Wednesday, August 29, 2007

debauched devdas and Anurag Kashyap

Sumit recounts his story as a 19-year-old here:

During my B.Tech 1st year I made a play with my seniors on the life of AIDS patients and during the whole process, everybody claimed how much we FEEL their pain and how we wanted to work for the CAUSE. Well, I never felt their pain nor did I work for the cause, I just enjoyed working with one of the most talented people I had met till then, I enjoyed writing the script, I enjoyed writing the poems on the posters, I enjoyed playing the charecter. But all that claim of CAUSE-thing by my revered seniors left me confused. I felt that something is wrong with me, probably they feel something I am not capable of feeling.

This theatre lover chose to not be a part of street plays that his group had organized to collect funds for the Tsunami relief fund (he put his contribution in a charity box, instead). His friends accused him of “running away from the responsibility of a theatre person.” He didn’t agree with the “this-is-why-theatre-is-done” (to help people, that is) philosophy. What was his reason for not doing it then?

My reason for not being a part of their endeavours was that they all were not doing it in a very creative way.


Anurag Kashyap’s (Black Friday, Paanch) struggle to make films that he believed in, without sacrificing or compromising his vision, is worth a read; if this trait percolates into the quality of his movies, then I can hardly wait to see them. His efforts at making his version of Devdas “where Devdas doesn’t pity himself, he discovers himself... that he is a debauch, a hypocrite, he is a sensualist, hence self-destructive...but he doesn’t know he is destroying himself” led him to knock on the doors of many potential producers, one of whom bestowed on him this priceless piece of advice.

Producer: This is your problem, you are always angry, no one can talk to you, do you know nobody here hates you as much as you want to believe it...even people at Yashraj say, he is a nice guy, all he has to do is stop being so angry...they really want to help you.

Anurag: Hello, do I look like I need help, I need people to believe in me, I need them to stop trying to help me, I want you to stop trying to make my life better, I want someone who can see I am not trying to make someone bankrupt, I am not an art filmmaker, I am not trying to sell philosophy, all I want to do is make films that everyone sees, I also want to reach out to the same audience that everyone does and how would you know I can’t if I am not doing what I want to.

What does Anurag Kashyap feel about the Devdas we know of for which, I presume, he wants to create his version of it?

Saratchandra always regarded Devdas as his worst book ever, which ended up becoming his most celebrated...Indians loved to pity themselves...hence songs like ghungroo ki tarah bajta hi raha hoon main.


1. Laxman had no identity of his own. Take Ram out of the equation and Laxman seems to have lost his personality.
2. Gandhari chose to lead a blindfolded life because Dhritarashtra, her spouse, was blind.
3. Bhisma vowed lifelong celibacy, distributing his hormones among those less passionate about life, and forsook his claim to his father’s throne as an act of pure sacrifice.

For the Hindu child, the acculturization begins rather early. Two memes of their society—sacrifice and pity—are like constant reminders, admonishing, motivating, driving, directing them toward lives lived in their throes.

While sacrifice, as an Indian emotion, is pretty easy to identify with, pity is cloaked in the garb of kindness for the unfortunate; the unfortunate are buffeted by fate; and that is beyond their control. Thus, to feel pity for them is inevitable; it is destined and beyond the ambit of human control. And hence, the unfortunate need your pity.

I’m not convinced.

Friday, August 24, 2007

a long evening

On Saturday, 18th August, at about 10:30pm, we began to realize the consequences of my carelessness. Earlier in the evening, lounging on the soft sands of Benaulim, I had kept the keys of our rented Pulsar on my slippers next to me only to conveniently obliterate it from my fleeting memory.

And, with the evening air pregnant with impending rain and the sea gathering its forces like a medieval army, it was such a beautiful setting that we could do nothing save go on a wild sheep chase, rummaging through a sandy plot where we conjectured to have most likely lost the keys, and now our minds. Tracing long straight lines with the backlight of our cellphones and demarcating our respective areas, we tried to bring a semblance of order to our search. More than a few long minutes of such travails and simultaneous futile attempts at procuring a torch hence, a rather helpful chap joined us, throwing off new ideas. He fetched a dry coconut branch and a matchbox to start a fire, but the soggy, wild winds were a literal damp squib. Sumu, meanwhile, decided, rather apologetically, to interrupt a cuddling couple on a bike nearby on the road leading up to the beach. Although the headlights lit up a sandy sweep, the keys remained ensconced, away from our sights. Shrugging off the urgency that such situations threaten to saddle with, I couldn’t but marvel, albeit fleetingly, at the setting, the grandeur of it.

