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The asli Mumbai

Menka Shivdasani

Though the New Year has begun on a sombre note, Mumbai is trying to find its own rhythm with launches, parties and festivals.

Two weeks after the wave of terror hit India, Mumbai was back to partying. It never really stopped, actually; though many stayed home on New Year's Eve as a mark of respect to tsunami victims, all the celebration zones were packed. Consciences were salved through a minute's silence in the midst of the festivities, and through donation desks set up at the five-star venues. Others cancelled the parties they were going to throw, but ensured the newspapers knew about their charitable deed.

You would think proximity to the sea would get more than a few people nervous, but Vijay Mallya proved that wrong on January 9 when he launched his Kingfisher calendar. The bash was held on his newly acquired vessel, Indian Princess, in Mumbai and everyone who was anyone was there, braving the sun with the help of strawberry margaritas and, of course, Mallya's own beer. With entry to the docks restricted, special passes had to be given to invitees and as the celebrity list grew, the stern-faced policemen on duty began to look happier. Among the first to arrive was Suchitra Pillai; then, a few minutes later, Jackie Shroff came in, looking natty in a red shirt and cream suit. "Mumbai really has the best harbour," he said, looking out into the sea. "This is asli Mumbai!"

Diandra Soares, Pia Trivedi, Yana Gupta and other models added a dash of glamour. Gautam Singhania walked in, sensibly wearing a red cap against the blazing sun, and film personalities like Aftab Shivdasani and Fardeen Khan showed up too. Of course, the Page 3 people came fashionably late; in fact, when Raja and Queenie Dhondy walked in at 3 p.m. (the invitation said 12), Mallya grinned and asked Raja, who seemed to have just recovered: "Do you only come on time if you have jaundice?"

The launch of the calendar itself was delayed because Salman Khan walked in at 3 p.m. as well, to do the honours. Describing Mallya as the `King of Good Times' — "he drinks his own beer, flies his own aircraft" — Salman said he first thought Mallya had called to ask him to model; then he realised there was no way he could compete against all those beautiful women.

What of the calendar itself? Well, as Mallya said, "This is one calendar which people do not use to see dates!" Atul Kasbekar has shot the models in swimsuit against some very beautiful South African backdrops. Last year's calendar won the FAB Award in London, and it wouldn't be surprising if this one received an award as well.

In festival mode

This fortnight will see not one, but two city festivals — the Mumbai Festival, which was postponed by a week to January 14 as a mark of respect to tsunami victims, and the Kala Ghoda Festival, now an annual highlight. Both promise a smorgasbord of events — cultural, literary and culinary.

Cultural events of this nature are always welcome as avenues for the creativity of Mumbaikars, and we have moved a long way from the time when the flamboyant forex trader Jamal Mecklai tried organising some sort of celebrations in Mumbai more than a decade ago.

At that time, a steely-eyed journalist had asked him at a press conference: "What precisely is there to celebrate about Mumbai?" Mecklai was so taken aback by the ferocity of the question, he paused for a moment and then said absolutely the wrong thing — "I like the bars!"

The city was not ready for such celebrations then, but with changing lifestyles and increased global exposure, Mumbai is hungry for such events. They may not be quite in the class of the Dubai Festival yet, and you will not find foreign tourists coming in droves, but they add a touch of excitement to living in a city where long work hours can take a toll.

Camping artistically

On the art scene, the RPG Academy of Art is hosting its annual camp at RPG's beach houses at Marve between January 11 and 15, with 30 artists from India, Pakistan, Korea and Bangladesh participating. Harsh Goenka, Chairman, RPG Enterprises, will host a get-together on January 15, bringing the camp to a close.

The camp has been an important event on the art calendar since it began in 1991. This year, artists like Krishen Khanna, Satish Gupta, Yogesh Rawal, G.R. Iranna and Brinda Miller are taking part, and from Pakistan, Afshar Malik, Anwar Saeed, Mohammed Saigol and Nahid Raza. These artists, and others have spent the last few days gazing out at the sea and letting it inspire their creativity. Who would have believed that barely a couple of weeks ago, the sea struck such terror across the world?

Picture by Shashi Ashiwal

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