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One of the top designers of the country, young Sonya Batla is very fond of reading books. She claims that she has so many favourites that it is difficult to pinpoint just one. Among the books she holds very highly are Soldier Sahib, Charles Allan read in the last five years and Siege of Isfahan by Jean-Christophe Rufin, the author of the more- well known Abyssinian. Says Batla ''The last is excellent-please read it if you haven't already. So is Soldier Sahib, a book about the history of the frontier province.''

Yet another book Batla is fond of is Lucknow: Fire of Grace by Amresh Misra. Says Batla, ''I had history as a subject right through O' and A Levels and read a lot of books on subcontinental history, particularly. In fact, I just love anything historical. I recently finished a book on Changez Khan and enjoyed that thoroughly too. Another book that I read and appreciated lately was authored by Oral Stein, which concentrated on his excavations in Afghanistan and the subcontinental area. It's so sad that our excavations have made hardly any progress since the departure of the British from the scene. I think, other than Mehargarh we've made no headway since the 1920s.''

William Dalrymple's City of Djinns, a travelogue about Delhi, which Batla finds ''one of the most beautiful cities in the world'' is understandably another favourite book of the designer. She likes it even better than White Mughals by the same writer and is sorry to have missed the author's visit to Pakistan recently, as she herself was travelling. However, when cornered to name just one favourite book, Batla doesn't choose any of the above mentioned ones. Instead she says, ''I think it would be Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera. It's my all time favourite and has moved me whenever I’ve read it, although I haven't re-read it in the last five years.''

Although she hasn't read much of Urdu literature-the last she recalls reading was Munchi Prem Chand when she was in school-Batla says she would like to read Urdu books soon. She explains ''It's just that I have missed so many English classics that I haven't got around to reading Urdu literature yet. I avoid reading Urdu newspapers, not because I can't read them but because they have such an awful inky smell that I find them very irritating. I enjoy reading books like Fire of Grace which focus on so much Urdu poetry and translations that I don't feel I have cut myself off entirely from the language. Also, I am reading Farsi qawwali a lot these days-Sabri and Zia Alay Miskeen, to be precise.''

As for music, Batla says she enjoys opera and has recently developed a taste for local classical music, having been introduced to it by Dr Ghazala Aziz. Says she, ''I like shehnai and went to listen to it at one of the music conferences arranged by her, and got hooked on to the various ragas. I'm still learning all the nuances of classical music.'' Currently, though she is very much into Gregorian chants. So diverse is her taste in music that she also ranks very highly a song of the Indian film Veer Zara which has been sung by Lata Mangeshar and Udit Narayan with Yash Chopra's commentary in it. Says she, ''It has very few words but is a beautiful piece of music.''

Batla says she sees pop songs on TV occasionally, but by and large does not enjoy the Indian and western numbers because she finds their music videos ''fahash''. Says she, ''I don't like distasteful things-I really have a problem with vulgarity. I love Rajesh Khanna songs but when it comes to watching the new music videos, I get embarrassed. I prefer to sit in my living room every night and listen to one of my CDs-such as Rajasthani type of music. I find it very therapeutic but don't enjoy what is normally shown on TV. I wish I had a nice voice and could sing-I think music is so beautiful.''

She finds the local videos, on the other hand, ''okay'' and hears them while sifting through channels or on the radio but doesn't listen to them out of choice. She does make a conscious effort to listen to classical music though and train her ears as she feels she needs to grow and has missed out on this important aspect of development. ''My mother was always into classical music and so was the family, which is why I had heard live performances and listened to the shehnai even earlier, but I need to delve into it more deeply now.'' When asked to name one favourite song, Batla says it is the Sabri brothers' rendition of Aaj Rang Hai.

Batla enjoys watching movies as well and says she sees, ''Everything that comes on cable at night.'' Her favourite directors are Giuseppe Tornatore who made Cinema Paradiso and Moulina. She speaks very highly of Goddard's French film, the English title of which is Breathless, starring Jean Paul Belmonde and Jean Seberg. Batla describes it as, ''A very iconic cult classic film in black and white. Belmode is excellent in it and you understand in the film why so many people look up to him for his screen presence. Even Seberg is great.''

Batla says she also loves vintage Indian films such as Pakeeza and Aradhna, although she has watched some from the relatively new lot as well, such as Devdas. She also loves,''Clark Gable and the film Mogambo that also stars Eva Gardner, and Bawany Junction, which features Eva Gardner and Stewart Granger,'' and states,''I am very fond of black and white films.''

She watches the latest English flicks too, and ''loves Johnny Depp and Chocolate starring him. In fact, she watches a lot of continental cinema such as Malena, an Italian film starring Monica Bellucci. She also loves Ray Fiennes in Onegin and An Affair to Remember a Neil Robins film, which she claims, ''Are always good, but have an extra something when Ralph Fiennes stars in them. I think if I ever directed a film, it would have to be a Ralph Fiennes film-he has such a beautiful expressive face.''

Stumped when asked to name one favourite film, she finally narrows it down to two and says:''Either Bawany Junction or Breathless, but probably the latter as I was most moved by it. The first is great because I am so interested in the British Raj and the film is set in India, but I think I took to watching films because of Jean Paul Belmode. I have watched a lot of old films, as an understudy almost. I've even seen a 1935 movie called The Damned-a Visconti film with portions in it that were hand coloured-it was brilliant. It's a medium very close to my heart.''
FAVOURITE BOOK: Love in the time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
FAVOURITE MUSIC: Sabri bothers' Aaj rang hai


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