On Sumu’s suggestion, I called up Francis, the rental guy, in Panjim. He had 3 sets of spare keys but couldn’t tell if any were of the Pulsar. After some reasoning, Sumu and I decided to spend the night at the only shack nearby since it gave us the heebie-jeebies to leave the bike in the open. The plan was such: search once more in the morning. No luck—go to Panjim, get keys and try them out, and get a duplicate made if keys don’t work. Lucky—go to hotel and collapse on the cosy beds (the romance of the night was already drenched as it had started pouring, with mosquitoes at us like hags). So, we spoke to one of the waiters in the shack who advised us to wait until the husband-wife duo who owned the shack left for home at 12. We bore a frustrating wait, watching lazy tourists trickle in, cursing them.

Sometime after midnight, Devendar Singh, the tandoori-chicken dishing chef came around to chat with us.
Haan, yahaan so to sakte ho. Bas bhoot aate hain. (Ya, you can sleep here; except that ghosts visit this place.)
Ha ha ha... kahaan aate hain? (Where do they come?)
Yahin pe, baahar, jahaan hum sote hain. (Here, where we sleep)

His words were laced with an earthy accent, typical of a rather docile UP wala with a penchant for recounting anecdotes. He was from Uttaranchal, he told us, and had been in Goa for about 12 years, working at sundry places. The other night, his patraam ( matron) had jumped from slumber on hearing his dead father call him by is nickname (“Damu, Damu”). On other occasions, the deceased patriarch had been seen counting money like a teller on the table that served as the cash counter. On asking him whether he himself had seen the apparition, Devendar casually remarked, as if to an impertinent query:
Main nahin dekha lekin sab bolte hain. (I haven’t seen but everyone says so.)

Changing tack, as evident in smooth conversationalists, he proceeded to acquaint us of the reda-fighting custom in Goa.

Yahaan ke log ekdum jaanwar hain; ladte rehte hain jaanwaron ke jaise. Apna patraam bhi ladta hai. Pichli baar, pachaas-pachaas hazaar do baar lagaya. Jeet gaya. Phir poora ek lakh lagaya. Hum logon ki mehnat ki kamaayi. Dedh ghante lada vo; beech mein vo haar maan liya tha. Lekin phir vaapas aaya mudke. Phephde phat gaye thhey uske. (People here are animals; they fight one another like animals. Our matron also fights. Last two times, he bet 50k each and won. Then he wagered a lakh. It was our money, from our efforts. He fought for an hour and a half. In the middle, he gave up; yet, he came back. His lungs burst.)
We were dumbstruck. I asked, “Kiske? Patraam ke?” (Whose? Patraam’s?)
Nahin, reda ke. (No, those of the reda)

On the verge of chortle on realizing the misplaced sense of drama in the narrative, we reconciled ourselves to the seemingly palatable truth that human beings didn’t fight or burst their lungs; instead, it was redas on whom rode big money and who were pitted against each other. We were further told that reda fighting starts with the rounding off of the tourist season. Several Goan households keep redas, some employing helpers to take care of the animals, who are fed only to be braced for bloody tussles in summer.

At around 12:30am, Vicky, another waiter from the shack, came to us swinging a small pencil torch in his hand and turning about a bigger proposition in his mind. He wanted a favor from us in return for helping us look with his torch. Since he was not allowed to drink during work hours, nor buy it from the shack after that, he wanted us to buy HoneyBee (brandy) for him. He placed a Rs 50 note in my palm, asking me to wait for his signal before proceeding to the shack. He went back, and I waited. When I went in, I bought him a quarter of kaju feni since the brandy was beyond his budget.

A little later, when patraam and his wife had left, he came out and downed the feni, neat and bottoms up . Having had his shot, he decided to stick to his side of the deal. So, the 4 of us—Vicky, Devendar, Sumu, and I—ventured to the beach armed with a pencil torch. The search resumed with the 4 of us combing more or less the same area except Devendar, who had gone further to one side.

