authors along with a welcoming atmosphere for new readers who might feel overwhelmed at the bigger festivals.

India’s current tally of literary festivals stands at a whopping 65, and with the reception of these festivals, it is set to have even more in the very near future. Which lit fest do you most look forward to each year?

There is a certain comfort in consuming the familiar, whether it is watching, listening, or eating. When it comes to food, fortunes have been made on the consistency of ingredients and the way they taste the same every time has become an indicator of merit. However, it also leads to a certain complacency regarding how we source these ingredients, with some flavours and ingredients being overfarmed to extinction. But all is not doom and gloom when we come to this conversation.

Not gouda

As a cultured product (in more ways than one), various cheeses get their unique textures from the strain of fungi that is introduced to it to help it ferment and become creamy. When it comes to Camembert and brie, one strain, namely camemberti (duh), imparts the unique flavour to the famed cheese. However, over the past few decades, due to increased demand and the desire for uniformity, one specific sub-strain has been overfarmed and overcloned, to the extent that it is unable to reproduce anymore.  There also seems to be something similar happening to one of the most-had coffees in the world. Does this mean we need to start thinking about other ways to kickstart our mornings? No, not really. Hopefully, there seems to be some hope in sight.

Flavour of life

The strain that gave Camembert and brie a uniform texture and taste, also took away from the variety of flavours the cheese can have. Till cheese makers became risk averse, every region, and every wheel of Camembert made had a different flavour to it, ranging from sour to sweet. It looks like we might be returning to this colourful period of discovery of different Camemberts.

Arabica’s present situation is primarily due to over-farming. Apart from it and robusta, there are over 100 other strains of coffee, each with its unique signature and aroma. One of them, stenophylla, is a rare occurring blend that is disease and heat resistant, along with being flavourful.

Far from a scenario of extinction, a new age of food discovery beckons.

2023 was a quantum leap in the growth of contemporary Indian art, with record breaking sales, as well as monumental developments aimed at increasing its reach. Amrita Sher-Gil’s The Story Tellers (1937) became the highest grossing artwork by an Indian, selling for an unheard of amount of INR 62 crores. This was close on the heels of SH Raza’s Gestation (1989) breaking the record at INR 51 crores. Things seem to be looking up for Indian contemporary art.

But what is the reason behind such rapid developments? Why has contemporary Indian art taken so long to reach this pedestal? And what does the future hold for its further growth? We take a plunge into the curious ecosystem of contemporary Indian art and its growth.

The new look

Within popular imagination, only one name in contemporary art was heard all over India: M.F. Hussain.Thanks to his dalliance with Indian films, as well as his prolific brilliance that courted controversy, Hussain was synonymous with modern art. Added to this was the fact that in the early ‘90s, markets were flooded with prints and forgeries of Hussain’s work, the appeal of which has never really gone away. Even today, it isn’t unusual to see the odd Hussain print in someone’s home.

Meanwhile, currents were in sway that would ensure that such a monopoly on contemporary Indian art would not be maintained. Art galleries found a new lease of life with newer audiences and foreign patrons helping fund and making newer artists more visible. The opening up of NGMAs outside of New Delhi and Mumbai, as well as a coterie of private art galleries setting up shop in the capital, created more awareness regarding contemporary art and gave artists more room to experiment and host their work.

Initially starting off as passion projects from art enthusiasts who had the means to source and display artworks, art galleries have considerably developed their expertise and reach in the past two decades. Legendary art galleries, such as Dhoomimal and Chemould Prescott Road, have gone from strength to strength since their opening decades ago thanks to the prestige of their names. Meanwhile, newer art galleries, such as KNMA in Delhi and Jhaveri Contemporary in Mumbai, have changed the game with their outreach programmes, which have inspired older spaces into incorporating similar initiatives into their structures.

This panoply of art galleries across the country, supplemented by art festivals such as the India Art Fair (which sold out this year on its first day), Kala Ghoda Arts Festival, Serendipity Arts Festival among several others, has been a boon for young artists in India. With more avenues to exhibit their work, emerging and established artists have found new audiences and more appreciation for their art. 

The newer art galleries are also unafraid of taking a punt on experimental works that sometimes might incorporate extra space or performance. This not just points to the art industry’s comparative stability or popularity, but also a conceptual commitment among Indian art galleries that speaks to their conviction in promoting new Indian art. 

A healthy Indian art scene for the past decade has convinced bigger players to enter the Indian art market, which is behind the recent overdrive. Last year, the long awaited Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre opened in Mumbai as a space decimated solely to the arts. With spaces for public art, as well as a four storey visual art exhibition space, NMACC has already started making strides in promoting contemporary Indian artists, alongside introducing different art styles to the general populace. 

Bangalore, meanwhile, has recently welcomed Hampi Art Labs into its environs. Located closer to the historic capital it derives its name from, it is a 9 acre space dedicated solely to contemporary art. Not to be left behind, Delhi is adding to its already vast selection of art galleries with a behemoth in The Brij, a 7.6 acre site for contemporary and traditional art.

An undervalued proposition

However, it is not just the monumental success of KNMA and DAG that has prompted giants like Reliance, JSW, and Hero Enterprise to enter the art space and invest heavily into it. It is a response to realising the deeply undervalued Indian contemporary art space and the possibility of acquiring appreciating assets that are financially risk-free as well.

The event where Sher Gil’s The Storytellers broke all records was part of an epoch-making night that saw other personal records being broken as well. Organised by India’s largest auction house, Saffronart, Evening Sale: Modern Art featured 70 other artworks by prominent artists. A. Ramachandran’s Autobiography of an Insect in the Lotus Pond sold for over INR 4 crores, which was almost four times its estimated price. The Storytellers itself was valued at close to 38 crores, and it easily outstripped its estimate. This points to Indian contemporary art and artists steadily gaining currency across the world.

Saffronart’s event garnered over 140 crores in all, which is a monumental sum. While it might not look like much compared to the prices that the Picassos or Monets of the world end up getting, Indian art is slowly reaching there. It certainly has potential, which is why Christie’s set up shop in India all the way back in 1995, having since then sold several record breaking artworks.

There are a few reasons behind contemporary Indian art’s undervaluation. The first among these has to be The Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, which created the ‘Navratnas’ of Indian art. The lack of early foreign interest in Indian art is to do with the paucity of works that were available to foreign galleries. The few artworks of legendary Indian artists that were in the possession of foreign art galleries or collectors received some attention, but as merely examples of ‘South Asian art’, and as such, divorced from a rich tradition that would have seen it as part of something larger.

The evaluation of an artwork is dependent on several factors, only one part of which is the prestige of the artist. Amrita Sher Gil’s art, in addition to being historically significant, is also a rather rare commodity, with only a few in private hands. Another factor behind an artwork’s estimate is the prolificacy of the artist. While Picasso is revered as an artist, he was immensely prolific. So certain artworks belonging to certain periods of his life are worth less than the rest, due to their vast availability. The same can be said of M.F. Hussain, who was way more prolific than the Spanish maestro. In short, the more exclusive the artwork, the more expensive it tends to be. 

The value of an artwork is also heavily dependent on the artistic tradition that it belongs to. The increase in awareness of the rich history of Indian art and how contemporary Indian art has borrowed elements and techniques from traditional as well as Western art forms to tell its own story has certainly helped in establishing a demand for contemporary Indian art.

Needless to say, appraising an artwork is quite a skill. Alongside galleries having acquisition specialists, auction houses, such as Christie’s, Saffronart, and AstaGuru among others, are responsible for evaluating and presenting artworks to prospective buyers. A formerly enigmatic arena, art auctions have seen a change in terms of first-time buyers.

