Monday, August 10, 2009

An Evening of Fun and Nostalgia

Shakespeare & Company is a forum for die-hard lovers of literature. Click on this link to read more about them. I co-ordinate their meetings (small in numbers, but quite intimate for writers wanting to bond, afterall writing is a lonely business) in Bombay at the laid back Tea Centre in Churchgate.

It was a meeting full of Bollywood lore, reminiscence (of 4 oldies and a youngster) of the ancient city by the sea of the sixties and seventies and poetry as Shakespereans met at the new and refurbished Tea Centre, a Bombay landmark.

First to arrive was poet Sunil Kadawala. Sunil’s family has been the inventor (according to published accounts) of the Bhel Puri, which has been representative of Bombay’s cuisines for more than a century. His great grandfather was the first to start making Bhel Puris in a roadside stall in Fort, Bombay, which has now grown into the prestigious Vithal Bhelwala near New Empire Cinema. Serendipitously the scion of this hotelier family, besides managing the famous establishment, also writes poetry in his spare time.

Then came Jane Bhandari and Col. Kamlesh Puri. Jane is a well-known Bombay poet and her poetry has been published in various journals and in the chapbook format, which has won the acclaim of both poets and hoi polloi. Col. Puri is famously the son of the legendary Bollywood villain Madan Puri and is at present writing a book on his father, besides acting in a Bollywood movie. So the Bollywood glamour quotient was also present. Amen to that.

Then came Anil Siqueira, my former boss (chief sub-editor when I was a mere sub-editor of a fortnightly) and knowledgeable book lover and grammarian who is an editor for a prominent stock broking firm of Bombay.

The meet began with a discussion of how Tea Centre has changed from one which featured rexine chairs and dark spooky corners to its modern version. Kamlesh mentioned how there used to be quite a number of Jazz Clubs around the Flora Fountain area in the sixties and seventies where Jazz was played live and there used to be dancing in the nostalgic Casablanca-style. Goody Seervai was mentioned and so were other bands that played during the time, alas, no more. I too remember those days when the forward-looking Parsees, Anglo-Indians and Roman Catholics used to congregate in dance parlours playing Jazz and Soul, Rhythm and Blues numbers and sedately dance the night away. Later on with the advent of discos this fervour died down and Goody Seervai too died. Now the dancing is a wild orgy of flailing limbs and torsos accompanied by pulsating techno rhythms.

In a reminiscent mood Kamlesh began to read a very sentimental portion from his book on his father Madan Puri. A word about Madan Puri would be appropriate here. When I was a boy growing up watching him on screen murdering, raping, plotting and scheming with his malicious-looking eyes, I had thought, quite innocently I might add, that he was a bad guy in real life too. Such was the menace he portrayed with his eyes and voice.

But talking to Kamlesh over a few meetings removed this misconception. He tells me that he was a loving father, as the excerpt he read would reveal, and that since people took fair advantage of his generosity, his house was full of people most of the time, and Madan would stretch out on the carpet in the tiny flat’s living room leaving the bedroom to his visitors. So Kamlesh has titled his book “The Villain on the Carpet”.

In a film industry that remained fragmented into various camps such as: Manoj Kumar camp, Raj Kapoor camp, Dilip Kumar camp, Dev Anand camp; Madan Puri was the only actor who could work easily with all the camps as he was genuinely liked for his humour, which his son has inherited. Kamlesh tells us that over 70 leading actors of the time turned up for his father’s funeral and Manoj Kumar mentioned to Raj Kapoor, “Mandan-uncle is irreplaceable” or something to such effect.

Kamlesh read a portion from his book about an incident which happened when he was 10. He was told by his mother to post a letter in a nearby post box at 7 in the morning as it would reach Delhi the same day if posted at that time. But to do this Kamlesh had to pass a haunted house in the dark where, so the local lore went, ghosts were waiting to tear children up and in vampire-fashion drink their blood. Madan told him, “Yes go and post the letter, son, it’s urgent.”

So, fearful and apprehensive Kamlesh had no option but to dash all the way to the post box and back with the speed of an Olympic sprinter in the last lap. But as he was tremulously dashing back, around the corner he ran into someone, a man, his own father! Knowing his apprehension the loving father had come to see that his son was safe and not spirited away by the ghosts of the haunted house!

I have to admit that the mist of misconception I had around Madan Puri was suddenly lifted by his son’s account and I now think of him in the most favourable terms. It was quite childish of me think that way and I wondered at how we carry some of the biases of our childhood in our consciousness. Now, I look forward to reading the novel which, I am sure, will yield several such anecdotes.

Jane read a poem the title of which I scribbled in my notebook in a haze and now, as often happens, I can’t read my own writing! Next she read Cat II which is her observation about a cat, quite well written too. Next she read the poem Tiresius Reversed about a woman who becomes a man and marries another woman, but retains her sexual organs. Then the woman-man gives birth to a child as the woman she/he married can’t bear children. Bizarre, yes, but true. It was reported in the news, Jane tells us.

Next to read was Sunil Kadawala who reead a wonderful poem, one he wrote after he was surgically cured of Hyperopia. The magical 360 degree vision inspired him to write a poem that visualised the light and shade of the evening sun as a foreplay between day and night. Quite beautiful imagery this and I now look forward to more poetry from him.

The evening came to an end when we posed for pictures with Kamlesh's jokes and bon homie (hope I got this right) dominating the evening.

As I was leaving Jane joked about an Indian who stepped into a restaurant seeing the "OPEN" sign hung on the door. Once he was inside he looked back and saw the "CLOSED" sign and proceeded to leave. We had a good laugh! A wonderful time, as the cliche goes, was had.

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