Meanwhile, I conversed with Vicky, who I learnt had arrived in Goa only a week ago. He had been a captain (main cook), working in Bandra, Bombay. After a bout of illness that kept him away from work for a fortnight, he was greeted with a booting out when he returned. He shifted to Goa. The simplicity of his situation did not escape me; rather, it hit me smack on my face. Not more than a month ago I was thick in the search of a place to stay—calling up brokers, bargaining deals, answering mum who wanted daily updates on the house-hunting process—and here was this guy who relocated his life in hardly a week. Just like that. Where do we, he and I, rank in the scheme of things? And what are the limits of the human spectrum?

After Sumu and I had almost given up the search and were looking forward to a night in the shack, Devendar lifted the pall of resignation and how—hurrying toward us with a beaming smile, keys in hand.

Main apna dimaag lagaya ki aap chappal haath mein leke chale honge. To chappal ke saath saath chaabi bhi thodi door tak jaake giri hogi. Isiliye main us taraf dekh raha tha. (I figured that the keys would’ve been carried along with the slippers for a short distance. So, I was looking further that side.)

We just hadn’t thought of it.

A happy feeling gripping us like a fever, we offered to buy both of them—Vicky and Devendar—drinks. They unhesitantly declined. We decided to sit and chat with them, time suddenly displaying an agreeable mien. I offered Devendar a cigarrette, and he appeared visibly excited about smoking a Gold Flake Kings. Basking, like a school kid who has outscored his classmates and seen his world shrink to the walls of a classroom populated with lesser beings, he laid bare his reasoning for us again with “Main apna dimaag...” (I figured...) to which Vicky, sensing a hogging of credit, countered with “Lekin yeh torch nahin hota to kya chaabi milti.” (But if I didn’t have the torch, would you have got the keys?) A sense of balance appeared to be restored.

L to R: Vicky, Devendar

On being asked to pose for a snap, Devendar wore his happiest expression, his large, round eyes unmistakable; Vicky took his time, lighting up a cigarrete before looking at the camera.

When we left them, my cellphone showed 1:40am. The human condition that I understood had stretched a wee bit, encompassing a few more lives within its purview.

And those who were in wanted to be out; those out, couldn’t wait to get back in.

P.S.: I’m not very sure what a reda is. I’m guessing a fighter bull.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


After lunch at Viva Panjim, we—Sumu and I—sat at the entrance to the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception clicking photographs and soaking in the sights offered by the surrounding old Portuguese buildings. Inside, we were informed of a special mass to be celebrated to commemorate the silver jubilee of Mr. and Mrs. Paulo’s marriage. Having edited a document on Sunday mass sometime ago, I bubbled in excitement at seeing what I had read about; I found a listening ear in Sumu, whom I familiarized with pews, procedures of the mass, vestment of the priest, and some more jazz. I flipped through the smell of freshly printed words, in hymnals kept on pews, that tried to hem in a quarter century of memories and experiences in speeches and hymns set within the narrow margins of each page.

Driving in Panjim, through the labyrinth of one-way roads, I managed to escape even the faintest drift of swatantrata-divas hoopla; I did somewhat feel like living in a democracy where some of us could safely afford to choose to not be vocal and exhibitionist in patriotic histrionics. Almost all shops and establishments were closed, and it seemed as if we were rustling the soft down of a giant creature—otherwise living and breathing—in a state of afternoon dormancy. We crossed the Mandovi River on a ferry with our bike—a rented Pulsar 150—piled on it. It was amusing to see people and their vehicles, including four wheelers, stacked on a motor-driven ferry.

Off at Betim, we rode northward through Calangute and Baga to Anjuna. I recognized a few places from last time and proceeded unasked to proffer information on them to Sumu. The Wednesday flea market at Anjuna being our target, we went there in the hope of getting good bargains. But it was not to be. Off season. I wonder if families could go through such seasons—a period of estrangement or feud to be immediately followed by a purple familial patch. Would you accept the deal, thus ensuring the inevitability of good times after bad and that of living in no fear of a permanent breaking of blood ties?

At Anjuna, we watched the waters shimmer the brilliant yellow of the setting sun. Some kids seemed up to their antics under the guise of raucous soccer, my recollection of an amputee distinct. She must have been around 7 or 8 and was without most of her left arm. In the shack, a firang uncle kept to the beats throughout with a frugal version of trance dance.

