Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Colors Of India

I was surprised to learn that Islam came to India long before the Muslim invasions. It was a balmy day in Kuwait and our guests were discussing the similarities between South Indians and Kuwaiti’s. Another new fact came into light; it was the trading of spices that led Arabs to the Malabar Coast in South India. Back in the 7th century it was merely an Islamic influence that could be felt; the invasions of course reinforced the faith firmly on Indian soil. This inclusion added further to India’s colorful culture and people. It was the trader families of Kerala and other parts of the Malabar Coasts that were the closest to their Arab business associates, and this closeness led to a slow conversion into Islam. In Malabar the Mappilas may have been the first community to convert to Islam.

Today, 16.4% of India is Muslim. They have contributed considerably to the fields of performing arts, crafts, politics, education and business ventures. Some of India’s leading literary giants, artists, film stars and leaders are Muslim and this alone makes Indian society a diverse and enriched structure. India’s most famous landmark the Taj Mahal is a classic example of Islamic architecture and construction prowess.

The union of so many faiths is felt most during festival season. Diwali follows Eid and Christmas follows Diwali. For almost 3 months, India is in a blanket of faith, celebration and thanksgiving. Eid is a Muslim festival that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims observe a strict fast, they do not eat from sunrise to sunset, and some don’t even have water. They donate generously, participate in charitable activities and promote a sense of peace and unity. It is a time of spiritual renewal for those who observe it. At the end of the month, Muslims throughout the world observe an exciting three day celebration called Eid ul Fitr. A common practice is for people to stay up and watch the full moon rise on the night on Eid. The day of the festival, a typical Muslim family wakes up early and does the first prayer of the day. They then attend prayers in mosques, parks, stadiums and arenas. The crowd greets and embraces each other as a gesture of love and celebration. The festivities continue at people’s homes after the congressional prayer. Special sweets and foods are prepared for friends and family. The finest clothes and jewelry are the highlights of the day. This is an occasion with great religious significance; the celebration is jubilant and hearty. It is a day of forgiveness, peace, brotherhood and unity. Muslims also mark this day with thanks to God for his guidance and blessings bestowed upon them.

Ultimately we all seek the same things from our faith – security, a sense of belonging, peace of mind, the love of God and a prevalence of brotherhood.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

We are everywhere

Mornings are the best! I wouldn’t ideally say that because I love my sleep but these last 12 months have had a surprise tucked into almost morning, I like getting up just to see that. I am talking about images in advertisements. Every morning at least a couple of national dailies will carry an advertisement using our images. The newspaper industry thrives on ad revenue, Rs. 2.50 (I can’t even convert that to dollars, it’s a pittance in any country) cannot sustain over 20 pages of colour and information. Having over 18 official languages, the regional papers are an industry on their own, I just read the English ones. The advertisements are becoming more visual, larger and more creative.

Ever since city supplements started and of course colour was introduced, there seems to be a revolution in the quality of advertising. City centric restaurants find more value in creative food photography, Airlines find every profile of passenger they want to portray and since the variety on is steadily growing, everyone can find something for their creative needs. So far we have been featured in advertisements for International Banks, Financial Institutions, Schools, International Universities, Departmental Stores, Electronics Stores, Mobile Phones, Hotels, Travel Sites, Children’s products, Insurance Companies, the list goes on and on. We have been on, we are regularly on, we seem to be everywhere.

Monday, October 22, 2007 ties up with Corbis Images. New Delhi, October 20, 2007:

Corbis, a leader in stock imagery has appointed, as a distributor for selling their Royalty Free Imagery. Starting October, 2007, all the best-selling Corbis collections like: Corbis RF, Inside Out Pix, Image Shop, Image 100 and Zefa will be available on This partnership will add over 200,000 new images to’s existing repertoire. was the first Stock photo agency to pioneer high quality ‘Uniquely India’ content and is a premium Stock photo agency in Asia. Armed with a state of the art production studio and the best Indian and international images, offers the largest variety in India today. Corbis is one of the best creative resources for advertising, marketing and media professionals worldwide. Corbis offers an impressive collection of creative, entertainment and historic images with an emphasis on quality and originality. CEO - Mr. Amit Narain said - “It is a privilege for us to enter into this partnership. The highly creative and exclusive imagery of Corbis will help us increase our sales and broaden our client base. We are in the process of consolidating the best Royalty Free Collections to satiate the market. This alliance has proven prolific for us because it makes the number one provider of world class stock imagery in India”.

Apart from the other exceptional collections distributed by, it can now boast of offering the world’s top 3 image stockists – Corbis, Getty Images and Jupiter at one destination. This addition to makes it an essential tool for every creative and marketing pursuit.'s image at the entrace of PhotoPlus International Conference + Expo 2007

This is ‘feel good’ time for Our image was used at the entrance of the world’s biggest event in the photography community - PDN PhotoPlus International Conference + Expo 2007. It was an image shot by Jack Hollingsworth, our Chief Creative Officer. He selected an image from a theme that is especially close to him – Indian culture. For this occasion brought something extra special with it. Our image was showcased at the entrance banner where thousand’s of patrons, sponsors, attendees walked past it, some stopped to admire it although I am sure everyone will remember it. This image was shot in Agra, at the river by the Taj Mahal. The model is an authentic ‘mahout’ (elephant keeper/trainer). His confidence and connection with the elephant was inspiring and Jack was there to experience it.

PDN PhotoPlus International Conference + Expo 2007 is a premier event for innovative imaging solutions, photographic education and unparalleled networking. It was held in New York from 18-20 October 2007. It is an event that brings together the entire photography business under one roof. It provides a forum for products, users, and buyers to converge in one place where they can showcase their products and services. This year the sponsors were all the big names in the Imaging and Photography industry, like Hewlett Packard, Canon, Kodak, Epson, Olympus, Nikon, to name just a few.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Diwali – A time to give!

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Diwali, the festival of lights. Such a cliché simply because it means so much more than that. Everyone has a different take on Diwali and everyone has different expectations. It’s like the Hindu equivalent to Christmas. Gifts and giving, sweets and generosity. We don’t light up a tree, we light up the whole house, every nook, cranny and corner. The frenzy starts about a month ahead, malls are packed with anxious shoppers and everyone has long lists. Since Indian’s are bestowed with large families, there is a whole lot of shopping to do. For me the similarities are amazing, not at a religious level but at a ‘faith’ and ‘celebration’ level. Everyone eats and shares. The age old myth of ‘give and you will get’ is in full motion at this time of the year.

Businessmen get busy making their partners happy, companies get busy calculating bonuses, shop owners can see the money flowing in and the everyday shopper scans the dailies for ‘sales’ news. You can see bold advertisements claiming “0% discount” followed by a coy “on quality” … 20% discount on all goods. The shopper sits back feeling like the king of the world.

This is the time for some serious consumer wooing. Everybody spends on Diwali, it is practically a ‘have to’. 15 years ago the gifts revolved around exquisite dry fruits and heavenly Indian sweets we call ‘mithai’. The winter months kept everything fresh for weeks and Diwali seemed to extend all the way to the new year. Usually falling in the months of October or November, this season seems to go on and on. Over the years, the dry fruits got mediocre, not just in gifting but in quality as well. The ‘mithai’ eaters became nouveau ‘conscious’, about their weight, cholesterol, sugar levels and all the new age misery. I think ‘Archies’ was the first company to realize this paradigm shift, they started churning out cards by the hundreds, they sourced designer ‘diya’s’ (little oil or wax lamps that are ceremoniously lit for Diwali), they put a greeting card on every box of sweets. The change was slow to happen but once it did, the frenzy was unbelievable. Corelle launched new designs for Diwali, their crockery was always found in sets of 4 (the typical western family). Here in india they were marketing sets of 6 with little bowls we call ‘katori’s, we use them for all the gravies and curries our cuisine is famous for. China exported crates of bowls, trays, curios and the like in a variety of materials, colours and shapes, to satisfy the Indian Diwali shopping madness. Suddenly, people were gifting corporate style, beautiful things for the home, the office, the kitchen. It became okay to gift a DVD set of ‘Friends’ for Diwali if that’s what your friends were into, it had to be personal at the end of the day. Hundreds of websites sprung up, selling all things related to Diwali, you could ship from the US to India (like we need more ‘diyas’) or you could ship from India to the world (that makes more sense).

