headache to heartache

A flashback to the 1950’s with this clip from the Golden Years of Indian cinema. From the movie ‘Pyaasa’ this song has actor Johnnie Walker playing the role of a professional masseuse specializing in head massage, or champi as it is locally known. As he walks through residential streets in the city, the masseuse calls out to his customers to try his head massage, which he assures us is a one-stop remedy for all ailments ranging from headaches to heartaches! Enjoy some of Indian Cinema’s finest lyricists, musicians and actors at their best! ∞

baby massage

Massaging a baby is part of traditional everyday practice in Indian homes. The daily oil massage and bath is an important part of a baby's day. Massaging helps strengthen the body, increases blood circulation, relaxes the baby, aids sleep and is also important in the development of the mother-child bond. This delightful moment was captured by photographer Anil Rane. ∞

our very own Dhanvantari 

The Dhanvantari statue at Santosh Kamble's studio in Lalbaugh, Mumbai, is almost ready to be transported to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaja Vastu Sangrahalaya (formerly Prince of Wales Museum) where it will be installed for our exhibition 'Tabiyat: Medicine and Healing in India'. This graceful idol statue is made entirely from fibreglass.

The process: First the statue is made in its entirety in clay. A cast is created from this clay statue, which is then used to make the fibreglass version. Santosh and his team of artisans pay special attention to the idols 'attributes'. The different objects he holds in his hands are important symbols and help identify him from the other plethora of gods out there! Although we can't see all his hands here, Dhanvantari holds a bowl of nectar, a conch shell, neem leaves and the text of Ayurveda. ∞

Kalidas Vishram

Although the suburbs of Mumbai city have undergone dramatic change over the past 20 years, some things have remained unaffected by development. One of these testimonials to time is the 117 year-old Ayurvedic pharmacy and grocery store, Kalidas Vishram. This shop has seen the suburb of Bandra evolve from a village of narrow lanes to a thriving residential and cultural space. Originally started four generations ago, the store sold natural remedies that were ‘grandmother-recommended’. Now a fully functioning Ayurvedic pharmacy and dispensary, Kalidas Vishram is busier than ever, also providing its customers with the services of consulting Ayurvedic doctors who visit the store several times a week. ∞

clitoria for brainpower

Curating a set of medicinal plants for our 2016 exhibition, Supriya paid a visit to the Flyover Farm in South Mumbai. One of the plants that she was in search of was the changupushpam (as it is called in Tamil) or the Clitoria ternatea. It wouldn’t require much effort to draw the connection between the flower’s anatomy and its name. Despite its naughty allusion, clitoria is widely used in Ayurveda for enhancing memory and medicines that contain clitoria as their prime ingredient usually carry an emphatic graphic of a studious child with books as part of their packaging. Now, every time we spot a clitoria plant, like this one at Flora Fountain, you know what runs in our minds! ∞

the dai dolls

The About Turn Project, a group of feminist creative practitioners, posted recently about these unique clay dolls from West Bengal. Soma Mukhopadhyay, who researches ancient history and culture, found out that these dolls are made by women potters and sold in the markets of Kanthiala village, Murshidabad, for children to play with. Why do we want to lay our hands on these clay playtime companions? Cause the dolls are a pair of women holding hands are a midwife and a woman in labour. The traditional midwife, or dai as we call her in Hindi, is a fast disappearing species in Indian medical methods, but is immortalised in these dolls as a character in a story of female companionship.

Image Courtesy: The About Turn Project ∞

daily wisdom from charaka

BBC Radio 4 has been running a programme called “Incarnations: India in 50 Lives” and yesterday’s episode was dedicated to Charaka, The Father of Medicine. Charaka was a Kashmiri sage who studied anatomy, pathology, embryology and other facets of the medical sciences. His book called “Charaka Samhita” is still used today by students and researchers of Ayurveda. Over at Medicine Corner, we have been conversing over copious amounts of coffee about Ayurvedic practices in India, so we were keen to hear what BBC 4 had to say. Our favourite among Charaka’s tips for daily health was No 9: If in doubt, cut it out. 

