Wednesday, January 30, 2008

An Afternoon with American Poet David Raphael Israel

On Saturday met with David Raphael Israel in the company of three Shakespeareans and three Shakespearean lurkers. It happened thusly of a pleasant winter afternoon, when the city is shrouded in a grey mist and the area around Cuffe Parade, the abode of mighty industrial dynasties and the glam, set dons a grey mist that one of the Shakespearean lurkers Anil Siqueira claims is only seen in winter. “In Japan we have long winters, so we come India for some sunshine and sambhar,” said the unassuming Akira Yamashita. But the place David is staying is called “Basant” meaning spring, which is also the tastefully-furnished abode of the late Janet Fine, a fine writer, who passed away recently. Appropriately, Jane Bhandari exclaims that in summer, which pretty well runs through the entire year, the grey mist last for approximately five seconds and they it’s “boom, red hot blinding sun, and humidity.”

Anyway I like Jane’s description of red-hot Indian summer, she should know, being an Englishwoman transplanted from West of England into the hurly burly of a Punjabi household, and more Indian than me in some ways. Fittingly enough David gives me a bit more of a complex about my Indian-ness, it being Republic Day, too. He is wearing a kurta, a matching Nehru jacket, Kolhapuri chappals and smokes, you won’t believe this, beedis. Beside him I was dressed like a brown sahib, to my great shame, in trousers, a formal shirt, casual Woodlands shoes, fake Diesel bag, and Police sunglasses. Oh, misery, misery!

Akira wanted to know what it is that the white David-san was smoking. So I sang him the refrain of a raunchy number from the recent hit “Omkara”:

“Beedi jalaile, jigar se piyaaaaaa,
Jigar ma badi aag hai,”

“Light your beedi with my heart, my love,
Can’t you see there’s a fire already blazing in it?”

It goes on to even raunchier lyrics which I won’t reproduce here, or I would have difficulty in explaining the finer nuances of this folk-Bollywood song to Akira.

Then David produces some poems from his very Indian cloth bag. It is a gazal he has written on the way from Kandivli in the western suburb back to Cuffe Parade. The gazals have a raw appeal, which needs polishing. Akira wants to know what a gazal is and Ravi tells him, “It’s a poetic form consisting of romantic couplets that Arab women would sing when they wait for their men to come back from the desert.”

Priyanka, who knows more about Indian popular music than anyone else in the room volunteers to educate Akira about the latest in Hindi music, is a music producer for a popular music channel.
David is a committed American (sounds oxymoron-ish?) who has taken upon himself to revive the Gazal art form, as also the musical instrument, the sarangi. This Indianised American poet-artist-musician is so persistent in his quest for the perfect Gazal that he even dreams Gazals.
And they have the guts to allege that Americans aren’t interested in India! Next time they do that I am going to produce before them the kurta-clad, chappal-wearing, sarangi-playing, beedi-smoking David, a fine example of American laissez-faire capitalism. David, a friend of another committed Indophile Janet, then led us into her bedroom from where the view was glorious and breathtaking. Twelve stories below us was the inlet where the Arabian Sea curled in between Nariman Point and Cuffe Parade, dotted with colourful boats, gaily flying flags of every colour. We had to tear ourselves away from the scenery for lunch.

David invited us to the lunch table on which were the finest fish curry I ate in a long time, except that cooked by my wife, of course. “Ah, fish, we have sushi in Japan, which is velly, velly, nice,” said the irrepressible Akira. Shoma, Janet’s housekeeper had rice, brinjals, a mish-mash of vegetables, and prawns ready for us.

The kurta-wearing poet, prodded by Priyanka went on to play raag Bhairavi on the sarangi, and even sang an English song he had composed in that raag. “I play the Koto and sing Japanese songs, but not stupid ones about lighting beedis with the heart,” said Akira.

“It was pleasure meeting you, David-san. When you come Japan I give you Koto to play, and fine sushi dishes. However, I can’t figure why Shoma can’t make sambhar for Akira-san, who loves sambhar so much.”

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