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And Then One Day a Memoir - By Naseeruddin Shah DOWNLOAD PDF - MB Naseeruddin Shah a nd then one da y A Memoir Contents. And Then One Day A Memoir Naseeruddin Shah Xystem - [Free] And Then One Day A. Memoir Naseeruddin Shah Xystem [PDF] [EPUB] -. AND THEN ONE. And Then One Day: A Memoir PDF - homeranking.info Harish Sivaramakrishnan talks about 'designmafia', the design team in freecharge on his.
I find it hard, to this day, to explain or even understand the peculiar apathy that overtook me then, and stayed with me for a long time after; apathy towards my future, towards my empty stomach, towards any chance of employment, towards my traumatized parents. He also talks about how he almost got shot! Only once did I feel I was testing her patience when she caught me practising my dialogue in front of the mirror. But the one thing I have learnt from reading this book is that if I ever come across the man himself, especially at an airport, I should not go all out grinning like an idiot and tell him how much I admire his work and ask him for an autograph. But could he act? Nor did the exciting chase materialize.
His admiration for theatre, which remains his first love, comes through clearly and repeatedly. His impulsive first marriage at the age of 19 with a woman 14 years his senior, that too in the conservative town of Aligarh, illustrates his independent streak and scant regard for conventions and traditions.
His description of his first marriage and relationship is brutally frank, and he does not hesitate to acknowledge his insensitivity following the birth of his daughter. He has little admiration for mainstream Hindi cinema, and makes no bones about it.
He has a few kind words for the acting prowess of Dilip Kumar in whose house he stayed for few days during his first, unsuccessful sojourn in Bombay, courtesy a relative!!
He ridicules movies like Sholay , and feels that almost all mainstream Bollywood movies are poor remakes of Hollywood movies. Throughout his school and college days spent in small towns of Northern India, he watched every conceivable film, but always enjoyed Hollywood movies far more than Hindi ones. His academic performance ranged from indifferent to miserable, with the solitary exception of English literature, in which he excelled consistently.
His other fondness was for sports- cricket and tennis.
His love for the language reflects in his easy, elegant and often humorous prose. Occasionally , however, his language becomes convoluted and sentences become long winded, at least to an ordinary reader like me. His days at the NSD, Delhi were exciting, challenging and stimulating. His interaction with teachers and colleagues are described in detail.
His stint at the FTII Pune was ridden with controversy, as he got involved in a massive strike which contributed to the ultimate demise of the institution. In these institutions he came in touch with his contemporaries, some of whom, like Om Puri, he truly admired for their talent and devotion. He considers himself totally indisciplined, moody and arrogant as compared to Puri- who apparently was more disciplined and gentle. Yet both became the best actors of their generation. Throughout his life, he continues to struggle with himself , tormented by what constitutes the best style of acting, and discusses these aspects in detail.
Shah is forthcoming about his marijuana and LSD experiments. He is unabashedly honest about his 'ordinary' looks, which are not typically 'Bollywood' handsome. He describes his not inconsiderable, but often disastrous, mainstream Bollywood experiments with honesty and humour.
A refreshingly honest, readable book from one of the greatest actors of our times. Oct 07, Abhijit rated it it was ok. Frank and honest but one can give it a pass For an actor with his stellar performances that marks his acting repertoire and a frank and honest opinion that he carries on everything, I thought it to be an interesting affair to read this memoir.
If the autobiography written by Naseeruddin Shah was anything it was honest. He is honest in telling his story where he didn't try to and didn't contradict the great actor that he is and mixed it up with showing himself as a great person too.
He is quite Frank and honest but one can give it a pass He is quite frank about the personal follies that he has committed. Consumed by his passion for acting and the desire to make his own mark, he let his personal relationships suffer, and his moral responsibilities unattended without any self realisation.
All he was committed to what his acting. But there comes a time when these forgotten imprints come back as some form of guilt, when a person after travelling the road he had to and successfully so, starts judging his actions and weighing the right and wrong. Most people tend to justify their actions.
The honest person that is Mr. N chose to write about his follies, his early marriage to a woman 12 years elder to him, denial towards responsibilities of having a daughter, his differential equation with his father, and all of this at the age of twenty one. It is not an autobiography to inspire you to do great things but more about how a focused desire to be what you want to be demands a certain degree of selfishness and probably heartbreaks to your near ones who might not have been dear to him at that point in time.
But if not for these mistakes and sole focus bordering on selfishness how would us the audience would have got an actor like Naseeruddin Shah. Naseeruddin accepts all of this with humility knowing full well that some wounds never heal if not tended well in time and for him there are plenty. What he has ensured may be is to cleanse his system of the guilt that he carries.
