RUBINA’S RADAR | REEL IS WHAT’S REAL TODAY

We humans thought we lived in an adamantine world controlled by us, until an invisible contagion microbe – the Coronavirus – showed us all we obviously don’t. The virus is killing humans harder and faster than any missile across the planet, halting an extremely self-serving, consumerist world, dead in its Earth-abusive tracks. The Earth seems to have quit us, albeit temporarily, leaving us to quarantine in our designated spaces and countries for a while – a while that feels more like an infinite uncertainty than a finite timeline with each passing day.

For those of us who are fortunate enough to have a home to quarantine in, and socially distance ourselves from our families in separate rooms, with running water, food and the familiar warmth of our beds – it is an ineffable bespoke luxury, one that is incomparable to any in the world. Millions of our fellow humans across are homeless, with no roof over their heads, jobless with no money for food or clean running water to drink, let alone to sanitize and wash their hands with, multiple times a day.

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Opera singer Andrea Bocelli looks on before his Easter concert at the Duomo on April 12, 2020 in Milan, Italy. Members of the public were not allowed in Milan’s Duomo Cathedral due to the ongoing lockdown to control the coronavirus outbreak. (Photo by Luca Rossetti, Courtesy Sugar SRL, DECCA Records via Getty Images)

I think the Coronavirus outbreak is the biggest performance art show of all time, where all human beings are a live act, me included, going about our lives in our tangible spaces and our paces. And, the world – a large canvas of pristine natural beauty and sounds stands still, watching us – the performative art on display. The lockdown takes me back to the first ever performance art exhibit I attended in the Hamptons in New York in 2013. It was Robert Wilson’s 20th Annual Watermill Center Summer Benefit called Devil’s Heaven. This was held at his performance lab for arts and humanities at the Watermill Center in Long Island. Devil’s Heaven was an unimaginable reality for me, with Lady Gaga, who I think is the quintessence of performance art herself and Marina Abramović, the most lasting of all performance art legends, in attendance.

Watching the various intense acts of stillness and exertion across the eight acre grounds, especially Trina Merry’s Magnolias and her Enchanted Forest silent performers slithering seductively around tree trunks, left me awe-struck, and wide-eyed. At the entrance of the event, two naked figures, stood statuesquely on a pedestal, embracing each other in silence, in glorious consonance, their male and female bodies painted with an almost Avatar-esque shade of teal with a pink floral design akin to the Indian lotus. This was Merry’s Magnolias that explored the clash between culture and nature – exactly what we are experiencing in the real world today.

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Trina Merry’s Magnolias at Robert Wilson’s Devil’s Heaven at the Watermill Centre, Long Island, New York. (Photo by ©Rubina A Khan 2013)

The Earth’s revolt – a silent warzone of microbial and economic devastation – has the human race feeling endangered for the very first time since its existence. Some of the models’ bodies, painted on to look like furniture, further conflated with material objects on the performer’s naked bodies, was Merry’s way of questioning human self-identities in relation to objects and the things humans own. Consumerist attitudes and human identities based on material things was almost entirely how the world ran before the Coronavirus outbreak. Merry seems to have latently manifested today’s unthinkable reality when it was anything but, seven odd years ago, when she created the series in New York, where she is based. Her artistic expression is a dominant, painful reality today and she flipped Oscar Wilde’s ancient notion from Life Imitates Art more than Art Imitates Life into Art Forsees Life perhaps! Never did I think, ever, that I would be living out my own performance act of a lifetime in these times. And, I am a non-conformist.

Art has always provoked us into a reactive state – be it shock, rage, bewilderment, exultation, agony, poignancy, exhilaration or just good ol’ gladdening. The Earth seems to have taken a break from us humans, to catch its own breath, whilst we are coming to terms with a new world – one that is brought to us by the eyes and the lenses of photographers across the world. Photography is art, frozen in time – almost like an entr’acte between the time when the photograph was taken to the current time of its viewing. Except today, all the photographs that we see are in real time of a very unreal, very unknown world that has fallen deafeningly silent and empty. In due course, these pictures will make for a historical archive for centuries to come.

The ability of a photograph to let one’s mind go back and forth, with meandering thoughts and shifting perspectives, never once losing the original, intrinsic essence of its frame is incredulous – it can be as active and as passive as you want it to be. Reel life is what’s real today. Apart from our first responders being doctors and health care workers who are on the front lines saving lives, it is the photographers who are risking their lives to bring the world to us, every single day. Images of empty streets and subways, empty places of worship, planes parked like Lego blocks in airport hangars, images of the heroic, live-saving first responders across the world from Wuhan to Italy to India to the US… are a reality thanks to the photographers out there, doing their job relentlessly, and serving humanity.

