Ace swimmer Neil Contractor, who will appear for his HSC examination this year, talks of how he balances studies and swimming practice
Time is of the essence, believes Neil Contractor. And one can take the 17-yearold’s word for it. After all, he is not just one of Gujarat’s ace swimmers in the junior category but also a star student.
“There is a time to study and a time to be in the pool, practising,” says Neil, who is preparing for his HSC exam while simultaneously training for various swimming tournaments.

“I start my day at 5 am so that I can fit in some swimming practice before leaving for school. I return at 12.30 pm and study for almost two hours before attending a two-hour practice session at 3.15 pm,” says the teen who has won one international, 42 national and 100 state level medals for swimming.

Following an hour-long workout at 6.30 pm, Neil takes a half an-hour break before having his dinner at 8 pm. Then it is study hour again till bedtime at 10 pm. Doesn’t it get hectic? “I get a lot of help from family and friends. Even my school helps me a lot. My parents help me stay committed to my goals,” says the student of Ahmedabad International School. Neil believes that youngsters should include extracurricular activities in their daily routine as it will help them stay fit and help them in academics, too. “A hobby or a sport refreshes you. It helps you focus better. If you stick to a timetable, it is not tough to manage,” he says. Neil started swimming as a recreation because he enjoyed being in water. “I realised I was a strong swimmer. So, I decided to pursue it seriously and take part in state-level competitions,” he says.
In 2006, Neil began to take swimming lessons from coach Kamlesh Nanavati. His hard work and dedication helped him become an ace swimmer.
Neil became the first boy from Gujarat to win a national championship with five gold medals in 2012. He also has been awarded the Junior Sardar Patel Award. Neil won a bronze medal for India at the World School Games held in Israel in April 2013.

The write up appeared as a part of column Autograph Pls in Ahmedabad Mirror on sept 30, 2013

Chasing a dream

An IAS officer tries to chronicle aspirations of the Indian youth. He shares his views with Priya Adhyaru-Majithia

After chronicling the turmoil of a bureaucrat and demystifying the Indian bureaucracy, Vipul Mittra now moves on to capture dreams and aspirations of six college-goers in his second novel, The Dream Chasers.

Vipul is cosy donning various hats. He is a bureaucrat, writer, world traveller and an avid film buff. He conceived and executed the now internationally famous Khushboo Gujarat ki Campaign. As Tourism Secretary of Gujarat, Vipul Mittra is credited for “dreaming” up a campaign that has seen a dramatic rise in number of tourists to Gujarat. With ‘dream’ being his pet word, Mittra has now imaginatively travelled to a college campus to capture the dreams and aspirations of the modern youth.

The Dream Chasers addresses the young Indian reader. So, the tone is contemporary and conversational. The story line is simple. The novel is about six friends and their campus moments. Pursuing their MBA — Viraat, Sandy, Karan, Mallika, Preeto and Vandana — a small gang of six is united by their carefree camaraderie and optimism. The book ably captures the fun, romance and idiosyncrasies of student life.

The novel moves at a fast pace. There are several twists and turns. We see the friends travelling across the country. From bikes and trains to planes and houseboats in Srinagar, The Dream Chasers has it all. However, sometimes, the vanilla flavouring gets too apparent. While his first book, The Pyramid of Virgin Dreams, appeared more original as Mittra seemed comfortable in his own skin penning bureaucratic behaviour and experiences, The Dream Chasers sees him trying a little too hard to relate to college life. To Mittra’s credit, the extraordinariness of ordinary campus life is portrayed well. However, the novel misses emotional manifestation. There are several bits where the writer could have exploited emotions beautifully, but the moment simply flutters by.
Read this for example: “Two shadows lay entwined on the cushion. Sounds of soft gasps filled the air. One of them was definitely Abhilash. Obviously, Abhilash had not been star gazing. Abhilash was rolling on the cushion with someone. Passionate kissing sounds were clearly audible… Even though it was dim, there was enough light for me to recognise the couple that lay there kissing passionately, groping and rolling on that dirty cushion. They were Abhilash and Mallika.”

Viraat’s heart smashed to smithereens when he witnessed this scene, but the reader remains a distant onlooker, unmoved and unable to feel the agony of the protagonist’s heart. Mittra says his book is an artwork of creative realism. “I am a dreamer. However, I think the dreams worth chasing are those that you dream with your eyes open. Vandana reveals the gist of the book when she says, ‘The heart is just a pump. The brain is what controls everything. Take control of your life’.”

What is interesting is the 5-minute video teaser for the book. Designed by Mittra’s 22-year-old son Mehul, who has already assisted known directors like Shekhar Kapoor, Rakyesh Mehra and Kunal Kohli, the promo that has gone viral on Youtube is the first-of-its-kind that has been done in Gujarat.