This year the craze seems to be more opulent. Singapore holidays, shopping bonanza’s and Frazer & Haws silver diya’s are all passé. People are gifting not for material pleasure but for the soul. Books on spirituality like the ‘Speaking Tree’ are supposedly a favourite. Another great campaign is by the MMTC, promoting gold in a more organic way, the World Gold Council seems to make the whole thing Uber chic and beyond the middle class. Diamonds are being marketed as a special high end gift as well, in fact there is a marked conversion in women buying diamonds instead of the customary gold during ‘dhanteras’. ‘Dhanteras’ is celebrated on the 13th day of the dark fortnight of Diwali and it falls a day or two before Diwali. It is marked as the day of eternal good fortune and people celebrate it by buying something new for their home or indulge in a new investment. I wonder if anyone is marketing investment schemes this year, sounds like a good idea to me! Anyone listening?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Khajuraho - lessons in stone

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Mystic. Mysterious. Saints. Dust. Heat. God Men. Snake charmers. Elephants & Tigers. BPO. IT hub. Some of the words I heard when I asked a random handful of people about India and they were all of different nationalities. Interesting! Everyone in this mini survey was above 25 and no one said ‘erotic'(The Kama Sutra, to mention just one), ‘art’ (M F Hussain, to mention just one) or ‘art erotica’.

India is the proud home of the Khajuraho temples, the ultimate guide to intimacy, carved in stone for centuries. Built between 950-1050, the construction spanned a 100 years which is obvious in the detailing and architectural styles of the various temples in the city of Khajuraho. Though it is true that erotic sculptures can be found at Khajuraho and are very much a part of the temples architectural harmony, they however are not installed inside the temple premises or near the deities. The reason for their existence lies in medieval history of that region. Khajuraho was ruled by the Chandela dynasty at the time and the rulers were followers of the ‘Tantric’ discipline. The attainment of ‘Nirvana’ (a state of perfect peace) in ‘Tantrism’ is far easier, it can be achieved by fulfilling every earthly desire. The juxtaposition lies in the fact that other Indian religions like Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism preach moderation and a control over earthly desires.

There are many resources that have information on the architectural styles and other Khajuraho specifications but few tell the reader about the deeper meaning behind such mammoth efforts. Was it simply faith driven? Where the Maharaja orders a few thousand men to build temples to appease the Gods? Some die, some toil on, in the end it is for the modern world to stand back and say “hey none of us thought of this!”

Khajuraho continues to remain a mystery because its purpose has not been interpreted as yet. Several historians have presented theories, combination of myth, legend and heresy but no one can be certain about the nature of the carvings. Some parts depict regular village life, showing potters, musicians and townspeople. Just everyday living, maybe this art being on the walls is a communication medium, like ancient advertising or the equivalent of a mass moral science lesson. The theory I liked best, mainly because its plausible was that back in those days, most young boys lived as ‘brahmachari’s’, a state every man must be in for the first 25 years of his life. They live devout, pious lives, usually in a hostel like ‘ashram’ and concentrate on learning the concepts of hard work, ‘karma’ etc. This art was their only way to learn the nuances of being a ‘householder’. Sounds to me like ancient sex education. I will leave this train of thought as it is. I just wish we could incorporate safety and self respect into these lessons and bring them into our schools today. If they could talk about it back then we can definitely talk about it right now!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Ancient India Rocks!

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Excuse that pun, I was referring to some images we produced a couple of months back of Ajanta & Ellora. I had vague memories of visiting these cave shrines as a kid and it saddened me that I didn’t remember their magnificence. I was viewing the images in high resolution and the detail left me flabbergasted.

Ajanta & Ellora are the definition of the term ‘cave shrines’. Located near the city of Aurangabad in Maharashtra, India, these caves have been hand carved and built as far back as 200 B.C. These caves comprise of two sets, Ajanta caves and Ellora caves. Both are equally significant due to their history, architecture and message. The caves were discovered as early as the 19th century during a hunting expedition. All these centuries they lay hidden under the rocky landscape of the Sahyadri hills. They are called ‘cave shrines’ because they are essentially temples. Hand carved temples in man made caves, the sheer task seems enormous and near impossible for the era of their supposed construction. The granite these hills constitute of are still considered a construction nightmare but the faith involved in the Ajanta & Ellora caves seems to be the driving force behind this Herculean task. The rock is considered ‘living rock’ because the formations are a still in a process of development. The structures are prayers halls and monasteries where monks could meditate and pray in complete seclusion. These structures are also a symbol of religious tolerance and harmony. Here Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism co-exist and share their teachings. All three religions were founded in India and this is the only place in the world where their history conjoins. The Jain and Buddhist caves are places of peace and quiet while the Hindu caves exude more energy and divinity. The three construction styles found here are Stupas, Chaityas and Viharas. ‘Stupas’ are generally built of stones or bricks to commemorate important events or mark important places associated with Buddhism or to house important relics of Buddha. ‘Chaitya’s’ are meditation or prayer halls built out of rock and brick and ‘Vihara’s’ are monasteries usually made in excavated rocks to provide a haven away from the rest of the world.

The Ajanta caves are a set of 29 caves, hand carved tediously by Buddhist monks. Presumably the only tools available to these hermetic people had to have been hammers and chisels. The figurines depict the tales of ‘Jataka’, ancient text of Buddhists which tell stories about the various incarnations of the Buddha. The craft is definitely impressive but the physical effort involved enhances the beauty of the carvings. It is no wonder that the Ajanta is chosen as a ‘World Heritage Site'.

The Ellora caves are 34 in number. They are more ornately carved and the structures are more adorned. There are magnificent facades and examples of Indian temple architecture. These caves are carved in the basaltic sides of the hills. The most amazing feat in these caves is the ancient ‘Kailasa temple’, devoted to Mount Kailash which is the seat of Lord Shiva. This temple is carved out of solid rock and is a free standing structure comprising of pillars, podiums and spires, all intricately carved by hand. A website about World Mysteries has listed this temple under ‘mystic places’ because “it is the largest monolithic structure in the world, carved top-down from a single rock. It contains the largest cantilevered rock ceiling in the world.”

The best time to visit Ajanta & Ellora caves is from October to March, although the monsoon months of July-August are also highly recommended for the heightened scenic beauty of the area. Indian tourism offer a lot of excursion trips and tourists can engage tour guides locally at Ajanta and Ellora as well as from Mumbai, the closest metro to the caves.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

I'm not superstitious, but ...

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We made good friends with this one model we worked with last year. Very lovely young lady, she was nice enough to keep in touch way after she received her images shot by us. We got a call from her last month saying she has a bunch of friends in town and they were all very keen to be professionally photographed. We were already riding high on our 6,000 sq. ft. studio so we asked the whole load of them to come in for auditions. So here we were sitting around waiting for everyone’s headshots to be assessed, when Manav suggested they all make a trip and shoot that. The motley mix of post-teens started discussing every possible drivable location from Delhi. They were all foreigners and from different countries too. This discussion didn’t take long to finalize into an overnight trip to Agra. The home of the Taj, the land of love and loss, the haven of a lovesick king’s biggest accomplishment. Some had seen it with their parents on a day trip, some hadn’t at all. The excitement was electric. The final list read, an Indian girl from LA, a Persian girl from Florida, an all American girl, a Scottish boy, an Estonian boy and finally a Zimbabwean boy. What an awesome bunch they made. So many nationalities and cultures of the world in this group of six. The only thing they shared in common was the age and the generation and that was glue enough to start this trip off very well.

