Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Coelho tugs at Dubai’s heartstrings


 Photograph: Prashanth Mukundan

ONE Wednesday evening, Paulo Coelho walked into the emotional and spiritual consciousness of Dubai’s residents. And he hoped that they would share their souls with him because that is what he does with his writing.
He said the solution to the Iraq crisis “will not come from politicians or the military but from people like us. Look at Mahatma Gandhi. Without belonging to the classic political system, he used a unique process to bring about change. What I do (as an author) is to share my soul. What I hope others will do with me is share their souls. We are part of the divine light and we have a reason to be here.”
Denying any political inclinations, he said even silence could be construed as a political attitude. “If you speak you are taking a political attitude. If not, again, there is a political attitude. What you must then do is go back to discuss things and take decisions based on discussions. You cannot do anything without being political.”
The best-selling author of The Alchemist and most recently, The Zahir, Coelho is in Dubai on a private visit. He took time out to do a book signing session on Wednesday evening at Virgin Megastore, Mercato Mall, and also to meet the Dubai press on Thursday.
Coelho said he sensed a sense of identification after meeting with his readers (and fans) in the UAE. “At the signing session, I met people from the Emirates, Iran, Saudi Arabia... Some of them had travelled all the way to make an eye-contact with the author. I could read in their eyes the enthusiasm… that we are in the same boat.”
The author, whose works have been translated in some 60 languages, said he does not seek to inspire people. “I don’t think I give anything. It is not my intention to teach anyone. Who am I to teach? What I try to do is share (my experiences) because I am obliged to share. Every single person on earth who wants to live his or her full human condition has to share something. When I do that, I feel I am not alone, as I saw (at the book signing). Don’t think I am the one who knows the answers.”
“My first visit to Arabia is not this physical one,” said Coelho. “My soul came here first. I visited Arabia through my imagination, through the books. The Alchemist, my most famous book, is based in Islam. Let’s see what the outcome of this visit will be. At the end of the day, it is about people – whom you meet, talk and share opinions.”
Dressed in black, with one pony-tail of white hair on otherwise baldness, Coelho spoke his mind with the intellectual honesty of “I don’t knows” to why his works are universally popular, what his inspirations are and when and how he puts the title to his books. He says imagination, inspiration and experience go together in his writings.
Coelho said he has still not understood himself. “The moment I understand myself, I am dead. The confrontation that you have in your soul is what makes life interesting. You are always a surprise to yourself.”
Quoting Rene Descartes, he said: “I still have my doubts, therefore I think, and so I exist.”
He said every book of his has to be written in his soul before typing it out. And that process could take many years – it took almost a decade for his work, Eleven Minutes.
Coelho said the day one sees his name in the screenplay credits of a film, “remember that it is the end of my career.” He does not see films as downgrading. He cited Once Upon a Time in the West and Matrix as two powerful scripts. “I am not skilled in doing this (screenplay writing). I see many writers doing this change from books to screenplays. It is a very dangerous step because the structure is totally different. It is like a violin player playing a piano. Of course, you can do both but if your soul is in violin, you can never play a piano as you play a violin.”
Coelho writes “short stories every week to keep him writing” (he only writes a book every two years; he will release his next book next year based on the weekly writings). He said there are no rules as to what it takes to be a writer. Some authors used imagination; some banked on experience. “You have to know how to express your thoughts. That makes you a good writer.”
He said the question every one asks him is why his books are so popular. “I can give you a fake and honest answer. The honest answer is: ‘I don’t know.’ I write in Portuguese and I have to overcome so many barriers (to reach to the English-reading audience). When I write a book I try to forget that I have sold some 80 million copies. If you have three people reading a book, that is 240 million readers. If you start thinking about that, then you can’t write. So I go back to my inner sense and try to express my soul. Then it is up to the reader.”
He said readers will not forget or forgive if authors try to find a formula to write. “They will read the first or second book but never the third.” Coelho said, therefore, he did not want to know what makes his books sell. “The moment I understand that I will be tempted to follow the formula and I will lose my innocence.”


The Coelho effect



Paulo Coelho said his book signing in Dubai was a “magical moment.” Though he has signed for seven to eight hours in London and France, the response in Dubai surprised him.
It could not have been without reason. He involves his readers emotionally apart from helping them embark on a sublime spiritual quest.
That was more than evident at the book signing ceremony at Virgin Megastore. Long queues had formed at the store much before the author arrived, a little after 6 pm. He continued signing three books per person (sometimes even more) later than the scheduled two hours, taking only a short break in between. In between the signing sessions he also obliged fans with quick photo sessions.
Coelho’s readers in Dubai – a true slice of the city’s multicultural crowd - let their guard down when it came to displaying the emotions of meeting with the author. Faces would beam in triumphant smile when some got their books signed. A woman broke into tears in front of Coelho. Women in wheelchair and children pushed ahead in prams (one mother had an Eleven Minutes placed on the pram) jostled to meet and greet the author.
Coelho meant differently for different people. Rabih Choucair, an account manager, had come to the signing ceremony to get a book signed for his fiancée who is a huge Coelho fan. When that was mentioned to Coelho, he gracefully wrote: “In the name of love…” on the book. “He seems to be a nice man,” was the parting comment of Choucair, visibly pleased.
Shirly Sagum, a client administrator, couldn’t contain her excitement. She is an ardent reader of Coelho, has read Alchemist many times over and even has her personal diary titled, The Alchemy. She said the author helped her in self-development and that reading his books was a spiritual experience.
Nilufer Rafatian, an Iranian, brought the Coelho’s Farsi translation to get them signed. Nilufer bears the pain of multiple sclerosis and moves around in a wheelchair. She said Coelho’s books give her hope.
Muskaan had only a quick comment to make: “His books have an inspiring effect on you. They make you believe in your dreams.”
Deena Kamel, an AUS student, had a pertinent observation to make. “It is great to have Coelho in Dubai but not every one is here because of his books or ideas.” She said the book signing was more of a celebrity event. What was needed was an open forum to exchange views and ideas with Coelho.
She also cited the case of mistaken identity. When Prof William Haney, professor of English Literature, AUS, walked in with his students, his uncanny resemblance to the author caused a stir with fans running up to him and the security staff trying to bring the situation under control.
Coelho’s books, meanwhile, flew off the shelves of Virgin. People waited patiently, some with rose bouquets - all carrying bunches of books. They chanted “We love you” to Coelho as he took the small break to walk down the aisles.
A bunch of teenage kids, clutching movie tickets in their hands, walked in to the store to explore the commotion. One boy commented: “Seems like a lot of people in Dubai read books.”
Boy, you said it!


Boxes:

Coelho quotes in Dubai
I am who I am.
You cannot do anything without being political.
My first visit to Arabia is not this physical one… my soul came here first.
Men are more faithful to authors than women.
It is not my intention to teach anyone. Who am I to teach?
Normally, publishers don’t like my titles.

Traffic trap
“I have to fulfil my quota of monuments and landscapes (on every visit). I want to walk in the market, see monuments and that is what I am going to do here. On arrival, we decided to go to the souk. What we did not know was that it took one hour from the hotel to get to the souk. So we stopped in the middle. We did not go but it is something I am really planning to do…”

How ‘The Alchemist’ was not to be
Paulo Coelho said he coins the titles for his books arbitrarily. The Alchemist began with the title. The Pilgrimage came after finishing the book. The Zahir and Eleven Minutes came in the middle of the book.
Coelho recalled: “When The Alchemist was first accepted by Harper Collins in the US, they said: ‘Fantastic book but horrible title. There is no alchemist in the book. The alchemist is only at the end of the book. So let’s put a better title: The Shepherd and His Dreams” Coelho put his foot down to retain the title.
He faced the same resistance with Veronica Decides to Die. “Oh my God, you cannot put that title. It must be a sad because Veronica decides to die.”
“When I put a title, nobody can change that. So far, I think I have very good titles,” said Coelho.

Shaolin monks dateline Dubai for Kung Fu show



Photograph: Mohammed Rasheed

Many hundred years back, they protected an emperor from his enemies before all but five of them were poisoned to death by the very man they saved.
Today, they must rebuild their monasteries, which have been stripped off riches, down the years.
And to accomplish that, they do what they know best: Kung Fu. They perform the martial art in all its original, breathtaking finesse in Dubai.
Yes, the Shaolin monks are in the city.
And part of every dirham that you spend to watch them perform the spectacular 'Wheel of Life' on Nov.24 and 25 at the Madinat Jumeirah will go into rebuilding the Shaolin temple in south China, according to the monks' team manager.
The group of 22 monks from the Shaolin Temple will integrate their martial arts display into a well-choreographed show featuring live music and actors.
The monks are led by Master Wang Hai Ying.
He said the monks devote their entire day to perfecting the martial arts.
They wake up at 5am and continue their general practice sessions until 7pm when they break for meditation to gain inner strength.
Yassin Matbouly, managing director, Vibe Middle East, organisers of the show, said "Wheel of Light" is the most spectacular show he has ever seen.
Show director Micha Bergese said a host of amazing feats including bending iron bars and breaking concrete blocks have been lined up for the audience.
These are made possible by taking in the "strength of the universe into the body."
Every monk will have his own characteristic movements.
Bergese, an accomplished director and choreographer, has worked with renowned names in the music world including Mick Jagger, Julio Iglesias and Tina Turner, among others.
A curtain-raiser to the show, performed for Dubai's media, highlighted the rigorous training regimen the monks have gone through.
The soldier monks dived up in the air, somersaulted, landed on their hands, walked on them, lay flat on the ground and swiftly again went through the routine without even a pause.
That a mere body somersault could take so many different forms was only complemented in its awe factor by the immaculate foot work of the monks.
And they came in all sizes. The youngest, Denghui, is only seven years old. The oldest are 24.

