Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Once a delinquent, always a delinquent.

One morning recently, out of the blue, I had a bout of nostalgia. It was about a friend who is no more. He was my colleague for three years in Clarion-McCann http://digbig.com/5bbsqw when we became firm friends. He had to leave his job because he could not get along with his boss. Although I used to be quite serious and solemn about work and the world in general in those days, I made an exception in his case and got to be quite fond of him. He used to address me as “DW” (short for “Deepak Waman” Mankar) – a very British trait (“TS” = “Thomas Stearns” Eliot and so forth) he had acquired during his years of stay in London for higher studies followed by a job in advertising. He did it to nobody else, though. I was his chosen victim probably because I used to be such a square and a crushing bore in those days. The bloke was straight out of PG Wodehouse, full of pranks all the time. PG was also one of his favourite authors as he was mine. Our other shared reading preference was Edgar Wallace http://digbig.com/5bcadw. We used to hunt for PG and EW books jointly in shops stocking old books, magazines and other scrap as well as pavement stalls on Hornby Road and Lamington Road. He also loved Topol and "If I were a rich man" from A Fiddler on the Roof . He watched it several times when it ran at the Sterling in the eighties. Later on, we discovered that he had been Ujwal’s contemporary in St. Teresa High School which he had to quit after rustication as a reprisal for what he himself described as a “dastardly” prank. He finished school in St Sebastian. Though a devout church-going Catholic himself walking almost a mile to attend morning mass at the red St Teresa’s (Portuguese) Church, Girgaum, he apparently never got along with the priests running both the schools and even St Xavier’s College. One of his abiding passions in life at that time, besides chess games on the terrace of 233 Khetwadi Main Road http://digbig.com/5bafde and spending the whole day in the David Sassoon Library in Colaba, was the World War II history. He used to regale me with thrilling accounts of the various battle theatres. One event of the era we disagreed about was the Holocaust. He didn’t think the accounts of it were grossly exaggerated although he agreed with me that history is mostly written by the victors. Somewhere along the way, he had acquired a taste for locally brewed hock in spite of his years of pub crawling in London. It probably had something to do with his dire financial straits. He had his own unique style of downing his poison. He would take a fairly large swallow of his drink, make a face, take a lick of salt, quickly pour his next shot, bolt it down and make his exit. He also got into the habit of carefully hoarding stubs of cheap cheroots to later crumple them and smoke the tobacco in a pipe. One of this prankster’s weirdest – and stupidest − pranks cost him the opportunity offered to him on a silver platter for a late comeback into advertising. A newly launched ad agency floated in the late 1980s by his friends had hired him as the operational head. Had he taken the tide at the floods, it could well have turned out to be his swan song, his last hurrah. Alas! It was not to be. Instead of concentrating on marketing and client acquisition, he frittered away scarce resources on ads released on a whim and also alienated a few clients. Then came the point when he had no other alternative except to resign. For several years before his death a couple of years back, we had lost touch. When we came to hear of his hospitalization, both Ujwal and I went sick-visiting almost every day. We even attended his final service held at his younger brother’s flat in Bandra.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Nostalgia on steroids.

Namrata Dutt Kumar, the elder daughter of Nargis and Sunil Dutt, writes well, even cogently. She is the chief narrator of Mr and Mrs Dutt: Memories of our Parents (Rollibooks, 2007). She wrote it in tandem with her younger sister Priya Dutt, according to their joint admission in the Foreword. I’m impressed by the √©lan with which they shrug off, also in the Foreword, the responsibility to be truthful and to avoid veering toward hagiographic excesses: “Seen from the eyes of their children, an objective and impartial view [of the parents’ lives] is perhaps an unrealistic expectation.” I loved the master stroke at the bottom of the Foreword: their handwritten signatures appearing below their photographs from early childhood. I was not looking for 100% honesty and authenticity when I picked up the book. As an ardent admirer of the actress par excellence though (I thought − and still think − she was one of the greatest talents ever to have graced the silver screen pre- and post-Independence), I was looking in the narrative for the Nargis I remembered vividly from those days. I found some of the Nargis I remembered in her movie stills. I could at a stretch accept Namrata and Priya's portrayal of her and her bubbly buddy Shammi clowning around like Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball) and Ethel Mertz (Vivian Vance) from I Love Lucy (ibid., pages 66 -71 and page 90). But pre-Mother India Nargis without even a fleeting shadow of Raj Kapoor is like Hamlet without the ghost in Act I, Scenes 1, 4 and 5 of the eponymous play, especially considering the trouble they've gone to piecing together the antecedents of both their parents. I find it incredible that the son and daughters of Nargis never heard by sheer chance, if nothing else, at a wayside tea stall or over Radio Ceylon maybe the Lata Mangeshkar-Manna Day all-time hit: “Pyaar huwa iqraar hua hai, /Pyaar se phir kyoon darta hai dil?/Kehta hai dil, rasta mushqil, /Pyaar ki hai kahaan manzil?” (Love happened, vows were exchanged, /Why then is the heart so spooked by love? /The going’s arduous, says the heart, /Who knows where the trail of love leads?) Apocrypha has it that even poor Morarji Desai got a first-hand glimpse into the Fifties’ First Romance when he was the Chief Minister of the then Bombay Presidency. That of course was much before the Dutt progeny came on the scene. All this ducking and dodging and sticking one’s neck into a hole in the ground like an ostrich reminds me of what Erica Wagner wrote about Sharon Dogar’s soon-to-be-published novel for young adults, Annexed. This is a fictional account of Anne Frank’s life when she was hiding from the Nazis and incarcerated in the concentration camp to which the Anne Frank Trust has taken a strong objection because of graphic accounts of the narrator Peter van Pels’ desire for Anne and intimate scenes between the two. “When does history become history?” Wagner asks. “How do we draw a line after which speculation — factual or fictional — becomes permissible and unlikely to cause offence to anyone? Living memory? Longer? Who gets to decide?” http://digbig.com/5bbwxr. Wagner goes on to confess that she found it difficult to find a “true version” of any event while writing Ariel’s Gift: Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and the Story of Birthday Letters, her non-fiction book about Ted Hughes’ account of his life with Sylvia Plath in a series of poems. Did the truth vanish in thin air then?