The story I am about to tell you only goes to reinforce my crazy obsession with Lennon’s song ‘Imagine’. In my Utopian fairyland I believe that we can live without religion, without possessions and without countries, we can live like brothers and like thinking human beings. Ultimately we are all the same. I read an article by the photographer who shot the famous portrait of ‘the Afghan girl’, Steve McCurry he said to the effect that a farmer in Afghanistan is no different from a farmer in the US. I guess he meant that as people they are the same, their environments and scenarios are different but they share the same worries, the same ambitions and the same dependency on nature. Anyway, back to the story. These guys were on the road with our Art Director (part Portuguese, part Iranian), Photographer (All from the state of Bengal), Make-up Assistant (state of Punjab) and Studio Hand (I would assume Bihar). They stopped at a harmless looking vegetarian ‘dhaba’ (typical Indian roadside diner, usually very rustic). They ordered heartily and sat back and waited. Suddenly the girls started noticing dragon flies, not one, more like one million. So one of the girls got up from the table and crouched on the floor screaming for one of the knights to save her. The lovely Scottish boy got up, swatted away the dragon flies and stepped over her head to get back to the table. She shot up and said “step back over me”! That’s all she said. One by one each person on the table said “ya, my mom says you have to step back over the person if you stepped over them once.” The tempo got louder and everyone, every different person there knew that they had all heard and participated in one of the oldest ‘old wives tales’ ever. Across the cultures and borders they all grew up hearing this one ‘superstition’. The biggest deal wasn’t that they had all been told the same tale by their Scottish, Estonian, Indian, Persian, Zimbabwean mothers, it was how they all suddenly related on another level. This highly infused gene pool of people sat there, ages 19 – 35 years and said in unison – “coz then you won’t grow tall”. Across most of the globe, covering 4 continents, all these people were told the same reason too! When I heard this story, it stirred me in many ways. Are we all essentially the same? Just people. People with stories, lives, joys, pains, fun, work, family, passions, traditions, the list goes on and it goes on for all of us.

The Nirula's Story

I spent a considerable number of years hearing about the ‘great consumer experience’ that could only be ‘experienced’ abroad. Anywhere abroad, I asked? The spectrum for ‘abroad’ for most Indian’s was restricted to the US and the UK. Would I find the same costumer experience in Dhaka or Mogadishu? I seriously wondered! These lamentations have come into my mind since a friend of mine visited ‘Nirula’s’ the other day. Ah! ‘Nirula’s’ for those of you that haven’t had this baptism of fudge, ‘Nirula’s’ was India’s only fast food joint till almost a decade ago. There were several in New Delhi and one in Kathmandu. Yes, I have eaten there as well. There is a different novelty in finding a home grown brand ‘abroad’ … Nepal is pretty ‘abroad’ in my opinion! See that’s my take on home grown, the guy behind the counter is ‘uncle’ and he will remember you the next time you come and your friends will think ‘Nirula’s’ is your haunt, that’s the perfect life for a 12 year old. ‘Nirula’s’ also holds the symbolic title of ‘the place of many firsts’ … it was the place I saw a film star for the first time, I found my first ‘crush’, I got my ‘board exam’ results, I got 20 bucks extra as change, I got high on food (before you jump to conclusions, it was one of those innocent highs, that only food can produce).

The food wasn’t something to write home about but this was the only place where one could order, burger and fries with a milkshake on the side and feel on top of the world, teleported all the way to the home of junk food, the US. Looking back I must reiterate that Nirula’s meant just a handful of yummy things to most people. There were the footlong fiends, the veg. burger lovers, the ice cream soda devotees but the ultimate followers of ‘Nirula’s’ were those that swore by the hot chocolate fudge.

That’s where this whole rant began. Manav, my friend decided to relive the joy by visiting the newly acquired ‘Nirula’s’ last week. ‘Nirula’s’ was a traditional family owned restaurant, run by the grand old man Mr. Nirula, I imagine. He must have been a regal old man with a mighty ‘Punjabi’ heart and appetite, also ‘Punjabi’s’ (those that hail from the state of Punjab in India) had great taste and western exposure. So I could understand his need to supply North India with much needed fast food! After competition like McDonalds, Pizza Hut and Dominos hit Indian shores, it shook the foundation ‘Nirula’s’ stood upon. They didn’t have hand tossed pizza’s, their fries were insipid and they didn’t have the omnipresent ‘thali’ back then, so no fallback option. What they had in their favour was ice cream. It was good and cheaper than Baskin Robbins. So there was Manav, looking forward to his hot chocolate fudge at the newly acquired ‘Nirula’s’. In June 2006, Navis Capital Partners a Malaysia based company acquired the Nirula's Group of Companies. He was to realize when he took the order that he had been served a hot butterscotch sundae instead. He says he may have made a mistake in ordering which I find worthy of mention simply because the same benefit of doubt cannot be bestowed upon ‘Nirula’s’. They vehemently refused to address his quandary. Imagine an old customer, as old as he is today, ordering an all time favourite dessert, ready to pay the difference for even a dollop of fudge on his sundae, is told a simple ‘no’! Now I wonder if the foreign acquisition made a difference in this ‘customer experience’. Our childhood haunts are becoming commercial trash and we are treated like it. The ‘home’ feeling is totally absent and not even a smile will make matters better. I feel sorry that Manav’s history with ‘Nirula’s’ will end this way and end it will because we now have over 5 varieties of commercial ice creams available, we have Hershey’s chocolate syrup and who can’t dry roast few peanuts at home. This is a lesson for ‘Nirula’s’, the recipe for hot chocolate fudge given above doesn’t mention the ‘Nirula’s’ touch because I don’t think it exists anymore.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Take it to the Limit

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I don’t think it’s wrong to term “College Life in India” as the ‘ultimate freedom’. Drawing from personal experience I can safely say that whether it was a convent or a co-educational school, the claustrophobia was the same. Even the senior years were ruled by uniforms, punishments and a constant ‘big brotherly’ presence. I don’t know how it is today but back in the day, hair had to be neatly trimmed, nails had to be bitten down, socks couldn’t be rolled to the ankles and that awful perennial neck tie, it was hell. The only consolation was ‘friends’. Some of you reading this may have been super achievers, teacher’s darlings and the like but most of us just drudged through school only to get to the big, bad world of College. Thank God!

As luck would have it, I went to out of my hometown to study and the first thing to hit me was – I can wear what I want! For youngsters all over the world, the feeling of self expression is of utmost importance. The whole feeling of being ‘me’ comes from a style statement. It could well be just a bag, a braid or a BMW but we all want to stand out. I didn’t have any of those things but I did have a tool that surpassed all, attitude, and a healthy one! This is the high point of what I see in the campus life of today. The boys and girls are so confident and so chic. I don’t feel shallow in admitting that my most poignant moment in college was the day I left my hair open; after all it won’t be clichéd to say ‘college is the time to let your hair down”. Pardon the pun, I couldn’t help myself.

Student life in India is actually more than that. The residual guilt from school tends to stay on, so even though you can ‘bunk’ classes and you do ‘bunk’ classes, it just doesn’t feel right. Indian students are conditioned to work hard from day 1. There are no open book tests, no lockers to ease the load and by no means is there a provision to choose subjects before ‘high school’. This has long term repercussions that are very positive. Indian students know rote learning (not always a good thing), they respect their teachers (well at least they stand up and greet them before each class), they know how to burn the midnight oil and they know how important the values of school are to cope later in life. So it may not always be about fun and games, big deal, life isn’t all about fun and games either. This may be a good time for international students to check out courses available in India, may as well learn a whole new culture while you’re at it. Manipal University has superb Medical and Engineering courses and right here in Delhi University you can do your Bachelor’s and Master’s in any subject, language or stream. The world is an ocean for these young men and women and college is ‘lifeguard’ training!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

More than a 'Dream'

I have splendid news in this piece. Our studio has passed its test run of 3 months with flying colours. We officially launched our 6,500 sq. ft. studio in May 2007. Set in the dynamic suburb of Gurgaon, the space is more than a studio, it’s a dream come true. The construction pace was like all such endeavours are, excruciating. Thankfully, had a fabulous team of professionals constantly striving to get on with the ultimate ‘plan’ - our very own world class studio. The space cannot be explained it has to be experienced. There is an amazing splash of natural light that makes the white walls seem farther, makes the area enormous. It’s everything we need to produce quality imagery, from India to the world.

