THANK GOD FOR MOBILES, THE INTERNET AND BOOKS. Suddenly realised how dependent I have become on technology. With this globally imposed curfew, I selfishly love being by myself and operating from home. Of course, I miss the theatre and the variety of foods that one can order at home.
The plight of the daily wagers crushes one’s heart every day. And the non-visits to see the sick and the ailing, the old and the infirm, the reassuring hugs and embraces and the final ‘goodbye’ to those departing from our world breaks one’s heart. But this too shall pass.
The biggest tragedy has been the fire at Sea Springs in Bandra Bandstand that claimed two very young lives -- that of 38-year-old Sidra Jafri and 20-year-old Ivana Marraise, who ran the School of Awakening – an online school for spiritual education and consciousness – and whose parents and relatives are all in the UK, and cannot fly down to Mumbai due to the coronavirus outbreak. I had never met them. But the impact of this tragedy cannot but start a tear!
However, this time-off from the hurly-burly of my routine has given me time to reflect on the variety of writing that keeps publishers busy. I dived into old friend Bhaichand Patel’s I Am A Stranger Here Myself, which evoked memories of our youth in London.
Though I missed his launch in Mumbai, my response to him, and his reply took me back to Marble Arch in London and the flat that I shared on Seymour Street, which was a mini United Nations, what with some six girls from Malaysia, Singapore, West Indies, erstwhile Ceylon, East Africa and my roommate Monica Wee -- a Chinese girl from Hong Kong, who was outraged when I asked her if she was a Communist and she shot back, “I am a Catholic”.
In those three months with them, I learnt so much about the cultures and lives of these early immigrants who came to London in search of higher education and job opportunities. And this was a part of the world that I, an aspirant from Delhi, was ignorant about. Bhaichand had come from Fiji, about which I didn’t know at the time, replied: “
We had little money in our pockets but what fun we had in London! Then those marvellous five years in Bombay -- 1966-1971 --before I left for the UN.” He recalls the staging of Look Back In Anger, directed by Susan Jerrad and starring Tehzeeb Swaminathan, now Katari, living in Chennai. Bhaichand writes about all the exotic countries he visited, the events he witnessed, and the experiences he had in Fiji, Delhi, Bombay, London, New York, Cairo and Manila.
Rakesh Maria’s Let Me Say It Now starts with the sentence: “Living an experience is easier than recreating it on paper years later for others to feel it.” Most events, names and references came alive for me. I had lived through that period.
The first thing that caught my eye was St Paul’s Road. My earliest memories of Bombay were when I came to visit my sister from Delhi in 1963 and spent my first holiday in Harry’s Cottage, St Paul’s Road. Let Me say it Now became unputdownable….to live through his childhood, adolescence et al. When it came to Cop, Cop and Nothing but as Cop, it was a page-turner till I reached the end.
There is a litany of names of all the policemen who worked with him on the serial blasts, the world of international terror, the gang wars, the Marathi communication and commands that were exchanged, capturing the tension and tryst with the underworld and the various demands on the police force and Maria's rise to commissioner of police.
Of course, the terror attacks and the events of 26/11 and the Indrani Mukerjea scandal keeps one involved in the political and social shenanigans and the emotional and professional havoc it played in personal lives. It couldn’t have been easy to relive those disciplined, regimented years and put it all down to share with bigoted, prejudiced opinions. Let Me Say It Now is a brave attempt and a tribute to the life of all policemen.
Larger than life
My reading is rather eclectic. I picked up Sudhanva Deshpande’s Halla Bol -- the Death and Life of Safdar Hashmi, at the launch of this book at the NCPA Experimental Theatre two weeks ago. While I had heard about Street Theatre and Safdar Hashmi, I am embarrassed to confess that
I was not acquainted with any of their plays or actors. I first heard about him on January 2, 1989, when I was invited by the FTII (Film and Television Institute of India) Pune to conduct a session on news reading.
The first piece of news given to me was the mob attack and death of Safdar Hashmi on January 1, 1989, while performing Halla Bol in Jhandapur. The full impact of this made itself felt when I heard of the Jana Natya Manch, and when I met Shabnam Hashmi of Sahmat. Since then, the very mention of Safdar Hashmi has evoked reverence and awe. And I cannot thank Sudhanva Deshpande enough for bringing him to life for me.
To quote playwright and director Neel Chaudhuri: “For a generation that grew up without knowing Safdar Hashmi, Halla Bol is a treasure, with stories and accounts that render his passion, humour, humanisation into an intimate portrait….” I got to see what it means to live political resistance – complete with poetry, and play, humour and tenderness, courage and hope.
Sudhanva took me on Jana Natya Manch’s long journey. I was not aware that Kavita Nagpal – a childhood friend who grew up into a very attractive and talented woman – and the much revered drama critic for The Hindustan Times, whom I meet in Delhi on every theatre sojourn – was such an integral part of Jana Natya Manch.
My only regret is that I never got to know him!
Some comforting words received from an international theatre friend Ronald Rand:
With each breath we take,let us breathe with our loved ones.With each breath, let usbreathe with our friends.With each breath, breathewith each person alive,with all the animals on the planet,with Mother Earth,all departed souls,and with the universe.I thank God knowingwe are all one,breathing together.Carrying within deep love,comfort, peace and solitude.Carrying within we are andwill be...safe.