...and then

Sunday, 24 June 2007

In a room with Life

Mallika Sarabhai isn't too difficult to figure out; with her what you see is what you get – inspired

When I walk in Mallika Sarabhai is sitting on the floor with a motley band of people. She looks up, bright and full of presence, and says in a strong voice, "This is the picture you should have got -- all of us from Darpana sitting down and eating an authentic Udipi lunch." With that she walks away with the empty patra and comes back with a big smile, head held high, trademark mismatched earrings (terracota this time) dangling.

"So, did you find the place easily? Of course, I couldn't have helped you anyway!" she says, laughing and I can tell immediately this is going to be good.

Here with her production Unsuni, a project that aims to make a difference, Mallika is due to perform all of 30 shows. "I am just trying to get people to say `I care' and make a difference in the smallest way possible. You don't have to have loads of money to make a difference. Start with small things - do you know your domestic help's situation in life? Does she have children? Do you have the time to take out and tutor her for two hours? Can you smile at her and treat her well? That's all Unsuni asks for," says Mallika. The performance, like most of Darpana's productions, is a mixture of dance and theatre, specifically aimed at social change. Darpana is looking at 100 performances across the country.

Unsuni, of course, is only one among the many things Mallika does. Apart from fighting an oppressive Narendra Modi for the past five years, she has been chasing her dream. A dream she started seeing when she was a little girl. "I used to accompany Papa (Vikram Sarabhai) when he used to go to villages and watch them all watch themselves on television," she says adding that right then she knew what a powerful medium TV was. "It's just in me. I know I can make a success of a social change project once I get my channel going. Like I did with Tara Television," she says, her voice echoing conviction and her eyes hopeful. Because getting investors or airtime is proving to be inordinately difficult in Ahmedabad where Mallika has her home. "When Narendra Modi went after me, I knew exactly who my friends were. When things cooled down and people told me they tried to call me but couldn't get through, I had no hesitation in telling them, 'No, you didn't.'" she says.

She goes on to talk about how successful Tara was and how it was brutally shut down one day before the Gujrat riots because it made powers that be questionable to citizens. ''I had such fun working on that. There were times when people faced great tragedies and would call us because they believed we could make a difference," she says.

It's easy to forget Mallika is a dancer -- but, of course, you have to ignore her trim figure and expressive, open face for that. Once you get past that, you discover all that Mallika is, lives in perfect harmony within her. Activist, teacher, boss, daughter, mother, philosopher, child and among many more things, woman ("I think he has a yen for me!" she says with a big grin in a stage whisper when I ask her why the Gujrat chief minister is, well, after her.)

Perhaps it is her wisdom and the lessons she's learnt from life combined with a certain childlike enthusiasm that have brought Mallika as far as this. "I have so much more to do. I'm just waiting for my channel to go up, now. After that I am sure I'll find something else to be equally committed to," she says. She looks thoughtful for a second and says, "Modi is a fool. I was doing his work for him, making it easier for him – making the state a better place – with Tara TV and I can do it with Sat Television. He doesn't see that." Ask her the source of her undying spirit and inspiration, and she is quick to give credit to her privileged upbringing. "I had parents who came from such great socially active families. It would have been criminal for me to not take that forward. To give what I had got," she says.

Speaking about her parents reveals yet another facet of Mallika's multi-dimensional personality. Her close bond with her farther and her tight kinship with her mother are obvious to see. So is the love, admiration and respect. About the time her father died, Mallika recollects, "I wrote my IIM entrance exam the day after I cremated Papa. I don't know what I wrote but I got through," she says. While we're on the subject, I ask Mallika what it was like there, considering who her parents were. "You know, I had people saying that I just got in because I was my father's daughter. I even had a professor who once told me, 'Mallika, because you are Vikram's daughter, I can't give you a 'B', so I am giving you a 'D' so people don't think I am being partial.' So I was damned if I did and damned if I didn't," she says. And there's nothing but bafflement in her voice. Not a single time when she talks about her life do I spot a note of regret or rue. Almost everything Mallika says is spoken with a smile, one that sure looks like it comes from the heart.

Among lot more talk (and a delicious Udipi lunch) Mallika tells me about how her children Revanta, 21, and Anahita, 17, chose to join her company Darpana and help out in their mother's work. So, marriage on the cards, then? "A relationship, may be. But marriage, no way," she says emphatically adding that it is an out-dated institution that people enter into if they need approval or because they are economically dependent. "Bipin (Shah) and I are good friends even today and the children were co-parented, so they didn't miss either of us," she says and grins at her daughter quipping, "Anahita, were you a neglected child?" Mother and daughter dissolve in a huge, warm hug and now the team is packing to get to the venue for their first performance. I know there's more to discover to this woman. But I figure I'll just watch the performance of Unsuni for that.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Rajnikanth, I can't.

