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In a concrete jungle, an Indian illustrator is drawing stunning sketches of nature

Alisha Dutt Islam infuses diagrammatic detail into everything she draws.

Many artists are obsessed with the beauty of nature, but there is a particular meticulousness to Alisha Dutt Islam’s art. The almost diagrammatic detail with which she draws trees, animals and birds has its roots in a learning disability – dyslexia.

“My mother used to teach me through diagrams and flowcharts,” Dutt said. “This reflects in my work. I just try to keep everything very simple. I don’t like too much clutter, I love negative space. My retention power is also very low, and drawing helps me remember.”

A graduate of Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Dutt said she prefers to draw nature because it gives her comfort.

“Growing up in the city, I was disconnected from the natural ecosystems in and around Calcutta,” she said. “While living on the outskirts of Bangalore during college, I found myself forming a connection with plants and trees. This was one of the strongest bonds I have shared with another living being.”

A freelance illustrator and graphic designer and part-time art teacher for grades 6 to 10 at Shri Shikshayatan School, Kolkata, Dutt has also worked on an evolution series inspired by Darwin’s theory of evolution and modern methods of reproduction. She experimented with a flower series inspired by common trees of Kolkata, which were part of her first solo exhibition at the 8th Day Café and Bakery in Kolkata.

Dutt realised her love for natural forms during a building sculpture course at the Madras Crocodile Bank. “It was oddly comforting working with reptiles,” she said.

She counts her mother Apula Dutta, botanical artist Maria Sibylla Merian, Abanindranath Tagore, her Srishti mentor Alison Byrnes and Salvador Dali among her strongest influences. Although she has interned at firms like Bates & CHI and Amar Chitra Katha, and worked as a full-time graphic designer for six months in Kolkata, she said she finds herself most at peace when teaching.

The young artist’s most recent project on tropical birds was for a client in Jaipur called THEA. “The version that is up is still a work-in-progress and the client is coming up with accessories using these bird illustrations as her inspiration. The illustrations are first hand-drawn and then digitally coloured.” This is her first attempt at drawing birds.

Dutt has experimented with oil colours, water colours, natural paints, acrylic colours, charcoal, wax, clay, metal, glass, paper-mâché along with lino and woodblock printing. Recently, she created a botanical card game called War of the Gardens, which tells the story of Bengaluru transforming from a barren land to the “Garden City”.

The game, which is a tribute to German botanist and landscape artist Gustav Hermann Krumbiegel as well as the trees of Bengaluru, is a way for players to remember plants and their names.

“The memory game is an attempt to bring trees into the daily vocabulary of both children and adults,” Dutt said. “I’ve played on the concept of learning through repetition to help integrate the knowledge of plants into a game. The players need to make their own gardens by trading and stealing trees and secure their gardens from pests and land sharks.”

All images courtesy Alisha Dutt Islam.

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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.