The exclusivity of art has moved from a gatekeeping kind, to an exclusivity owing to skill. Simply old artworks are not the only valuable ones, and owning an artwork does not always have to cost a fortune. Thanks to initiatives like India Art Fair’s Young Collector’s Programme, millennials can get started on their art acquisition journeys with small steps. For there is a change in the way the ownership of an artwork is being seen as well. While artistic merit and uniqueness are certainly huge aspects of it, art as a financial asset is also being seen as a suitable proposition for the younger populace.

It is an exciting period for Indian art, as it finally comes into its own, thanks to a thriving domestic demand prompted by both rich conglomerates and millennials. It is only a matter of time that contemporary Indian art starts competing with its Western counterparts.

Our childhoods were full of story recitations and recorded narratives, which tended to grow less frequent once we grew up and started reading books. But thanks to recent developments and trends, the path has reversed itself, with adults increasingly tuning into audiobooks as their primary way of consuming narratives. And as podcasts get more and more saturated by the day, people seem to be losing interest in the genre. This while audiobooks continue to drive the growth of audio platforms. From the looks of it, this is a trend that will continue to grow.

Paper is past

We have come a long way from the odd Stephen Fry-narrated Harry Potter audiobook being heard by most due to the high-profile nature of the narrator and the book. Audio-based narratives are growing for a multitude of reasons, primary among them being those of reach and expense. Physical books, for all the romanticism attached to them, are bulky objects, and can be difficult to carry.

Another reason is the ease of production as well as distribution. Ebooks and audiobooks need to be produced just once, and copies of the same can easily be created at the click of a button. Physical books are more expensive to produce and employ plenty of resources. Which means that if one of these fine-tuned aspects go awry, it could result in significant wastage. Added to that, distribution of physical books depends on several vendors in the process, which can be time consuming, as well as fraught with its own specific challenges. Audiobooks require to simply be listed on one website, and you’re good to go.

“A first print run needs to be close to being sold out before we embark on a second print run, which is crucial to any book or author being termed a bestseller,” says Rudra Sharma, Senior Commissioning Editor at Rupa Publications. “With audiobooks, there is next to zero risk when it comes to sales. And not just that. A fairly large book, say from a self-help author, can be split into two or more audiobooks. That is incredibly beneficial for publishing houses, as well as the authors.”

Times are a-changin’

In 1997, Audible was the first major platform that got the ball rolling for audiobooks, and even after Amazon acquired it in 2008, there was a small period before it became a major player as a content-generating platform. A part of this gradual development was the manner in which audiobooks were seen.

“I’d never been into audiobooks because it was often associated with children’s books. I mean, I listened to the odd Roald Dahl or Harry Potter, but never seriously.” Says Ruchika Sareen, a marketing manager and a new fan of audiobooks. “But things changed once podcasts became mainstream. I think from that point on, it was just a slight jump to audiobooks. Now I listen to more audiobooks than I read, and I’d never thought that was possible.”

Audible launched its services in Indian languages in 2018, and it has been thriving since then, witnessing an astounding 39% increase in its paid subscriber base in the last year alone. What’s more is that this rise is also reflected in the increase in listening hours, which shows that this isn’t just a fad which people subscribed to. It is an ongoing engagement.

Homegrown heroes

Hot on the heels of Audible are our own audio-based services and platforms. Kuku FM and Pocket FM are among the biggest players to have emerged in the segment and are innovating beyond simple audiobooks. They have also created the episodic format within audiobooks, which is a lot more comfortable for non-readers to get into, before they engage with larger narratives. 

Several of these episodic series are Wattpad creations, which means that these books were never in physical circulation to begin with. Pocket FM has created an entire engine that churns out romance and adventure Wattpad novels from China, localised to suit an Indian as well as an American context. This has never been seen before when it comes to translations of physical books. And it is working, as series such as My Secret Husband and Insta Millionaire are among the most popular on the platform.

Kuku FM, meanwhile, has struck an exclusive deal with Rupa Publications to create audiobooks for their front list. They also have a new partnership with Storytel, one of the biggest audio creation platforms in the world, to expand both their footprints in India and abroad. This has also allowed Kuku FM to access Storytel’s humongous library of international bestsellers, for which regional translations can be produced.

Spotify steps in

While we are talking audio, it wouldn’t be complete without including the biggest player in the conversation. Spotify decided to venture into the audiobook space towards the end of last year. This rang alarm bells for several authors and publishing platforms, who were afraid that the giant would eat into their market share and subscribers. What happened instead was that the audiobook space grew by nearly 30%, with several new subscribers taking the plunge with Spotify. This has been a boon for other publishers as well, and shows that the audiobook space is not simply a niche segment, and is set to grow even further once it enters India.

“India has been the fastest growing market for audiobooks after the US and China. There has been an appetite for audiobooks even in our paid audiobooks segment. Since the pandemic, there has been a growth in people trying the service and continuing with service along with a higher level of exploration while the retention levels have stayed similar post lockdown, thereby accelerating the adoption of the category, bringing forward growth,” says Shailesh Sawlani, General Manager of Audible India.

Tech for all

A similar process of a single production copy takes place with ebooks, which have increased in availability overall, but not compared to the popularity of audiobooks. Why is that? The answer is simple – ebooks can be a strain on the eyes. With the increase in digital literacy and ease of using smart devices, senior citizens as well as those who struggle with reading can enjoy stories at their own pace. With the technological changes that allow one to slow the pace of narration or change the accent of the narrator, audiobooks are the rage. Unlike ebooks, which require constant attention, an audiobook can be a casual undertaking that allows one to multitask as well.

Another limiting factor when it comes to ebooks is the very nature of language and dialects. Audiobooks, due to their purely oral nature, can cover a far more wide variety of dialects and speaking systems than ebooks. For example, in the past few years, there has been a boost in tribal audio narratives in their native dialects. Attempting to deliver the same narrative, which was oral to begin with, in a textual format takes away from the context and flavour of the story. Creating oral narratives through audiobooks also preserves tradition much in the same way in which it existed, and keeps it alive for future generations as well.

AI killed the audio star?

But it is not simply dialect and language that are the major factors behind the rise of the audiobook. Thanks to rapid technological progress, AI has entered the game and revolutionised the world of audiobooks. While earlier, narrators were hired and had to spend quite some time in the recording booth, concentrating on their cadence and correctly enunciating, AI has done away with the audio star as well. While we still will continue getting celebrity voices narrating some of our favourite books, AI marks a huge change for indie writers and publishers. For bigger publishing houses, it is easier to bring a celebrity for an audiobook, or even a competent narrator, the costs for bringing a similar voice for small publishers is quite an ask, even if it is a one-time cost.

AI audiobook production, brought in by Apple Books and being adopted throughout the publishing landscape, allows smaller publishers to create audiobooks and increase the digital footprint of authors who would otherwise be overlooked.

The amount of variety in genres and format that audiobooks bring with it is astounding and has captured public imagination. It is a new way of consuming narratives and books. “I’ve always been more of a physical book reader. If I don’t turn a page, it doesn’t really feel like reading.” Says Rudra. “Which is why I haven’t taken to ebooks. Audiobooks, however, I am slowly getting converted towards. It helps that my commute to the office is rather long.”

A city like Mumbai, filled with opportunities as the cliché goes, also does one other thing – it narrows your focus down to a singular path, often said to be the shortest, fastest, and potentially the only one. On the other hand, having the chance to apprentice in a foreign country, just by virtue of being totally new, shows multiple alternate realities. To be able to do it while being surrounded by people you have read about in Bible-like collections of genius minds, was enough to ensure that these memories would fundamentally alter my approach to design and creating memorable spatial experiences for others.