“The Charaka Samhita details many surgeries, including one for a burst abdomen which states that large black ants should be applied to the perforated intestines, that their bodies should be separated from their heads after they have firmly bitten the perforated parts with their claws. The intestines should be rinsed with grass, blood and dust, washed with milk and lubricated with clarified butter and gently pushed back into the cavity…”

Now to find some large black ants. 

Listen to the programme here or browse the sage’s ten tips here.

Image Courtesy: BBC Radio 4 ∞

medicine corner launch party on january 28, 2015

A pavilion in the gorgeous gardens in Chennai of Amethyst, part art gallery, part cafe, was for one night only, host venue for the Launch Party of Medicine Corner. BLOT!, our favourite audiovisual duo, decked the place out in their inimitable style: a mosquito net suspended overhead bathed in pink light; projections inspired by Indian health charts of the Ideal Boy and the Ideal Girl; and, an array of hand-painted signboards with bold, colourful lettering. Artist friends whose work BLOT! brought in to help them included Rishi Kumar (Aan Comics), Kunel Gaur (from the design studio ‘Animal’) and signpainter Shabbu.

Avinash and Gaurav launched their music video and whetted appetites for their work to come in 2015, investigating through media art the kaleidoscopic plurality of practices in India’s informal health sector.

The launch was held to coincide with a gathering in Chennai of Indian researchers and practitioners in science, the arts and humanities all funded by or interested in applying for Wellcome Trust grants. ∞


got brain?

On her many diggings-about for health artefacts, Lina met up with Tejshvi Jain, founder of a Bangalore based non-profit called Rereeti. Rereeti is Tejshvi’s response to a museum culture in India that is in dire need of some booster shots. On the topic of the dearth of interactive museums, Tejshvi greatly recommended the possibly morbid but endlessly fascinating Human Brain Museum in Bangalore. Housed at the Neurobiology Research Centre of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), this brain treasury was set up in 1975 as a resource centre for doctors, scientists, researchers and students. Now, the public can have a look at their archives of mounted brain specimens in various stages of development. There are also sections specialising in head injury, cerebrovascular diseases, neuro-infections and brain tumours. More importantly, visitors are encouraged to touch the exhibits – you can rotate some brain slices in glass jars or hold a squishy brain or two in your hands. 

Go to Rereeti’s website for an interview with Dr S K Shankar, the museum’s principal coordinator. ∞

healers of dharavi: the film

Four Dharavi sign-painters made eight portraits of Dharavi health practitioners. And we decided that we should have a little film to go with it. Chaitanya Modak, a filmmaker and communication designer, came onboard to make the video, with camera person Philip Eyer. We shot for two days, zipping from clinics to studios under the hot sun. Of all the subjects we shot, our favourite was Dilip Thawal, the enthusiastic 30-year-old who painted Dr Merchant and Dr Vidya Gajakosh. We visited his studio, a small room on the seventh floor of a building filled with piles of thermocol and art material. As we wandered around the locality where he stays at, we pointed out to various letterings and hand painted ads that we saw around, and kidded if he painted all of those. As he answered in the affirmative for practically every shop signage that we saw, we were truly humbled. Turns out that Dilip is quite the legend in his area. ∞

truck art

See this signage that Blot! made for us? We placed it right at the entrance of Amethyst for our Chennai launch. The signboard has lettering in psychedelic colours and is inspired by Indian truck art. While this is so quintessentially Indian, it is also nomadic like the trucks that traverse our national highways. We do hope that Medicine Corner travels like these trucks. And don’t miss the broken knee, based on the graphics commonly seen on bonesetter signboards. 

Some of us were eyeing the signage so hard that it was obvious we wanted replicas in our living rooms. For now, however, we will have to be content with a similar signboard for the Healers of Dharavi exhibition next month. Ace graphic designer Hanif Kureshi has developed and digitised a series of fonts based on Indian truck art and his Kafeel type is what we are keen on using. 

