Monday, November 22, 2004

Musings on the Readmeet at Manisha’s

Manisha and Mahesh have what I have wanted all my life. A home by the sea and a balcony looking into the sunset. Some day I would like to retire to a house like that by the sea and gaze into the sunset sitting on a cute wicker chair.

The fiery sunset and cool wind blowing just overwhelmed me at yesterday’s readmeet! I had read about Manisha complaining about the smell of drying fish near her home. I said I would endure fish smells and the loss of my right limb to see such divine sunsets from my own room. So I thought I would attempt a little reporting, though I guess the detailed one will be posted by Avi Das, the coordinator of the readmeet event.

“Gold Mist” it said on the nameplate. When I was directed to the entrance, I saw Basu Bhattacharya’s name written beside Manisha’s and Mahesh’s names. I knew I was in some distinguished company. Seeing Manisha in her gown and hair clipped on top of her head, I thought she was getting ready for the event. I said if I were early I would loiter around the seashore and then come back later when all was set. I didn’t realize from her posts on caferati that the lady was so charmingly and delightfully informal. She remained in the gown the entire evening, this good “bad” girl!

Indeed the golden rays of the setting sun had caused a mist to rise over the Arabian Sea when I watched it standing in the balcony with Vijay, Ratna, Manisha and Avi. We were the early birds except Manisha, of course, who was the hostess of the event.

6:30 no sign of people. The wait irritated Ratna who in her best schoolmarmish tone said later that we should all be present on time or not come at all. The problem with us Indians is that after several on-time appearances where we find the host having a bath or a harassed servant running around making arrangements we take it for granted that 6:30 means 7 or 7:30. So thank providence for people like Manisha and Ratna who, when they say 6.30, mean 6.30. I guess one should mention “Time 6.30” and “Reporting time 6.15” so that people do not assume they can saunter in by 7.

Aside from the four of us, the first to arrive was our “Zorba the Fenugree” Ajit Jani. Whipping out something that looked like a scrapbook he read his minimalistic poem “Etlo.” “Etlo” in Gujrati means, “that is.”

There was a longish short story, haiku-like poems about mobiles, a poem about a journey on the Bombay-Pune expressway, engineering-sounding poems, poems about seashells, my own short story, and the grand finale, a play reading by Manisha, Peter and Vijay.

Participants came from as far as Jaipur and Pune. There was Vincent who is an intelligence officer in the revenue department who wants to open a chapter of Caferati in Jaipur. He came with his wife who is a forensic expert specializing in genetic coding and their 28-day old daughter who never even once made a noise and was rapt in a world of her own throughout the event (talk of early initiation into the readmeet culture!).

That makes me wonder, why people meet to read an almost dead art form commuting long hours when they could have sat in front of a television and enjoyed inane recycled serials and skimpily dressed girls dancing suggestively? Why do people like Manisha open up their homes and their hearts to kindred souls who need a refuge from the overpowering cynicism of the world around them?

The answer is we humans have an innate need to communicate, as the ancient cave dwellers did. After a hunt they would gather around a campfire (remember, we have a campfire event coming), eat the cooked meat and talk (mostly in grunts and sign language) about the hunt and visualize about the future where their future generation would gather in a largish drawing room, sit on stylish mats and listen to others read their delicately created works. Have a heart writers, poetry or prose will never die with people like you around!

So what if an unkind word was said in criticism, an unguarded comment, or offense taken over a misinterpreted meaning? Let the writers of the world sink their differences and be bonded as one. After all when they need to write content for a website or copy for an advertisement or script for a play they have to depend on us. Writers today are paid well by the technology freaks and they had better do that or we would sabotage their software programs and dollar-dreams of BPO bliss!

As a people we no longer have the time to sit together and tell anecdotes, or read carefully written and edited stories and poems to each other. Our lives are like one long succession of routines where we do what others expect us to do. We do the obvious routines, even writing for a living, quite easily. But the challenge comes in writing with a purpose, to discover the beauty of nature, write about interesting people we have met, to encourage and to enlighten and to break barriers and experience the writer’s words as our own. The creative urge takes us away from this stereotypical life and makes us think, dream and discover new worlds. I think that objective was achieved at yesterday’s readmeet.

Later we dispersed to the dining room to feast on samosas, cutlets, and brownie cakes (mmmm!).

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

“Indian Idol”

I sat down to see Indian Idol on television. My son tells me it is a copy of an American program of the same name called American Idol.

A pretty young thing, a participant, walks in. Agreed, she isn’t a great singer. The judges, celebrities themselves insults her and says she should give up singing. The girl is almost in tears. We are shown background material about her preparing, her expectant parents encouraging her, the jitters, and her ultimate debacle. I wonder what right the judges have to insult her like this. Just tell her she doesn’t make the grade and let her go.

“But it is like that in America,” My son says. So what? Must we ape the bad qualities of those Americans? The celebrity judges must remember they are on national television and they themselves are celebrities, and it reflects badly on their standing as celebrities.

Will every one of these participants take this lying down? No. One brash type, a participant, objects and says, “You could have put this in a better way.” The judges instead of apologizing and saying sorry, say, “You put on star airs when you walked in.” Meaning, it is star airs they were watching and not his singing style. Hello! Are you there to judge their clothes and appearance or their singing?

Another one, a scared looking man, is told, “You are a timid man. You will never make it.” He goes back crestfallen. What right do you have, celebrities, to insult a man like this. This is what I find objectionable about “Indian Idol.” But my son says, “Papa, it is like that in America.” I say “So what? If they are bad should we also be bad?”

We are obsessed by America and whatever is done in America cannot be bad. Who says so? Some of our youngsters think talking bluntly like the American working class in their slang is cool and fun. No it isn’t. It doesn’t suit our Indian sensibilities and please don’t tell me, son, “It is like that in America.”

It also raises questions about this great unchecked, un-critiqued medium of television. I think we are crossing the limits somewhere. Aren’t we? Do we have to impose the moral standards of America on our unsuspecting viewers most of whom are our youth who are in the most impressionable stages in their lives?

Raises questions, I don’t have answers. Maybe I should put that to Anu Malik, Farah Khan and Sonu Nigam.