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An aerial view of the illuminated statue of Christ the Redeemer that reads “Thank you” as Archbishop of the city of Rio de Janeiro Dom Orani Tempesta performs a mass in honor of Act of Consecration of Brazil and tribute to medical workers amidst the Coronavirus pandemic on April 12, 2020 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

Mumbai-based photographer, Satyajit Desai’s imagery of the Janta Curfew in India on March 22nd to the stark containment zones in Worli after Mumbai’s lockdown from March 25th to the make-shift quarantine shelters in bus stands tells you the story of my city, and how the virus is affecting our lives, and our livelihoods, wherever you might be in the world.

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A bus stand in Versova, Mumbai, is converted into a temporary shelter for the homeless to quarantine and social distance in on April 5th, 2020. (Photo by Satyajit Desai / Mumbai Mirror)

SL Shanth Kumar’s shots Mumbai’s pride, the Queen’s Necklace, our Marine Drive – the most beautiful stretch of concrete, that languidly hugs 3.6kms of the Arabian Sea’s shoreline are breath taking. Gary Hershorn’s pictures of an empty Times Square and a lone Brooklyn Bridge in New York seem like the people have been photo-shopped out of it. Ollie Millington’s shots of the Shard skyscraper in London, lit up in blue in thanks and support of the National Health Service of the UK on March 28th as well as images of all landmarks in the US lighting up in blue from Boston to Vegas to thank their healthcare workers speak volumes of the intense work being done to contain the catastrophic virus everywhere.

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TD Garden is lit in blue on April 09, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts, to show support for health care workers and first responders on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Right from the handout photo provided by Buckingham Palace of Queen Elizabeth II addressing the nation from Windsor Castle on April 5th in a special broadcast to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth nations pertaining to the virus outbreak to Abdel Ghani Bashir’s sombre image of the Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, devoid of any human life and movement, on March 5th is very telling of the Earth and the Universe calling time on humans.

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Queen Elizabeth II addresses the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth in a special broadcast in relation to the Coronavirus outbreak at Windsor Castle on April 5, 2020 in Windsor, England.(Photo by Buckingham Palace via Getty Images)

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The white-tiled area surrounding the Kaaba, inside Mecca’s Grand Mosque, empty of worshippers on March 5th, 2020. Saudi Arabia emptied Islam’s holiest site for sterilisation over fears of the new coronavirus, an unprecedented move after the kingdom suspended the year-round umrah pilgrimage. (Photo by Abdel Ghani Bashir/AFP via Getty Images)

Lillian Suwanrumpha’s pictures of new-born babies in Bangkok, Thailand wearing mini face shields are as endearing as they are frightening of a new world, of a new reality upon us. The heart-wrenching photos taken by every news photographer, of India’s migrant workers, rendered jobless due to the lockdown, walking miles from cities to reach their homes in their villages tell you the story of India’s divided landscape of the haves and the have-nots – the have-nots that make up for the largest portion of our 1.3 billion people. Unsettling, but devastatingly true.

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A newborn baby wearing a face shield at Praram 9 Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand on April 9, 2020. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP via Getty Images)

Before Corona, advertisers paid top dollar to creative photography for digitally altered images of an empty Times Square or the Eiffel Tower for a fashion model to strike a pose against, but editorial news photography could never ever imagine shooting any architectural or historical landmark in the world, without people milling about in hundreds and thousands. I remember trying to take a frame in Beijing, China, of the Forbidden City without any people in it, and it was exhausting, and next to impossible! I cannot imagine not seeing the world with my own eyes, and I’m ever so grateful to my global community of photographers for bringing the evolving new world to us, at a personal cost to them that’s immeasurably invaluable, and very appreciated. This is art in motion, that’s unfolding every minute and every hour of every new day.

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Hagia Sophia and its surrounds are empty during a two-day lockdown imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on April 11, 2020 in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo by Burak Kara/Getty Images)

Once there is some semblance of the familiar to our new world that none of us have any inkling of right now, there are some things that will have changed forever, that we will be seeing through the eyes of photographers and their cameras yet again. For instance, a picture of two people shaking hands or kissing in public will be a coveted, unusual image as will that of aeroplanes taking to the open skies again. We might just feel like one of the Wright brothers when they sent up their first plane into the sky! Public spaces with people jammed in or huddled closely will make for unusual imagery too as will sport stars greeting each other without backslaps and hugs on a playing field when the games come back on. Bollywood’s come hither song and dance routines and Hollywood’s sex sequences will smack of sanitized physicality at its creative best, or worst, we don’t know. Personal space will be big on behavioural social etiquette amongst the human race, and it will be a prized priority that will dictate relationships at home, and at work.