Niche cinema finds a foothold


Gianluca Chacra


Though largely caught in the web of Hollywood and Bollywood's commercial arms, moviegoers in the UAE are waking up to the revelations of alternative cinema. Rajeev Nair has the details

The Dubai International Film Festival (Diff) hasn't defined itself as a mere showcase of arthouse films. From screening utter escapist fare like Ocean's Twelve to the hard-hitting reality bites expounded in Hamburg Cell, Diff had delivered a mixed platter last year.
But in doing so, in giving screen-space to the non-commercial productions, the film festival also brought to focus the alternative cinema movement that has already struck roots in the UAE.
Indeed, cinema that does not fit into a commercial format has its share of enthusiasts in Dubai. Through blogs to on-line interaction and Thursday night get-togethers to special screenings, these select bunches of filmgoers have been digging into the classics and New Age cinema with unbridled enthusiasm.
They have been studying the works by masters, discussing world cinema movement, figuring out trends and passing on the word that beyond the cineplexes next door, where Hollywood screams its head out, there is still cinema, after all. And meaningful one at that.
If not in tangible results, Diff has certainly brought the spotlight on these niche crowds.
A discussion on Dubai's arthouse film culture could ideally start from Gianluca Chacra, managing director, Front Row Filmed Entertainment LLC. Front Row has been revelling in picking films that theatres refuse to touch. Pertinently, they discovered that it is a niche that works. And how!
Front Row's opening film, Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf's Kandahar, which they brought straight to DVD, was a runaway success. The second, Michael Moore's hard-hitting documentary, Bowling for Columbine, silenced skeptics. Since then, Front Row has also ventured into theatre releases — one of the most prized-catches, you guessed it right, being Fahrenheit 9/11.
And to think that Gianluca had sold his car to raise capital for starting this business!
A Lebanese-Italian, Gianluca's family has been in the business of films for over 60 years. His uncle was distributor of Warner Bros films in the Middle East; his father has been an independent film distributor for four decades. That was a time when Lebanon ruled the entertainment market; the UAE was only emerging with just a few cinemas.
Gianluca grew up in Rome, went to college in Lebanon, and returned to Rome to work on a film festival. Meanwhile, he had part-timed with his uncle and dad, picking up the basics of the business. He realised that the film festival job wasn't cut out for him, and in a bid to make his mark in business, he moved in to Dubai with the money he got by selling his car.
"Many distributors consider that the UAE does not have an audience for these (independent, arthouse) films," says Gianluca. "I totally disagree. There are a lot of expatriates here, who want to watch them."
He realised the potential of the alternative cinema movement and looked at buying smaller titles — "not the bad small ones but the critically acclaimed ones." Despite these films' popularity elsewhere, including film festival circuits, theatres were hesitant to touch them. Gianluca released them on DVD to "show we can get results." The response to the first film, Kandahar, he says, "was even bigger than commercial films." He expected a favourable turnout but was still surprised by its success.
He attributes it to the niche audience independent and arthouse films have. "Most Hollywood productions do not have a message, they are not up-to-date with current situations, and that is where independent films make the difference. They have something that Hollywood does not give."
The success of Kandahar and Bowling for Columbine in the DVD circuit is also a testimony of the interest people in the Middle East have on politics. "Most people here are politically driven, and there are these 'conspiracy theories' when it comes to Middle East issues. Obviously, people here would be interested in films that address socio-political realities."
Gianluca says the subjects handled by indie films are eclectic. "You find subjects that you really don't know about. They are dramatic, realistic, and something you have never seen before."
That element of novelty is not the sole consideration of Front Row in picking titles from most European countries and Southeast Asian countries too. They also dig into classics — but the bottom line is to anticipate whether the subject would appeal to UAE audiences.
The principle issue involved in expanding the base for alternative cinema in the UAE is to have an attitude shift at the retailers' end, feels Gianluca. "It took me a lot of effort to convince people that Kandahar will work," he recalls.
And he would like to see a lot more visibility to alternative cinema titles. The large arm of commercial cinema has been so far-reaching that it tends to trample over alternative titles. Retailer intervention, with a respect to alternative cinema sensibilities, could save the day.
Gianluca does not clog the market with many weekly releases. Front Row has about eight DVD releases per month — a figure kept low to ensure that every film gets the attention it deserves. "If you are launching five titles a week, which one will you focus your marketing efforts on? People will get lost in the clutter. Niche films need a niche marketing strategy."
That is what he would like to see at the theatres too. He explains the sad performance of US box-office hit, Sideways, an award-winning film. "It was a niche film not for the mass market. It needed a different marketing strategy of playing at fewer theatres."
Despite these hiccups, Gianluca is happy with the way alternative cinema is picking up in the UAE. However, he feels there is a larger role that Diff can play by strengthening its association with the Ministry of Information and addressing censorship issues.
He recalls the fate of Hamburg Cell, which was screened to critical acclaim at Diff. However, "the film is banned from screening in the UAE," says Gianluca. He finds the ambiguity — of being screened at Diff but withheld from public theatres — baffling.
Having facilitated the release of the first UAE film, Dreams, recently, Gianluca is encouraged by the positive response of Dubai Media City and Dubai Studio City in nurturing a film culture in Dubai. "They have taken into consideration creating a film fund in assistance with the government like the way it is done in Europe and the US."
Front Row is working closely with Diff in bringing a few landmark films this year. The company also associates with Cairo Film Festival. "We are giving the film, Man to Man, starring Kristin Scott Thomas," says Gianluca. She will attend the opening of the film at Cairo Film Festival.
Gianluca is not closing his doors on commercial cinema. A newly found arm, Shooting Stars, which will handle the distribution of Warner releases, is preparing for the theatre releases of some true heavyweights including Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and George Clooney's Syriana, which was shot in the UAE.
Meanwhile, he is also optimistic of guarding the niche segment of alternative cinema because the old guards still believe that posters with guns and explosions work. "Not any more," smiles the youngster. "People are aware of cinema; they have the Internet and cable. They know if a film is good or bad..."
That is precisely the kind of movie lovers who gather at the movie screening sessions by 9714 at Ibo, Millennium Airport Hotel, every week, or at Five Green's fashion and art events. These movie-buffs look beyond the confines of commercial cinema and discover gleaming gems from alternative cinema that gives them the creative high.
"We have been hosting alternative cinema screenings at various locations around Dubai for the past couple of years," says Shehab Hamad of 9714. "There have been monthly screenings of animated, shorts, experimental, foreign and independent productions.... all non-mainstream."

Michael Ross of 9714

One of the first films to be screened thus was I Call Myself Persian directed by Tanaz Eshaghian and Sara Nodjoumi, who sought the identity of Iranians living in America post-9/11. "The response was phenomenal; it was a multimedia event and it attracted about 800 people."
Michael Ross of 9714, who is in charge of the programming, says the movie selection has been largely eclectic. "It is a mixed bag, and the films are those that I like. I can't even say it is a representation of the best or respected directors in the world because the films (chosen) are what I personally really like."
These have varied from Divine Intervention by Palestinian filmmaker Elie Suleiman to Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita, and Almodovar's La Mala Educacion to Woody Allen's comedy classic Annie Hall.
A recent screening was of La Haine (Hate), a film that catapulted actor-writer-director Mathie Kassovitz to the limelight. The French film about the cultural diversification in Parisian suburbs couldn't have come more timely for the Dubai audience watching news unfold of the riots in Paris.
There is a growth in the audience for alternative cinema but the segment will always remain niche, feel Shehab and Michael. "It remains a niche all over the world and in Dubai, there is a big enough audience to sustain interest in these films."
While the interest in alternative cinema selections has been broad-spectrum, "it looks like Italy is winning (in audience appreciation)," says Michael. Shehab adds that American independent films are the least popular.
Diff has catalysed interest in alternative cinema, observes Michael. "It sure has raised the profile of arthouse films."
That sure is good news for indie and arthouse filmmakers.

Profile: Swedish Artist Ragnhild Lunden




Feelings on canvas

Swedish artist Ragnhild Lunden describes painting as a process of downloading her feelings. It is a spontaneous action, so utterly uninhibited that Lunden is not even restricted by the need for brushes. She simply paints – with her hands, a kitchen knife, whatever – and the painting comes to life. They are on display at Courtyard Gallery and Café through Nov. 20. Rajeev Nair met her

