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Malavika’s Mumbaistan: In praise of the courtesan

mumbai Updated: Jul 13, 2018 14:51 IST
Malavika Sangghvi
Malavika Sangghvi
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Malavika’s Mumbaistan,Malavika Sangghvi

Manjari Chaturvedi with Sudhir Mishra (centre) and friends.

“Nine years ago, I performed with Zareena Begum, a brilliant woman artist of the early 70s, and I was suddenly exposed to the unfair bias, wherein even today, our society respects a classical dancer or singer, but a tawaif or mehfil singer like her is ridiculed. Our patriarchal society made the male performers of the erstwhile courts into the Ustads, whereas the women performers were made into ‘nachnewalis’ and ‘gaanewalis’ with obvious connotations,” says Delhi-based classical dancer Manjari Chaturvedi, about her current creation, ‘The Courtesan Project’, a series of multi-disciplinary productions which she plans bring to Mumbai — to the NCPA and The Royal Opera House — this October. “I felt one has to relook art for art’s sake. Art does not have gender,” says the veteran of over 300 concerts in 28 countries across the world, who is currently in Mumbai to meet like-minded people and build collaborations. “These women were singers, dancers, poets, fashionistas and conversationalists, all rolled into one,” says Chaturvedi, about her subjects. “My concerts trace their poetry of amore, their style of music, their style of dance, along with a theatrical storytelling of their lives,” she says. As for her three-day visit to rain-lashed Mumbai, Chaturvedi is delighted: “Mumbai is essential because these tawaifs were the women who established the first footholds in Hindi cinema and their contribution must be acknowledged.”


Airport (noun): A fashion runway for which Indian stars are required to dress up in their most extravagant and stylish outfits, so that their pictures can be shot by various photographers, for the enjoyment of their fans and the general public; and mercilessly critiqued by the self-appointed ‘style police’ of various media outlets, who themselves show up in flip-flops and crumpled tees to the same venue.


What They Say —

“Legitimising homosexuality leads to commercial profit since gay bars will be opened in all cities on FDI. It is a genetic flaw celebrated.”

— Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy

What They Mean —

“As for my genetic flaw of sounding off and holding forth on any and every subject, regardless of whether I know something about it or not, the less said, the better.”


(LtoR) Rahul Akerkar; iconic chefs and restaurateurs at the event.

It was described as a ‘stellar brunch and a multi-course sit-down experience, complemented with beers and drinks at Rs6,500’, with all proceeds going to the Cuddles Foundation – an organisation dedicated to providing holistic nutrition to underprivileged children stricken by cancer. And to be sure, Food With Veterans, hosted this Sunday at a venue in Lower Parel turned out to be exactly that. With individual courses prepared by the likes of the city’s iconic chefs and restaurateurs like AD Singh, Rahul Akerkar, Riyaz Amlani, Vicky Ratnani and Ishtiyaque Qureshi, who had between them created the food boom in Mumbai, the afternoon saw around 45 seats sold to lucky and philanthropic-minded guests.

Akerkar, we are informed, prepared his famous heuvos rancheros: cornbread waffle, pork, avocado, poached egg and mole for the non-vegetarians, with mushrooms and queso for the vegetarians, which he had first done in 1992 at Under The Over, the launch pad for his restaurant career. Singh’s bacon-wrapped chicken (sous vide chicken thigh wrapped in pancetta) served with whipped potato purée and balsamic jus prepared by his team was a big hit, we’re told; and Ratnani had come up with a salpicon of barley and green mango, green chilli and radish slaw, and a confit of duck, peaches and barley. One of the highlights of the day was chef Irfan Pabaney’s unscheduled entry to volunteer his time and energy to the cause. That, and the negronis prepared impromptu at the bar by restaurateur Romil Ratra got everyone in the mood. As for what the chefs themselves thought of the dishes prepared by their peers, we drew a blank: “By the time we finished preparing the dishes and were having a drink amongst ourselves, the brunch was over,” Akerkar laughed.

First Published: Jul 11, 2018 15:57 IST