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Grounded British Airways planes at Cardiff Airport on March 25, 2020 in Cardiff, United Kingdom due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

We stand stripped of our acquired behavioural nuances, our excessive indulgences, our obsessions with power and control and in the adorning of our external selves, in our raw, bare skin – bereft of any mask, in our private spaces. This reaffirms that we are all the same, never mind if you’re black, white or brown – if you are human, then you’re a locked target for the virus. We need to stop saying that we are stuck at home, and wonder when life will go back to normal because firstly, how can you feel stuck or bored in your chosen space that you call home, that you have nurtured over the years to make it a home, and secondly, life is never going back to what is was – it’s like wishing we could go back to our babyhood and giggle and gurgle at inanities with our parents. The world pre Corona has ended as we knew it, and we will all emerge as one human race, altered forever in world that will have evolved since the first outbreak, whenever that might be.

NOTE: The photograph of the Versova quarantine shelter for the homeless in Mumbai shot by Satyajit Desai (Mumbai Mirror) have been used only after procuring rightful editorial consent and permissions.  

©Rubina A Khan 2020

Indian Real Estate Has A Toxic Problem | Gulf News

The cardinal constituent in realty is location and it has been dictating the price index and value of developments, with unmatched absoluteness. But that seems to be going up in the air now, quite literally, in India. The hazardous concentrations of particulate pollution that engulfed Mumbai in November this year, measured a PM 2.5 of 320. But Delhi witnessed a PM 2.5 of above 900, that was way beyond the maximum of 500 and went into “extreme mode” terrain, compelling the government to declare a public health emergency in the capital.

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Red Fort in New Delhi | Photo by Rubina A. Khan/Getty Images

When inhaled, PM 2.5 affects the human body’s natural defence, going deep into the lungs and even the bloodstream, causing serious health disorders like asthma and increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Clean air and water is a constitutional human right, but that right seems to have been drowned out by the drilling drone of the innumerable developments and their construction dust, vehicle exhaust and industrial emissions that make up the toxicity in the air. State governments ignoring the Supreme Court’s orders to limit agricultural burning isn’t helping either, endangering human lives even further.

Air quality is the new “prime location” and health is the new “amenity” that people are starting to look at when it comes to real estate today, not just an exclusive address or city. It is their lives at stake after all. ‘What good is buying a home in an elite neighbourhood in a metropolis that will leave you breathless’ is the common refrain in India since. The address people choose to buy in, or rent in, needs to be healthy and fit for human living, and conducive to their mental health and overall well-being, not herald a life ahead with disease and hospital bills. Sustainable is the word of 2019 – forget the fashion industry being the biggest pollutant globally – it has come down to sustaining human life in India in 2020 with fresh air and water and taking measures to rein it in. Instead of developers selling spaces highlighting the ‘heart’ of a city, it’s time they advertised the ‘lungs’ of a city to get people to buy.

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Peddar Road in Mumbai | Photo by Rubina A. Khan/ Getty Images

Newer realty developments are definitely hit with the unprecedented pollution levels in Delhi, and it will be a detriment going forward in 2020 for buys in the capital. Mumbai is not far behind either. Unless of course, the deals are lucratively priced to lure people in, with the promise of fresh air and improved Air Quality Index by the government. Non-Resident-Indians have a choice to wait it out and not invest in India till the air clears up, especially the ones living in the United States, that has some of the cleanest air in the world, but do resident Indians have a choice? Not really, barring buying homes in Goa and Rishikesh and that is quite indicative of the buying trend in 2020 for resident Indians.

Indian realty is obviously unprepared for the AQI factor that will very soon be a dominant determiner for property buys and sells in the country. After all the regulatory laws that shook up the business since 2016, this is another deterrent for the sector, especially with the large unsold inventories in the country. A war on pollution needs to commence in India now to accord  its taxpaying citizens a basic human right to breathe clean air and stay healthy.

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Lonavla | Photo by Rubina A. Khan/ Getty Images

2019 saw the introduction of the Model Tenancy Act 2019 as part of the first budget of the second term of the Narendra Modi government. Like its earlier reformist counterpart, RERA, introduced in 2016, the Model Tenancy Act 2019 too reads great on paper, but has yet to step up on accelerating the implementation of the same. I see an Air Quality Act being passed in 2020 but then again, it’s the implementation of it that looks hazy, just like the Mumbai and Delhi skies right now.  