While studying in a creative field, educational training often relies on studying past greats to study their life’s work for inspiration, guidance, path-breaking innovations, and the works. Well, I hit the jackpot when I was given the opportunity to work in the office of a maestro — the legendary architect Geoffery Bawa in Sri Lanka.

Where it started

My first memory is of walking down a dead-end road onto a cobblestone-edged house. Brass wheels on a gigantic garage door made of a wooden trellis and a tiny door led to the annexe, which was being used as an office since Mr Bawa’s health had declined. Behind them, a vintage Rolls Royce, artworks belonging to museums, and architectural drawings will soon be converted into scanned records for books sold all over the world! The doors to Sri Lankan architectural royalty, along with a wealth of architectural learnings, were there for me to read, absorb, and interpret. There was this surprising blend of uber luxury, natural landscape, orchestrated light, and ventilation with local skills and humble materials rooted in cultural authenticity, all held together with creative ingenuity.

His architectural legacy was being compiled and recorded by Prof. David Robson, architects Channa Daswatte and Anjalendran at the time. And each of them had this unique perspective on Mr. Bawa and his work. I walked into the centre of this whirlwind of research being done, spending late nights pouring over hundreds of rolls of hand-drawn drawings on tracing paper. But if you have read about his work, you will know that no drawing will ever capture the true essence of the built spaces he designed. They were experiences to be had, chartered paths guiding you through spaces filled with light and air, the way he orchestrated them to be. Climatic response and environmental strategies for sustainability were an inherent part of the process from start to finish of a project. A lot of these projects are now open to the public, some as hotels, and some as art galleries and restaurants, which is a great way to explore and begin to see his enchanting creations.

Building a legacy

All his buildings were interwoven with artisanal designs of other creative genres: this mixture of sculptures, artworks, textures, and colours was his signature. I interacted with artists like Laki Senanayake and saw works of Barbra Sansoi and photographer Dominic Sansoi on walls, framing breathtaking views of natural surroundings. As you walk through these spaces, you will see there are no distinct boundaries between where architecture ends and art begins, and where light ceases and shadows take hold of your imagination. The origins of these spaces are not from pristine renders and precision illustrations. Still, time spent on the site observing and teaching that which the human experience is designed to emote.

And I felt this had a profound impact on the country’s environment in general. Artists and their crafts flourished as people began to appreciate and understand how indispensable art was from lived-in spaces: good architecture and visual aesthetics held value as much as commerce. Even tiny houses were human-centric and beautifully constructed. I was starstruck walking through the Sri Lankan Parliament; it’s clear how a colossal campus was designed to sit gently on site, with proportions controlled to make the government more approachable and grounded.

Design with a cause

A year later, Architect Anjalendran very kindly gave me an opportunity to learn more in his office. And I got to see a whole other side of the epic design fraternity there. Working out of his garage next to the tuk-tuk he owned because a car, he felt, was not an appropriate vehicle and probably too ostentatious for a single person. His project, the SOS youth village in Piliyandala, is as ingenious a concept as the environment he has created for it. This NGO built a village designed around the homes crafted. There was an orphanage,, a place for  small families, and even a place for widows of war rehabilitated as mothers. Schools and playgrounds were all part of the complex with world-class designed amenities and a humble budget. Design in all its forms has improved the quality of life of the community at large , and that is probably the most significant success of Geoffery Bawa and his contemporaries.

After 15 years, I recently returned to Sri Lanka and revisited some of these spaces. A lot has changed, and some things have not. Density made the skyscrapers shoot up around the cobblestones and the temple trees. Inked drawings, batik prints, and bright hand-woven sarongs were still around, just the same as if time had stood still in some corners of the island. Kithul treacle (a syrup also made of sap collected from the flower of the fishtail palm or jaggery palm) and hoppers, passion fruit, and Ceylon cinnamon — unique flavours still intrinsic to this gorgeous country remain. While elephant sanctuaries, migrating whales, and distinctive hotels (heritage and contemporary alike) continue to attract tourists post the massive political instability and help rebuild the economy. An old friend, a grandma, pointed out how talent was leaving the country, and I really hope that the conversation did not apply to the design fraternity because the power creativity holds is more than enough to turn things around.

(The writer is the co-founder of IKKO Art Gallery in Mumbai)

With a plethora of artists from across the world participating and engaging with the panoply of works at the Venice Biennale, there have been some amazingly striking artworks and productions. And among them are artists and collectives that are finally getting their plaudits.

This week, the famed Golden Lion for national participation, as well as for best participant, was taken by Oceania, showcasing the artistic diversity and depth of concept from the region, which has long been ignored when it comes to international events such as the Biennale itself.

Australian indigenous artist Archie Moore won the award for national participation, the first from the country to have won the prestigious prize. His work, named kith and kin, is an exploration of the history of the indigenous peoples of Australia. 

Consisting of a family web spread over a large room, filled with names going all the way back to sixty-five thousand years ago, when the continent was populated by the first peoples, Moore’s work sought to form an archive of sorts of the indigenous experience. Going back further into the past, there are names that have been slightly smudged, and those removed altogether to signify settler violence, as well as the erasure of indigenous experience in the early 20th century. 

The Golden Lion for best participant, meanwhile, has gone to New Zealand’s Mataaho Collective, a group of four female Maori artists. Their presentation, titled Takapau, was inspired by the finely woven Maori mats of the same name. Made from materials used in construction, the gigantic room-sized weave is a nod to the spirit of collaboration, as well as reflecting the culture and class background of the artists, all of whom come from working class families.

An intoxicating afternoon breeze brings with it a whiff of the salty summer sea, as locals and visitors alike prepare for a cherished ritual: the siesta. Some nestle into the welcoming folds of their beds, while others seek solace beneath the gentle sway of coconut trees, and a few others, in the boats they lay the anchors of after catching a fresh round bangude (mackerel) or tarli (sardines). Tying them together is an afternoon cap – some freshly fermented urrak with a dash of lemon and curry leaves, or a pint of Kings or Kingfisher beer. This is what the susegad way of life looks like. And at the heart of this coastal idyll, lies Goa’s tavern culture.

Interrogate a local about their whereabouts before the siesta or dinner, and you might get a cryptic response: “to the parliament”. This colloquialism, steeped in local lore, refers to the roadside bars and taverns that have long been the social centre of Goan life. 

A loyal cadre

Once a place for respite for weary labourers and porters, each tavern served a specific clientele. Those situated by the village market were frequented by porters, while the ones sprinkled along the coastline by fishermen. Even today, they remain open till dawn in certain pockets of Goa, tending to those toiling away during nocturnal hours. These unassuming taverns have managed to retain the simplicity of the days gone by, their heritage intricately interwoven with the essence of Goan culture.

However, today, the once clear boundaries between taverns and bars are becoming increasingly blurred due to evolving consumer preferences. A perfect example of this is Pablos. Recently listed among the top thirty bars in India, this tiny tavern has become one of the favourite haunts for locals and tourists alike. From its humble origins as the nondescript Vijay bar, frequented by a loyal cadre of friends, it has grown into a celebrated hotspot. 

“Earlier taverns served a different demographic. They were usually frequented by older people, mostly men and a few local youngsters. So we had to make some changes to create a modern version of a Goan tavern that caters to a wider clientele. Now we have people from different cultures and backgrounds as well as age groups coming in to get a taste of the local vibe while also being able to enjoy modern additions,” says Terence D’Mello, the co-owner of Pablos. 

Reviving an old culture 

Tavern culture was introduced by the Portuguese, which is probably why it’s unique to Goa. These places served as vital meeting points for diverse communities and provided people a welcome respite, offering refreshment and camaraderie amidst the daily grind. It was where Goans came together to share both their joys and sorrows and discuss everything under the sun – from the daily news to music and football matches.