Later, in the evening, we strode up to vista point at Dona Paula. The first thing I noticed in the soft light of the waning crescent was the rippling waters that roared like an engine as they crashed into the shore. The lights from the Marmugao Harbour twinkled bright even when I closed my eyes. Behind my eyelids, I traced long streaks punctuated by short, staccato ones. A silence descended over me as I mulled over how my violently shaking hands had attracted much attention during a reading test before the class in kindergarten. I remembered Brodingnag—that place in Gulliver's Travels where everything was of a bigger size. Sometimes, memories resemble the inhabitants of that place—they are bigger than the minds nurturing them. Also, over the years, you dab colours to dog-eared, yellowed pages and read and reread them, drawing newer purports each time. And questions bounce off the pages, flitting in and out of your consciousness, to the horizon and back.

Much later, I couldn’t remember if it was a young boy’s dream. I grabbed at the earth, and the chunks in my palms were of the most beautiful hue. I dived into a tunnel of water, listening to the quivering inside and breathing out wondrous silvery bubbles, and I immersed myself in breathless seconds.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

stealing mesmerizing beauty

Tweaking words for a living conditions you to occasionally feel only watered-down thrusts of their sinew. Like the tick marks you perfunctorily injected as soaring birds in your primary-school sketches, thereby lending the most everyday hue to one of man’s deepest desires­­. Flight. In your doing so, flights of reality--of freedom, of aspiration--were perhaps reduced to prosaic chores. Gushing verses became mundane prose, news briefings. What did you pay attention to in your depiction of a range of low-necked hills, its valley bedecked with a rivulet that flowed by the threshold of a small cone-roofed hut with a garden and fencing and its plunging neckline covered by a rising sun with distinct rays of alternating lengths? Why did you sketch such grotesque distortions of reality and fantasy alike?

Slash and burn the produce of truly mediocre minds. Although this can perhaps be the gravest sin to be committed on dull faculties, running the risk of rendering them absolutely infertile, any semblance of cultivating herded blunt heads--conditioned collective mindsets--has to start with the disposing of indoctrinated soil and its poisoned harvests.


In The Blue Umbrella, Rajaram, wily appropriator and helping hand to Khatri, a tea-stall owner, questions him about the sense in fixating on an oversized umbrella. Khatri, with a face that is peppered as much with pocks as it is engrossed in the cost of living, retorts by asking him about the use of a rainbow, about the need for watching the sun sink below the hills, about the intelligence behind a crazed craving for pickle, if I may add.

The movie is about everything mentioned in its reviews; it’s also about stealing mesmerizing beauty in the twilight of life and suffering the consequences of a losing bargain thereafter.

I’m a big fan of the sensibilities of Vishal Bharadwaj and Gulzar; however, what pulled me along was Pankaj Kapur. He’s worth every penny his character Khatri swindled off patrons.

Monday, August 06, 2007

To Goa

For a couple of weeks now, I’ve been trying to gather a few friends for a trip to Goa between Aug 15 and 19. Although there were a handful of takers initially, no one seems to be up for it right now, work being the main reason. Nonetheless, I’ve decided on making a solitary trip if need be, rather than can it altogether.

Travel can so often be a vanishing act, as I have realized myself. Sometimes, barely a week after a memorable trip and I’m looking at the last vestiges of it, nostalgic. Travel can also be an escape. Ever watched a movie where the dialogues and characters are funny and entertaining but you can’t follow the narrative at all? There may not be any central theme of your journey or any one thing that you may bring back home. You may alternate between feeling like an insider and outsider, shuffle between unfulfillment and peace, or swing from end to end, but be gripped by a host of feelings throughout.

For each one of us, there are places and situations we wouldn’t want to be in. But time and again, maybe at regular intervals, we still have to pay our visits. It’s like being under the weather and still having to go to your nemesis to answer disconcerting questions. Although you may have people for support, the intensity of the journey almost transmutes it into a solitary trip for you. Traveling is a reprieve from running such enervating errands. Time and space assume bigger dimensions than they really are, but then do you know their ambit? Travel, above all, necessitates being selfish and being with yourself, sharing a little less of you, and trying to make sense.

In trying to reproduce a sense of familiarity in excursions, much of the meaning of travel is lost. There are more memes to be imbibed in a cup of coffee at a café that is seemingly estranged from humdrum than at a watering hole that resembles your favorite bar.

What I do with my time and space is an experiment, and if I choose to recount my expeditions, it wil be a to-and-fro between memory and reality. While I’m there though, I’ll raise many a toast to crisp mornings and balmy evenings, and to Goa.

P.S.: If you have any suggestions to offer to me before my Goa trip, please do so. I may try out your advice and in turn give you feedback.