Sunday, February 28, 2010

Hosting Parties

On an impulse I decided to host a lunch for friends. Holi provided the excuse. So the last two days were spent on cooking and cleaning the kitchen afterwards. Cooking is a bipolar pleasure. It’s fun to rustle up dishes and get praised for your culinary talents. It’s always a pain to clean up afterwards. So invariably you end up falling back on the good old domestic help to wash, dry, swab and clear all the mess afterwards. Something that ought to make you feel good for making your friends happy ends up making you feel guilty instead.

We Indians are a spoilt lot. We have cooks, drivers, part time helps to slave for us. But once we migrate to lands that frown on such indulgences we do all these chores in addition to mowing the lawn. The first time I went to US was on a corporate assignment. The chairman of the organization accompanied me to my farewell party when it was time to leave. He came to fetch me in his limousine, driving the car himself. It took me a long time to get over that shock.

I suppose we got the maids and chambermaids as a legacy from our feudal past and the British validated our exploitative ways. But it is anathema in England to employ servants anymore. So if they could give up their unpleasant ways, we should be following suit soon.

I guess that would be the end of the impromptu parties I host for friends.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Theatre Addiction

While working with a group of adolescents on a school theatre project, one of the students who comes from an artistic lineage gurgled happily “Theatre is a nasha. Once you are addicted, you are finished.”

That’s true. For over two years now, our theatre group has been lying dormant but I have been getting my fix from working in educational institutions. I help out in my son’s school with a couple of productions every year. And I am also called upon to do a course on theatre and management by the premier management institute in India which culminates with the students writing scripts and staging plays as an end term requirement.

Both the experiences have been extremely gratifying this year. The school production had Class XI students, a bunch of hyper active, intelligent and talented brats. They brought with them an acute perception of adult follies and were forever testing the facilitators. But in the last three days, they were magically transformed and put up a scintillating show. They staged their play almost a month ago but I still wake up on certain mornings missing the bachhas and missing the rehearsals.

Surprisingly, the management class was not very different. They too brought in energy as well as scepticism when we started. They too made it clear that they didn’t have unconditional respect to offer. Needless to add, they too kept their blossoming for the last minute. And to put an end to the familiar story, they too put up a great show for their final performance even though they were weighed down by work pressures, end term exams and the placement season.

There is something akin to magic in theatre. It transforms individuals from within and without. I plan to do a couple of plays for the public this year.
The addiction is back.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Cozy Delights

Just love them. Starting with Agatha Christie.
I finished reading all her books sometimes in the 80’s. And then I chanced upon Ruth Rendell and P D James. That’s when I figured there is some serious, mind blowing fiction here so what if it is genre.

Innocent Blood by PD James can easily qualify as a literary work. There are so many layers to the novel. Then there are all those books by Rendell written under her pseudonym Barbara Vine. My favourites among them are A Dark Adapted Eye, The Chimney Sweeper’s Boy, Gallowglass, A Fatal Inversion…all of them actually, including the latest The Birthday Party.

I am such an avid fan of James and Rendell that I track when they are releasing their new cozy and start hounding the local book shops as soon as it is published in UK. The problem is it takes at least six months for the Indian editions to be out and that’s always a bitch. Sometimes understanding friends who live or are travelling there, oblige.

Inspector Morse used to be a personal hero and then Colin Dexter decided to do away with him. But BBC is ingenious enough to carry with his sidekick Lewis. I was thrilled when I discovered the DVD’s of the Lewis series in The British Library.

I also have to thank the library for helping me to shed my ambivalence towards Reginald Hill and his two detectives Dalziel and Pascoe. For some reason I was never sold on Hill as an author. Until I started watching their DVDs that the library stocks! Now I have added Hill and his obnoxious Dalziel to my list of favourite cozies.

The latest discovery is Elizabeth George. She’s an American but her books are set in England. I used to think of her as a lesser writer. Sometime back I picked up a book of hers called What Came before He Shot Her. I was expecting the usual page turner and end up discovering this gem that is in the same league as A Dark Adapted Eye and Innocent Blood.

Some interests always take you to a circle. You begin from where you thought it ended.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Writers and Writing

“They don’t get someone like you,” said my editor. She was referring to the fraternity of Indian writers. I suspect some of them had heaped scorn on my non literary pretensions in her presence. We were in the hub and din of the Delhi Book Fair and I am not quite sure whether what she said was intended to be a compliment.

