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?” 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?