While the transformation of Goan taverns into hipper bars has been a fascinating one, some locals are determined to preserve Goa’s tavern culture in its original form. Organisations such as Soul Travelling, known for their immersive heritage walks and excursions, have stepped in to preserve and celebrate this distinctive tavern culture. Through their curated tavern trail experiences, they give tourists a fascinating glimpse into the cultural significance of local taverns.

“We wanted to highlight the traditional tavern culture in Goa. Many tourists visit Goa thinking they can only buy alcohol from pubs or wine shops. But the real drinking experience in Goa is all about the taverns. These small, cosy places are where people gather to chat and unwind. Tavern culture is huge in Europe, but not as common in India. Go to any city in the country asking for tavern recommendations, they’ll point you to a bar or a pub. But ask a Goan and they’ll know exactly where to send you,” says Pratik Joshi, Senior Curations Executive at Soul Travelling. 

“Initially you didn’t even need a special bar licence to open a tavern because the idea of a tavern revolved around locally produced alcohol – feni and urrak. Over the years, taverns have also started serving international liquor, but that was not part of the original culture,” adds Joshi.

Beyond the ale

As people’s drink preferences have changed, so has the food served alongside. In the past, taverns mainly offered simple snacks like kharo bangdo (dry, salted mackerel) or rawa fry, choris (Goan sausages), fish or beef cutlets, and cashews. However, nowadays, the food offerings have become much more elaborate.

“The food in taverns has always been very basic, serving mostly snacks and munchies. You have places like Joseph’s Bar or Cifa Bar in Panjim where this tradition hasn’t changed much. Even the Old Tavern near Majorda in South Goa has been sticking to the old ways. But now, people want more than just drinks. Which is why some places like 1964 Bar or K Bar have encroached on the boundaries of taverns to offer proper food alongside their drinks,” says Joshi.  

The effort to retain the heritage of the original tavern culture is being cheered by locals who do not want certain traditions to get diluted and become a relic of the past. “People should be able to differentiate between a Goan tavern and a bar found elsewhere. Only through an authentic experience can this distinction be truly appreciated,” remarks Savio, who runs the Jackfruit Tree Tavern and Cafe in Assagao.

Tourists, on the other hand, are finding value in either side of the coin. “I had a very different idea of Goa earlier. For me, it was just a good party place. But my last visit changed that perspective after I travelled across the state with some locals. They took me on village excursions and some age-old taverns. I almost felt like a Goan and even picked up some local terms through the interactions. At the same time, I absolutely loved Pablos and Cajy’s where I was able to meet some really interesting people from a similar background as me,” says Shriya Shah, an operations executive at a Bangalore-based software company, who has fallen even more in love with Goan culture and has sworn to visit the place once every year.  

Hanging on 

Inside the tavern Meenali Bar on Chorao Island, the largest of 17 islands that constitute Goa, third-generation owner Prakash Matodkar holds up a small glass to exhibit, “Goa’s pride” — a masala-flavoured feni and the summer staple, urrak. “It has to bite,” he says, as he twirls the glass, first to smell, then to taste. Matodkar points to other things typically Goan in the tavern, which was started by his grandfather over seven decades ago — the glasses hung next to the door, the benches, the wooden seats, and a liquor cabinet stocked with a potent urrak and flavoured fenis.

“The locals in the area still quench their thirst here. But I’m old now. I’m 56. I want to shut shop when I hit 60. My children are all educated and don’t want to continue the family legacy. In fact, I don’t want them to. I’ve worked every day of my life. I haven’t even taken my wife on a honeymoon since we got married 24 years ago,” he says.

The history of Chorao island is quite interesting and goes back to the third century when Indo-Aryans migrants came to settle there. According to local tales, there were only 10 families that initially settled here dominated by the Shenvi Brahmins. Legend says, Chodan was its original Konkani name and the island was created by the jewels thrown away by Yashoda, Lord Krishna’s mother.

Matodkar tells us that while his tavern was used to respectfully discuss local issues and life in general by the men in the area decades ago, it has now become a hangout spot for a new generation of tipplers who are rowdy and disrespectful.

“I don’t enjoy catering to the new generation. They don’t know how to hold their liquor,” he tells us.

Clearly, an intriguing tension is brewing between the traditional and modern in Goa’s tavern culture. Perhaps, the struggle may result in a fascinating juxtaposition of these humble establishments with distinct personas, reflective of the evolving narrative of Goan social life at large.

When 42-year-old Saumya Sharma, a dentist who now lives in London, saw a woman on the beach in Mumbai’s Juhu, idly sitting in a swimsuit in the 90s, she was surprised to say the least. She grew up with summers that were spent at the community swimming pool and evenings with walks on the beach. But she had never, not once, seen a woman wearing a bikini. For Saumya, like many of us, swimwear meant wearing a pair of tights and a Speedo on top of it. 

“I remember we went to Water Kingdom in the 90s and I saw my mother in a pair of tights and a loose t-shirt. She wore jeans when we travelled, but I had never seen her dressed like this,” she tells us.

The swimsuit, Sharmila Tagore killing it aside, has posed a moral dilemma for the Indian woman for decades now. Clearly, in India, modesty is defined by one’s gender, whether a woman wants to take a dip in the pool or fully clad when in other public spaces. From the Raja Ravi Varma paintings that showed sari-clad women in rivers to Pamela Anderson in Baywatch, the journey has been a long and fascinating one. In fact, it wasn’t till the 2000s that you’d see Indian women in swimsuits at all, especially in the country. The hotel pools, beaches, and resorts all saw (at most) women in pairs of shorts usually with a sarong as an accompaniment.  

A cultural shift

The movement seems to have gained momentum with the advent of liberation movements around the world. As India stepped into the larger movement in the 1970s, as did the conversation around demand for the choice of wearing what one pleases. It took us close to 30 years, however, to see the change in action. And you can see this reflected on screen too. Mallika Sherawat and Bipasha Basu’s “bold” choices from the early aughts seem to have turned into just something Alia Bhatt and Deepika Padukone do in the movies now. Is it because of the shift in the movement or swimsuits being more widely accepted by the common folk? Maybe it’s a combination of both.

Preeta Sukhtankar, the founder of lifestyle brand The Label Life, has had an interesting relationship with the swimsuit. “It only started in my thirties that I may have worn a two piece, but prior to that even, as a kid I don't remember ever wearing one. It was always considered to be a big thing, right? I don’t even remember being in college like I am now in my forties, walking around in a swimsuit without wearing either a sarong or a cover up. In the early 2000s, wearing a swimsuit meant you were bold. That is not the case now. I see the stark difference in my daughter today.”

More than skin deep

Today, the swimsuit is being embraced by the average Indian. While some still prefer the shorts-and-tee combo, most others invest in swimsuits. While there is a wide variety of swimwear available in India now, it is not far-fetched to wonder if the variety is also size inclusive. 

“It was 2017,” 35-year-old Leena Sahni from New Delhi tells us, “when I was on my bachelorette trip in Sri Lanka. I saw an Indian woman on the beach wearing a bikini and I remember thinking that it was the first time I had seen a plus size woman in one.” Leena isn’t alone in her observation. While more and more Indian women turned to resort and swimwear at the turn of the century, the jury is still out on the inclusion of other sizes. 

In the ever-evolving landscape of fashion, only a few garments embody societal standards and cultural shifts as poignantly as swimwear. Once the bastion of the thin and the toned, the swimsuit has undergone a remarkable metamorphosis, mirroring broader conversations around body positivity and inclusivity.

