Thursday, January 28, 2010

You had to, had to be there

Bandra Fort, last evening. For the reading of Nine Lives by William Darlymple. The session was interspersed with performances by characters in the books – Theyam dancers, Baul singers, Sufi singers from Sindh, and a performance by Susheela Raman. Raman’s performance can best be described with the goosebumps I got when she took that lion of a voice and throw it over the moon!

The fort was decorated with lamps, and there were chattais for seating. Elderly people were having a problem climbing up all those steps, and the inadequate lighting made a lot of people trip…but the place was packed. It was p.a.c.k.e.d.

Now, I’m not one for book readings. {I find it very infantilizing to have a writer read out his book, for God’s sakes. And then go on to talk about it. In my mind, a writer’s primary mode of articulation is the pen. If that hasn’t been wielded well, all the gabbing about ‘what I thought’ and ‘how I felt’ is not going to be worth it. When I write a book, I’m definitely not going to go on any publicity tours. On the other hand, if I write a film script (frankly, I’m more keen on doing that – I have a superb idea!), I’ll go to town talking about it. I don’t know why I’m making that distinction. I’ll answer that later, when I’m a renowned scriptwriter.}

This book reading was different, though. The performances were so rousing! The principal Theyam dancer, however, seemed a little restricted on the small stage. The Sufi singers from Pind arrived really late, after the sound systems were shut off. They were delayed in Delhi on account of official permissions and then on account of fog.

When Darlymple was making jokes on how Delhi officials were making the singers go from one office to another, refusing permissions, the crowd tittered and made stylized ‘Tsk! Tsk!’ noises. But I think it’s a reasonable precaution, considering what happened here last year. The Delhi officials were just doing their jobs, and I for one think that people entering this country, especially from Pakistan, should get the message that it is a freaking privilege for them to be here. You are still getting permission to not only enter a country you attacked, but perform in a city that was ravaged by one of your ilk some time back. And if you are inconvenienced, well, so be it.

I realize it’s not a very mature way of thinking. Also,my bias is likely to be completely unfounded on facts. I don’t know the reasons for delay. Maybe it was bureaucratic ineptitude or whatever. But I can’t get past the November attacks to wish for peaceful relations with that country. I know…the people who came to perform are not connected with the one who attacked us. But I am connected to the people who died and to the place that was under siege. So pardon my reservation against opening my window-sill to allow the plump dove with the olive branch in. Who knows what it’s carrying.

And because I was feeling that sceptical, I waited. To be proven wrong, perhaps. The singers arrived. There were four of them…small, puny, thin, fatigued. But getting ready to play. On stage…I don’t know what I was expecting…but they looked like people. Like, and it’s a cliché to say it, like us. It’s a weird thing to say…but…watching them nervously tune their instruments, quickly gulping water so as not to delay the performance any more…and our crowd…doing their damnedest to be polite…and not shove their way to the exits…I felt really sad. We are good people. They seemed like good people too. But, I still don’t find it in my heart yet to get past the history – the one that keeps repeating itself.

The Sufi singers were so innocent. So naïve in their experience in performing in India…they sang earnestly, then finished their performances, and walked away without a final bow. Even as we stood up to clap for them.

This is not an event I’d usually go to. I’m so thankful to Jaygee to taking me along. Just being there to see so many unexpected little things. Like Bandra Fort cleaned up (from being the usual hotbed of drugs, alcohol, sleaze and smuggling that it was when I was in college). Like getting into a BEST with people carrying original Moschino bags. Like watching people from a hostile place come and perform in front of a crowd they didn’t know what to expect from. (I’m sure they must have had reservations – what if the crowd pelted them with stones or booed them or staged a complete walk-out). Like being part of an audience that, for a brief passage of time, bypassed its nigglinginternal conflicts, stood up and gave thumbs-up signs en masse.

In the sky, a camphor moon shone down on a little fort bedecked with flames. Down below, people who had no business being civil to each other, made tentative eye contact. And smiled.

It’s strange to see how the world changes. You have be there.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

i liked the last two paras :) Made me smile

The Girl from Lokhandwala said...

Well said...especially what you said regarding Pakistani folk visiting India. We need the security measures...it's bad enough that not all of our police had guns or the training required to use them and died along with so many innocent people. Re: the reading - I really wish I was there too!

Mukta said...

anon...umm...okay. whatever pleases you.

girl...you must come for any other function that happens at Bandra Fort. You have to see it. It's really nice now! Seeing it pretty and free from sleaze - now that's a performance worth applauding! By the way, you grew up in Mumbai? If not, you may not get what the fuss is all about. He he!

vanderloost said...

Chiffoo, I don't know whether you are interested in Music(Sufiana, to be specific). Why I am asking because I wanted to attend the Aman ki Asha Concert very badly but couldn't make it at the last minute. If you have attended the same, give me a brief first hand account. The Times Now replay could not catch the "actual" atmosphere which pervaded the Andheri Sports Complex. Shubha Mudgal was made to look inconsequential and Begum Abeeda's frensy could hardly be captured in the small screen. Do let me know, your experience.....

I partially endorse your feelings......

Mukta said...

hi vander, no...i didn't attend that one. A friend told me, though, that a member from the audience went into raptures and starter twirling. He was escorted out. :-) I think there will be more such concerts. And as for Sufi music...well, actually, my taste in music is not very well-refined. I listen to whatever gets highly recommended by my other friends...what do i know? I love Bollywood music and MLTR. And also Celine Dion. Yes, vander...people laugh at me. They laugh hard! :-D

vanderloost said...

The twirling bit is a little too much. No I will not laugh at you. Even I like B Music. I strongly believe in each according to his taste to each according to his preferences.

Anonymous said...

Hey i've read darlymple too; would have been fun to hear him speak!

The Girl from Lokhandwala said...

Yeah I grew up here...miss being closer to Bandra...