We love how this is so quintessentially Indian and nomadic like the way our trucks traverse the national highways. And please don’t miss the broken knee, inspired by the graphics of bonesetter signboards. Some of us were eyeing the signing so hard that it was obvious we wanted replicas in our living rooms. We are planning on getting a similar signboard for the Healers of Dharavi exhibition next month. ∞

The Sexpert

We are at UnBox festival on the grounds of Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts with our favourite boys, Avinash and Gaurav of Blot!. They have been scanning and stripping down Delhi’s informal medical and medicinal hotspots and are showcasing some rather amusing photographs of their discoveries. Among these, one that piqued our interest was a shot of paperback sex guides. While written in Hindi for desi readers, the covers feature white models, making them look somewhat like a clinical Mills and Boons. ∞

bhajiya extravaganza

As we prep for our upcoming Healers of Dharavi exhibition, we have been exploring Dharavi quite a bit these days. On some evenings, we devour some yummy bhajiyas from street vendors. We spotted one in Mukund Nagar, frying away some potatoes, onions, chillies and readying Mumbai’s favourite on-the-go snack – the vada pav. We admired his cart, lined with a variety of fried goodies. Don’t miss the posters pasted on the wall behind the bhajiya man. They advertise Darwin Ayurvedic Clinic, specialist in piles. 

chadars outside the haji ali dargah

The Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai is the 600 year-old tomb of Sayed Pir Haji Ali Bukhari. This tomb is built out in the sea and is only accessible during low tide. The pathway to the tomb is dotted with street-side shops selling offerings, flowers, amulets and chaddars – a cloth used to cover and venerate the grave of a Pir, a Muslim holy man. People of all faiths seek help at dargahs for both physical ailments and mental illness. Often amulets in the form of cloth pouches containing holy writing (taveez) are purchased at dargahs

healing  wax votives

A woman sells wax votive offerings and a colourful array of candles outside the Mount Mary Basilica in Mumbai. The wax votives of the human body, legs, arms, torso are used as offerings by people who suffer from physical ailments. ∞

agents of ishq

Agents of Ishq is a multi-media project about sex, love and desire conceptualised and created by writer and filmmaker Paromita Vohra. Agents of Ishq aims to engage in positive dialogue on the subject, which is normally seen as taboo in Indian society. They create fun, entertaining content to help young Indians engage in an open conversation about love, sex and desire. Here Agents of Ishq teams up with the NGO SNEHA to make this fun, 'Bambaiya-ishtyle' video featuring adolescent kids from Dharavi talking about conception, how gender is formed, hormones... the works! It's refreshing to see these young adults talking about sex with the right kind of confidence! ∞

The Lost generation

Here is an excerpt from Nidhi Dugar Kundalia's book 'The Lost generation'. We particularly love the discovery and amusement of finding her grandmother's ear scoops! Read on...

"In a storeroom of my childhood was my grandmother’s prized Godrej almirah and every time she opened it, the handlebar and the contents inside jangled grouchily like they were dreamily asleep musing on better times. Balls of silver and gold zari border would tumble out, now having splitting into shards of threads at the edges. They had been carefully snipped of the edges of her antique sarees, to be sold to the jewellers who would in turn melt them for precious metals.

There were some other old timers in the almirah: an elephant tusk gifted to my grandfather as a good luck charm; greasy old needles of my grandmother’s single most coveted possession which she attended to everyday with a soft rag – her Singer sewing machine; a handwritten book her father wrote with traditional Ayurvedic medicines and concoctions; a small velvet box with vials of gold coloured liquid – jasmine, henna, rose – ittars that had aged over the years like fine vintage wine and a drop would cause our noses to tickle and the cough till we snuffed out the fragrance; and then a thin silver curious looking metallic scooper similar to a doctor’s tool except for the intricate carving on the handle.

We’d pull out the scooper and ask my grandmother every time she opened the almirah, “Ma, what could this be?” Ma would put on the glasses that had taken a pew on her head, and examine it closely. “Difficult to say... But I used to clean your father’s ears with it.” 