Today, several brands have all made it their brand on a mission to rewrite the narrative of swimwear fashion. But, while there are some winners like Tailor & Circus, Marks and Spencer, and H&M, many others just aren’t cutting it. Mumbai-based model and chef Alefiya Jane tells us, “These swimsuits aren’t made with plus-size women in mind because they don’t provide the three main things we need from them — support, coverage, and fit. They are supposed to hold our big bodies up and fit seamlessly. But often, they are either too big or too small. The upper body wear is not always proportional to the bottoms. And if they are, the arm hole or the thigh hole doesn’t fit with the rest of the garment.”

Most brands making resort wear in India are still making them for a Western body standard. If you need more sizes, you have to spend between INR2,500-8,000 for most starting ranges. An average swimsuit in the non-plus size section starts at INR350. So while we do have more options now, they come at a price. 

There is, however, one more problem. Thirty-two-year-old Debiparna, who is a writer based in Kolkata, tells us, “There aren’t many options in terms of styles when it comes to plus-sized swimwear. It’s always the same. And there aren’t enough options for the kinds of prints you can choose either. It's like a monoculture of plus-sized style, which is not the case for non-plus-sized clothing.”

Jane agrees when she says, “They expect me to spend money on an ill-fitted piece of clothing that does not even match my aesthetic. Simply put…most options are ugly and flimsy.”

The journey towards body positivity has been an arduous one, which is why it’s important to look beyond what swimwear means on a surface level. Debiparna adds, “I am a size 18, that’s an XL for most brands. But sometimes, it can go up to 5XL. I am the same size, but the brands have different parameters. I used to be a size 22. So the 5XL stings, even though I know it isn’t about me or that there is nothing wrong with being a bigger woman.” This is also true for many brands that advertise having size-inclusive clothing, but only go up to a UK12. That’s a Large, and not very size-inclusive at all. 

“I started wearing swimsuits in my twenties and thirties, I think. And I almost never bought them in India. Then later, of course, at The Label Life we made sure that we made swimsuits that were accessible for all. I wear a size 12 or 14, so I have always wanted accessibility. I do wish it was better in India, though,” Preeta tells us. 

When the Canadian lingerie brand la Vie en Rose launched in India last year, François Roberge, the president and CEO of the brand, had told Mint, “I think India would be one of the biggest retail markets in 10 years,” And he is right. The market growth between 2023-2027 is estimated to be a whopping USD 28.94 billion. More than half of that number consists of female consumers. On top of that, the swimwear market in India is projected to grow by 3.50% (2024-2028), resulting in a market volume of USD 2.49 billion by 2028. So, it is safe to say that there is much to gain from having more inclusive sizes. So why do we still not have them? Is it because of the stigma? Or perhaps the assumption that plus-size folks won’t be looking to wear swimsuits? Or something else entirely?

All this and there is also the idea that most men don’t have swimwear options at all. “I can either wear really big boxers to the pool or simply be okay with a Decathlon speedo, which is usually super tight and not made for someone my size,” says 27-year-old Karan, who requested to be quoted anonymously.

This is also true for swimwear not being handicap-friendly or even age-friendly. Preeta tells us, “I think there needs to be a lot of room for women with age. Women in their thirties and forties are the ones with a lot of spending power. So l hope that people sort of give us that privilege and create clothes for us. Our midriffs, our very worked-out bodies are not the same as those younger than us.”

Thankfully, an emerging subculture seems to be gaining ground. In recent years, there has been a significant shift in the swimwear industry towards inclusivity and body positivity, with homegrown brands leading the charge. These brands prioritise offering size-inclusive options. One such brand is Maarteeni, based in Noida, it stands out for its commitment to environmental consciousness. Using fabric made from 90% recycled plastic waste and 10% stretch material, this brand offers sizes up to 3XL.

Another example is Flirtatious, which combines sustainability with inclusivity, by adopting a ‘made-to-measure’ philosophy. The brand aims to revolutionise the swimwear industry by empowering women of all sizes to embrace their uniqueness, with each piece designed with contemporary trends in mind.

Saumya tells us, “I live in London but I get my swimsuits in India. They just suit me better and it is easier to get colours that work well for me. But I have to admit, the choices are limited.”

When you think about it, it’s not hard to answer the age-old question — Why does it matter? Leena sums it up perfectly when she says, “The reason seeing the first Indian plus size woman on the beach in Sri Lanka was pivotal for me was that the next day I bought my first bikini. The following day, I proudly wore it for the first time as a plus-size woman. And have never looked back since. All it took for my confidence to get built up to see just one person who looked like me look like that. Just imagine what would have happened had I seen many for years!” Saumya adds, “I just want to go to the beach or the pool and enjoy a day in the sun. It should not matter that I am Indian or fat. If I choose it for myself, I should have the option. That only seems fair, no?”

In the past few years, Indian cinema has taken strides both in terms of commercial and critical acclaim. The birth of the ‘pan-Indian’ movie, featuring larger-than-life characters who appeal to audiences across the board, has swept the country. Added to that is the wealth of regional and independent films that are discovering audiences thanks to wide releases as well as online streaming platforms.

But at the same time, other nascent film industries have felt the pinch and are still committed to their struggle of telling great stories and promoting their heritage in a unique form. Two emerging film industries from two states in the northeast show the nature of their issues and the brilliance of their craft, which the rest of the world seems to be missing out on.

In the shadows

In northeast India, one vernacular film industry dominates over others in terms of sheer numbers: the Assamese film industry. Previously called Jollywood, it is among the oldest film industries in the country. Starting in 1935 with its first film Joymati, the Assamese film industry constantly grew in the early twentieth century.

The enshrining of Assamese as one of India’s official languages in the Constitution gave it governmental protection and funding, which allowed Assamese arts and films to continue being produced, reaching a new stage of increased production in the late 60s. This was in part because of stalwarts like Phani Sharma, Anil Choudhury, and the legendary Bhupen Hazarika.

Within these regions, where one language dominates a particular aspect of life, it tends to do so to the detriment of other dialects and languages around it. This has been the case with Bollywood, which has resulted in much smaller industries in local dialects and languages throughout the Hindi heartland. In most cases, the Hindi film industry seems to have subsumed movies with these dialects and languages.

However, that has not been the case with Jollywood. Thanks to the linguistic diversity of the northeast and the small space that these languages share, regional film industries such as those based in Manipur, Meghalaya, and Tripura blossomed in the 70s and 80s. Aided by technicians and artists who had plied their trade in Assamese cinema, these nascent film industries told pathbreaking stories from the beginning.

Speaking on the openness between the various film industries, National Award-winning film critic Utpal Borpujari explains, “There has never been any step-motherly treatment from Assamese cinema towards other smaller, regional film industries. Actors and crew have worked across state and linguistic lines. If anything, the spirit of collaboration has increased in recent years as the youth are a lot more open-minded.”

The jewel blooms

Starting in 1972, Matamgi Manipur was where  Manipur cinema started. A Meitei language film, it was directed by Debkumar Bose and dealt with the diverging views of two generations. So from the first instance itself, one could see the cross-collaboration in various departments. Bose himself was Bengali and often directed Assamese films. The first Manipuri film by a Manipuri director was Sapam Nadia Chand’s Brojendragee Luhongba in 1973, in which he also starred and did the music.

In the five decades following the arrival of Manipuri cinema, it has gone from strength to strength. While the volume of releases has decreased slightly in the past few years, it remains — after Assamese cinema — the most prolific film industry in the northeast. During this time, Manipuri films have regularly won big at the National Film Awards, often outside their linguistic categories. Films from the industry have also found favour with international audiences, with Aribam Syam Sharma’s Ishanou (1991) being screened at Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section, and was recognised as a ‘World Classic’ at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, the only Indian film to be recognised so.

