On the eve of the Stockholm Fes­ti­val, one of the big­gest de­sign fairs in the world, we take you to heaven in Scan­di­navia

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - FRONT PAGE - Text and im­ages by Sid­dharth Dhan­vant Shanghvi The writer is a best­selling au­thor who con­trib­utes to top in­ter­na­tional pub­li­ca­tions. He has an eye for de­sign and is hon­rary di­rec­tor of an arts foun­da­tion in Goa, where he cu­rated Dayanita Singh, Roger Bal

In 2011, I vis­ited Stockholm the first time; photographs of my fa­ther’s life with can­cer were to be ex­hib­ited at the Gal­leri Kon­trast. One even­ing, af­ter hang­ing my show, I walked by an ex­hi­bi­tion of il­lus­tra­tions by Stina Wirsén, one of Swe­den’s most cher­ished artists and best­selling chil­dren’s book writ­ers. I was in a spin over one work: a small, surly boy, arms akimbo, star­ing de­fi­antly at the world like a heart­bro­ken tyrant. Grumpy, like one of Le­mony Snicket’s char­ac­ters, or a Dick­en­sian or­phan­age bully. I bought the work and it trav­elled to Mumbai. On a sub­se­quent trip, my gal­lerist, Mia Klin­te­wall, in­tro­duced me to Stina Wirsén. I ac­quired more works and Wirsén’s nu­anced, com­plex, el­e­gant pieces ce­mented my love of Swe­den. I travel there twice a year; this piece is drawn from var­i­ous jour­neys.


One year I was a guest of San­joo Mal­ho­tra, the charm­ing go-to guru of all things In­dian in Swe­den. As founder of In­dia Un­lim­ited, he cu­rates key events in In­dia and Swe­den re­lated to food, art, cinema, de­sign and busi­ness. Mal­ho­tra’s past guests have in­cluded Naseerud­din Shah, Amitabh Kant and Pranab Mukher­jee. As Mal­ho­tra’s in­vi­tee for In­dia Un­lim­ited, founded in col- lab­o­ra­tion with the In­dian Em­bassy, I was billed in an event with Tarun Tahil­iani. Mal­ho­tra hosted our talk at top-ticket de­sign space Sven­skt Tenn, sa­lon for the nifti­est, clas­sic de­sign tex­tiles and ut­terly re­fined with pricey ob­jects that can set you back by a mort­gage pay­ment.

Tahil­iani, the great cou­turier (with a spry, blaz­ing, Wildean wit) spoke about the shat­ter­ing loss of his fa­ther, traced the dys­func­tional rise of mod­ern In­dian fash­ion, and praised the com­pelling con­tri­bu­tions of his sis­ter, Tina, to their busi­ness. Af­ter­wards, Tahil­iani and I took off for Fo­tografiska, Swe­den’s most im­pres­sive pho­tog­ra­phy mu­seum (artists in­clude An­nie Lei­bovitz, Irv­ing Penn). Ar­riv­ing post din­ner, and fright­fully late, the mu­seum was shut. So I rang mu­seum di­rec­tor, the vi­sion­ary Jan Bro­man, to haz­ard if he might open up the shows for us. Not only did Bro­man in­dulge my reck­less re­quest but he also gra­ciously took us through the gal­leries him­self. We re­called an un­set­tlingly lovely show of Andy Warhol im­ages in drag that Bro­man had ex­hib­ited here (and which had re­minded me in earnest of Cindy Sher­man’s ret­ro­spec­tive at MOMA). Along­side Fo­tografiska, I rec­om­mend Moderna Museet, the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art, which has a var­ie­gated if over­crowded pro­gramme, and the small but spec­tac­u­lar dance mu­seum, Dans­museet.

If the arts siz­zle your sabzi, grab the scene this Au­gust when the Stockholm Fes­ti­val – one of the largest in the world – hosts In­dia as guest of hon­our. Last year, Mal­ho­tra had brought the di­rec­tor of the Stockholm Fes­ti­val, Claes Karls­son, to my Mumbai home, where the tall, sturdy Swede out­lined his ex­cit­ing pro­gramme be­fore guests like Atul and Anju Dodiya, Reena and Ji­tish Kal­lat, and Sooni Tara­porevala. Zakir Hus­sain, for in­stance, will be per­form­ing in Stockholm, as will Kathak star Shivani Sethia. There will be a stand-up comic act by Papa CJ, an In­dian film fes­ti­val (but please, spare me the Bol­ly­wood), and yoga on the prom­e­nade (Mr Modi will beam as I slip smoothly into my All Day Bitch Pose). Since Mal­ho­tra is a huge cham­pion of our food, there will be In­dian street food, which I imag­ine will be like Link­ing Road’s tummy-tear­ing paani puri stalls sans the gratis gas­tro.

I’d at­tended the Stockholm Fes­ti­val last year. At one event, they sprayed thou­sands of white feath­ers into the sky. As they came cas­cad­ing over the cool night, we slipped into a dream-like state; it felt like play­ing bit part roles in a gi­ant per­for­mance piece.

If the arts siz­zle your sabzi, grab the scene this Au­gust when the Stockholm Fes­ti­val hosts In­dia as guest of hon­our


Speak­ing of food, few coun­tries en­joy so ster­ling a rep for their cui­sine as rein­vented Swedish mod­ern. My friends Agneta Green and her hus­band Mag­nus Ek run the finest restau­rant in town – Oaxen Krog & Slip (their Miche­lin stars are well-de­served and reser­va­tions are ad­vised). Green has cu­rated a small, smart se­lec­tion of lit­tle ho­tels un­der the um­brella of The Ho­tel Col­lec­tor’s Guide, on point re­fer­rals of bou­tique prop­er­ties across Swe­den. While in Stockholm, I hugely rec­om­mend Green’s per­sonal hand­some house boat, which she op­er­ates as a B&B: it’s so dan­ger­ously close to Oaxen you’re un­able to rest from the tan­ta­lis­ing scents waft­ing from Ek’s cel­e­brated kitchen.

Now, back to artist Wirsen, who sug­gested an in­sider’s roll call for a Fab­u­lous Swedish Day for Brunch read­ers. Ac­cord­ing to her, a top start is lunch at Gon­dolen in Slussen, fol­lowed by a walk in Sofo, the hip­ster area at Sö­der­malm, to ri­fle through its vin­tage bou­tiques, de­sign stores and deck bars. The Swedes have a fab­u­lous, ef­fec­tive wa­ter trans­port sys­tem and Wirsén sug­gests hop­ping on a boat from Strand­vä­gen near the Grand Ho­tel (a prop­erty I love, go for an even­ing drink and feel like a rake) to ex­plore the ar­chi­pel­ago. Din­ner is al­ways dandy at Oaxen or Bak­fickan, a restau­rant be­hind the Swedish Opera house in the cen­ter.

In Swe­den, my most over­whelm­ing aware­ness is of lib­er­at­ing, em­pow­er­ing equal­ity: the coun­try en­er­get­i­cally works to make ev­ery cit­i­zen a pleased par­tic­i­pant and en­abling agent of change, its pub­lic sys­tem fol­lows through with­out miss­ing a beat, and its poli­cies on cli­mate change and ed­u­ca­tion are rev­o­lu­tion­ary. Even as a trav­eller, there’s a sense that when taxes are fairly paid, and po­lit­i­cal cor­rup­tion is in check, a coun­try and its con­stituents thrive.

But these are grander rea­sons to visit. Go, be­cause like me, you too will fall in love with the beau­ti­ful Swedish land­scape, its art, its peo­ple, its food… and you too will re­turn, as I have.








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