We can now boast of international standards, handpicked sets, state of the art equipment, plenty of natural light, extremely talented photographers, a team of production staff that only think out of the box … and that little bit extra, passion! Everyone at is driven by the prospects of the stock photography industry, we are producing signature imagery and we are good at it. With the studio in place, our horizons have broadened so much, that we are flooded with ideas, concepts and themes. The studio seems like a living being, like a part of the team, it has its own energy. The peripherals are perfect too, we have a view of contemporary office buildings at one end and a balcony garden at the other. When the sets are out, the transformation is unbelievable, we have our high school classroom, the next door chemist, a home kitchen and a kids bedroom all in walking distance.

The biggie came last month. We wanted to do the Kathakali shoot and we knew the artist would be wearing an outfit that weighs a ton and makeup that weighs more. He had never worked in a studio and we were just beginning to cover specialty Indian stock. He took 3 hours to get ready, we hit the studio at noon and right there in the middle of the studio was our ‘muse’. It was an awesome sight, his fantastic makeup, his overwhelming garb and yet he seemed so small, almost animated in all that space, with the sun overhead, it was truly a sight to see. We had another quandary to deal with, we needed a motorcycle up in the second floor studio for a concept shot. That was great fun. Lugging that 500 pound piece of machinery up on the set, readying it for our custom shot, getting our model seated firmly on it … all the while we were applauding ourselves quietly.

We had multiple shoots that day. It seemed heavy but in retrospect the team made it all happen. We had frantic studio hands carrying boxes of mobile phones, frenzied art directors readying their shots, make-up artists, hairstylists, prop hands, all this while our extremely calm photographers meditated with the lights. All in all the studio has added a whole new dimension to pursuit of exquisite Indian stock.

That’s the thing about, there is always something new and exciting going on. Watch this space for our next adventure and check out the gallery for a sneak preview of all the amazing stuff we have produced since the studio got ready.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Eyes open wider

I took me a couple of weeks to get over the whole ‘Bharatanatyam’ shoot. I don’t know why, it never takes me this long to absorb something extraordinary and I tend to produce very varied stock for my brand - It was probably some latent disappointment regarding my own experience with ‘Bharatanatyam’ that did it, I wasn’t great at it but I am sure I could have pursued it longer such to let the grace and discipline seep into my everyday life. Anyway, I kind of obsessed with the idea of exploring the various dance forms our country had to offer. And if you are still gaping at the number of languages, cuisines and cultures we actually have, then this topic will surely amaze you. Almost every state of India and we have 28, has a dance form they call their own. That meant I needed to get cracking, book my studio space with our Creative Director and get a hold of all these lovely artists. My endeavours were well rewarded within weeks. I found just the right person for one of India’s most awe inspiring dances – Kathakali. Certain elements remain common to all dances of India, they are storytelling personified and they are all extremely graceful, vibrant and emotional. But ‘Kathakali’ is just a wee bit more of all the adjectives I have used. Kathakali is the traditional dance-drama of Kerala, the way ‘Bharatanatyam’ traces its roots to Tamil Nadu and it is sheer, raw ‘power’. That’s the best word to describe it.

The day of the shoot started early. Our model was a veteran performer very keen to enlighten us about the nuances of Kathakali. He had prepared us for a 3 hour makeup session and we all thought he was exaggerating, apparently …. He was not. The first hour he lay motionless on the floor, while his team prepared colored pastes in little bowls made of coconut shells. It’s this kind of quaintness that always gets me. I mean, this man has a mobile phone, he probably downloads his performances from the video camera to DVD and yet they didn’t start getting him ready till the traditional brass lamp was lit and a little prayer was said. I always knew that most of the south Indian dance forms were rooted in Hindu mythology but this was true devotion. The base coats on his face took longer than a fashion model's makeup, then came the colors – rich parrot green, bleeding orange and the stark yellow of the ‘tilaka’. The makeup itself that transformed this man into a living caricature, a living, breathing mythical creature from way back into our past. He seemed to loom larger than he was when he came in. One by one, ornaments came out of an old, dented trunk (there was the quaintness again).

I noticed him change from an ordinary person to a revered character, his team was all over him, cajoling him like he was a child, adoring him like they were his mothers and keeping his comfort our utmost priority. There were steel talons on one hand, headgear that rose a foot in the air and solid gold arm bands that I had never noticed before. In a way it saddened me, I had seen quite a few performances in the last 15 years and I never stopped to notice these fantastic details. Sure enough, it took him 3 hours to get ready and all I could think of was how an Amazonian state like Kerala could have a dance form that requires a thermal costume weighing over 8 kilos?? This had to be true devotion! I remained mesmerized for the next few hours. Not just by the movements and expressions but by the subtleties. Our model’s team had a different attitude towards him once he was in costume, they were short of worshipping him and we all felt it. It was like being in the presence of God, or at least the closest thing to it. After a few frames we noticed that his eyes were very blood shot, so we asked if the atmosphere was bothering him. He gently informed us that he needed to portray the angst, the power, the menace and the megalomania of his character, thus the red eyes. He had applied a powder derived from a 'brinjal' like vegetable (which I suspect is the chili family, don't the seeds look alike?) in his eyes and thats what made them burn red this way.

Before we knew it … the shoot was over. I felt awful, there was still so much to explore, so many questions to ask. All I could the end the day with was an apology to our model, I apologized for being just the ‘audience’ all these years. I apologized for not recognizing the immense talent and fervour that goes into being a performer of Indian classical arts. And finally I thanked him, thanked him for showing me the essence of ‘Kathakali’. Apart from the makeup, the costume, the élan and the rich history, it was the devotion, the discipline and the traditional grounding that I will never forget. So next time you go to see any Indian classical dance, remember to feel the history and appreciate the entirety of what you see.

Dance Therapy

“She is the embodiment of grace. She flows like water, she glows like fire and has the earthiness of a mortal goddess. She has flowers in her hair, jewelled hands and kohl dark eyes. Her eyes speak a language that her hands will translate, her feet move in tandem to make the story complete. She is a danseuse, she is a performer, she is almost ethereal.” – These were my thoughts when we were producing the ‘Dances of India’ images at the newly built studio. Our model was unique, she wasn’t here to strut her stuff or pout and be pretty, she was here to blow our minds. I learnt ‘Bharatanatyam’ for seven years as a child but even I didn’t remember this kind of magical aura and splendour. It wasn’t the costume or the jewellery, it was the motion, the fluidity, I could go on and on.

Dance in India symbolizes more than just entertainment; it actually serves as a communication tool. Dances were mainly performed in temples as offering to the Gods, these dances relayed messages of community living, fictional plays depicting an ideal way of life and mythological tales of people and places. Most classical dance forms still remain physical manifestations of the music they are performed with. In Indian culture, song and dance are inseparable companions of classical arts. One compliments the other and neither can survive on its own. A typical example would be Bharatanatyam and Carnatic Music. Bharatanatyam is a dance form supposedly created by Bharata Muni, the sage who wrote the ‘Natya Shastra’, ancient text dealing with dance, performance and theatre. Bharatanatyam was performed by ‘Devadasis’ in ’ancient times, dancers that appeased the Gods, much like the mythical ‘Apsara’s', Hindu equivalents of angels or celestial dancers. The entire performance is actually a play, with stunning costumes and feline grace. The emphasis lies in the movement and expressiveness of the eyes, intricate hand gestures that speak volumes and most essentially an attitude that emotes confidence and beauty. ‘Karanas’ are classical postures in Bharatanatyam, these are 108 and 125 positions in the classical Indian dance. The word ‘Karanam’ means conscious and systematic action in Tamil. Another distinctive feature of Bharatanatyam is expressive hand gestures as a way of communication. Hasta Mudras refers to the varieties of hand symbols that a dancer uses to convey the story they are performing.

Bharatanatyam evolved as a dance form of the deities and went on to be performed across Tamil Nadu at festivals, in temples and in palaces. It had a mystical aura that spoke of eternal wisdom, enlightenment and purity. It I still considered a ‘fire dance’ as compared to Odissi being a ‘water dance’, the inclusion of elements adds a more metaphysical aspect to dance performances in India. All the technicalities aside what is most striking is the colors and the movements. The costume is elaborate and physically flattering to the female form, the hairdo is accented with fresh fragrant flowers, the hands and feet are adorned with a red paste and the jewelery too is loud and expressive. All these elements are essential to make the impact that this dance is all about. After all it is a story told with no words, the music is an accompaniment not the storyteller, the dancer is the only medium truly communicating with the audience.