Manipuri cinema has retained its penchant for meaningful stories, with films like Oneness by Priyakanta Laishram in 2023, which was hailed as Manipur’s first gay-themed film, and Romi Meitei’s Eikhoigi Yum in 2021, which won at the 69th National Film Awards and was an official selection for Jio MAMI 2022. 

Borpujari elucidates on the nature of Manipuri films, “Thematically, Manipuri films are unique, and are often labours of love and passion projects. Although the commercial movies they make are heavily influenced by Bollywood.” The presence of out-and-out commercial films like Inspector Yohenba 1 and 2 (inspired by the Salman Khan-starrer Dabangg series) show that Manipuri cinema has the scope to experiment and successfully deliver different kinds of films.

Cloudy with a chance of films

In Meghalaya, things are slightly different. While the majority of Manipuri cinema makes films in the Meitei language, there’s no overarching language as such within Meghalaya, with Garo and Khasi being the two most spoken languages after Assamese in the state. The growth of Garo and Khasi films has been rather slow and laborious since the first Khasi film in 1981, Ka Synjuk Ri Ki Laiphew Syiem (The Alliance of 30 Kings). It has been only in the last fifteen years that Garo and Khasi cinema have picked up some momentum, which is down to two visionary auteurs, Pradip Kurbah for Khasi cinema, and Dominic Sangma for Garo cinema.

Kurbah, who learned the ropes in Bollywood, spent over ten years trying to get his 2014 National Award-winning science fiction film Ri: The Homeland of Uncertainty off the floor. Upon being asked about using a science fiction setting to explore state terrorism, Pradip Kurbah explained, “In Meghalaya, each filmmaker has their own style when it comes to making films. Due to the diversity of cultures as well as miscegenation, every filmmaker is  unique in the way they approach the craft.”

Kurbah’s latest film, Iewduh (2019), was screened at the 2019 Busan Film Festival and received rave reviews on its portrayal of the linguistic and cultural diversity of Meghalaya and the issues associated with it.

Sangma has been single handedly responsible for bringing Garo cinema to the world. His first feature film, Ma.Ama (2018), won the Best Cinematography Award at the 22nd Shanghai Film Festival and his newest film, Rimdogittanga (Rapture), was screened at the 2023 Locarno Film Festival. An alumnus of the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI), Sangma takes a keen interest in every aspect of filmmaking, and often seeks to cast non-actors and locals in small roles. 

Commenting on the community aspect of storytelling as well as the paucity of Garo films, he said, “When I set about to make Ma.Ama, I hit upon the realisation that there were no reference points when it came to Garo cinema. Sure, there were a couple of films that had been made in the 80s, but nothing major to serve as a waypoint for future storytellers and filmmakers. So whether I like it or not, I am the reference point and the pioneer here, which is why I have to look at the entirety of my filmmaking process a lot more seriously. Filmmaking in Garo Hills has to be a community effort. While funding can come from various sources, the heart of my films is rooted in the community and the cultural identity of Garo Hills.”

A Need for screens

While the northeast, not just Manipur and Meghalaya, has a treasure trove of stories and storytellers just waiting to spin their yarns, there is a chronic lack of funding when it comes to films. While early in the last decade, the OTT boom sought to source all kinds of films and became a haven for independent as well as regional filmmakers, this has changed since the pandemic.

“While earlier there was talk of having most digitally made films on OTT, regional films quickly fell out of favour. Now it has reached a point where it is difficult for even an Assamese film to secure a preferential OTT release, so what hope is there for the smaller ones? Directors need to be able to recoup their production costs at the very least, and OTT platforms are not able to offer that kind of money,” says Borpujari.

Kurbah recognises a bigger issue at hand, “The primary obstacle facing contemporary Khasi cinema, and regional cinema by extension, is the lack of cinema halls. There are only two cinema halls for Khasi films in all of Meghalaya. So while locals generally like Khasi movies irrespective of their demographic, encouraging them to come to theatres instead of sticking to OTTs and producing high quality films is crucial. The government’s initiative to establish 30 more cinema halls in the state looks to be a step in the right direction.”

These, alongside efforts from established directors as well as film critics, might just herald a new age for cinema in the northeast. As such, Kurbah and Sangma have co-founded the Kelvin CInema Festival. Recognising the latent talent in the storytelling ability of the northeast and the scarcity of film festivals and infrastructure there, the festival aims to nurture this spark. “Before joining SRFTI, I hadn’t watched any world cinema; I didn’t even know that such a cinema existed. I only watched Hindi films and Hollywood films. SRFTI opened the door to a different world… I was wasting my time on films that could have dulled my perception of life. I don’t want that to happen to young aspiring filmmakers from the region. With the Kelvin Cinema Festival, both Pradip Kurbah and I aim to bring good films from across India, introduce filmmakers from different regions and create a space to learn various aspects of filmmaking, festival strategy, distribution, etc.” Sangma explains.

So while Manipuri and Meghalayan films are earning plaudits the world over, we need to recognise and protect this unique art as well. And that starts with exploring and encouraging a different way of looking at cinema, as well as fostering a cinematic ethos that celebrates plurality and cross-cultural collaboration.

What is jewellery if not art that can be worn? This is especially true when it comes to Indian jewellery. A necklace or a pair of earrings can hold centuries of culture within their delicate crevices. Each style, gem, and cut tells a story of artisans, history, and people. And one extraordinary example of this is meenakari. Meenakari, also known as enamelling, is a traditional Indian art form that involves the decoration of metal surfaces, typically gold or silver, with colourful enamels. 

Meenakari work often features vibrant colours, intricate designs, and sometimes incorporates motifs from nature, such as flowers, birds, and animals. Still practised in various regions of India, with centres of production in places like Jaipur, meenakari is an artform that lent itself to jewellery, blurring the line between the two.

So it is less surprising that in the bustling lanes of Jaipur, where tradition meets innovation, jewellery designer Sunita Shekhawat has carved a niche for herself with her eponymous brand. As she celebrates the 25th anniversary of her label, she adds another jewel to Jaipur’s crown with the inauguration of the Museum of Meenakari Heritage (MoMH) at the Shekhawat Haveli.

“MoMH tells the story of meenakari in India, tracing its history, genesis, and development through different epochs,” says Shekhawat, reflecting on the museum’s purpose. “It serves as an educational and cultural centre to preserve and celebrate the craft.”

A journey through time and technique

Shekhawat’s journey into the world of meenakari began with a deep-rooted passion for reviving traditional art forms and infusing them with a contemporary aesthetic. The museum, curated by renowned art historian Usha R Balakrishnan, is a testament to this vision, offering visitors a glimpse into the evolution of meenakari from its Persian origins to its flourishing in the palaces of Jaipur.

“This has been in the works for decades now. The goal was to present to the world that we still have artisans who can reproduce the same art with the same consistency, with the same material, and the same form as it was centuries ago. It’s preserving your craft and passing it onto the next generation,” Shekhawat tells us.

Inside the museum, every detail reflects a harmonious blend of tradition and modernity. From hand-painted frescoes depicting the region’s architecture to meticulously crafted reproductions of historical jewellery pieces, the museum offers an immersive experience that transcends time. But beyond that, it is also a reflection of who she is. 

Carving a legacy

“The stone which I chose for the façade is from Jodhpur because I was born there and I have such fond memories of the city that I wanted to bring a little bit of Jodhpur to Jaipur. When you go to a fort, it looks very masculine, but in this building you will see a lot of femininity. They were made by the kings for other men. This is made by a queen. So there is a very feminine aspect to it,” she adds.