Image and text courtesy of scroll.in


Wrestlers in India use jori’s to help them practice. Jori’s are a large pair of clubs that the pehlwans (wrestlers) use to strengthen their arms and back. Jori’s vary in weight and size, and often using the heavier jori’s help exercises the entire body. Jori’s are made from a single piece of wood, and are often painted and decorated. We had a pair of jori’s made especially for our exhibition ‘Tabiyat: Medicine and Healing in India’ that came to Mumbai all the way from Benaras.  ∞

bandra and the bombay plague

A walking tour of Bandra was organized by Rashmi Dhanwani as the first in a series of Live Events curated for our exhibition ‘Tabiyat: Medicine and Healing in India’. Historian Shriti Tyagi led a group of incurably curious people through Bandra (a Mumbai suburb) visiting sites related to the outbreak of the Bombay Plague of 1896. Shriti revealed the many secrets of the neighbourhood and narrated accounts of the role some local churches played during the deadly outbreak. We learned that the streets of Bandra are home to over 150 crosses. People erected these crosses where they believed evil spirits would gather, like isolated area, empty wells, or the point at where three roads met. Plague crosses were raised on streets and inside homes to drive away the evil of plague. During the outbreak, many natural cures were sought, including regularly drinking a special brew of ‘plague tea’. 

 This walking tour was part of the Celebrate Bandra Festival. ∞

the ayurveda god

Last week, on our trip to some Ayurveda shops in Dadar West, Mumbai, we were thrilled to see an idol of the Hindu god Dhanvantari. He is the god of medicine, and Ayurveda in particular and makes a routine appearance as statues in or names of pharmacies and hospitals. This idol did not have the usual technicolor palette that most Indian statues have but was rather austere and understated with its pastel shades. According to legend, Dhanvantari was the last to emerge from the mythical Churning of the Ocean, bearing a vessel of immortal nectar (the prize that the gods and demons had been fighting for). The shopkeeper explained that this idol had been made in Kolhapur and usually has four arms each bearing a conch, the vessel of nectar, a book on medicine (usually with “Ayurveda” inscribed on it) and a bunch of herbs. Going back to the legend, one of the other things to come out of the primordial ocean during the churning was Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. Many thus speculate that Dhanvantari and Lakshmi are proverbial assets that go hand in hand, just as in “Health is Wealth.” ∞

walkabout in chor bazaar

On a muggy afternoon we drove to Chor Bazaar hoping to find some medical and medicinal wares. While we were successful in finding a couple of things, it was a trip that could only be described as breathtaking, not just because of the many sights and sounds, but also considering the sheer volume of people who turn up every week for the Friday bazaar. From Chor Bazaar, we made our way through the thick crowds to Pydhonie, where we saw several shops specialising in Unani medicine. One shop was very much like the other, with piles of herbal powders at the entrance and a mega-set of little medical cabinets that rise from floor to ceiling. As we wondered why all these shops were called ‘Gandhi,” we were told that Gandhi is the term for Unani medicine, and has no absolutely relation to the Mahatma! ∞


the acrobatic lamp

Lina told us of the treasures that are housed at the Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum, so naturally we did a road trip to Pune a couple of days ago. The museum has Dr Dinkar Kelkar’s personal collection of 20,000 objects, of which only 12 percent is on display. It may seem like a small number, but, folks, we are talking three floors and two wings here. Their current exhibition is on India’s “Beauty Culture” and showcases ornate foot scrubbers, elaborate combs, and charming containers for kohl and vermillion. We are bereft of such beauty these days. 

The artefact we had come in search of was a curious lamp. We had only seen a photo of this lamp online. At some point, we zipped past exhibits in search of this lamp and there she was – an upside down acrobat gracefully bearing an oil lamp. We had never seen anything like it before! ∞

Home remedies and Nutrition:
A talk by Prof. Veena Yardi

“If charity begins at home, so does good health,” says Professor Veena Yardi, Senior Faculty Member at the College of Home Science, Nirmala Niketan Institute, Mumbai. Addressing twenty five local women at the Healers of Dharavi exhibition venue, Prof Yardi focused on simple steps and staple foods that are crucial for better health. 