Photographs: Prashanth Mukundan

In the beginning, a cluster of faces stare onto your canvas. Your teachers, your acquaintances, your critics, you… And then, slowly, one by one they leave the room. It is you and the canvas, and then you too bid good-bye. There remains only the core artist in you, stripped off your egocentricities... and you paint. It is a magical moment.
Ragnhild Lunden realised that magic very early in life. The Swedish artist has discovered that painting, as an expression, is ultimately a communication between the artist and the canvas through various media. The process has a brutal honesty, which strips her inner turmoil out in the open. It is a paradox of sorts — a feeling of detached involvement, the ability to see one's own works from a third person’s perspective.
Lunden says she likes what she sees in her works. Her paintings that hang on the wall in front of her are exactly the sort she would want to paint, and she is proud of them.
Though she tries to externalise the experience of painting, Lunden’s works bear an intense personal stamp. That could be because she regards the process of painting as a download of her feelings. “I am a very lively person,” she says. “When I am in pain or when I am happy, every thing is in extremes. It then feels nice to paint, to get it all out, all my feelings, all that I think and experience…”
However, that is a very organic process. She could flit from one feeling to the other, and the mixed emotions do leave an impression on the final work. That calls for a lot of instantaneous moments of creativity. Yes, Lunden agrees, her works are spurred by the moment.
She had discovered the artist in her when she was a child, a hyper-kid who, according to her teachers, would settle down if given some paper and pens.
It was not possible for her to chase her artistic interests as a career initially because her father had died when she was very young. “I needed to have, what you call, ‘real education,’” says the lady. So she went on to become a dentist and attempted a doctorate in dental research. A little into the intensive medial research and Lunden realised that her true calling was in fine arts. But that stint as researcher has helped her as an artist, says Lunden. “It helps you seek solutions, answers…”
There are so many interesting asides to this lady, who attends all her exhibitions with the “Horus eye.” She paints, in black, a representation of the Egyptian mythological figure, Horus, who is believed to have been committed to peace. Lunden wears the Horus eye to the left; according to the myth, Horus could paralyse others with his left eye.
Peace is the message that Lunden too upholds. Currently, she is working on an installation in Australia that addresses world peace.
The Egyptian connection runs deeper still. Having spent a few years in the country, she took a fancy for hieroglyphics, studied them extensively, and today reinterprets them in her paintings. Abstract expressionism thus meets hieroglyphic interpretation in the works of Lunden.
“I like the beauty of their lines, and their form. I know what they mean and I feel very free working on them,” she says. Hieroglyphics have a universal quality – some forms are truly basic, which helps in enhancing a universal appeal for her works.

The organic evolution that characterises her paintings also spills on to her work techniques. She is not limited to express herself with brushes; she dabs the paint with whatever suits her fancy — a cloth, a kitchen knife, her hands...
That sense of “untidiness, the loose edges,” if you may, represents the evolving and personalised feel of the artist.
Lunden feels that paintings must reach out to other people, wherein the viewer should perhaps discover a slice of his own life, his own inner self in the painting. It is a medium that communicates to every one, and serves as a basic art from that could be common to all humanity.
Largely self-taught, Lunden sees a gradual evolution in her style. “My early pictures were very dark but the recent ones are white. It is difficult to explain why. Many things have happened to me, and perhaps, I have learned better to handle colours. When you have many years of experience, painting layers and layers, you become free with colours.”
There are several points of continuity in her works — the symbolic languages, the geometric shapes, the figurative forms… and then there are visible proofs of the artist at work: Hand drawings, painted-overs, the skeletal sketches, the canvas patches…
In that diversity wells up the inner expressions of a woman, who only wants the world and its peoples to be at peace with themselves.

Theatre for HR development



Theatre for a better workplace

Theatre is the latest tool for human resources development in Dubai. Rajeev Nair has the details

Imagine addressing all those workplace woes out in the open through interactive sessions, where you play out — as in theatre — your grievances and discover solutions. It is a concept increasingly gaining acceptance in the corporate world, and the trend has reached Dubai too.
Scenez Group, a Dubai Media City-based company specialising in theatre projects, has unveiled Dubai's first 'Theatre at Work' corporate training workshops. It is a fun-packed approach to understand human psychology and the various patterns of human behaviour and thus, bring about the desired HR development.
One of the latest approaches in HR training, the use of theatre has been standardised to a few techniques. One is the Forum Theatre, developed by prominent theatre practitioner Augusto Boal. It addresses team development and conflict resolution in the corporate environment. The Alexander Technique, developed by Mathew Alexander coupled with the Grotowskian method (Jerzy Grotowski, Poland) is a movement/yoga- inspired technique used for stress management and developing the right body language for more efficient communication.
Sam Bardawil, whose did his studies at the Central School of Speech and Drama, London, and the University of Bristol, offers the training in Dubai. "Theatre for training is a new development in the HR industry," he says. "It has caught up in the last 3 to 4 years in the UK because unlike traditional training, it focuses on bringing out the emotional elements. It gives a lot of attention to human beings, treating them as a bundle of emotions and even as spiritual beings."
Augusto Boal had devised the Forum Theatre after touring through Brazil to educate the people about their rights through theatre. "But at the end of the sessions, the people would become so charged they wanted to revolt," says Bardawil. "That is when he realised the power of theatre. He resolved that he would never say anything on stage, which he is not willing to implement in real life."
Forum Theatre was built on that basic premise. "Here, people watch a play that tackles a subject related to their lives and work together as a team to resolve the issues. The play has a very simple theme and every one can relate to it. People then suggest solutions by acting them out," explains Bardawil.
Forum Theatre is an emotional, physical and intellectual experience, says Bardawil. "It is a quick check of what it is like to implement the changes in your life, and hopefully enable you to go back and do it in real life."
When such a play is done, the spectators start reacting and suggesting as if they are watching their lives on a mirror. Since the end-result is freeing people of their oppression, the practice is also called the "Theatre of the Oppressed." The people who take part are "spect-actors" — not spectators or actors. "They have to observe and act," explains Bardawil.
He says that the Grotowskian technique he follows is also referred to as Poor Theatre because in this style of training, there are no props, decoration or lighting. "It is all about actors being in an empty space using their own faculties to bring out as much as they can to communicate to the audience. They have to get the inflexion, intonation and articulation of their voice right. They must have the right facial expression and body language."
The principle of the Grotowskian technique rests on the fact that as they grow older, people tend to hide their emotions and spontaneous feelings. "We start putting on masks, which is visible in our voice, our postures and our body language. We tend to hide what we really feel," explains Bardawil.
The Grotowskian technique thus aims at liberating individuals from these masks. "This is very important if you want to connect to the corporate world. The Grotowskian technique helps you find your own way of expressing yourself, and understanding how you can use your body to portray different feelings."
The third kind of training using the Alexander Technique is mostly about stress release and stress management. "Stress manifests physically as voice changes and body pains," says Bardawil. "Alexander Technique synchronises body movement and breathing, which is very important in releasing stress. You discover your points of stress, release them and remove the tension from the body."
The Theatre at Work events can be held over one week or even months. "The size of the corporate group does not matter," says Bardawil. "The training is based on collaboration and the minimum we might need to conduct the workshop is 7 to 8 people."
Bardawil's own initiation into theatre therapy was after studying Art History and discovering certain courses where you can use art therapy for personal development. He later discovered drama therapy before venturing into corporate training using theatre techniques. He later taught at the American University in Beirut while also conducting freelance theatre training workshops.
He says there has been tremendous self-realisation from his own learning. "I think it changed my life completely. I became aware of my own inconsistencies about who I am, my strengths and what I need to work on. I am not concerned about what others think about me — often, a negative thought that blocks me from being what I truly am. The moment you realise your limitations and abilities, your ego starts deflating. And that is the way forward..."
And as bottom lines go, Theatre at Work helps re-discover the child in you, where you are not ashamed to show your true emotions. "It is getting to the true you, and not what is in the surface."

Caption:
Christina Chammas, general manager, Scenez Group; and Sam Bardawil.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Profile: Ali Mostafa, UAE filmmaker


Power of subtlety

UAE filmmaker Ali F. Mostafa's Under the Sun (Taht El Shams) is one of five films by up-and-coming national filmmakers to be screened at Dubai International Film Festival's UAE-focused programme segment, 'Emerging Emaratis.' Rajeev Nair met him

'Emerging Emarati' filmmaker Ali F. Mostafa discovered the magic of movies when he barely big and old enough to pick up a camera. He shot his toys first, made animation pictures out of them, created characters and situations, and even came up with ingenious special effects using air-sprays and lights.
Those "toy stories" paved the way for Ali discovering his inherent creative strength. That was to make him confident of zooming the camera on to his friends, and the people around him.
His father had a large collection of films, which helped, but Ali had conditioned himself to create a film frame from every walk of life. His eyes were like the camera lenses picking up details, studying them for visual effect and tucking it away in his mind to recall at a later stage.
That later stage has arrived. The present. The now. He has achieved what he dreamt to be: A filmmaker.
And the moment of glory comes as his film, Under the Sun (Taht El Shams) will be screened at the Dubai International Film Festival's 'Emerging Emaratis' programme segment, which showcases five films by up-and-coming UAE filmmakers.
Under the Sun, a 23-minute short, isn't autobiographical, though the film's structure and content might tempt one to draw parallels from Ali's life.
The film's protagonist is a 13-year-old UAE boy, Mohammed, half-English. (And it is played by Mohammed, Ali's younger brother).
Through one day in the life of Mohammed, during the Holy Month of Ramadan, Ali tries to capture "the international perceptions and misconceptions about Islam." Mohammed also stands for the audience's perspective; they both see the world with the same bewildered eyes.
To be in the director's chair has not been an easy journey for Ali. He has hauled tonnes of photography equipment up many flights of stairs; he has clipped films at the editing table; he has scripted stories; worked as sound recordist; played the assistant to director — all at college, his "filmmaking boot camp," the prestigious London Film School, to become what he eventually wanted to be: The director.
It took grit to be there. He had decided to chase his dreams. Straight from school, he chose to be try his hand at interior designer and earned name as an accomplished set and wedding stage designer. But he was sure of his ultimate turf — films — which he spelt out in interviews many years back.
He discovered in the masters programme at London Film School a perfect training ground. "Every term you made a movie, and you learnt everything from scripting to sound recording to holding a camera," Ali recalls.
And at college, while his peers scrambled for the director's chair, he decided to opt to work through the ranks. "Today, I know what every one else would be doing on the sets in detail because that is what I have already done. I know what my crew feels doing a particular task and it helps me help them perform better."
Under the Sun was the graduation film Ali had to do for his masters programme. He had decided to shoot the film in his home country, and he decided to script about what hurt him most: The disturbing portrayal of Muslims and Islam by the media. He called upon the cinematography experience of his Belgian friend Michel Dierickx, who too had graduated from London Film School.
From what should have been a crew of six but now reduced to just the two of them, Ali and Michel went about the film with meticulous precision. Ali had already prepared the storyboard with photographs of virtually all the frames, and Michel agreed with the visual imagery completely.