In fact, she believes that this is her legacy. “When people talk about being seventh or eighth generation jewellery designers, have you noticed how it’s always the men? I always ask them, ‘Where are the daughters of the family?’ With MoMH, I hope that I pass this on to my daughter — who is as much a part of this as my son. This whole endeavour was our collective labour of love.”

For Shekhawat, the museum is more than just a tribute to Jaipur’s heritage — it’s a gift to the community that has nurtured her creativity for decades. “It is truly an ode to Jaipur, a city that has given me so much,” she says. “MoMH is our way of giving back to the community.”

Preserving tradition, embracing innovation

While meenakari has clearly stood the test of time, one has to wonder about its malleability with contemporary designs. “When the Millennials who are in their thirties were in college, they were going far away from traditional ideas. But the college students now are embracing these ideas. They wear sarees and try on different jewellery. It seems that the idea of traditionalism mixing with modernism is the thing now. The colours and designs in traditional Indian jewellery are very versatile. This is perhaps why the kids are going back to their roots. It's to celebrate the past while bridging the gap between then and now,” Shekhawat tells us.

As you step into the Museum of Meenakari Heritage, you embark on a journey through centuries of craftsmanship, innovation, and artistry — all in one go. You take a journey that celebrates the past, embraces the present, and inspires the future. And that’s one of the best journeys to take.

Have you ever gone on a holiday with a long list of places to visit and activities to undertake, wondering that if you don’t, FOMO will take over? And after the end of such an adventure-filled vacation, you just end up feeling more tired than revitalised and require another time out to relax yourself? Well, you’re not the only one.

It often feels like one is trading a relaxing time with one filled with activities and sightseeing. But as the famed meme goes: Why not both? There is a solution for that too.

A little bit of everything

‘Slow travel’ and ‘slow adventure’ have been in existence for quite some time. However, as with the word ‘slow’, these two concepts were usually always reserved with some judgement. As if saved for those who want to exert themselves as little as possible. But it seems like Millennials and Gen Z are catching on to this trend too, as a way of having a holistic holiday.

One of the major outlets of slow travel are wellness retreats. Often restricted to just singular spaces over a few days, these retreats have undergone a change, inculcating short hikes, and other activities that foster mindfulness. Haridwar and Rishikesh have emerged as the hubs of slow travel, with a mixture of both meditation and adventure offering a more complete holiday for travellers.

Take your time

Outside the hilly environs of the Western Ghats and the Himalayas, Japan is fast emerging as the ideal hub for slow adventure. With its wild and untamed landscape, Hokkaido in the winters turns into the perfect slow travel destination.

The winters cause the river to almost freeze. Almost. What you’re left with is a river that’s closer to a glacier, but not completely that either. Canoeing in such a river allows one to admire the views and comfortably enjoy the feeling of paddling down in a boat. This slow adventure gives you most of the thrills, without any of the exhaustion, so that you can make the most of your visit.

Will you try going on a slow adventure next?

One of the oddest places in the world, at least geopolitically speaking, is the Strait of Gibraltar. While Gibraltar itself is present on the Iberian peninsula, it is a British territory. But if you thought that was the only odd thing, think again.

On the other side of the famed strait, lies Ceuta, a small town with a storied history and a fascinating culture. Surrounded on all sides by the nation of Morocco, the town of Ceuta itself is a Spanish territory, having been so since the 16th century.

However, while the town is a Spanish exclave, Ceuta’s culture is a lot more diffuse. Consisting of descendants of Spanish, Moroccan, and Bedouin peoples, Ceuta’s eighty five thousand residents speak a mixture of Spanish and Arabic. In fact, their language has changed so much over the years that while both Spanish and Moroccans can understand them easily, conversations can get taxing, as there is frequent code switching that only native Ceutans are comfortable with.

The town is also historically and culturally significant. Being on the other side of the Strait of Gibraltar, it has been known to be one of the pillars of Hercules, which formed the edge of the known world for the Greeks and the Romans. Inhabited since the 7th century BC, Ceuta also has a treasure trove of ancient buildings and mediaeval architecture, which mixes both Moorish and Spanish styles.

It seems to be the summer of sport. Whether it is the Parisian Olympics, or the Euros, or even the T20 World Cup, sports events are taking over not just our screens, but also our travel plans. And the craze is not just limited to this summer, for sports tourism is an industry that is growing at a rapid pace. And it seems that after all the adventure-centric or festival-centric holidays we seem to have gotten used to, this emergent branch is going  to blow these established modes out of the water.

Games of summer

An event that’s held once every four years is sure to generate a lot of buzz as well as revenue. It gives the places hosting it bragging rights that go on for years, and also a base to host future sports events. Take the case of Sydney Olympic Park, which hosted the event in 2000 and has remained a popular venue, both for sports and concerts, ever since.

For cities that have managed to have a permanent fixture at a sporting event, therefore, it is a rather huge deal. While the World Cups and Olympics bring in huge investments for a shorter period, events like hosting an F1 race or a football match changes fortunes. Baku, which has its own cultural and historical attractions, received a huge boost in its (and Azerbaijan’s) tourism industry thanks to hosting an F1 race. It is the same for Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.

Lean no more

Another reason that even tourist hotspots are seeking to become a part of a sports event is primarily to do with the ‘shoulder season’. Late summer or autumn in Europe, or summers in the Middle East or Florida is a slow season for travellers. Which is exactly why most sporting events that these places are known for are held during that time. 

Miami has taken this a step further and created an interactive experience centred around the career of Lionel Messi, who currently plies his trade for FC Inter Miami. Same for sporting meccas like Barcelona, Munich, and Milan.

Airlines and tour operators have caught on to this new interest and are offering packages and subsidised air fares. And fans want more of it. For if there’s anything to know about sports fans, it’s that they are willing to go the extra mile and spend more to get the best experience.

In the region of Low Countries, which comprises the Netherlands and Flanders, a phenomenon emerged during the middle ages that was unlike any other. And it has left a lasting legacy on entire cultures as well as generations, which cite this practice and time and again.

While convents are a common knowledge for most of us, we might be surprised about beguinages, which were similar in scope, but different in many ways. Beguinages were created in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries to house women. But not just any women. While convents have been the domain of nuns, beguinages, while certainly made with a religious purpose, was the domain of unmarried women.

These unmarried women, called beguines, from which the name of the establishment came, were religious laywomen who sought to find work and an allowance to send home to their families. Since all these women belonged to a similar class and cultural background, beguinages turned into safe havens for those who would eventually get married and go on to separate lives.

But this space allowed them to form their own expressions, and live in a sisterhood, indulging in their ideas and dreams. Thirteen of these places have been named UNESCO World Heritage sites, and it is clear to see why. Thanks to the culture and the world women created for themselves here, the place still manages to capture the tranquillity, safety, and freedom of the beguines of the middle ages.

Lyme Regis, nestled along the Jurassic Coast of Dorset, England, has a storied past that spans centuries. Originally a mediaeval fishing village known as Lym or Lymme, its maritime importance grew steadily over time. 

Throughout its history, Lyme Regis has been closely linked to the sea. Its residents and travellers alike often associate the place with fishing, shipbuilding, and trade. In fact, the iconic Cobb, a historic stone pier and breakwater, has been a prominent feature of the town’s harbour since the 13th century.

Lyme Regis gained literary fame through the works of renowned authors. Jane Austen featured the town in her novel Persuasion, while John Fowles immortalised it in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, highlighting its scenic beauty and maritime heritage.

