January 22, 2008

Begumhood Unparalleled

Nadira Babbar performed at Kamani Auditorium on Sunday, to an enraptured audience- old folks emitting 'wah wah' noises at sharp edges of the Siddiqui script, young folks gasping now and then, at the extravagant delivery of Urdu dialogues. I remained focussed on the lady herself.

Not having much of a taste for resplendent performances in the traditions of yesteryears, I felt some discomfort with elaborate (in bits, tacky) sets of Begum Jaan. Or the conventional lighting, or stage directions. A cleverly and tightly written script delivered with panache and accuracy of timing by the other two young actors, who deserve credit. Babbar playing Begum Jaan did much more. Creating a mood for the dilapidated and the bygone, that must be remembered and romanticised precisely because of its tragic extinction. Bringing alive in her body and voice and demeanour the aura of a defeated diva, clinging on to the shadows of her dying arrogance.

There are performances that are brilliant, there are performances that carry the pace of a production, set the mood for a production, and then there are performances which transcend the production. So much so that they could have been standalone performances without the context of a script, other actors, an auditorium or a set. What I took back was a sensation of awe at a truly classic performance, and not so much a story.

January 14, 2008


From early school days, I have nurtured a fondness for window seats in bus rides. For years I boarded a bus at five minutes to nine, and took the window seat, on the second row on the left. And stared out aimlessly at a city waking up. It was customary to Revise in the bus, when en route to an examination. I didn't much care for this custom as it would threaten to eat into my stare time. The stare time was also usually interspersed with reconstructions of yesterday's nine o' clock serial, the Enid Blyton Midnight Feast that took place the night before, the lunchtime fight of the day before. These indulgences in consonance with queer sights and sounds of an awakening city effectively pulled me out of moral quicksands of Not Studying Before Exam.

At age twelve, I was shifted to posh Anglophile school (earlier I was in jingoistic, highbrow Brahmo Bengali school), where the bus had to be boarded at seven in the morning. After a few swift maneuvers in this new bus community, I established Flag and Fence over the left window seat on second row. This was brilliant. It was a boy-girl bus. Which added variety to my morning canvas. Yuppy accented adolescent pigtail-pulling enmeshed in early morning trucks and chai-shacks and nine o'clock serial memories made for a hearty breakfast.

In college, there were Monday morning car-rides back to hostel, with radio in the background. Playing Dil Chahta Hai, Dhoom, Dhoom 2, RDB and Himesh- across five years. These were Morning Mulls of an average variety. Sometimes, I took the Nagarbhavi bus to Majestic, then one to St.Mark's Road from Platform Seventeen. Back home on Saturdays. On Saturday afternoons, these were excellent widow-seat-rides. Interspersed with heated conversations between vegetable-women and conductors in an alien tongue. Alien robust masculinity on kingsize painted posters. Alien political slogans brandishing each other across walls. Alien lanes leading alien crosses into alien mains, forming alien layouts. The humdrum planned neighbourhoods going about their afternoon business.

It was in Delhi that the old feeling of bus-ride-bliss came back to me. I looked forward to the odd matter in Tees Hazari or Debt Recovery Tribunal ( in Jhandewalan) being allotted to me, for the love of the ride. I had to catch the nine am one, because by nine thirty they would be too crowded and the Aggression Battles would overpower me. Journeys to courts opened up obscure dargahs across the city, some alleys bearing names of insignificant British Lieutenants, some undiscovered varieties of Jat Masculinities and Heavyweight Vehicles. And the forgotten cities of Delhi came forth to chat me up.

January 1, 2008

At the Spin of the Longitude

My oldest memory of a New Year's Eve is of having a new-born brother. Along with a blurred jumble of Year-ending TV programmes, flashing movie stars at parties, and Anu Malik and Abhijeet doing their bit for the masses. Closer to youth, there are the pre-Board examination woeful memories of parental grounding and envy of neighbourhood revelry. Coupled with middle-school pre-New-Year hip-girls' chatter about potential dates at the Saturday Club Do (that Have-Nots like me fantasise about till date).

Freedom from parental sensibilities and the ticket to debauchery came together at the law school. Where by dint of being low-life first year student, you are entitled to be ferried to a Party With Alcohol. Where you are told Random Hookups take place. Where Ex-boyfriends rise from the ashes. Or are woefully seen Hooking Up with Your Best Friend. And then you grow up to expecting that the Cute Junior Boy will hit on you Tonight. And then you grow old and cynical one year, when the Averagely Hot Phirang is making Cheesy Flirtatious Conversation, and you know you are Capitulating solely because you are Bored. And then, there are New Years of the Warm and Fuzzy Love-you-Forever variety.

Last night, I felt like I was happily back in adolescence. As I curled in at about one thirty, slightly stoned, at a friend's place, wondering what new stories will unfurl as our twenty-three-or-so longitude spins once more. Reminiscing the personal and the political. Bhutto killed and Modi triumphant. Loves lost and forgotten, loves almost fallen into. Little disgruntled. But mostly thankful.