The write up appeared in Ahmedabad Mirror as a book review on Sept 29, 2013

AIAF to end on a divine note

Sacred tunes to fill the air on concluding day of the fifth edition of Ahmedabad International Arts Fest

Taking spiritual wisdom through modern dance form to the youth is one of the prime goals of Ahmedabad International Arts Festival. Jain Katha by Seema Mehta and Rina Mehta is a unique show celebrating the rich traditions of Jainism through the north Indian classical dance form of Kathak. For the first time, stories and shlokas from Jain scriptures come alive through this dynamic art form. The show brings forth the cornerstones of Jainism.

Disciples of Kathak maestro Pt Chitresh Das in San Francisco, Seema Mehta from Mumbai and Rina Mehta from Los Angeles are to perform a 75-minute dance composition. It narrates the story of Chandal Bala, a sadhvi who lived a life of an ascetic with faith and courage tolerating injustice and violence. Rina says, “Taking the Jain values of endurance and tolerance further, we have come up with a special dance performance which will be a first in the city.” She says that peace and salvation — values that ancient stories uphold that are relevant today to the modern proscenium stage.

The final day of the fest will open with Celebrating the Divine, a solo concert of sacred music by Ami Mathur from Lucknow.
During the day, Matrubhasha Abhiyan, TransIndus Foundation and Fanatika will present Prithivivallabh Vachikam (dramatic reading) directed by Bhargav Purohit, while Goethe-Zentrum Ahmedabad and MMB Mumbai will present a film festival titled Celebrating Cultures at Alliance Française d’Ahmedabad.

The write up appeared in Ahmedabad Mirror on Sept 29, 2013

Integrating Gandhi and dance

Celebrating Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary, Rentia Baras, that falls on September 30 this year, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’s Ahmedabad Kendra brings a novel feast of Gandhi – Warp and Weft performance to the city. Padma Shri Geeta Chandran, who was recently voted Delhi’s ‘hottest’ dancer, will be performing.

Gandhi: Warp and Weft explores and revisits Gandhian values through the narrative lens of a female dancer in the 21st century. The choreography plays with ideology through abstract movement and emotive gestures, and fuses vocabulary of both classical and contemporary dance. The performance comprises six concepts: the first concept is religious unity and linked to spiritual syncretism. The second, celibacy, probes into Gandhi’s lifelong experiment to set aside desires of the flesh while remaining an active householder and husband. The third is Satyagraha, and is inspired by Gandhi’s prison writings. The fourth piece explores Ahimsa, while the fifth is on caste and shram. The concluding section Khadi examines Gandhi’s belief for ecological sustainability and balance.

I’m disheartened by the eroding values among Geeta is known for imparting dance education, activism and dance-issue journalism through specialised choreography. Her acclaimed dance-theatre production Kaikeyi and choreography on the themes of drugs have thrown the spotlight on social stigma. Her work Mythology Retold addresses the social curse of female feticide. She is also known for using classical Bharatanatyam to sensitise viewers on gender and environmental issues.

Youth and the growing materialism in our middle class society.
We’ve reached a phase where the brand and number of cars outside our door has become more important than the number of birds singing in our balcony. It is this angst that has propelled this work. I admire Gandhi for being a leader of human beings; he thought differently and inspired millions to follow him. Yet within a few decades Gandhi’s valuable heritage is at risk of being erased. And I have attempted to perpetuate his ideology through dance.

My focus is on when Gandhi was in jail. That solitude is what generated in him his wealth of radical ideas. I spent hours at the Gandhi Smriti in Delhi and looked at his photo archives. That is one section where I become Gandhi – in a biographical sense. I enjoyed integrating Gandhi in my physicality in that section.

The production targets the youth. I want young people to be inspired by Gandhi’s ideals. I want them to reject mindless materialism and focus on missions of sustainable development, of rejecting violence, of giving our rural identity a voice.

The write up appeared in Ahmedabad Mirror on Sept, 28 2013

Reading into satanic verses

Special: Banned books : Gujarat connection

The biographical book suggested that Mahatma Gandhi was a bisexual. Chief Minister Narendra Modi announced the ban in the state assembly, and the opposition Congress supported the decision. Gandhi’s grandsons Tushar Gandhi, Rajmohan Gandhi and Gopalkrishna Gandhi, however, opposed the ban.

The book of nationalistic poems sold almost 10,000 copies immediately after its release in 1930. A rattled British government not only banned it but also jailed Meghani for two years on charges of sedition. The poet had then recited his couplet ‘Chhelli Prarthana’ (last prayer) in court at Dhandhuka which left everyone, including the judge, in tears.

In a unique case of self-issued ban, Joshi withdrew the poetic anthology he had penned at an early age. He disassociated himself from his own creation and appealed to the people to respect the ban.