Ali says that finalising his hero as a 13-year-old and as half-English, was done after careful deliberation. "Children are naive and impressionable, and I wanted to portray what they feel, watching all those unreal messages on television," he says. He also believed that the chances of a Westerner sitting up and taking notice of the film was greater if there was the added element of a Westerner's perspective to the central character.
Being half-British, he agrees there are similarities and even autobiographical moments to the film. "But those are moments every boy in this country goes through," he asserts. Ali tries to bring in a very realistic portrayal of childhood, which he draws from close observation and experience. Some of them could be as simple as the children munching on spicy cheeseballs splashed with laban. "That is done a lot in the schools," smiles Ali.
Choosing one day as the thematic length of the film suited its "short" segment, feels Ali. "That was how it came to me. It was about Mohammed meeting all these characters through the day; it could easily happen to any young boy."
Ali says directing his brother was natural and effortless. He was, in fact, part of all the short films Ali had made earlier, and they shared a rapport. "I was confident he could do it, and I didn't really have to direct him much. He is 14, plays a 13-year-old but has the mind of a 30-year-old. He understood the underlying currents of the story, and he got it right on the first take, all the time."
Ali had to use only seven rolls of film; his maximum takes were just three. That was the sort of rapport he elicited from his cast.
Ali recalls watching the impressive performance of Keisha Castle-Hughes (who at 13, was the youngest ever to be nominated for the Best Actress Oscar) in Whale Rider. It was the same subtlety he sought in Mohammed too. "I believe that acting is not over-acting or over-reacting," says Ali.
Ali says filming Under the Sun was helped by his own unique perspective: of being able to watch things from two angles. "The story meant a lot to me, and I wanted to send across my film's message out there. I wanted people to see it."
He has submitted the film to other film festivals too, and is waiting to hear from about 15 film festivals around the world. That confidence also comes from the overwhelming response he got to his film's screening in London.
Ali is awed by the phenomenal interest in filmmaking in the UAE, right now. His only advice to the youngsters who dream of a film career is to be at film sets, if they do not have the financial resources to go into a film school. To be at the sets also means being part of the team, doing the odd tasks, learning the craft, the hard way.
But the current enthusiasm in filmmaking in the UAE, triggered also thanks to Dubai International Film Festival, will translate into tangible results, says Ali. "In two years time, you can watch Emarati films at the local theatres — not one or two but five..."
Ali does not restrict his inspiration to a few select directors. "Every thing influence me, maybe because I watch films differently..."
Personally, he will continue to be in films, doing commercials, corporate videos, whatever it takes to establish himself as a filmmaker. And whatever he does, he says, will bear his stamp of creativity and quality.
And his dream is to win an Oscar award before he is 35 years old.
That is about ten years away... but Ali knows he is on his way.

Box 1
Under the Sun: Cast and crew
Cast: Mohammed Mostafa, Amina Nolan, Abdullah Al Sayegh, Saif Al Deen, Marwan Al Sabri, Mohammed Al Haj, Mohammed and Sami Zeidan
Writer: Ali F. Mostafa
Music: Kunal Soonderji, T-1 Creative
Cinematographer: Michel Dierickx
Editor: Ahmed Abdulqader
Sound recordist: Ron Bagnulo
Producers: KHalid Al Awar and Ali F Mostafa
Director: Ali F. Mostafa


Box 2:
Emerging Emaratis to be Diff regular
Emerging Emaratis, which puts UAE filmmakers on the spotlight, will become a regular fixture at Dubai International Film Festival. This year, the segment will feature five films by national filmmakers.
"We feel very strongly about backing up our words with actions. We have said that our goal is for Diff to be the world's destination for discovering new and interesting Arab cinema, and this new section is part of that high-level strategic goal," says Neil Stephenson, CEO and director, Diff.
Masoud Amralla Al Ali, director of the annual Emirates Film Competition and programmer of the section, says the decision to give space to young national filmmakers marks a key step in the development of cinema in the Emirates. "The cinema movement in the UAE is still very young but this decision will go a long way in its long-term development," he adds.
The five short films selected for this year's Emerging Emaratis programme are:
An Ordinary Day (Youm Aadi): A film about the capricious nature of creativity. It won its director Omar Ibrahim the Diff Award for Exceptional Talent in Filmmaking at the 2005 edition of the Emirates Film Competition.

Under the Sun (Taht El Shams): Ali F. Mostafa's film delves into a 13-year-old boys' experiences of practising Islam in a modern city.

Amen (Ameen): Director Abdullah Hassan Ahmed's social film about the fractured relationship between a father and son, and the son's love for a disabled girl.

Dying for Fun (Al Maout Lel Mota'a): An acclaimed film from director Nada Mohammed Al Karimi and one that has already played to rave reviews in a Lebanon documentary film festival. It follows the story of dyed chicks from the time they are hatched and coloured to their arrival and premature death in family homes.

Hoboob: An inventive short film directed by Saeed Salmeen Al-Murry, it is based on a traditional folk tale and tells the story of a young citizen who tries to dig a well in a remote village.

The second Dubai International Film Festival will be held between Dec. 11 and 17, 2005, and will feature approximately 85 films including features, retrospectives and short films.

Interview: Shivani Pandya - Diff Exec. Director


When cinema binds

One of the most encouraging responses to the first edition of the Dubai International Film Festival was the cross-cultural bonding it facilitated, says Shivani Pandya, executive director, Festival Operations. Rajeev Nair met her

In the run-up to the second edition of the Dubai International Film Festival, Shivani Pandya, executive director of Festival Operations, has more than a fair share of challenges.
The toughest part, she says, would be "meeting the expectations of people, and making sure that the hard work put in, manifests into the benefit of the audience."
Her responsibilities include "programme admin" which covers setting up the industry network, marketing, project planning and co-ordinating the technical aspects. She speaks about the preparations currently underway for Diff 2005. Excerpts:

How do you look back on Diff 2004? What are the lessons learnt, and how does the experience help in planning for Diff 2005?
Last year, we worked out the concept of the film festival we had in our mind. And for an initial event, we were able to get most of the elements in place. We have learnt in many areas; we know what works for Dubai, and how the audience reacts to our different segments.

How would you describe the Dubai audience for Diff?
Dubai has a very good film-going audience, and the fact that we could get films that they haven't seen before worked well for us last year. The audience is indeed a cultural mix with so many different nationalities appreciating not just their films but others' too. There was a good cross-cultural mix in the audience; people are open to looking at films from other cultures and that was very nice.

Do you therefore see Diff as a platform for a true cross-over culture in film appreciation?
I think we are headed there. Foreign films are rather new to Dubai but with Diff 2004, we could elicit a good cross-cultural responses to the films. Khamosh Pani, a Pakistani film, for instance, fetched a diverse audience. That is a trend we saw across the board.

What according to you is the unique identity of Diff?
We are not looking at Diff as a festival for the industry (like Cannes) because we don't have a local industry. But we are focused on two targets: The local community, who appreciate films; and the film fraternity — local, regional and international. Through this multicultural event, we are looking at setting up a industry. We are trying to showcase Dubai as a destination for films, and it is happening.

Have you seen tangible results?
Arab films screened at Diff were showcased at Miami Festival because its festival director was here. There were other films that evoked interest in distributors. Yes, the results have been small but they have started to show, which is very encouraging. It makes us realise that we are on the right track and we have to build on it.

The Cairo Film Festival closes on Dec. 9. Diff opens on Dec. 11. Will there be an overlapping of interests?
I feel it is good that these events are close, and even if there is a slight overlapping, it is not a big deal because the audiences are very different. And the industry..., they travel across the world. For many international artistes, the close dates also help plan their itinerary. In fact, we have a few big celebrities doing both Cairo and Dubai.

Which are the new markets that Diff reaches out to this year?
We have segmented audiences in terms of the region and sub-continent; and international. What we are trying to do is create awareness, by and large. We have been able to do so by participating at international film festivals (this year at Cannes), and advertising in trade. We have collaborated with many festivals around the world.

Is the logistics involved similar to Diff 2004?
It could be very similar. We had some 350 people working towards the last three months of the festival on Diff 2004. The core team comprises 10 to 15 people who work round the year; a lot more would come in six months onwards. This year, the theatre venues are Madinat Jumeirah, Mall of the Emirates, Knowledge Village and the DMC Amphitheatre. We have made it more convenient for audiences this year in terms of accessibility. Based on the feedback we received last year, we are asking the filmmakers to increase the screenings to two. We will have on-line ticket sales and shuttle services — on the whole, we are looking at making it more user-friendly.