Really, this noise over 'Sivaji' is getting on my nerves. I've never seen the point to Rajnikanth, by the way. Like it amuses me no end that he kicks up a whirlwind with his leg to beat up the baddies and that he goes around flipping cigarettes in the air. I even love his Hindi in 'ChaalBaaz' but then I also love bhel puri and night flights. They're not a religion, however.
I have nothing against the man, but I most certainly have a problem with people going on and on about it in any way possible. From conjecture on how many plastic surgeries it took to make him look younger, and whether Mammootty, Mohanlal, Amitabh Bachchan is in the movie and down to it being horribly entwined with the Cauvery water issue, I am just baffled. Yeah, so it's his 100th film. Well, if you act long enough, you'll get there, no? And he looks younger. Er, so? They've used 4k technology for the first time in an Indian film. Right, someone who just goes to light agarbathi to him before the film starts will definitely know the difference.
I mean I have more serious issues to exclaim over. Rajni's blond hair, for instance. Really. REALLY. Or him caressing Shreya's (or Shrriya or whateverhernameis) navel, which the censor board hacked, by the way. Or spending more than Rs70 crore on a movie.
Or the Cauvery Issue without Rajni.
There's so much else to get excited, hurt, passionate, cause-atious about. I just don't undertand the noise over 'Sivaji'. It's just a film.


This is love, then?

This forgiving when you
Storm off to the other room
Pleading exhaustion
When I toss and turn
On an odd insomniac night,
Sorry but I need to sleep, you said.
So do I.

This is love, then?
This learning to erase
With 4 a.m. poetry and a cigarette
Under a speeding, psychedelic fan
And a tottering 40-watt bulb.

This, then, is love.
Your tender smile in the morning
Your entreaties to you tell you what's wrong
Your switching on music of my choice.

Your taking, your giving
My insomnia, my writing.

This, then, is love!

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Looking for the sea in Bangalore

I just moved to Bangalore. From a perfectly functioning newspaper (whatever else its competitors say) and a vibrant, swank office bang in the middle of town to a something that's like out of Kafka's writing. Really. Like where am I?
No airconditioners. They say Bangalore doesn't need them. Then why am I sitting here mopping my forehead and constantly doing something to my hair so it will stay away from my warm neck? Or, and this is even more pertinent, why the hell is my boss sitting in an air-conditioned cabin?
If that wasn't enough, when I ask a rick (auto, here) to take me to Chamarajpet - yes, that's where my office is. Who was Chamaraj? - he asks me for an arm and a leg. Probably because asking for anything more offensive might get him killed. Of course, most of them first refuse. Admittedly, I do live far away from lovely, quaint Chamarajpetb (No restaurant delivers here. Not even Domino's). But I also have a lake to look out at from my bedroom, a lawn and bay windows that let all the light in the world in. Good trade off? I don't know yet.
So, I've been here three weeks and haven't actually eaten out. I love to eat out. The best I got was a walk with M down to this 'I should be in Mughal-e-Azam' decor-ed restaurant called Jalsa on Outer Ring Road. Mediocre food, regular fare. But gorgeous curtains.
So last night a beer-starved colleague, another chatty one and I decided to go cool off (no airconditioning, remember?). We went to Koshy's. If that place is not a bloody pissing off disaster, I don't know what is. S, this is your Bangalore institution that you've been asking me to parttake of?? Mr Palani promptly said the last order was 15 minutes away. So, okay. Three beers, and the bitching had just begun and he slyly slips us the bill. So, okay. We can still drink while the bill's on the table right? No. "Saar, bill please." So we pay, and in a flash they ask us to leave. Lights off. Aside: Anil's countenance did look rather fetching - half-lit, half-dark.
And that is when the long, cold and irreversible fingers of my tragedy touched me. I had moved to Bangalore from Bombay. The city of my birth. Theobroma. Elco's. Marine Drive. Bandra. Cabbing it. Getting used to saying bubba instead of the more Mac 'darlieng'. I'd come away from places that are mine, people I genuinely love and the sea.
Where will I go if I want to breathe salt in the night?
And then I let go. I went home and totally let go. OD'd on cigarettes, a whole bar of chocolate and read till four in the morning.

This morning, Welcome to Bangalore.
Eating out suggestions, please.