But, there is more. The town’s cliffs are renowned for their fossil-rich deposits, attracting palaeontologists. Take Mary Anning, for example. She was a local whose father was a cabinet maker, and she supplemented his income with selling her finds, which was a common activity in the 19th century. In fact, she was the first to find complete pterosaur and ichthyosaur skeletons. Anning’s groundbreaking discoveries further enhanced Lyme Regis’s scientific significance. In fact, you can go fossil gathering on tours even now.

Today, Lyme Regis seems to be evolving while still maintaining its historical charm. The emergence of a vibrant artisan quarter and innovative eateries is injecting new energy into the town. It’s fascinating to see how places in this once a historical (prehistoric, even) place in England, now buzz with modern creativity and entrepreneurship.

Most holiday hotspots have a season associated with them, outside of which, while there’s likely to be less crowds, will also end up being a sub-optimal experience. But what if there was a place you could visit anytime, and it would be amazing? Not just that, every season will bring a different activity to enthral you. Sounds too good to be true?

Welcome to Churchill, then. Located on the western coast of the Hudson Bay, this remote Canadian town has been inhabited for over two thousand years. But while its local culture and history is a popular topic, its natural wonders are even more amazing.

If you arrive in autumn, you can see polar bears up close. This is slightly before the formation of sea ice, which allows the bears to hunt. So you can also find polar bears roaming around the coast, sometimes feeling for ice.

However, if you decide to venture into Churchill in winters, it becomes one of the best spots to view the ultimate theatre in the sky, the Northern Lights. The place also turns into a winter wonderland of sorts, with snow covering the entire town in a thick blanket.

If you thought summers would be a bust here, think again, for Hudson Bay becomes a hunting and breeding ground for belugas. The river estuary is among the best places to see these playful creatures.

So when are you heading to this place for all seasons?

Hot on the heels of the complete eclipse that captivated the world, a new generation of umbraphiles has emerged. Over a week later, and people still don’t seem to be over the magical phenomenon.

It, therefore, isn’t surprising that planning for the next few eclipses have already begun. With three of them happening in the next four years, this couldn’t be a better time to plan your next eclipse exploration.

The next total eclipse is scheduled for 2026, tracing a path that starts from the North Pole, and going all the way to the Mediterranean before dissipating. It will ensure brilliant as well as varied viewing spots, such as the North Atlantic, the fjords of Iceland, and the island of Mallorca.

The eclipse will originate in the Indian Ocean in 2027, and the phenomenon will move westwards, passing through eastern Africa and Egypt, which will be the best place, as well as the most magical one to see the skies since the path of the eclipse is in line with Giza, the site of the famed pyramids.

So, when will you start planning for your eclipse adventure?

You must be familiar with the famous island in the Maldives that exhibits brilliant bioluminescence that turns its beaches into fields of blue shining stars. It is one of the features of the island that attracts such a huge number of tourists to the country every year.

But what if you got to know that this feature is not specific to one island, or even the Maldives? The bioluminescence can be attributed to specific species of plankton that inhabit the Indian Ocean. Plankton are microscopic sea creatures that lie somewhere between plants and animals. They float about on ocean currents and are sustenance for smaller fishes and animal species of the sea.

The chemical reaction that causes them to glow is caused by disturbance due to strong ocean waves, which results in a chemical reaction that seeks to protect the plankton from perishing in the sea. So while the islands of north Maldives went viral thanks to their pictures featuring the bioluminescent plankton washing up at the beach, the phenomenon can also be witnessed in Lakshadweep, or even the Seychelles.

But the greatest secret behind this enchanting phenomenon is the fact that while the images of the beaches have captured all the eyeballs, the best place to see the magic is underwater. And thanks to night snorkelling, travellers get to witness scenes that no photography can do justice to.

So what are you waiting for, head on over south, for the best time to see the magic of nature is between April and October.

The concept of dreams has given sleepless nights to many, and has long captured the public imagination through cult films like Waking Life, The Matrix, Inception and the underrated series The OA

While there still hasn’t been a concrete answer to why we dream, recent studies have shown they can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and increase creativity and enhance learning. Taking from this, a hotel in London’s Kimpton Fitzroy has curated a ‘room to dream’ experience. It is a world-first initiative that has been created to help people experience lucid dreaming

So how does it really work?

Through a VR set. We know that there’s been a boom of AR/VR in the hospitality sector for virtual tours and for people to partake in immersive storytelling. This experience just takes it up a notch where you are able to enter a hypnagogic state without being hypnotised. The process can help people control their dreams and face situations that cause them anxiety, reducing it in their waking lives. 

“In the same way that a hypnotherapist takes a strand of the conscious mind down into the subconscious and implants a changed way of being, the same is possible in a lucid dream,” Charlie Morley, a lucid dreaming researcher and the creator of the experience told CN Traveller. 

Lucid dreaming is going mainstream

Especially as part of sleep tourism. With more people looking towards vacations as an escape from their daily lives and as an opportunity to get better quality sleep, this comes as an effort to accommodate that need. 

Several hotels around the world are capitalising on this trend by creating meditation pods and purple rooms. But Kimpton Fitzroy is the first to introduce the concept of achieving consciousness during sleep. Guests are provided with a calming tea infused with a few drops of mugwort tonic, known to induce lucid dreaming and viola! You are in a waking dream in a matter of minutes. Would you give this unique holiday a shot? 

Even if you haven’t heard of Keukenhof, you must have seen either photographs or enchanting videos of it. The capital of Netherlands’ tulip dominion, the famed botanical garden was established in 1949, and has over seven million tulip bulbs blooming every spring. Nestled in the historic grounds of Castle Keukenhof, this place has to be on your travel itinerary even if you’re just spending a short day in the Netherlands.

It wouldn’t be out of the realm of fantasy if on your trip, you also decide to visit a spot from your favourite fictional offering. Visiting King’s Cross while in London is a given if you’ve partaken in the story of the world’s most famous boy wizard. Or perhaps visiting the Shire while in New Zealand. But more than just one or two stops, people are now starting to curate entire trips around their love for their favourite cultural creations, whether it’s music, movies, or books. This is the era of ‘fandom travel’.

The Boy Who Tripped

It’s been almost two decades since the Battle of Hogwarts, but many (while still waiting for their letters) can’t seem to get go of it. Beyond platform nine-three-quarters, there are also places that just stage as Diagon Alley and see a huge footfall. Oh, and you can get some butterbeer and Defence Against the Dark Arts literature while you’re there.   

Lord of the Rings is one of the main reasons that brings travellers to New Zealand, especially to check out Hobbiton. In fact, the movie trilogy has boosted the country’s tourism to the extent that nearly one in five visitors cite the book series as their reason for visiting. Meanwhile, Dubrovnik has claimed Game of Thrones as its own, with travel itineraries organised around the filming of the series.

For the culture

But out of all the countries, it seems like South Korea has managed to perfect the art of fandom travel. It has recently come up with the ‘Hallyu visa’, which allows people to work with performative arts for up to two years.

South Korea has recognised the cultural currency it holds, with K-Pop and K-Dramas not just creating abiding fandoms, but also inspiring the fans to be a part of the growth of these sectors, thereby creating a feedback loop that helps the growth of Korean arts. With all these packages abound, which place will you head to first?

Seefeld, nestled in Austria, offers nearly everything one could ask for from an exceptional holiday. From breathtaking landscapes to pristine waters and a vibrant cultural scene, it caters to diverse preferences. Moreover, it serves as a shining example of sustainable tourism amidst the awe-inspiring Alpine peaks. Whether you’re an adventure enthusiast craving adrenaline or looking for a tranquil escape, Seefeld accommodates all types of travellers. With a survey revealing that 87 percent of Indians prioritise sustainable travel, it underscores the global trend towards mindful tourism. If you are looking for your next environmentally conscious adventure, Seefeld may just be the place for you.

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