Profile: Gireesh Nair; documentary maker




Frames from the streets


The Unknown, a documentary on street children and women in an Indian city, conceptualised by Gireesh Nair, a UAE-based television professional, has been short-listed in competition at the Vancouver International Film Festival. Rajeev Nair has the details

On the pavement by a bustling street, a child turns on its paper-cot — a poster torn out from the wayside wall. The tiny tot studies the prints on its 'bedding' as flies buzz over him, and then, abruptly, he sinks his head down. It hurts. He cries. The vision freezes on the boy's pain.
Same city, another pavement. An old woman in rags reaches out her hand to passers-by. They are busy – laughing and talking, they walk past briskly. As the camera pans on the woman's nonchalant expression, the pavement senses the flurry of a rustle. It is a woman draped in a fancy silk sari. She clutches a big bag closer and walks away. The camera moves back to the old lady, and settles on her hand — it doesn't have a palm.
Children and women — all from the streets of Kochi, a city in the south Indian state of Kerala — are the subjects of The Unknown, a 17-minute documentary. Filmed by Gireesh Nair, a UAE-based television professional during his annual vacation back home, the documentary has been short-listed in the competition section at the Vancouver International Film Festival.
The Unknown dwells on unknown faces, alright. But in its totality, the documentary is about people you know, people you see but do not watch, people you hear but do not listen to, people you sense but do not feel for. They are known, yes, but best left forgotten. And it is this raw nerve that Gireesh pricks with his documentary.
Not surprisingly, The Unknown does not have words. Except for three narrative breaks, the documentary does not rely on the spoken word. Music, culled from selections by the masters, underscore the mood of the production but it is the camera that does the talking.
Despite the lack of words, the vocabulary that the frames throw up is tremendously rich. There is every emotion in these 17 minutes: Anguish, frustration, sadness, despair, nonchalance, resignation... and then, a little hope.
That is what you want to read on the faces of those children, wide awake on the shoulders of their mothers (or total strangers), as they watch the city go past them.
In their life is the constant backdrop of traffic, speeding buses, chugging trains, huge billboards that mean nothing to them, and people — countless faces who are on the move, always on a journey, to a destination. And what is theirs? One street to another? One shop to the other? One hand of charity to the next?
The Unknown is brutally honest. It pinches where it hurts. It is a painful reality we are happy to forget, and Gireesh and his crew simply dig them out and lay them bare, without preaching, without holier-than-thou pomposity.
It all started with Gireesh attempting to make a television piece for Sakhi, a home for distressed women in Kochi, initiated by the Cultural Foundation for Peace. Ann Sharon Lopez, the organizer of Sakhi, had suggested doing the shoot.
But once Gireesh studied the subject at hand, and decided to use candid shots for the production from the streets (and also to protect the identity of the women who were given shelter at Sakhi), the scope widened.
The Unknown, eventually, had little to with Sakhi. At no point, does the documentary try to endorse Sakhi. The Unknown is just facts based on actual people on the streets, and nothing more.
Gireesh and his camera man, Nithin Thalikulam, shot The Unknown with a hand-held DSR370, at different locations in Kochi. They had no story-board, no sequence of events, not even expectations of what to be shot. It was as candid as it could get.
They had their little brushes with trouble too. Once, at a railway station, a few women threw stones at them. At another time, women who also sold flowers while their little ones slept and played by the roadside were annoyed and raised a ruckus. But these were minor and forgettable episodes, says Gireesh.
From a footage that ran to over two hours, shot and mixed over ten days, he eventually culled the documentary to 17 minutes, also adding observations by social worker Justice VR Krishna Iyer, Ernakulam District Collector APM Mohammed Hanish and journalist Leela Menon.
The documentary was screened to encouraging response by Sakhi in Kochi, recently. And now comes the honour of being screened at Vancouver...
Gireesh, who works with an Arabic channel in Dubai, has previously assisted accomplished cinematographers including Rajeev Menon (on the feature film Minsara Kanavu) and Madhu Ambat (on the Kerala shoot of Raj Kumar Santhoshi's Lajja).He has also worked with cinematographers Sunny Joseph and KG Jayan, and film director PN Menon. He started his career in advertising in Mumbai, before moving to television. More productions for television, and eventually, films form his dreams.
The Unknown, he says, was a moving experience, personally. "To take the camera to the street, and watch things that were always there, but see it in a new light, was a different experience."
It is that difference, which he communicates through The Unknown — a no-frills take on reality.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Interview: Dr Ernesto Illy, coffee expert


Cuppa good health

One of the world's foremost experts on coffee, entrepreneur and scientist Dr Ernesto Illy says coffee helps you live "better, healthier and longer." Rajeev Nair met him in Dubai for an exclusive chat

Coffee, in marketing parlance, needs a bait. Vis-a-vis the cola giants, good ol' coffee — despite its only marginally higher caffeine content in an Arabica espresso — has little allure.
No one tempts you to drink coffee. No one lures you to coffee shops. (And when they do, it is often for the wrong reasons: Cream, milk, ice and sandwiches — what have they got to do with coffee per se?)
To miss coffee, says Dr Ernesto Illy, 80, honorary chairman of Illycaffe, headquartered in Trieste, Italy, is to miss out on a "better, healthier and longer" life.
An entrepreneur and scientist, Dr Illy is the son of Hungarian World War I officer, Fransesco Illy, who went on to invent the automatic coffee machine, the predecessor of today's espresso machines.
His company, Illycaffe, which sells a "distinct blend of 100 per cent Arabica coffee in some 70 countries," also gave to the world, today's Italian-style espresso coffee.
All over the world, customers sip some 5 million cups of Illy coffee every day according to modest estimates.
Dr Ernesto Illy, thus, represents the preference of these 5 million die-hard coffee enthusiasts. As a scientist, who devoted his entire life and career to promoting quality coffee, he is also the spokesman of a growing tribe of scientists, who believe that coffee had got a raw deal as a health beverage.
Recipient of Italy's important honour, Cavaliere del Lavoro (Knight of Industry), Dr Illy has been chairman of the International Coffee Organisation Promotion Committee and the Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee. Over many years of research, he has streamlined what it takes to make a perfect cup of espresso (see box).
In Dubai to underscore the importance of a healthy breakfast (with coffee, of course) to Grand Hyatt's F&B team, Dr Illy's joviality is infectious. Soft-spoken, affable and oh-so gracious, Dr Illy needs little prodding to talk about, what else, coffee. "I can skip lunch or dinner but not my breakfast," he says. "The quality of the breakfast affects your whole day." When travelling, his breakfast includes two double espresso; at home, he has two strong cups of tea from India and then, coffee, all day.
With his excellent academic track-record, it is only natural that Dr Illy reels out scientific facts, figures and terms. Yes, as a listener, you tend to get lost in the face of such torrential scientific talk, but the bottom line is rather straight-laced: Trust that mug of coffee. It isn't harmful, when not in excess. It is even good remedy to beat two vile habits: Drug abuse and alcohol addiction.
Dr Illy says that his life is testimony to this theory, now endorsed by many scientific bodies.
Many years back, he had to remove his tonsils and the doctors gave a shot of morphine "enough to put a horse to sleep." It had no effect on Dr Illy, who recalls that "it was horrible to remove your tonsils without an anaesthetic."
Why didn't the morphine work? That question taunted Dr Illy. Years later the scientific community (in which he too plays a key part) came up with the answer. The receptors in the brain that are blocked by the components in morphine are the same that are blocked by a component in caffeine — the "lactone of the caffeilquimic acid." Due to many years of his coffee drinking, his neuro-receptors had become immune to morphine.
These studies are now being implemented to good use in Russia and the Nordic countries. In Norway, it has been proved that 64 per cent of an average adult's antioxidant intake comes from coffee (antioxidants are proven to help mitigate the chances of heart disease and cancer).
Initial research on coffee, says Dr Illy, misled the public, more so because instrumentation techniques were not as fine tuned then as now. One scientist, who researched the impact of caffeine on human brain used 60 mgm per kilogram of body weight (while espresso's caffeine content is hardly 1 to 2 mgm per kg of body weight). That was an alarmingly high level, which led him to the conclusion that coffee could be harmful to health.
Dr Illy recommends three to five cups of regular coffee per day, each containing about 100 mgm of caffeine per cup. It is metabolised in three hours in men; the metabolism is 25 per cent faster in women.
One cup of espresso coffee (brewed as listed in box), Dr Illy explains, has about 50 to 55 mgm of caffeine. This is quite close to the caffeine content in cola at about 46 mgm. Illycaffe uses Arabica beans for its coffee for the principal reason that its caffeine content is lower compared to Robusta coffee.
A perfect espresso cup comes from 50 Arabica beans, says Dr Illy. Naturally, it is important that each bean has a stringent quality standard. "We can ensure that only through an excellent relationship with farmers. We know majority of our farmers in India, Africa, Colombia and Brazil, personally." Illy has also developed special machinery to identify and eliminate even a single defective bean.
Dr Illy believes that his contribution to coffee has been the "application of science to improve its quality." It is a long chain of factors that govern the ultimate cup quality. "It starts the moment I decide to put the plant in a location because there is a strong link between the genome of the plant and the environment in which it lives," explains Dr Illy.
From reducing the water content in the cherries to checking the blend to picking those vital 50 beans, the prefect cup goes through several environmental and technical processes. "There are over 2,000 components in coffee that give it the flavour," says Dr Illy.
All scientific research on coffee has eventually focused on caffeine — "the prima donna," according to Dr Illy. "In over 20 years, there have been 17,000 research papers on caffeine."
Dr Illy says it is easy to try for oneself and realise why coffee is a cup that ticks. Place mugs of espresso, regular coffee, tea and cola. "The cola is sweet but you drink it and forget it, it has no after-taste; tea is rich in aroma but has little body and is low in taste; regular coffee does not have too much aroma — milk has already reduced its bitterness; and finally, there is the espresso which is rich in aroma and has a lasting impression of taste. It is a clear winner. With espresso, you cannot cheat on its flavour or taste."
Dr Illy's advise to qahwah drinkers is to make sure that it is made from finely ground beans, and preferably filtered, because the residue in qahwah has been identified as having a component that increases body cholesterol levels.
And finally, he is all too pleased to be in the region, that gave coffee its name, which according to Illy is a clear derivative of the Arabic word, qahwah, meaning "plant beverage," and not necessarily connected to the birthplace of coffee, the Abyssinian region of Kaffa.