Through his autobiography one can understand certain nuances of human relationships but nothing more than that. I am sure he has a lot more to tell which could be of value but it seems Naseeruddin Shah has knowingly restricted himself to get the guilt that he carries out of his system.
Although filled with details of his life in NSD, FTII and filmy anecdotes, the main theme is that of presenting a factual account of his relationships where he shied away from his responsibilities and commitment.
Every book has some learning to provide in ways that we know and also don't know about. The hallmark of this memoir is that it sheds light on some aspects of human relationships.
The life in NSD and filmy anecdotes is quite passable. Should you miss something if you don't read the memoir? I don't think so. Judge the price and, the alternatives and buy only if you are a compulsive reader of autobiographies like me. Try Dev Anand's autobiography or the biography on the Kapoor's instead if you are looking for an alternative. N has good command over his English though, something you would expect from a theatre actor for life who probably knows Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw by heart.
Oct 13, Sukanya rated it it was amazing Shelves: This is a wry storyteller's story. A reluctant conversationalist. Someone who keeps observing himself. Not without a fair bit of amusement. At some point he must have been really tough on himself, but now he has sort of made peace with the blunderbuss that he is and has to live with.
Why did I like this book? In fact, yes, the strongest impressi This is a wry storyteller's story. That and his extremely difficult relationship with his father. I wonder, if he ever feels that it is this mutual antipathy that they shared that helped him stay motivated about pursuing a career in theatre and cinema. Had his dad ever slackened a bit, I suspect, he would have not persevered as much as he did. Again, why did I like this book?
Because, NS inspite of being THE NS, it felt he was still trying to make sense of acting as a craft and that his legendary arrogance is more of disgruntlement and unease with the fact that, there are many fundamental questions about his craft that still eludes him.
His genuine regard for the work of his contemporaries like Om Puri, Azmi and others would almost make one forget that the first person voice expatiating inside one's head, on so and so's work, is actually that of THE Naseeruddin Shah's. About acting, he almost says it at some point that, it is easier to know what this craft is NOT, than to figure out what it is. Reading about his years in NSD, in FTII and later as a professional actor, one is left with this feeling that all throughout, he kept trying to 'crack the code', unravel the mechanics of his craft.
Because going by instinct and winging it something that came easily to him to deliver a convincing performance that the world would gush over, is satisfying only for so long. Knowing why one is doing what one is doing, and more importantly working systematically at the many pieces of one's craft - movement, pronunciation, diction, casting, carriage, etc. But even then. One sort of gets this idea from NS that there is only so much that one will ever 'know'.
That there will continue to be ever so many frustrating things that will niggle one endlessly and there will be nothing to do about them, except live with them and live them out. And that is why I liked the book so much. Because it is honest. About how things are in life. There are no fade-outs or open-ended endings, left to interpretations in life. Life is to be lived out. The pleasant parts and the unpleasant parts as well.
There is simply no other way of getting around things. And accepting this basic fact is perhaps the sanest recourse. We need more people telling us this basic truth. Feb 20, Gopal Vijayaraghavan rated it really liked it. On reading the book, one really is surprised as to how much little is known about the personal life of Shaw. This makes the biography more interesting as Shaw traces his fascination for theatre acting which he got at a very young age inspired on seeing the performance of nautanki.
The troubled relationship between the father and son is told in moving terms. He confesses the influence of the English movies which he saw in formative years, rather than Hindi movies for his quest. Though he had acted in so many popular Hindi movies he is frank to confess that in most of such films his performance was below par. His critical writing does not leave such legendary figures as Alkazi, Peter Brook and Grotowski - whose experiment of theatre made Shaw feel himself a guinea pig.
His trip to London on a promise to be offered the role of Gandhi by Attenborough is told in the most hilarious tone. Let us not drag out the long-exhausted argument that the common man needs these films to get away from his drudgery etc. A habit for consuming junk has over the years been created in the audience. They are now irrevocably hooked on that taste, they crave it so they swallow anything that comes thus packaged, and ironically they are blamed for having to be pandered to.
Dec 28, Devarsi rated it it was amazing. The five stars have more to do with my personal enjoyment and engagement with the book rather than some objective "goodness" of it. First up, I only read autobiographies of people I admire or am a fan of in some way. As a result, in I had the great luck of reading autobiographies of people who couldn't be more different from each other - pro wrestler, "meathead" Brock Lesnar and the great Indian thespian, film actor and absolute riot of a person - Naseeruddin Shah.
If you are a "fan" of the The five stars have more to do with my personal enjoyment and engagement with the book rather than some objective "goodness" of it.
If you are a "fan" of the person, you'll love this book, even more so, because he writes exactly like he speaks.