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Thursday, July 5, 2007

Make it Spicy

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I was in Kuwait a couple of years back and my standard tone in every restaurant and every meal was ‘make it spicy’! And then there was this one episode which made me stop saying it all together. We were at a fabulous Mediterranean restaurant called ‘Mezz Al Ghanim’ and I was drooling quietly at my table when a friend of mine asked if everything was okay. Assuming that the staff was not too familiar with the English language I told her that the food here was great but not ‘spicy’ enough for me. Out of nowhere came this handsome Iranian waiter and he said “Do you mean pungent maam? Because you come from the land of spices, everything here has spices from India, inhale now and I swear your nasal passage will open just by the fragrance of our cooking.We can make it pungent but it will kill the spice.” That’s when I realized he was right, I wanted ‘hot’ food and that had nothing to do with spice or flavor. This is a common misconception, spices are meant to add to the base ingredients of a dish and have a wonderful aroma and flavor, just the way continental food uses herbs.

There are a variety of Indian spices, cloves; cinnamon, cardamom, black cardamom, mace, black pepper are some of the common ones. Out of the 109 spices listed by the ISO, India produces as many as 75 in various regions. India accounts for about 45% of the global spice exports, though exports constitute only some 8% of the estimated annual production of spices at 3.5 million tons. Over all, spices are grown in some 2.9 million hectares in the country. India produces around 2.75 million tons of different spices valued at approximately 4.2 billion US $, and holds the premier position in the world spice market. Because of the varying climates in India - from tropical to sub-tropical, from 0-45 degree centigrade, almost all spices are grown in this country. In all of the 28 states and seven union territories of India, at least one spice is grown in abundance. So you can see a large part of the agricultural base in India is ‘spices’. In ancient times, spices were as precious as gold; and as significant as medicines, preservatives and perfumes. India - the land of spices played a significant role in the global spice market. No country in the world produced as many spices as India.

Indian cuisine encourages the use of whole spices for meats etc. and ground spices for vegetables, lentils and curries. Most Indian home still get their spices ground personally to ensure purity and consistency. I go over 20 miles to get my monthly spices ground and it has to be every month because spices lose their qualities with time. Whole spices are better if they are roasted before use. The oils of the spice get released and add to the dish. The potency of a spice can be gauged by where it was grown and how it was stored and preserved, I tend to buy spices that are slightly small because I feel they will be more potent and they usually are. One killer recipe I must share uses few of the common spices of India. It’s a lamb dish though in India we use an older animal and call the meat, 'mutton’. Wash 1 kilo of mutton, marinate in 1 cup of yogurt and 1 teaspoon each of roasted spices – cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, black cardamom, 1 bayleaf, black pepper, cumin seeds and mustard seeds. Keep it in the refrigerator for 2-4 hours. Fry 3 pureed onions mixed with a puree of 4-6 garlic pods, in 2 tablespoons of ghee, add the marinated mutton (reserve the marinade though). Fry on high for 5-7 minutes, leave to simmer on low (covered) for 45 minutes. Add 1 cup of coconut milk, 2 teaspoons of ‘garam masala’ (a combo of cinnamon, cumin, cloves, mace, cardamom and black cardamom) and salt to taste. You can either leave it to simmer for another 20 minutes or put it in a pressure cooker for a whistle or two and there you have it ‘Mutton Shirazi’…have it with white rice or a nice, crisp 'naan' (type of Indian bread). On this topic, I must clarify, ‘curry powder’ is not the most common spice mix of India, ‘garam masala’ is! In fact as an Indian in India, I wonder what curry powder is? All our curries have different powdered spices, so who made a generic one?

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Sweet Surrender

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My mother was an avid cook, actually she was a closet ‘chef’ and only very late in life did she pursue a part time venture in catering. I had spent most of my childhood on the kitchen parapet and most of my adulthood leaning against it. Unfortunately I never bothered to actually learn from her, I just stood there and watched. So what I ended up with was loads of cookery wisdom and zero practical knowledge. Anyway, a Bachelor’s course with ITC-WelcomGroup changed that but going back to my mom, one huge pearl of wisdom was – “Cook with all your senses. Feel with your fingers, inhale with your nose, taste with your mouth, look at the colors and textures with your eyes and most important hear the sizzling, the frying with your ears and you will never go wrong.” Though this can be applied to any cuisine in the world, I apply it most to when I make Indian sweets. You can’t beat the sound of ‘gulab jamuns’ frying in hot oil, the monotony of the ‘kadchi’ or ladle moving tirelessly through kilos of chickpea flour (‘besan’) sounds blissful to me and of course the fragrances … cooking spices can tickle your nose and whet your appetite but Indian sweets will make your mouth water right away.

The variety of Indian sweets available is unbelievable. But then you must have heard that about everything in India, the cuisines, the cultures, the languages! The most common ingredient for all the sweets across India could possibly be milk and dry fruits but the combinations with other local ingredients produces an assortment of tastes, textures, colors and shapes. North India produces sweets that are extremely dairy based maybe because Punjab is the dairy hub of India and the heart of the north. The milk is reduced over hours of simmering in a heavy pan to produce an ingredient called ‘khoya’ or ‘mawa’ or milk solids. ‘Khoya’ forms the base of almost every ‘burfi’ (I would avoid spelling it as 'barfi, though!), ‘laddoo’ and ‘peda’, it is also used as a garnish for a variety of winter ‘halva’s’. A lot of dry fruit is used as fillings or garnish, especially cashews and almonds, which also form the base of an extremely popular ‘burfi’, quite like its continental cousin the marzipan. Towards the East, the sweets get more exotic. The famous ‘sandesh’ from West Bengal (yes, that’s in the East of India) is a classic favorite and found all over India now. They are made from a variety of ingredients like chickpea flour (‘besan’), cottage cheese (paneer) and even coconut, curd and ‘khoya’. In the West, sweet foods are extremely popular, especially in Gujarat, where even regular food has a sweetened tinge. Their sweets use a lot wheat and refined flour along with jaggery and candied fruits and nuts. Down south the basic flavors remain constant but in a very different presentation, the ‘laddoo’s’ there look like the same ones seen up north, but one bite is all you need to have to know just how different the entire recipe actually is. South Indian sweets use fruits and vegetables extensively too, pumpkins and yams as well as bananas and coconut.

All in all, Indian sweets are rich and delicious, most confectioners have maintained their standardized recipes and still produce quality sweets made of high grade ingredients. All confectioners clearly state that their goods are perishables and need to be consumed within 24-48 hours. It is only now that some brands are marketing Indian sweets with longer shelf lives, it may be an endeavor to reach distant markets but it does compromise on the quality and actual taste of the product. Personally, I would say a ‘laddoo’ is way healthier than a chocolate bar, given the preservatives and the shelf life, I may just be right!

Monday, June 25, 2007 is the face of Dainik Bhaskar

I can imagine the ‘creative’ cabin of an ad agency. Except that my vivid imagination always sees static electricity and bulbs going off everywhere, I would imagine that to be a ‘creative’ environment. Electric and buzzing. These are the places where our product is discussed, which image would be perfect for the message we want to relay??? That’s when we come into the picture, as of now we boast of over 12,000 contemporary and unique images of India and Indians. How I wish I was in one of these ‘creative’ sessions because not only do we have solutions at, we have creative content that will actually give you ideas.

One particular creative session birthed the idea of using teenage girls gossiping to promote the print media. Here is the sweet part of deal – on the one hand you have models to hire, photographer to engage, rent a studio or clean out the one you have, oh ya the makeup artist, the hair guy, the art director …..OR It’s so simple, that I can’t believe I am explaining it. Call us with your brief, give us the day you would have ideally set aside for a shoot and we will get back to you with images that are specific to your brief …. I must add the sweetest part of the deal …it will probably cost you 1/10th of the cost of actual production. I can’t help saying it again – at it is sooooo easy!!!

Anyway, Dainik Bhaskar did the smart thing and called us. We had an image of three pretty teenage girls gossiping their little hearts out and that was Dainik Bhaskar’s perfect image!



Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Taj - A Symbol of Devotion

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The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum located in Agra, India. The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan commissioned it as a mausoleum for his favorite Persian wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Construction began in 1632 and was completed in approximately 1648.

Some dispute surrounds the question of who designed the Taj Mahal; it is clear a team of designers and craftsmen were responsible for the design, with Ustad Ahmad Lahauri considered the most likely candidate as the principal designer.

The Taj Mahal (sometimes called "the Taj") is generally considered the finest example of Mughal architecture, a style that combines elements of Persian, Turkish, Indian, and Islamic architectural styles. While the white domed marble mausoleum is the most familiar part of the monument, the Taj Mahal is actually an integrated complex of structures. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 when it was described as a "universally admired masterpiece of the world's heritage.

In 1631 Shah Jahan, emperor during the Mughal's period of greatest prosperity, was grief-stricken when his second wife, Mumtaz Mahal, died during the birth of their daughter Gauhara Begum, their fourteenth child. Contemporary court chronicles concerning Shah Jahan's grief form the basis of the love story traditionally held as the inspiration for the Taj Mahal.

Construction of the Taj Mahal was begun soon after Mumtaz's death. The principal mausoleum was completed in 1648, and the surrounding buildings and garden were finished five years later.

The complex is set in and around a large charbagh (a formal Mughal garden divided into four parts). Measuring 300 meters × 300 meters, the garden uses raised pathways which divide each quarter of the garden into 16 sunken parterres or flowerbeds. A raised marble water tank at the center of the garden, halfway between the tomb and the gateway, and a linear reflecting pool on the North-South axis reflect the Taj Mahal. Elsewhere the garden is laid out with avenues of trees and fountains

The Charbagh garden was introduced to India by the first Mughal emperor Babur, a design inspired by Persian gardens. The charbagh is meant to reflect the gardens of Paradise (from the Persian paridaeza — a walled garden). In mystic Islamic texts of the Mughal period, paradise is described as an ideal garden, filled with abundance. Water plays a key role in these descriptions: In Paradise, these text say, four rivers source at a central spring or mountain, and separate the garden into north, west, south and east.

Most Mughal charbaghs are rectangular in form, with a tomb or pavilion in the center of the garden. The Taj Mahal garden is unusual in that the main element, the tomb, is located at the end rather than at the center of the garden. But the existence of the newly discovered Mahtab Bagh or "Moonlight Garden" on the other side of the Yamuna provides a different interpretation — that the Yamuna itself was incorporated into the garden's design, and was meant to be seen as one of the rivers of Paradise.

The layout of the garden, and its architectural features such as its fountains, brick and marble walkways, and geometric brick-lined flowerbeds are similar to Shalimar's, and suggest that the garden may have been designed by the same engineer, Ali Mardan.

Early accounts of the garden describe its profusion of vegetation, including roses, daffodils, and fruit trees in abundance. As the Mughal Empire declined, the tending of the garden declined as well. When the British took over management of the Taj Mahal, they changed the landscaping to resemble the formal lawns of London.

Myths about the Taj Mahal are now so old or compelling that they are often repeated as facts. A longstanding myth holds that Shah Jahan planned a duplicate mausoleum to be built in black marble across the Jumna river. The 'black taj' idea originates in the fanciful writings of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, a European traveller who visited Agra in 1665. The story suggests that Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son Aurangzeb before the black version could be built. Ruins of blackened marble across the river, in the so-called Moonlight Garden (Mahtab Bagh) seemed to support this legend. However, excavations carried out in the 1990s found only white marble features discoloured completely to black. The garden buildings had collapsed due to repeated flooding. Others speculate that the 'black taj' may refer to the reflection of the Taj in the large pool of the moonlight garden.

Numerous stories describe — often in horrific detail — the deaths, dismemberments and mutilations which Shah Jahan inflicted on various architects and craftsmen associated with the tomb. No evidence for these claims exist.

Sometimes misinformation about the Taj has been used for political or self-serving advantage. Lord William Bentinck, governor of India in the 1830s, supposedly planned to demolish the Taj Mahal and auction off the marble. There is no contemporary evidence for this story, which may have emerged in the late nineteenth century when Bentinck was being criticised for his penny-pinching Utilitarianism, and when Lord Curzon was emphasising earlier neglect of the monument. Bentinck's biographer John Rosselli says that the story arose from Bentinck's fund-raising sale of discarded marble from Agra Fort.

My take on Indian Food

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The writer’s block I developed for this topic has been the most painful. ‘Indian food’ would ideally be my favorite topic, actually it is my favorite topic but I have no clue where to start. Should I pick a region (North, South etc.), a state (Punjab, Kerala, West Bengal …), a cuisine (Awadh, Konkan…), a religion (Jain, Parsi …)? India has foods that could cover a world on its own, and no it’s not just curry we are serving tonight! In fact curry is the last thing ‘Indian cuisine’ would like to boast of, she is a gourmet and curry is too much fusion for her pride. ‘Indian cuisine’ cannot be defined because of its vastness, it cannot be categorized for the same reason too. What can explain the delicacies of this amazing country is the experience itself. So after you read this, take a trip to the closest restaurant that serves a cuisine other than that of your region (if you are in India) and if you are abroad, go to any Indian restaurant and no two will taste alike.

Let me start with two of the broadest categories I can find – Vegetarian and Non Vegetarian. Vegetarian’s in India are a large majority and most restaurants even international ones keep well stocked menus for them. There are no ‘vegan’s’ per se but there are communities that avoid onions and garlic all together, like the Jain’s. International flights readily offer ‘Jain’ meals because they are essentially a trader caste and run some of the largest family led business conglomerates. India has always had a strong farming culture which offers fresh seasonal vegetables through the year. The interesting thing about all the foods of India is that their history lies entrenched in ‘Ayurveda’. For instance, cauliflower is a winter vegetable, scientifically it is proven to be difficult to digest, its best consumed in cold weather because the body has a slow metabolism. It is available only in the winter months. Summers produce lighter, more water based vegetables and fruits like a variety of gourds and melons. Summer and winter foods throughout India vary and science behind it is always good for digestion and essential for the elements of that season. In states like Gujarat and Rajasthan, a vegetarian spread could mean over 100 dishes and again no two will taste alike. The famed ‘thali’ is the Indian counterpart of a 10-15 course meal, except that it’s served together and replenished as often as the patron likes. A variety of pulses, wet and dry will be served, along with curried or stir fried vegetables, pickles, yoghurts infused with onions, tomatoes, cucumbers or tempered with curry leaves, fritters called ‘pakoras’ of seasonal vegetables will complete the thali.

Non vegetarian cuisine on the other hand has historical value. The innumerable invasions of India, the Mughal era that started in the 1500’s, the Portuguese in Goa and the French in Pondicherry, all left a stark impact on the dishes of those areas. Some states like Kerala and regions like the Konkan coast can share fish and seafood recipes from hundreds of years ago but by and large non vegetarian food in India has constantly evolved. I once read a fun story about the famous ‘Meen Moily’ fish curry of Kerela (‘meen’ means fish). A British lady (I am sure it was over a 100 years ago), loved the authentic Kerala fish curry except that she found it too spicy (the real black pepper spice not the god awful red chilli one), so she worked it around with naturally sweet coconut milk, a whole lot of curry leaves and just a few green chillies… her name was Molly. Try that dish and you will thank me, in fact I think I’ll cook it tonight. Fish and seafood are cooked throughout coastal India, being a peninsula there was a lot of coast to cover. West Bengal uses coconut milk too but their ‘masala’ base is mustard seeds, Goan’s on the other hand are as fond of coconut milk but their ‘masala’ is a potent combination of dry red chillis and vinegar. You would have never tasted two prawn curries so different from each other and yet from the same country. Other meats like chicken, lamb and pork are very popular too. Imagine multiplying 100 vegetables x 25 cuisines x 1 billion homes … that’s the variety we offer.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Business Process Outsourcing and its Indian story

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What really is Business Process Outsourcing or BPO? Nope, it’s not the evil giant that swallowed all the jobs from the west, its just a sector that’s making waves in India and making hell of a difference abroad. This sector has now become so specialized that India offers high end work referred to as Knowledge Process Outsourcing or KPO and other variants such as Legal Process Outsourcing (LPO). Unlike what most people think, this industry did not take shape in the last decade, this process of outsourcing back end work actually happened way back in the 80’s. This is when biggies like British Airways and American Express started looking for cheaper business venues. Cheaper didn’t necessarily mean there was a compromise on talent, India always had plenty of talent to offer. At this stage the telecom boom was starting to happen as well, realty was on the rise and suddenly there was all these personnel that wanted to come back home. With them they brought their jobs, it was a simple relocation that clicked. Next came GE, Jack Welch always knew potential when he saw it. GECIS was their baby and that was just the start of the nursery India was to become.