The perfect espresso

The rules for a perfect espresso using Illy coffee

* Water temperature should be 90°-95°C
* Coffee in cup temperature should be 80°-85°C
* Dosage should be 6-7 grams per espresso cup
* Volume in cup should be 30 ml
* Time extraction should be 25-30 seconds.
(Source: www.illy.com)

The Darebaghis in Dubai


Intense imagery

The Darebaghis — Iranian brothers Mostafa and Morteza, and Mostafa's wife Shahla Moghaddam — exhibit their works at Majlis Gallery, Bur Dubai, through Nov. 4. Rajeev Nair has the details

If there is a meeting of minds in the paintings of Iranian brothers Mostafa and Morteza Darebaghi and Mostafa's wife Shahla Moghaddam, it could only be coincidental.
For all the current American moorings of Mostafa and Shahla, the three still are bound by strong, regional impressions — of the land and its people.
They had first exhibited at Dubai's Majlis Gallery in 1997. Then, they were fresh from "their shared studio, looking north towards the mountainous fringes of Tehran and venturing south to seek new experiences and inspiration."
Today, they have travelled further afield; in fact, Mostafa and Shahla work out of their studio in the US, while Morteza finds comfort in Tehran.
Over the years, they have evolved new languages but retained the "simple intensity of their artistic statements."
That captivating intensity is the essence of the current exhibition. If Morteza presents his collection of truly Arabian sketches, painted specially for the current show, Mostafa and Shahla are rooted in their individual artistic leanings.
Together, the three styles, with their varied palettes, brush strokes and attitudes, make for a visually stunning imagery. And yet, there is a synergy, a faint echo of three minds working in unison, that resonates at the exhibition.
In Morteza's current collection on show, there is absolutely no scope for ambiguity. He paints dhows, beaches, oryx, camels and people with astounding directness.
Which comes as a surprise if you study his original portfolio that has a large share of figurative abstracts. At Majlis Gallery, he almost poses for an impressionist.
Mostafa, but, adheres to his style statement: Of angular shapes and the recurring imagery of roosters, fishes and goats. Some of his paintings make two perfect halves: One section totally abstract, the other with his vintage angular patterns.
It is a style that rubs off, occasionally, on Shahla's works too. But the larger collection proclaims her preoccupation with bold colours, dramatic brush strokes and an eye for details.
Morteza, younger to Mostafa, and currently in Dubai as part of the exhibition, is rather shy when it comes to words to describe his artistic career. As one of Iran's original artists, his comfort zone clearly lies in painting, in expressing himself through colours and not in words.
For the Dubai exhibition, he has painted dhows, beaches, boats and camels — all representations of what he saw here. Nothing was photographed. No rough sketches were made. He painted them all from memory — including a rendition of the Majlis Gallery.

The paintings, for its direct content, could even be considered too simplistic to be heavyweight art. But the finer details and the instant sense of association they generate make all the difference.
How about closing one of your eyes, and cutting out the boundaries of the painting, to study the boats and beaches minutely? The paintings suddenly seem to come to life, to lie out to infinity, beating the space-time constraint of the canvas. If that isn't the success of art, little else is.
"I like my (direct) style," says Morteza. "With these paintings, I simply want to bring out the culture of the region."
Yet, there is the figurative abstract artist, not wholly into reality bites, lurking in the background. The Arab nomads — men and women — all have dabs of red on their headwear or on the desert background. "Red is a very warm colour," explains Morteza. "It perfectly suits the warmth of the region — the desert and the city."
There is fluid motion too to the paintings. One work looks at the land ashore from the stern of a dhow. Another has waves breaking on the shore. In both, the fluidity of the subject is perceptible.
Morteza does not bring politics to his art. "I don't like politics, and I don't like to bring politics to art."
But what he does bring to his works is life. Intense and natural.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A profile of two Arab artists


Distinctive expressions

In a rare teaming up, two artists from the Arab world, Yousef Ahmed, a Qatari national, and Jamal Abdul Rahim, a Bahraini, present their works at the Majlis Gallery Dubai through Feb. 19. Rajeev Nair has the details

Photographs: Mohammed Rasheed

One man celebrates the spiritual dimension of calligraphy with the creative flourish of abstract art; the other salutes art from a thoroughly individualised perspective experimenting with print-making techniques and leather-art, to name but two...
Artists Yousef Ahmed from Qatar and Jamal Abdul Rahim from Bahrain however share one common ground: An Arab sensitivity to issues.
That perhaps is the one factor that complements their joint exhibition, untitled, currently on at the Majlis Gallery, Dubai. The artists say that by displaying their works together, instead of segregating them, they derive the power of creative expression from one another.
Ahmed and Rahim, while following two streams of artistic expression, have one more common ground: A passion for the Arabic language. The language is their inspiration, their muse, and they flaunt it.
And then there are the thoroughly individual streaks.... Ahmed was sort of groomed in art, inspired by his father, an employee with the Qatar Petroleum Company, who would bring home colours and brushes. The young boy was encouraged to play with them.
Rahim, on the other hand, was a latecomer into rendering art. He appreciated art alright, but it was one of those moments, when a conviction in his own abilities took the upper hand, that drove him to actually sit down and create art.
If Ahmed worked on calligraphy to start with, Rahim has been a man of many media. Ahmed eventually got to mix abstract notions in the foreground of what is essentially calligraphic art; Rahim continues his flirtations with diverse media, sometimes highlighting Andy Warhol-esque touches, other ways expounding the prevailing Miro influences but invariably, creating his own stamp of art that is thoroughly Arab in content, feel and idea.
Yousef Ahmed is not a stranger to Majlis Gallery. He has visited the place often; Rahim had exhibited at the Sharjah Biennial. Both believe that exhibiting ones works beyond one's immediate confines are important. "Every artist has a message," says Rahim. "We must try to participate in conveying this message from country to country, region to region."
However, creating art for the sake of exhibitions does not curry favour with them. "That way, you cannot concentrate on your work. Art is a spiritual exercise — you can't ignore it," says Rahim.
The Arab flourish in his works are deliberate, says Ahmed. "In Qatar, we do not have the mountains like in the UAE or the green you see in Bahrain. We have flat deserts and bright blue skies. That is essentially what is reflected in my works, which have predominantly dusty colours." Ahmed says while he has brought Arabic calligraphy to the foreground, local realities form his backdrop.
Rahim builds his art from the rich Arab civilisation, its mythology, religion and language. "But each artist has his individuality. I see from a view that is different from the others. And essentially, with each of our interpretation, we are building the history of the region through the principal subject — man."
Both artists have exhibited extensively, and they agree that they can gauge the viewers' reaction, only too well. "But you don't anticipate or work towards that. Appreciation in fact should reach out to the art. A true art lover will travel to the end of the world, if need be, to seek out the art he wants," says Rahim.
Artists pick their raw material, their inspiration from everywhere, he says, on the Warhol-esque touches and Miro influences in his works. "To be a poet you must read great poets; to be an artist, you study others. We, as humans, share one collective history, and it is a constant give and take of influences." But he adds that his own style is thoroughly rooted in the Arab civilisation.
Rahim likes to reach his art out to as many interested takers there are. That is one reason for his affinity to print-making. Today, he has probably the largest print-making workshop in the Gulf, in Bahrain. "I regard myself as a student and a teacher of art at the same time. I am still searching art. I spent a lot of time in my workshop, exploring the lines and colours I can get."
At Majlis Gallery, he has also brought in some leather-art, which is yet again, another medium for expressing himself. He says he is an artist for the sake of it. "You enjoy the moment at work. And once you are through with the moment, any moment at work, you smile — that is the satisfaction that art provides. There are no absolutes in art: Abstract or reality — both are right. Every thing depends on your taste."
Ahmed says Arab artists have acquired true international stature over the years. "Their background is firm, their training is strong and they catch up with the techniques fast. Today, you can observe Arab artists taking an upper-hand at international exhibitions."
Both say that artists are at the forefront of any socio-political change in the making. "Every where you go, artists are in the front-line. We carry the message forward," says Rahim. "That means, we must also know what goes around us. We have to use our eyes and ears to see and hear the world. If politics is the craft of lying, art is an expression of reality. There are no borders for artists or art."

A DSF feature


And then, luck smiles...
Today will not be another day for some Dubai residents — and visitors too. Today, they will smile better and breathe a little easier, as they go to bed richer. Today, they would have won a slice of the DSF raffle. Rajeev Nair portrays a day in DSF vis-à-vis the month-long celebration’s most participated event — the raffle draws — meeting the winners and talking to those who make it all happen

Photograph: Rajan

This morning, the octagonal raffle-box is empty. Hit by the desert wind, it takes a quick rotation but fights back to gain control. The wind pushes it further; it relents with hesitation. Now, at this moment in time, any movement it takes makes no difference.
Last night was another matter. There were 80,000 bits of paper inside – each one, the key to a fortune. A little shove - and luck takes a twist, a turn.
Last night, there were the arc lights. Fireworks had set the backdrop. Fountains sprang to life, sound boxes blared, and people gaped at the raffle-box with eagerness, sometimes with nonchalance – but hope, unfailingly, welling up.
Not waiting for the wind, many hands turn the box round; after all, luck needs a little push. And when all is set, the entertainers leave the stage and the speeches are made, a hand ploughs through the box’s innards. Fingers scramble; two paper pieces cling to them. It is a defining moment - for two lives. Which one will change for good? Which one will stay on, its course unaltered?
The hand thumbs off one, lifts out the other, and the name on it is read out aloud: A winner is born. Telephone lines will now buzz to life; the winner, probably, readying to sleep, will go to bed richer, not perhaps able to believe the singular stroke of luck that, for many, will hopefully lend life a new course.
Raffles come announced; luck comes as it always does – without fuss. The hullabaloo will follow later – the interviews, the felicitations, the well-wishers, the envious eyes…
At the Dubai Shopping Festival, luck favours, simply, those who buy.

