Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Looking At The Watch

Very few things we do these days without looking at the watch every now and then. The deadline at work, the hurry to get home, the eagerness to finish a chore on time -- really, when was the last time you told yourself: "Ah, today I have all the time in the world!"

This Sunday though, for a change, I had all the time in the world as I invited eight friends over for lunch and cooked for them. It was a pleasure to watch them sitting in a circle around the dining table and drinking chilled beer and discussing movies and stuff while I prepared egg curry, dum aloo and rice in the kitchen. One of them had brought puris, another had got rasam and yet another salad. It was going to be one nice meal.

Before we sat down for lunch, I helped myself to three -- or was it four? -- large Bacardis. It was a way of rewarding myself for having done a good job in the kitchen. Those who know me well know that when I have guests over and when alcohol flows, I become the DJ. And so I let Kishore Kumar loose on them: Piya Ka Ghar, Khatta Meetha, Sitamgar...

Finally, some of them started looking at the clock. They had to leave soon. Lunch was served. Even as they ate, four of us, including Baradwaj Rangan, who shares my love for the 1970's and 80's and the unforgettable music created during those decades, lingered over our drinks.

The Kishore Kumar song playing in the background was: Pyaar pyaar pyaar pyaar, pyaar tu karle / chaar chaar chaar, aankhen chaar tu karle. It is from a film called Suraag, a thriller starring Sanjeev Kumar that I watched on Doordarshan many, many years ago. The storyline is long forgotten, but the thrill and the song remain fresh in my mind. For many years, I tried to get hold of a DVD of the film but in vain. The absence of this movie from the shelves of music stores began to get mysterious. Finally, the mystery was unravelled by the director himself. "You will not find a DVD because I never sold the video rights. The print must be lying somewhere here in Madras," Jagmohan Mundhra, best known for making adult movies, told me one afternoon in 2007. It was a revelation for me that Suraag was his movie -- in fact, the very first film he directed. I begged him to collect the print and sell the video rights so that I could watch the film again. Mundhra, who was in his mid-fifties at the time, said he would do something about it.

So last Sunday, as the song played in the background, I boasted to my friends about my long meeting with Jag Mundhra and told them that I was planning to message him on Facebook and ask him to release Suraag on video (Mundhra and I went on to become Facebook friends).

"But dude, isn't he already dead?" Baradwaj asked.

"Can't be. He is on the list of my Facebook friends. Only the other day I saw someone tagging him."

"No dude, he died last year," Baradwaj said, as he got up to run a Google search on my desktop. Jagmohan Mundhra was indeed dead. The news didn't hit me hard because I was somewhat drunk. The news was stale anyway.

After the last of the guests left, I went off to sleep and woke up at nine in the evening with a crippling headache. Even then, the first thought that crossed my mind, as I woke up, was: Is Jagmohan Mundhra really dead? This time I ran a Google search myself on my netbook. He was indeed dead. I felt very sad.

As I read online the belated news about his death, more bad news awaited me in the form of accompanying links. Navin Nischol was dead too, and so was art director Samir Chanda, who I had met on the sets of Guru -- which happened to be the offices of the New Indian Express -- as recently as in 2006. It was Mithun Chakraborthy who had introduced me to Chanda, a man barely in his forties, who shyly shook my hand. He was dead too!

All these people died last year -- in 2011 -- and I did not even know about it! For that matter, it was only today that I got to know that Yunus Pervez is also no more -- he died in 2007. It is bad enough not to know when people die, but worse when you confidently believe that they are still alive while the rest of the world has already paid their last tributes. Such confidence stems from ignorance and it may not be such a bad thing after all -- people like Navin Nischol or Yunus Pervez can never be dead for the members of my generation because they defined that generation.

But how come I didn't get to know about their passing on? What was I doing in 2011? Now I remember what I was doing. I was too busy looking at the watch.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Tamarind, Sweet And Sour

This evening the call finally came: that Tamarind City, my portrait of Chennai, is out of the press. A copy should reach me in a day or two, and the book should be hitting the stores in about ten days.

Unlike Chai, Chai, whose draft got transferred straight from my head to the printing press without being subjected to rewriting or even editing, Tamarind City is the result of hard work. One could have always worked harder, of course, but there is no end to it: at some point you have to tell yourself, "OK, this is it. I can't work any harder."

For a year and a half until the end of 2011, I had hardly any social life -- or personal life, for that matter -- to speak of. Almost every waking hour outside the office was spent working on Tamarind City. During these dark months, when I was blind to everything else in this world except the laptop screen, the possibility of my seeing or holding the book in published form seemed remote. Very remote. It would feel as if the book would forever remain a word document on my computer.

Today, that remote possibility has become reality. Tamarind City is no longer an idea in my head: it has finally taken the shape of a book that will reach the bookstores in less than two weeks. Considering all the struggle that went into its writing, I should have been elated when I got the call this evening. But far from it. It doesn't matter anymore.

I have realised by now that if I want to be a writer, my entire life is going to be one long struggle, and that it would be stupid to celebrate the end of one struggle without realising that another round of struggle is waiting round the corner.

At the moment yet another unwritten book is staring me in the face. It's an ambitious book: a portrait of present-day Calcutta. I don't want to spend two years writing it: I will be too old by the time it comes out. At the same time, I cannot afford to spend sufficient time in Calcutta because I now have a job that is going to keep me firmly anchored to Chennai. On top of it, I seem to be enjoying the job, as a result of which I find the sensations of Calcutta fading and the memories blurring.

I am, however, determined to set the Calcutta book rolling before I feel good about the publication of Tamarind City. I find overlaps more assuring than long gaps.