By the year 2000, several BPO companies mushroomed all over Sub-urban cities like Gurgaon, Pune, Bangalore etc. MNC (Multinational companies) were awed by the working ethic of Indians as well as budget goodies like tele-services, office rentals, relatively low pay packages, it was glorious all the way. The industry grew at a rate of 38% in the year 2005. For the financial year 2006, the projection was of US $7.2 billion worth of services provided by this industry.

Today the global BPO Industry is estimated to be worth 120-150 billion dollars, of this the offshore BPO is estimated to be some US$11.4 billion. The Information Technology sector that comprises of ITES (IT-enabled services) and BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) entities has driven India into an economic boom. Today India is a much sought after destination for global offshore outsourcing companies because of its track record. This is an employment generating sector, the BPO industry alone created job opportunities for around 74,400 additional personnel in India in the year 04-05. The last headcount stood at 400,000 which was 40% of the approximate one million workers estimated to be directly employees in the IT and BPO Sector. Nearly 75% of US and European multinational companies now use outsourcing or shared services to support their financial functions. As per the estimates on ‘Wikipedia’ - 72% of European multinational companies have outsourced financial functions over the past two years. Additionally, 71% of European companies and 78% US companies plan to use these services in the next 12-24 months. Overall, 29% of US and European companies expect to increase their use of outsourcing of financial functions, with spending expected to be nearly 16% higher than current levels.

India is truly Shining!

Monday, June 18, 2007

PUSHKAR: The home of ‘Brahma’, the Creator and the Pushkar Fair

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Pushkar is a small town in Rajasthan, it is as picturesque as any desert town can be but it has other claims to fame that make it a prominent address on the Indian map. Pushkar, literally meaning 'a lotus that has bloomed in mud', and it also home to one of the only two temples dedicated to Lord Brahma. The seat upon which Lord Brahma resides is a blue Lotus also known as ‘Pushkara’ in Sanskrit. Lord Brahma is a part of the Hindu Holy Trinity and he serves as the ‘Creator’ of mankind, the way Lord Shiva is considered the destroyer. Lord Brahma is said to be the son of the Supreme Being. He created the universe and he had several symbols associated with his persona.

Mythology states that Lord Brahma annoyed Lord Shiva during a tryst and the curse bestowed upon him was that no man on earth would worship Lord Brahma the way other deities are worshipped. Another school of thought attributed this curse to a demi God who was ignored by Lord Brahma. But it is the practicalities of modern society that have asked for a more plausible explanation. Like the one stated by Mr. Surin Usgaonkar “The true philosophical reason why Brahma is not worshiped like the other deities is as under: Worship involves faith and faith to certain degree means accepting supremacy of someone without questioning. Brahma, on the other hand, represents true knowledge. The knowledge and faith are philosophically antithetical concepts. Knowledge blooms in self-doubt, constant questioning, criticism and discussions and it lapses in faith.”

Leaving such heavy thinking aside, let’s go back to Pushkar, where this whole dialogue began. Pushkar has one of the two temples dedicated to Lord Brahma and it is here that one of the largest cultural, trading and religious fair takes place every year. ‘Pushkar Mela’ (‘mela’ literally means fair or carnival) is India’s largest cattle fair. It is a spectacular event with Rajasthani men and women in their traditional attire, ash smeared holy men and more than one lakh people, from all over Rajasthan as well as tourists from different parts of India and abroad in attendance. Apart from the people there is bevy of bulls, cows, sheep, goats, horses and camels for sale and barter. It is not just business here, this week long fair also has fabulous events and brilliant shopping stalls. There are hysterical camel races, where photographers are known to get trampled (objects in the lens appear farther than they really are!!!). Rajasthani gypsies in their vibrant colorful skirts perform dance and music recitals through the days and nights. The shopping stalls glitter all the way with handcrafted leather goods to dainty glass bangles and beautiful textiles. Craftsman from all over Rajasthan and neighboring states bring their wares out for the world to see and appreciate. At Pushkar there is something for everyone. The shopper will find his delights, the trader will get a great bargain and the tourist will see the colorful and charismatic India they were hoping to see.

‘Pushkar Fair’ is always held in the month of Kartik. It starts two days before the full moon of the month and ends a day after it. This year the fair is from 18th-24th November 2007, a tad later than usual. It is the Pushkar lake in this city that all devotional activities center around. It has 52 ghats (like cement bleachers/steps) and is the main reason for the confluence of so many people from all parts of the country and abroad. It is considered imperative to take a dip in the Pushkar Lake on the night of a full moon. According to the Puranas (meaning ‘ancient Indian tales’), a pilgrimage to Pushkar destroys all evil and washes away all sins. A person that has had a dip in the lake at Pushkar and worshipped Brahma achieves salvation. For this reason, thousands of people gather here for this great annual pilgrimage and fair. Could there be an easier way??

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Indian Connection

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Doing business in India has never been easier. The markets have opened, the government has taken serious economic stances to encourage foreign investment and ‘globalization’ isn’t a scary word anymore. Gone are the days when ‘Amul’ butter felt threatened by the attractively packed imported ‘fats’. Screaming ‘Fat Free’ off their labels, but the good old Indian wasn’t easy prey. There was a skewed kind of brand loyalty that had ‘nostalgia’ written all over it and the average Indian needed a bit more than just great packaging in multiple languages.

Thus started the media frenzy. ‘Tang’ came back with a bang, images of young Indian’s lolling about with sweaty glasses of ‘Tang’ made for the picture perfect West. After all in reverse Indian companies had invested over $2 billion in the US in 2006-07 and completed a total of 48 deals with the firms there. Suddenly, everybody knew us and we found retail heaven. Indian companies went on to announce 115 foreign acquisitions worth $7.4 billion, and it wasn’t always done by large business conglomerates but also by several small and medium enterprises of India.

With this kind of attention, India went on to become the hot spot for the $42.7 billion telecom giant Motorola’s production base for coming out with new technologies for emerging markets. The Indian economy was expected to grow at the rate of 8% this year and this would have been the fourth year in a row for 8% GDP growth. Then the other day we have Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram expressing supreme confidence that GDP growth will touch 10% in the current fiscal. It seems to have a lot to do with the age profile in India as compared to the global working population. This has to be a better dividend for the Indian economy. Our core working populace is young Indian’s adding significantly to the country’s growth. They are the big earners and the big spenders. They are the target audience for every sector possible because now they can afford their dreams. Websites like have young Indian's congratulating each other over new houses bought in foreign countries, imported cars bought in local cities and European holidays every summer. With pockets this deep, aspirations this huge and limitless possibilities …it is India all the way.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Sensual Sari

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The ‘sari’ adds a whole new meaning to the term ‘the whole nine yards’. It is a 5000 year old traditional outfit, worn by an estimated 75% of the female populace of India. It is a one piece garment and its length ranges from five to nine and half yards. All of which is wrapped around the waist, with one end draped over the shoulder. It is worn all over India in over 15 regional styles and in every way that a 'Sari' is fashioned it adds sensuality and femininity to a woman’s body.