This feature first appeared in Gulf News on December 13, 2019

Thank you AD Kilachand and Bina Ramani for your time and thoughts. 

©Rubina A Khan 2019

I’m Not Here To Push Myself, But The Causes I Have, Says Industrialist Ness Wadia

Industrialist Ness Wadia, scion of India’s most illustrious business company, the Wadia Group, has never been one to court fame or celebrity, but somehow, headlines chase him relentlessly, turning him into India’s most recognized and “selfied-with” face in the corporate world. But behind the suit and corporate armor, is a man with a zealous philanthropic drive. Not one to talk about it though, Ness is an active force in the Wadia Group’s charitable ventures, one of them being the Little Hearts Marathon that took place on Sunday. “What a glorious way to wake up on a beautiful Sunday morning, with the pure and unparalleled energy of 12,000 kids running the marathon!” exclaims Wadia as he flags off the marathon with the Health Minister of Maharashtra, Dr Deepak Sawant, Dr Minnie Bodhanwala, CEO, Wadia Hospitals and Aditya Thackeray of the Yuva Sena.

Rubina A Khan in conversation with industrialist Ness Wadia for DNA:

How did the idea of the Little Hearts Marathon come about?
The concept was that we wanted to help kids with cardiac ailments and to promote awareness on that front as a lot of kids suffer from cardiac problems. We found out that a lot of hospitals were not looking into children’s cardiac care so the Bai Jerbai Wadia Hospital for Children (BJWHC) tied up with the Siddhivinayak Ganpati Temple Trust and formed a Cardiac Unit to help kids with cardiac afflictions. Last year, Salman Khan flagged off the first edition of the Little Hearts Marathon, with 10,000 kids participating and this year, our second marathon, we had 12,000 kids! We are planning to take it across India and other parts of Maharashtra as well to raise funds for setting up a cardiac center at BJWHC to reduce the costs and waiting time for cardiac surgeries in our community.

Little Hearts Marathon 2015

Ness Wadia at the second edition of the Little Hearts Marathon 2015

Lots of marching bands, cadet corps, quite a spectacular show first thing in the morning… how do you involve these schools and their kids?
This is all voluntary work on behalf of the schools and the children, as this is a charitable organization and everything is pro bono – it’s children helping other children. Isn’t that amazing? All the staff working here are all from the Wadia Hospital, Lions Club, Rotary Club, Schools. It’s all Corporate Social Responsibility. We treat thousands of kids a year and last year was special as we treated a set of conjoined twins Riddhi and Siddhi Pawar who are now well and doing so well. This is one of the most important joys in my life. I was here most part of Diwali last year and spent it with all the kids. Spending time with them brings you to reality and makes you realise what life is about and makes you appreciate what you have and more importantly, what we, as a whole, need to give to help develop our society.

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Dr Minnie Bodhanwala and Ness Wadia with conjoined twins, Riddhi and Siddhi Pawar

From my perspective, the Wadia hospitals have been around for 86 years and we are looking to renovate and take on various expansions. We don’t publicise the Wadia Hospitals, we never have, now we are beginning to. Apart from anything, it helps with CSR and but I simply love doing it and I want to spread the awareness. Our goal is to have possibly, charitable hospitals across India, as opposed to hospitals that earn money; we have enough businesses that earn money. We do change lives here. My plea to anyone who reads this and anyone who hears about this, even if it is one rupee, please, just donate. There are lot of people are more interested in the glamour and the sensational lifestyle aspect or what one’s doing in their lives, but the work which one does in the Wadia Group has always been very low key, the family has always been low key, we are not here to blow our own trumpet and tell people what we have done and how we’ve done it and how much money we have. We are simple people. The perception is not, unfortunately. We have been involved in the building of India and we will continue to be involved in the building of India. And honestly, I am not here to push myself, but the causes I have.

Do these children feel like yours at some point given you spend time, follow their progress charts and are so involved in their lives?
I don’t know if they feel like mine, but they inspire me more to do more. It keeps me going. There’s so much to do. We have the hospital website – http://wadiahospitals.org where you can donate and help. In fact we had an argument about the amount as I firmly believe you cannot put a minimum on a donation! A man wants to put one rupee into a box, let him put it. Let him choose.

Are you looking forward to the eighth season of the IPL this year?
Sure! We (Kings XI Punjab) want to win this year. We have a great bunch of players and it feels like a good season.

This feature first appeared in DNA on 08 February, 2015

©Rubina A Khan 2015