Surrounded by eight imposing portraits of different health practitioners in Dharavi, Professor Yardi drew attention to the key space for healthy living – the home. Glad to have such easy and unusual access to a nutritionist, the audience were delighted to learn in a lively Q&A session that the kitchen, a predominantly feminine space in most Indian homes, can be a mini-clinic. Professor Yardi shared some handy tips: do not mix roti and chai, since tannin can diminish the roti’s nutrients; make use of water in which pulses are soaked; and, consider the essential food categories that should be found in children’s lunch boxes. There were ample warnings of the consequences of women sacrificing their own health for their families’ and frank, constructive discussion of managing pregnancy, menopause and vitamin D deficiency. Every woman in the audience left the event with confidence that, equipped with new knowledge and leading by example, she could be a great health resource – just like the Healers exhibited on the walls. ∞

from shed to gallery

In a week’s time, we open the Healers of Dharavi exhibition at the Alley Galli Biennale. For this purpose, the Biennale has chosen for us a shed right off Dharavi’s 90 Feet Road, in a cluster of apartments called Shama Building. Access to the shed is via a plastic-strewn lane that winds through the buildings. The shed (we call it a gala here) comes with a rolling shutter and is not at all what you think a gallery for eight portraits should be. 

But are we excited! A chance to convert this space into a sophisticated exhibition venue right in the middle of Dharavi! A coat of jasmine white, spotlights and some heavy brainstorming should do the trick, we hope. ∞

Medicine Corner @ UnBox Festival

UnBox Festival celebrates interdisciplinary collaborations, with the festival being the central manifest for inspiration, dialogue and hands-on action. It brings together creative, academic, and development professionals keen on pushing the boundaries of their practice.

Medicine Corner was a highlight project at UnBox Festival 2014, spanning the following three experiences – 

1. A live audiovisual performance on the theme of Medicine Corner by BLOT! on the opening evening of the festival 

2. A panel discussion on “The Future of Healthcare Access” bringing together diverse practitioners to think about the future of healthcare access, with access being thought of, from the perspectives of their own practice. The group included Ella Britton (Design Council, UK), Parameswaran Venkataraman (Dr. Reddy’s), Ratan Vaswani (Wellcome Collection India Initiative) and Prof PVM Rao (School of Design & Innovation IIT Delhi), while it was moderated by global thinker John Thackara.

3. A small exhibit of the hand-painted signs from the project work of BLOT! ∞

superstar vs bonesetter

We have kickstarted the Healers of Dharavi series in collaboration with the Dharavi Biennale, a happening (you must take our word on this) community art-for-health project. Together, we are commissioning artists from Dharavi, one of Asia’s largest informal settlements, to paint eight portraits of health practitioners in the area. Sitaram Kharat, logistician and Dharavi expert for the Biennale, got in touch with Mahendra Vartak, a self-taught portrait painter. In two weeks, Vartak was ready with an ultra-colourful portrait of bonesetter Mohamed Salim. When we went to have a look at the finished work, we found it drying in the sun next to a portrait of Bollywood celeb Aamir Khan. Vartak told us that he had painted Aamir ages ago when the movie Dhoom 3 had released in India. Between the two, we do vouch for our dear bonesetter to be the real superstar! ∞

ideal boy and ideal girl

If you were a primary school student back in the 80s and 90s, as part of your homework you would have undergone a ritualistic cutting and pasting from visual charts. These colourful charts were easily available in any stationary shop and were printed under various themes – Indian traditional costumes, Indian foods, sundry flora and fauna. Among these miscellaneous themes, the ones that hoped to prune us into perfect children were The Ideal Boy and The Ideal Girl. The Ideal Boy and Girl were a pair of goody two shoes, so perfect that they would always respect their elders, wake up early and have their meals on time. Drawing inspiration from these ideal duo, Blot! designed our mascots. ∞