Luck’s abundance comes in the zeroes that follow a one. The more, the merrier. And in this Arabian city, during one month of the Dubai Shopping Festival, the zeroes numb you with their lavishness. Dhs100 million – how does one spell it out in figures? Dhs100 million is the total prize money that Dubai visitors and residents will take home during the one-month shopping extravaganza – from the three principal raffles organised by the DSF Committee, and from the countless lucky draws hosted by the malls, supermarkets, fashion retailers and neighbourhood stores.
The raffles are an eagerly awaited event. Year after year, people pin their hopes on that one stroke of luck that will change their lives — for good. For some, winning a fortune is just another go in life — they are the ones who have already made their millions. For others, even with a lot less number of zeroes appended to the winning “one,” luck comes for the better, a remarkable better, that should see debts cleared, burdens eased and aspirations achieved.
And when luck smiles over Dubai, it is hardly selective. It makes a random draw and encompasses in its stride the rich and the not-so-rich, men and women, the aged and infants; indeed, luck doesn’t differentiate.
A man who once slept in the hills, lost in the wilderness of Ras Al Khaimah (see box), as an early fortune-seeker in the Arab world, finds that he can live like a millionaire in a fancy waterfront apartment in New Dubai…
A man who borrowed Dhs5 to buy a telephone card to call home gets richer by half a million in one single stroke of fortune…
A man who hoped to help his friend for the marriage of his daughter finds an unexpected source of money opening up…
A man who hesitates to spend money because he has no money, still makes “missed calls” on the mobile phone of the DSF committee, finding it hard to believe that he is richer already by Dhs500,000…
A child wins his father five kilogramme worth of gold…
A doting father wins one kilogramme of gold after he bought gold for his son’s marriage…
There is always a story to the ways of luck. Sometimes it makes human interest copy. Sometimes it suffices with a quote: “I never expected this…” Whichever way you look at it, raffle draws are a major ‘draw’ of DSF — if only for the sheer change it brings about on human lives.
Raffle winners, quite often, are hard to pin down. Today, they are all over the dailies and the television, smiling lavishly as they collect the prizes. Tomorrow, they are social recluses, wary of every telephone call they receive… They have won it big and God alone knows how they will manage all this money! Unknown people are not to be entertained at this crucial juncture in life, and no thanks, they don’t need any additional publicity.
However, what Ibrahim Saleh, chief operation officer, Dubai Shopping Festival and head of the raffle committee (see box), finds absolutely gratifying is the way raffles touch people’s lives. “Yes, there are winners who are already wealthy and another win might not mean anything for them, but there are others who participate in the raffles knowing fully well how it would change their lives. I have seen how money, indeed, goes to those who are really in need.”
Abdulla Hassan Amiri, operation co-ordinator, who is more like the “face” of the DSF raffle, seen every night on Dubai TV congratulating winners on stage, says every winner makes him happier, more so, because he has been hearing stories and meeting people who in a lifetime of sweat and toil would not have managed to save even a fraction of the huge win they have taken home this DSF.
A DSF raffle draw follows a well-delineated procedure, which starts the night before. That is when the contents of the huge raffle-boxes in the main stage at Global Village, where the daily draws are held, are emptied into the bags of courier companies, which transport it to a secure place. These coupons are for the grand draw on the final day: Feb. 12, when with one stroke of luck, one person will win Dhs10 million cash, another, ten Nissan vehicles and a third, 100 kg of gold (and good lady-luck, what happens if all the three are won by one?)
Every day presents new winners at the DSF office; they have been informed of their previous night’s win and they are at the office to make sure that the news has not been a nasty prank (oh yes, crank calls made by friends are a flavour of the season)… The committee members collect the coupons, verify the details, ask for proof of identity and welcome them to the prize distribution ceremony that evening.
Meanwhile, the raffle boxes, the little ones strategically placed all over Dubai — for gold, the Nissan and the Lexus — have started brimming up. Every sale worth the stipulated amount fetches the customer the coupon, which goes into the raffle box. Inside, the names are a microcosm of the cultural plurality of Dubai — Arya, Mohammed, Isha, Katherine, Keith, Yasmine… they are names now, maybe winners tonight.
Aramex, a transportation solution provider, is entrusted with the task of delivering all the gold coupons from 53 collection points all over Dubai to the Global Village by 8pm. Hussein Hachem, general manager, UAE, Aramex, says the company has a dedicated team of couriers and supervisors on the job, who start the DSF raffle box delivery work at 4pm every day.
Aramex has to collect from 47 points for the weekly gold draw for the prize of 5kg gold too, for which it puts additional staff. “Traffic is a general problem, for all,” says Hachem. “We start early to make sure there is no delay in delivery. We have some 20 people on the job and we have dispatchers who are in constant contact with the couriers.”
The company has been doing the DSF job for the past nine years, and never once has there been a delay, he adds. During the Eid holidays, this year, when traffic came to virtual standstill, Aramex still managed to deliver the boxes on time, with some timely help from the DSF committee and the Dubai police, says Ajmal Khan, one of the first couriers with the company, who today leads Ibrahim, Jaudeen, Hussein, Feroz Khan, Thaha, Majid and Pazhani on the daily routine of collecting the boxes.
Similarly, the raffle boxes of Lexus and Nissan coupons are also transported to the Global Village, where the main stage comes to life with the Dubai TV crew taking camera positions ready to transmit the draw, live on television. The venue has a dreamy feel: Ten Nissan cars line one end of the huge stage; three Lexus vehicles deck up the other. In the centre is the gold raffle venue, replete with a huge poster of Indian film actor Amitabh Bachchan, serving as the brand ambassador of the DSF commemorative coin.
Arc lights lit up the stage, and huge sound boxes, wrapped in plastic to drown a little of the decibel level, come alive with Arabic music. Abdullah Amiri of DSF reaches the venue much earlier. He must welcome the guests of the evening – today, a beauty queen, a gold and jewellery entrepreneur…
There is the constant backdrop of the gushing fountains – playing with hues myriad. And at 9pm, the sky is lit with fireworks. Together with the fog machines that cloak the stage in surreal charm, this space is suddenly the hotspot, the most happening place in Global Village. Little crowds had formed; others walking past the stage glancing at the cars, and then looking at them again. It is hard to take your eyes off a fortune – seemingly just within your grasp.
Brisk sales happen at the coupon counters near the stage — they cater for the last minute entrants to the draw. Many who have purchased the coupon stay put — after all, luck could descend on them just an hour later.
AM Anil Kumar, an Indian, is all smiles tonight – he is a winner. He flashes the lucky coupon that has fetched him and his nine other friends the three Lexus cars. The ten, most of them staying together in a flat in Sharjah, had pooled the money to buy the ticket. It has been a routine for the last six or seven years, and Anil Kumar has always been the “team leader,” the man who initiates the purchase. And the friends always bought the ticket in Anil’s name.
A debit collector with Al Ghandi, Anil hasn’t won at raffle draws before, nor have his friends. This time, when they purchased the ticket at Deira City Centre, Anil did a little mental math, totalled the figures on the ticket number to his lucky number, seven, and then, forgot all about the draw.
The very next night, he was sipping tea at a neighbouring cafeteria when an Arab sound crackled on his cell-phone: “Mabrook... congratulations… you have won the Lexus raffle.” Another call followed, and a third, this from a person, who saw the draw on television. Anil was not one to be fooled. He took it with a pinch of caution, walked to his room, whispered the good news to his friends, and decided that the celebrations would begin only after the news is confirmed.
Next day, his mobile phone not ceasing to ring, Anil confirmed the news at the DSF office, and now, he is at the Global Village, with his friends Mujeeb, Aziz and Jenu, to claim the prize. The others who will also get one-tenth share each are Mohammed Ali, Subair, Rajeev, Shaijal, Karim and Mohan, who is Anil’s brother.
They have decided to exchange the cars for cash, and Anil has no doubts about what to do with the money: Split it equally among the ten. That is about Dhs48,000 each.
It may not be the kind of money for middle-class individuals looking for one lucky break, but it still would make their life easier. Anil, for one, looks at clearing off some debts, while Mujeeb has decided to shell out a share of the money for the marriage of his friend’s daughter. “Even as we took the ticket, Mujeeb had said he would give the money for the marriage if we won. I guess, it is the luck of that girl which fetched us this prize,” says Anil. The ten-member team might take more raffle coupons but Anil and his friends chorus: “We are not greedy.”
Atif Ilyas, a student who has fetched part-time work at the main stage as volunteer, smiles through the story: He has been listening to such tales over the last fortnight. He is witness to many winners, and he recalls the story of a manual worker in a construction company, who has no driving licence, and won the three Lexus cars. “He had pooled Dhs10 each from 24 other friends to buy the coupon,” says Ilyas, adding with a philosophical note: “It is the needy who win.”
Needy or not, a win at a raffle can recover the cost of the purchase that on the first hand brought you the ticket. That is Mohammed Azmi, a UAE national’s take on he winning one kilogramme of gold. He had purchased jewellery for his son’s marriage and now, is richer with gold. “Luck is a part of life,” he says, and “winning raffles feels good.”
S Unnikrishnan, another Indian who won the Nissan raffle, hasn’t stopped smiling ever since the telephone call that brought him the glad tidings. Anyway, he smiles a lot, and the win has only given him another reason to spread the joy.
A draughtsman with a contracting company in Sharjah, he had tried his luck with three or four coupons, all linked to telephone card purchases. He has been in Dubai for seven years; this is his first win, and he intends to sell the car. He has some plans with the money – building a house is a priority.
That, indeed, is virtually every expatriate Indian’s dream – to own a house. Unni, as he is called, has always believed in luck, as in God, and the win gives him all the more reason to “thank the good heavens.”
Anil Kumar now collects the prize from Abdullah Amiri. He throws a thumbs-up to his friends; they reciprocate and the action is caught on television. The camera also captures other faces – some eager ones looking forward to the next draw, the one that might make a few among them climb those eight steps to the podium — to riches, and some fame.
The arc lights are put off; darkness envelopes the stage but for the gleam of the cars. The fountains behind still spring to life, the fireworks are done for the day. The festive din from the nearby pavilions is dying down. The crowds have thinned.
And yet, much after the draws are done and the winners return home, there, by the stage, will still stay put a few people, some fresh faces staring into luck’s little turf. It is hard to read the emotion on their faces.
Luck, tonight, has side-stepped them but they aren’t complaining. There is a tomorrow, and tomorrow, a new day, could also hold a new future. Meanwhile, they can dream on, and their dreams can take wings….
In Dubai, in this 30-day festival, theirs are the dreams that indeed come true…