I think she was slightly annoyed at my enthusiasm. I was unable to conceal my glee at the invitation from my publishers to spend a couple of days in the capital just browsing in the country’s largest book fair and luxuriating in five star comfort afterwards. I have been hosted enough and more times by organizations in my role as a consultant and coach. But that’s because they want me to do some work for them.

To be hosted as a writer without any agenda felt really good. Almost as good as fraternising with 30 writers from all over the world in the International Writers Program at Iowa. Or bagging two prestigious residencies in Kent and Pittsburgh in the span of two years. For a non literary writer, I am doing fine. Thank You.

To gloat further, a German scholar wrote to me recently asking for permission to reproduce one of my essays published in a newspaper in her academic compilation on Indian Writing in English. It is the same essay that had drawn the ire of a couple of “Establishment Writers” in India when it was published.

A week later I had lunch in Bangalore with a writer from UK who I had met in the Delhi trip and she told me she always turned down invitations to literary meets in her own country because of all the grandiose egos parading around. I don’t quite remember what she said exactly but there seemed to be gentle affirmation about the way I had turned out to be.

I guess the pompous affectations are not restricted to Indian writers. World over they believe in conforming to a certain type. With notable exceptions like Zadie Smith who was one of the first to champion publicly it’s not an either/or. You can be a writer and a decent human being.

Writers have attitude and say clever, cruel things to others in public dinners. I prefer to restrict the cruelty to my writing.
When I am not writing, I like to make friends and cook for them. I go to my son’s school sometimes and help out with theatre related activities. I also sleep a lot.

Writers are supercilious and prone to make lofty statements like “I am not my writing.”
I wonder what I will be without the writing.

Most writers turn silly after some public acknowledgement for their work has happened.
I am silly enough to see through that trap.

Friday, February 12, 2010

My Name is Khan

The film is silly. Although I cried during a couple of scenes in the first half.

There is something about the way Shahrukh Khan says for the first time “My name is Khan, and I am not a terrorist.” It brings a lump to your throat. But that is at the start of the movie. Before you learn about all the manipulations Karan Johar is going to unleash on the unsuspecting audience to get the tear ducts going, including the death of a child in a freak soccer accident that passes off as a hate crime. If that sounds complicated, the film is defined by such knotty twists and turns. The writers and the director are unable to make up their minds whether the film is about 9/11 aftermath or a hero who suffers from asperger’s syndrome.

It definitely is a Karan Johar film. For some time now we are being fed by the media that Johar as producer and a director wants to be associated with more worthy ventures. If by a serious cinematic venture he means a "Kurbaan" and "My Name is Khan," then he is certainly not serious. Johar caricatures everything in the film including a disability and the enormous hurt suffered by the Muslim psyche for being isolated and branded.

I have always liked Shahrukh Khan as an actor. Irrespective of the role he is playing, he gives you the feeling that off screen he is a man with a sparkling, wicked sense of humour. His latest avatar is no exception. This is good as well as bad for the character he is playing. Rizwan Khan needed to be essayed with a lot more honesty and integrity and that would have meant discarding the goofy grins that Khan rewards his fans with. On the other hand, you are riveted to the screen until the very end of this maudlin movie only because you hope he would grin one more time.

You can watch this one when they telecast it. Nowadays they show them fairly soon after the theatrical release.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Catching Up

I have wanted to do this for a while now. The last time I blogged was during the Royal Court Workshop in 2006. But that was a group thing and didn’t last.

2010 augurs well. I have my first non fiction “The Boss is Not your Friend” being published by Hachette India this year. I went for the Delhi book fair last week and there is some buzz around the book already. Most people get a smile on their faces when they hear what it is called. I guess they have learnt their lessons the hard way. I also finished a novel last year. Hopefully that would also get published by the end of this year or early next year.

However what I enjoyed writing the most in recent times was a short essay for an anthology Pradeep Sebastian is compiling. Fifty contemporary Indian writers are writing on existing literary works. I chose “Sunlight on a Broken Column,” by Attia Hosain. It is a brilliant book, woefully underrated. Hosain was one of the earliest Indians to write and make a mark in English. A space that is falsely arrogated by some who came after her. I love the book. I recommend it to anyone who has an interest in India and Indian writing in English.

Hope to meet friends and like minded folks here.