This evening, going through the archives of pictures put out by wire service, which I do often when I am not subbing a copy or thinking of a headline, I came across a set of pictures of Zakir Hussain, the tabla maestro. The pictures showed him obliging autograph-seekers after a show in Mumbai. I found myself transported down memory lane.
I have only one ambition in life: to become a celebrity. Someone whose art or body of work is acknowledged by the world, someone who the world respects and listens to and fetes every now and then. For me, though, it boils down to earning the admiration of intelligent, broad-minded women, attracting the envy of successful men, getting the attention of waiters at a restaurant, being invited to cocktail parties peopled with interesting characters and, of course, enjoying all the money that comes with being a true celebrity (as opposed to the kind who is invited to cut the ribbon for a local shopping mall or salon).
Fortunately, I am in a field where, if I slog my ass off day and night for the next 10 years, I stand a strong chance of becoming a celebrity of sorts before I touch 50. But unfortunately, since I am already 38, I have no time to lose in order to ensure that celebrity arrives well before erectile dysfunction. A celebrity with an erectile dysfunction is as good as a blind man going around Madame Tussauds wax museum in London. Let's hope for the best.
Why did I mention Zakir Hussain? Because it was him who kindled my dream, 20 years ago, to become a celebrity. The year was 1989, or perhaps 1990. I was in college in Kanpur, and one fine morning, after a futile wait for a girlfriend at the tempo-stand (where three-wheeled tempos or 'share autos', as they call them in Chennai, halt) I was walking down to my college. I was mighty pissed that she didn't turn up, and the anger made me walk faster. Soon I was passing the two hotels that fell on the way, and outside one of those hotels, I found two men talking to each other. They wore white kurta-pajamas and were extremely fair and well-groomed. A small crowd of onlookers had gathered around them. I paused for a while and looked at them. They were so worth looking at: there was something about them.
I've seen them somewhere, I told myself, but I just couldn't figure out where. So I stood on and watched. I didn't feel awkward to stand there because I was hiding behind a crowd of rickshawpullers and peanut-sellers. One of the white-clad men, who was somewhat short and had grey sprouting from his unshaved chin, was saying something animatedly, whereas the other white-clad man, tall and wearing sunglasses, was listening to him like a cool cucumber with his hands folded over his chest.
And then it all came to me! -- the short man was Zakir Hussain and the tall man in sunglasses was Shiv Kumar Sharma, the celebrated santoor player who had also composed the music for Silsila and Chandni. Doordarshan, after all, was still showing Desh Raaga, one of the national-integration videos it played in between the evening news and the prime-time serial.
Once I was able to recall who these men were, I realised it was not just their fair skin that had attracted the crowd of onlookers. It was the glow of success and celebrity on their faces that did the trick. At first glance, even I did not know who they were, but I could instantly tell they were important people. That's the glow of success. I covered the remaining distance to my college in no time: my feet were propelled by the fact that I had spotted two celebrities. During that short walk was born a dream: that I too should be celebrity someday, even if it means arresting the attention of a handful of passersby and rickshawpullers.