I attended a book launch - Niyogi Offset's new coffee table book on the Jama Masjid, by RL Batra - courtesy a senior Hindi writer who had so many interesting things to tell me that I might have discovered a story idea to work on (talk to anyone long enough, without any stated concrete motive, and there's your story idea!).
Book launches teach you a lot of things, for instance:
It's Shabana Azmi (between the two of them).
I used to look at, and read about, Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar - both talented, both intense, in their own starkly different ways - and wonder who I liked better.
Azmi had my vote, when I first saw Arth.
Then, I heard Akhtar reciting his non-filmi poetry at an Adda meet, and I kissed his hands (okay, so I was not yet out of college, and given strongly to impulse).
Then, I read about Azmi's strident defense of the slums, and the balance shifted.
Then I heard Akhtar speak up against the US invasion of Iraq...
But today, I saw the two of them sitting together on the dias, and I looked at her arched brows, her silently defiant jaws, and then, that sudden lifting of the lower lid before she grinned, and those eyes turning into vats of cool-warm molten coal - and me thinking that if this is what liquid coal looks like, it must be a beautiful sight.
She spoke with warmth, spontaneity and seeming honesty. And goaded her husband to do the same - "Come on yaar, what's this? No formality here...". She totally gets my vote.
(Besides, Javedsaab has got himself a terrible haircut).
No, but seriously, I don't understand how he can ever get himself to take his eyes off her. In his place, I wouldn't have.
Recovering from culture
Amongst other things, we spoke of culture and the need to decentralise it, like power and economics and everything else.... based on the fact that a certain gentleman from Bihar is planning to set up a decent cultural centre - equipped to cater to cultural trouples, workshops et al - in Gaya, the naxal heartland.
Writer says, "It is interesting... that there might be music and creative protest in the same region that echoes with the sound of gunshots. Though I did ask this benefactor to open something like this in Delhi, instead"
I say, "No no no.... he MUST open it in Gaya. You have no idea what it means to small-town and rural kids to have access to genuine/alternate culture. It's not fair that all of India must run to Delhi every time she wants to see a decent play."
What I did not say was that I have never quite recovered from my cultural illiteracy, and subsequent exposure to trash that passed for 'pop culture', during my formative years.
I grew up in rural (almost) Rajasthan, and the only 'culture' I knew consisted of a mish-mash of folk, passed on by harrassed school-teachers who didn't have a choice, since the school did not have any music/ dance/ dramatics/ fine arts faculty.
As a result, I grew up grooving and moving to Banglaa songs like dhitang dhitang bole... and even (shudder!) ekla chalo re, wearing Assamese costumes, to the visual accompaniment of jhatka-matka sequences from the Haryanvi heartland. Which was all very good for national integration, but even so....
The only other exposure we had to the outside world was television - movies, to be more precise. Film music at parties. Orchestras singing the latest filmi songs at social events. Filmi dances adapted to suit school stage programs (when the said harrassed teachers ran out of folk memories).... Hindi film songs translated into Sankrit - to bypass the school's inviolate rule of 'nothing filmi' (yeah, that too!).
My soul refuses to respond to numbers that the rest of the world acknowledges as 'awesssum!!' music. The only reason I am able to appreciate someone like Shubha Mudgal or Ghulam Ali, is that these genres - thumris, ghazals etc - are part of our filmi heritage. But Coldplay leaves me cold, and (don't flog me, please) so does Jim Morrison.
At this end of extreme, my feet automatically, almost unstoppably, move to 'Jawan jaaneman' and even (exhale... deep breath... blurt!) 'Ishq Kameena'.
Now, if only I'd been somewhere near Sangeet Natak Academy...
A drunk writer and a bit of curiousity
After the first dip into the cocktail session, writer asks me if he could call me Annie "Or is it Anne?"
After the second, he decides he prefers to call me Zaidi. "Annie is so... I mean, what's in an Annie?... Zaidi is so much more..."
After the third drink, he doesn't like my surname, after all. "It's your family name, not yours."
All this is utterly harmless, of course. Besides, the good part about men being drunk is that they abandon all pretense at table manners and eat, without inhibition, with their hands. Which is a good idea, considering hand-mouth coordination problems with forks and knives.
While I politely 'Hmm-ed and Ji, ji-ed' along, I begin to wonder what it's really like to be really drunk....
Do you hear your own voice as if it comes from very far away (which would explain the need to yell three decibels above the necessary level, right into someone's ear)?
Do you see people stepping further away or simply melting into thin air (which would explain the wide gestures, most of which are aimed at prodding the air within three inches of someone's face)?
Do you feel the room swoooosh and swiiiish under your shoes (which would explain stepping on someone else's toes, and bumping into other people's heels, five times into a row)?
Does your head suddenly feel like it's going to snap off your neck and roll out of grasp (which would explain your jerking it back into position, carefully resting it against the wall and fighting the temptation to give it into the safe custody of the nearest shoulder)?
What on earth can make a sane person say 'Enjoy Delhi', five times in the space of one hour?
The TV-camera-wallas got a scolding!
And (I'm terribly contrite, in retrospect) I was quite glad to see them get a dressing down.
Since I was not attending the launch in my official capacity, I was sitting there smugly, quite happy to see the media being put in its place. All thanks to this really old gentleman, wearing a really ornate sherwani - who called out "Photohgraphers... SIT DOWN!" and then again, "SIT DOWN, I SAID! This function has been organised for the audience's benefit, not yours! SIT DOWN!!"
The faces of the camera crews - and the print photographers - were worth looking at. They all looked like little schoolboys (I say boys, because all of them were men... not a single female around with a camera) caught smoking their first cigarette in the school loo - shocked, intimidated, bemused.
A few had to be pulled into their seats. A few squashed themselves into each others' laps, in their hurry to find a seat while hanging onto their tripods and vantage shooting positions, all at the same time.
The trouble with the media - esp TV crews - is that they are a rude, ruthless bunch whose living depends on being a rude, ruthless bunch.
They push people around. They block everyone else's view. They monopolize celebrities, and in turn are controlled and driven by celebrities. They ignore the real people of the moment - the writer Mr Batra, and Prof Mushrul Hasan, who wrote the foreword, in this case. They don't ask intelligent questions... actually, they didn't ask any questions.
And they ALWAYS push ahead of print and/or radio, as if, by virtue of lugging around a big camera, they have a moral right to speak out of turn.
So, though I was quite sorry for them afterwards, they deserved the scolding. Serve them right!