From the basic cotton to rich silk, sexy satin and elegant organza, the sari comes in a variety of fabrics. Sari’s can be block printed with natural dyes; they can be embroidered with intricate patterns or woven with imaginative designs. Even avid ‘sari’ collectors will say no one can have them all. Some of the popular regions for ethnic ‘sari’s are West Bengal where the wondrous ‘Baluchari’ comes from, it always has images of Indian religious epics as a pattern. The state of Tamil Nadu offers the richly brocaded ‘Kanchipuram’, they are silk saris much sought after and considered a must for every woman to own. Orissa has mastered the art of yarn dyed patterning, their Sari’s are stark and geometric. Rajasthan and Gujarat derive their inspiration from the gypsy culture of that region, their bandhini’ sari’s come in vibrant colors achieved from the process of ‘tie and dye’. The list of ethnic sari’s is endless but the ‘sari’ has evolved. As times have changed so has the ‘sari’, in order to suit the 21st century Indian women, sari’s come with more modern designs and in more manageable fabrics. Embroidery on ‘sari’s’ has been replaced by sequins and ‘Swarovski’ crystals, only to invite a whole new generation into its fold (pun intended)!

What really makes this outfit extremely versatile is that it can be worn as a trouser, as shorts or as a simple skirt, without one single stitch on it. Sari’s suit the weather of the Indian subcontinent, it is airy and light yet sensual and suggestive. A hint of the midriff is all an Indian woman will divulge but the sari hugs a woman’s curves so beautifully, that she stands out despite her whole body being covered.

The ‘sari’ is draped and tucked into a skirt like garment called the ‘petticoat’ and on the upper body a short bodice called a ‘blouse’ is worn. The midriff is bare. Every state of India has a traditional weave for the ‘sari’ as well as a traditional style of draping. North India produces fine block printed cottons and textured silks like those found in Varanasi. South India on the other hand prefers to ignore the glaring sun and produce richer and heavier silk saris with ancient motifs and patterns. Every region of India boasts of a typical ‘sari’ only found in that area.

So if you haven’t worn one yet, go ahead take the plunge. The real secret of the ‘sari’ is – it adds curves to the right places and hides curves in the wrong places. Enjoy!

Friday, June 15, 2007

About the art of ‘MEHNDI/HENNA’

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‘Mehndi' is a paste made from finely ground Henna leaves, this paste is traditionally meant to be applied to the hands and feet of a bride, it stains the skin like a tattoo albeit temporarily. Authentic henna leaves a rich auburn color and it is applied in intricate designs and patterns on the palms and top of the feet. Today henna does not remain exclusive to religious and ritualistic ceremonies; it is also adorned by people as artwork on various parts of the body, like the nape of the neck, lower back and upper arms, quite like temporary tattoos. 'Mehndi’ can be found in the history of many cultures in and around the Asian subcontinent, yet it remains integral to the social and cultural fabric of India.

Henna art is essential to the marriage ceremonies in India. Brides sit patiently for hours while artists work their magic. The patterns are lacy, geometric, floral or bold and each bride waits for this day as much as she does for her wedding day. The paste is kept on few hours, supplemented with a mixture of sugar and lime or mustard oil to deepen the color. It is then scraped or washed off. Many say the bride must not wet her hands after the dried paste is removed, the color gets richer overnight. And the richer the color the more love and acceptance the bride will receive in her new family. Henna does not remain exclusive to brides; it is applied on the hands of all the wedding guests including the men. The groom’s family have a henna ritual of their own and he proudly wears a pattern on his palm to express his joy and participate in the gaiety of the moment. Henna is considered auspicious and essential to the rituals of marriage in India, especially in the Northern region.

This art is passed down generations of mehndi’ artists and during wedding season, they are widely sought after community. They use plastic sheets wrapped into cones, filled with the henna paste and nipped at the tip, to squeeze and apply complex and elaborate designs. The traditional designs are ideas absorbed from nature, grand floral patterns and peacock tails are common to mehndi’ art.

The history associated with 'mehndi’ is varied. There has been a mention of henna art in ancient Indian text and it is believed to have been used for over 5000 years as a cosmetic product. Some historians believe henna was first used in North Africa and the Middle East and traveled to the South East of Asia along with trade and invasions. Wherever the concept of ‘mehndi’ art has been studied, the patterns that emerge from Indian culture are the most extraordinary.

Henna also has healing properties too; it is applied as salve to sores and cuts. Its natural composition is such that it cools the area it is applied to and many northern Indian states wear henna on the soles of their feet on hot summer days. Henna is used to dye hair; it leaves the same burgundy sheen on hair and also conditions the scalp. ‘Ayurveda’ uses henna as treatment for severe medical conditions related to the skin and digestion.

About the famous ‘BINDI’

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Indian women are famed for their bright clothes and traditional jewelry. Added to this burst of color are a host of other adornments in the form body art and piercings. One strong symbol of body art is the ‘bindi’ or ‘bindiya’. It is usually a red dot worn in the center of the forehead, just between the brows.

A powder of dried turmeric and lead produces ‘kumkum’ or ‘sindoor’ used to apply the traditional red bindi. In southern India vermillion is used to apply a ‘bindi’, it is made of powdered red mercuric sulphide. Now bindi’s are available in a variety of colors and materials. Married women wear it as a norm, while younger women prefer to wear it as an accessory.

Several theories explain the tradition of this ornamental dot. Those of a scientific bent of mind say the 'bindi’ is applied on an integral nerve point. This center point is considered an integration of higher wisdom and inner strength. The ‘bindi’ is thus applied to retain energy. The traditionalists believe it brings good fortune and luck. It is auspicious and a symbol of marriage, the most sacred of all ties. Mystics have always argued that the ‘bindi’ is the third eye, the seat of all Hindu goddesses and their powers. Ultimately it is the Fashionista’s that have brought the ‘bindi’ into the limelight by wearing it simply for its stark presence and mystery.

‘Bindi’s’ are now tradition and trendy. They come in intricate patterns with gems and sequins adding to the vibrancy. They are worn with both ethnic and western clothes, making a global statement in fashion.

Not only women, but Hindu men also wear a dot on the forehead, indicating their third eye. The 'bindi’ for men can also be called a ‘Tika’ or 'Tilak', it is usually longer and applied with the thumb. The ‘Tika’ is an auspicious symbol for men too, it reminds them of their spiritual heritage. In terms of history this ‘Tika’ helps to identify a Hindu among the members of other religions. Christians wear a cross, the Jewish wear a ‘yarmulke’, the Sikhs wear a turban and so on.

Ulitmately its women that identify most with the 'bindi', it signifies female energy or ‘shakti’. This red dot has gone from a symbol of marriage into patterns that go with a woman’s moods and the occasions in her life. It is all about empowerment and femininity.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Business Life

Check out this gallery from It showcases some of the most potent executive imagery from The images are bold with expressions of success and stress woven into each and every pixel. This is the drama of corporate life.

View Gallery plans to add 500K images in near future, the most admired content producer of stock photos with Indian Faces, is adding more global content to serve their customers. was the first Stock photo agency to pioneer high quality ‘Uniquely India’ content and is a premium Stock photo agency in Asia. And launched their "Uniquely India" Collection on Getty Images in January 2006.

Getty Images, the world’s leading creator and distributor of visual content, has now appointed to sell selected Getty Images Royalty Free collections in Indian Market. Starting July, 2007, selected Getty Images Royalty Free collections, including Digital Vision, PhotoDisc and Stock Byte, will be available on

Rick Plata, Sales Director, Indirect for Getty Images, EMEA and Asia Pacific said: “We are very proud to enter into this partnership with PhotosIndia which will help us build upon our existing success in the Indian market. We’re looking forward to strengthening’s sales and marketing activities to grow revenues and expand our current client base in the market even further.”

PhotosIndia CEO, Amit Narain said: “It’s a privilege for us to enter this alliance. The powerful and diverse imagery of Getty will help us increase our sales and broaden our client base. We are in the process of consolidating the best Royalty Free Collections in one place and are projecting ourselves as a one-stop-shop for all Image Requirements”.

He went on to add – “This will save the average time taken for an image search as you need to only use a single window, rather than putting the keywords across different sites and then comparing the results.”

Armed with the best Indian and international content, Photosindia has existing tie ups with the best international providers like – Jupiter Images, Image Source, Blend Images, etc.

For further information click on or

Media contacts:

Amit Narain
CEO Pvt. Ltd.
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Gurgaon – 122016,

Tel : +91 124 324 0001
Fax : +91 124 234 6877

Getty Images:
Stephanie Hubbard
PR Manager, EMEA

Getty Images
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