— Compiled by Priya Adhyaru-Majithia

Celebrating essence of city

AIAF to open with Vyom Mehta’s installation and Gavin Parry’s photographic works

Ahmedabad International Arts Festival (AIAF) begins on Thursday with a public art project by Vyom Mehta, a graduate from Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU) Vadodara. “This is spirit of celebration in figurative form,” says artist Vyom Mehta.
Mehta who is engrossed in setting up the 20-ft tall installation of sculptors at the Sabarmati Riverfront says, “Using the city as a backdrop, I have created this figure to exhibit multiple movements and moods of city.”
A Performance of Jasma Odan by Dahya Bhai Bhavai Group will take place the same evening. To add to the preparations for the festival, senior photo artist Gavin Parry from Manchester is setting up his exhibition, Silent Dialogue, with local residents of the pols. Parry says, “I have arranged the photographs of the interiors of walled city that I captured during my second visit last April at Dhal ni Pol. The exhibition is a meeting point of people, pols and artist.”
Gavin Parry from Manchester is setting up his exhibition, Silent Dialogue, with residents of Dhal ni Pol Mehta who is engrossed in setting up the 20-ft tall installation of sculptors at the Sabarmati Riverfront

The write up appeared in Ahmedabad Mirror on Sept 25, 2013

State govt refuses tax-free benefit to film on gay rights

Director of Gujarati film Meghdhanushya: The Colour of Life plans to challenge entertainment commissioner’s order in HC after being refused tax exemption because the film uses the words ‘homosexual’, ‘gay’ and ‘samlaingik’ finds Priya Adhyaru-Majithia

On one hand a Gujarati film has been chosen as India’s entry to the Oscars much to the surprise of the state government and on the other, makers of a small-budget regional movie are struggling for its release because Gujarat government refuses to make it tax free. The reason being, it deals with the subject of homosexuality. While Gujarati movies have been enjoying tax exemption since 2001, producers of Meghdhanushya: The Colour of Life are being denied the same. A detailed order sent to them by the entertainment commissioner exposes the deeply entrenched homophobia of the state government. Continue reading “State govt refuses tax-free benefit to film on gay rights”

AIAF is Back and Wow!

Spiritual, regional spirits form crux of Ahmedabad International Arts Fest Ahmedabad International Arts Festival (AIAF), the fifth edition of multi-arts, multivenue festival slated for September 26 to 29 this year, focuses on celebrating the spirituality, regional flavours and ritualistic facets of city.

The festival aims to recreate the rustic aesthetics of colourful and zestful festivities within the modern urban context. To celebrate the gist of modernism, contemporary arts and adulation for antic art forms, customs, traditions and recreate the olden ways of celebrations in present-day contexts, the festival offers 20 events by over 50 artistes.

The art fest will celebrate Amdavad’s varied hues in its true colours, says festival director Anupa Mehta. She says, “The aim is to transcend the mundane routine and the busyness of life, absorbed in which we appear to have forgotten that celebration does not need a reason. The festival will celebrate the city, its culture and creativity.”

The highlights of AIAF: performance by Sonam Kalra and the Sufi Gospel Project; a solo performance by actor Meeta Vashist. She will stage her famous play Lal Ded, based on the life of a Kashmiri mystic poet which will be critically analysed by danseuse Mallika Sarabhai.

The article appeared in Ahmedabad Mirror on Sept 19, 2013



A 13-yr-old led his team to victory at the regional round of 8th Indian Robot Olympiad. He hopes to win the finals, too

Ordinary boys pester mommy for toys, but Kanhai Parikh likes to design his own stuff using sensors, micro-processors and wireless units. An ace at designing robot toys, the 13-year-old from Ahmedabad International School and his partner Aman Shah, 11, from Zydus School For Excellence pipped more than 400 teams in regional rounds at Pune to enter the final round of the eighth Indian Robot Olympiad. Continue reading “TOYING WITH GEEKY IDEAS”

Classically yours

In this digital age of music, young Amdavadis are discovering their love for vintage Bollywood numbers. PRIYA ADHYARU-MAJITHIA features some big music clubs in the city that have contributed to reviving the retro rage

Skies rain enchantment in the air, and nothing expresses the tremulous confusion of first love like pyaar hua ikraar hua from Shree 420. After all, har dil jo pyaar karega woh gaana gayega. If your sweetheart is pal pal dil ke paas, everything is Satyam Shivam Sundaram. Otherwise, dil to hai dil, dil ka aitbar kya kijai. Aaiye meherbaan, feel the chemistry of classic retro songs that has captivated Amdavadis in its musical current. It all began in the late 60’s with Visaraata Sur – Continue reading “Classically yours”