Touching lives
DSF’s chief raffle draws are for gold and cars but in this tenth anniversary year, there is more cash to be won too, than ever before

Ibrahim Saleh, chief operation officer, DSF, remembers meeting with a winner, from Bangladesh. He is a driver working with a local family in Ajman. He had spent close to one-third of his monthly salary on the Lexus raffle coupon. “He couldn’t believe that he had won the draw, and he was giving us missed calls on our mobiles expecting us to call back even after he was informed of the win,” recalls Saleh.
Winning, obviously, hasn’t changed old habits. Big money has come his way but the man still knows that every fil not spent is every fil earned. It really doesn’t matter that he has just won close to Dhs500,000.
Tales that strike a chord fall aplenty on the ears of the DSF raffle committee members. After all, it has rolled out a raffle extravaganza in the tenth year of DSF offering Dhs50 million in prizes — apart from the Dhs50 million worth of prizes that DSF sponsors, support sponsors and participating outlets give out by way of their own individual promotions.
The DSF committee directly co-ordinates three big draws:
The gold raffle, held in association with the Gold and Jewellery Group, offers one kg of gold every day to one winner picked from those who purchase Dhs500 worth of gold jewellery; five kilogramme of gold (worth half a million dirhams) to one person weekly chosen from those who have bought the Dhs250-worth commemorative DSF gold coin; and finally Dhs5 million worth of gold – all of 100 kilogrammes picked at the grand draw.
The Nissan raffle gives away one Nissan every day to a lucky winner, who gets a coupon on purchases from Dhs25 onwards from DSF sponsors and support sponsors. Winners choose, again by luck, from ten Nissan models ranging from the high-end Nissan Patrol to the Nissan Sunny. The grand prize is all ten cars equivalent to Dhs1 million in cash.
The Lexus raffle, one of the highlights of DSF, is another daily draw that offers the winner three Lexus cars – LX470, RX330 and ES300 – worth approximately half a million dirhams. Five thousand coupons, priced Dhs250 each, go into the raffle. The grand draw is for Dhs10 million cash – all who have purchased the ticket getting two chances to win it big.
Saleh says the committee, over the last years, has gained enough expertise to handle the draws, which are held every night at the Global Village main stage. The challenge, however, is to ensure that all the coupons, from all over Dubai, reach the stage in time for the draw. “We ensure that no one loses a chance in buying the coupons or participating in the draw,” he says.
Security is of utmost importance in conducting the raffles, says Saleh. “We make sure there are no counterfeit coupons and we have a mechanism of identifying them, if any. We do random checks as well as scrutinise the winner’s coupon before handing over the prize.”
Preparations for the raffle draws start some three months in advance with the coupons printed in total privacy at a local printing press, which has been associated with the draws for the previous years.
In Dubai, it is not uncommon for many people to come together to purchase raffle coupons, pooling equal share of the price. However, the DSF committee’s responsibility on the prizes ends with distributing it to the winner; it does not look into the deals the winner might have made with his friends at the time of the purchase, says Saleh. “But if there is more than one name on the coupon, we call all of them and ensure the prize money is equally distributed among the people whose names figure in the raffle coupon.”
The DSF committee does not look into money generation from the raffles, says Saleh. “But at the end of the day, there are commercial interests involved because we purchase the cars, we advertise the event, we hire people for sales. All said, our priority with the raffles is not making money. It is about touching others’ lives through the money.”
Saleh believes in luck. “Yes, of course, who won’t believe in luck? There are 5,000 participants in the Lexus draw and only one wins. That is luck.”
Oh yes, lady luck smiles over Dubai – and DSF simply makes her smile with abundant flourish.
-RN

On millionaires’ turf
Kunjeedu Neduvanchery, the winner of a dream home in New Dubai, says winning the raffle draw or not, he is a lucky man

Some 35 years back, when Kunjeedu Neduvanchery, then an 18-year-old, was smitten by the ‘Dubai-bug’ sweeping through his home town in Malappuram, Kerala, he boarded a launch along with 40 others. The scheming boat crew showed the group of tired fortune-seekers a hill far from the shore, and said, beyond it lay the paradise they sought.
Beyond the hill, Neduvanchery discovered more hills. And more hills. And mounds of brown earth, rock-bits strewn in between, and little vegetation. Surely, by any guise, this wasn’t paradise. The group slept in the hills lost, tired, hopeless, hungry and tormented, five days before they spotted a goat. The first instinct was to kill and eat it when better sense prevailed. If there is a goat around, there must be a herdsman too.
And thus it came to pass that Neduvanchery reached the bedouin in the hills of Ras Al Khaimah who took him to a nearby town. With the permission of the policemen, he moved into Dubai, and found work as the domestic helper in an Arab family.
The dark hills are still fresh in his memory. So there is no mistaking the conviction in his words as he says: “Good fortune does not change me.” He regards himself as a lucky man, raffle wins or not. That he won a luxury apartment in Dubai in Eppco-Enco's 'Live Like a Millionaire,' weekly DSF raffle draw is an aside for the man, who believes in leading a life, owing not a penny to anyone.
He has lived his whole life so: Staying clear of debts, he has slept all his life peacefully and now, this sudden stroke of luck is not going to affect him one wee bit.
It has been hard to pin down Neduvanchery for a chat. He is a driver with Kohinoor Bakery in Sharjah. He sets off for work at 4am, and he is relaxed enough to talk — about his good fortune — only at night. Finally, meeting him between work schedules, on Sheikh Zayed Road, Neduvanchery looks every inch the hardworking man that he is.
He hauls cartons of freshly baked breads and cakes; he collects the money, and on the seat inside his van are bags of coins — his day’s collection. Neduvanchery has been working all his life. When his school education came to an abrupt end and his family fell into hard times following his father’s death, the young boy took to travelling. He toured much of north India before settling down in Andhra Pradesh working in a tea-stall. A compelling urge took him back to Kerala, and to the “launch.”
After working with the Arab family, he moved to Abu Dhabi, and started off as helper to a spray-painter. Eight years later, he visited home — for the first time ever since he set foot in Arabia. He married, stayed on for some time, and returned to Abu Dhabi only to lose his job in an administrative move. He decided to return home, where he stayed on for two years.
In his second-coming to the UAE, he has been working with Kohinoor Bakery for the last 15 years. He has eight children from two marriages – his first wife died many years ago. As responsibilities go, he has eased most of them. He has built a house, married off all his daughters except one, who is still a student.
Luck, he says, has blessed him always. “I married off two of my daughters at the same time, and yet managed to return here without incurring any debts.” Debts are what he dreads and what he keeps at bay. He lives with the money he earns.
He had wanted to buy a DSF raffle ticket for the heck of it, and this year, he set aside Dhs300 for it. He bought a Lexus raffle, and with the Dhs50 that remained, bought a telephone card, from a petrol pump he frequents. He was looking into the other benefits that accrue from buying the card like tyre check-ups.
And so when he slept through the Eid holidays — these are only two days in a year that he sleeps totally at ease, he says — Neduvanchery wasn’t amused when a call came announcing him as the winner of the raffle for a luxury home in Dubai. One of his room-mates had last year been at the receiving end of a crank call, and Neduvanchery wasn’t going to fall prey. He slept on.
But next day, he clarified the prize at the petrol station, where he bought the card, and he holds close to his heart one remark an employee made to him: “Did you win the prize?” he asked. “I am happy for you; it is as if I myself have won it.”
Neduvanchery is a heart patient; he follows a strict diet, and he has little of fanciful dreams. He does not intend to stay in the flat; he will sell it. He has made no plans with the money: “God would have scheduled it all,” he says. His family is asking him to return home but Neduvanchery wants to work, and live a life, debt-free…
The raffle is just “another stroke of luck” in his life, an extension of the luck that has seen him through a burdened childhood, a journey through an ocean unknown, and mundane issues galore…
Luck, he feels, has been smiling on him... all along.
-RN

February 2005