If you have seen him or read him giving interviews, well that's exactly how he's written the book and for once the blurb by Ramachandra Guha ".. If you are not really a fan but are acquainted with his work somehow, you'll probably never be bored because And Then One Day gives fantastic insight into the mechanics of acting, how theatre works, the art film movement of the 70's and how a young, aspiring "film star" grapples with the day to day challenges of film acting, stage acting, stardom albeit, of a certain kind, within certain circles for a then-young Naseer and plain old life - things which I feel are really worth knowing and understanding.
Lots of film and acting stalwarts make interesting cameos in the book: Naseer's romance with Ratna is a breeze to read and has that "old world charm" we all love talking about. All in all, And Then One Day was a great experience and I genuinely felt a little bad when the book ended not just for my blossoming and overwhelming love for all things Naseer but, of course, the book only chronicled his life till the time of his marriage circa Masoom and thus we don't get to read about the Nasser who was actually getting some mainstream attention thanks to Rajiv Rai in the late 80's and later in the 's Main Hoon Na , Krrish , League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
Jan 20, Balachander rated it really liked it. This is a surprisingly good read. Well, not that surprising considering the good reviews this received when it came out.
Naseeruddin is He makes it clear that he hasn't been an exemplary individual in his personal life but that he has always been in love with cinema and the acting profession and that he was bloody good at it. And in what might come as no surprise to anyone who has read his interviews, This is a surprisingly good read. And in what might come as no surprise to anyone who has read his interviews, he has few complimentary things to say about "Bollywood", except for a few compliments to Amitabh and Dilip Kumar.
Naseeruddin shah delves into great detail about how he approached his roles on stage and is candid about his many failures as a traditional, singing and dancing hero. Disappointingly the book ends somewhere in the mid eighties I think. It would have been interesting to see what he thought of his post 90s work including some plum roles in mainstream cinema.
Racily written, this is of a higher quality than most ghost written bios of Indian movie stars. A must read, if you're a fan of the man. Oct 28, Gauri Pandit rated it it was amazing. This book deserves every bit of praise it has received. Naseeruddin Shah is an unabashed narrator - both candid and self-aware of his talents and shortcomings.
His frankness coupled with his sometimes unperturbed and sometimes amused outlook on life and such made this a wonderful read. Something I genuinely enjoyed was the way he described Bombay at a time when it was a hub of counterculture; when Indian cinema was just peaking -- a sort of modern renaissance for urban artists.
And yet, not once This book deserves every bit of praise it has received. And yet, not once did I feel like he was looking back at his time in Bombay with rose-coloured lenses. It was a very unglamorous but nonetheless fascinating account of the cultural atmosphere and his experiences in it. Dec 31, Ashwin rated it really liked it Shelves: It is refreshing to see a candid autobiography,unlike most Indian autobiography.
Shah talks about his childhood, his desire to be on stage since he was a child. Nov 10, Sachin Srinivasan rated it really liked it. Naseeruddin Shah's memoir stays true to his perceived persona, that of being an eccentric genius.
It offers valuable insights into a man in pursuit of his excellence, and surprisingly, he gives a no-holds barred take on himself. Brilliant read this! Jun 09, Ahmed rated it really liked it. Brilliantly written, we get to know the person more than the actor I feel but for all its brilliance I wished there was more about the movies he did during the late 80s to 90s.
It ended rather abruptly I felt but its a must read to get to know about the person he is and his journey. Oct 03, Ramesh Prabhu rated it it was amazing. Buy it right away. It is so good, so readable, so funny, so honest I am on Page more than halfway through and I am already wishing it would never end.
Aug 15, Avinash Agarwal rated it it was ok. Left thoroughly dissatisfied after completing the book. Too much of disconnect in the way it is narrated. There is a chronology maintained by the author starting from his childhood till the age of 32 when he tasted success for the first time but he goes back and forth citing examples and one losses the flow while reading a particular part. Sep 23, Hrishikesh rated it really liked it. It is not necessary to begin a book with some expectations - and yet, to justify the origin of a fleeting sense of disappointment, I am forced to ask myself: Was it an account of Naseeruddin Shah's drug-addled flights of fancy?
Was it a tryst with his struggle-against-the-odds because I know that is not what I seek? Something out of "Rockford"? Truth is - I don't know what I expected. The book is commendable because it delivers on several fronts. There are flig It is not necessary to begin a book with some expectations - and yet, to justify the origin of a fleeting sense of disappointment, I am forced to ask myself: There are flights of surrealism that Shah breaks into and you know that much of the book, he has witheld both his style and his content.
There are engagaing accounts from his childhood some of which reminded me of "The Moor's Last Sigh". Large parts of the book are stimulation which I currently seek as a remedy for my own stagnation. There are insider stories of Bollywood more on this, below. There are Shah's own perspective and notions of Thearter and Acting more on this below, as well.
Where the book disappoints is the following - as mentioned above, Shah has curtailed his style, pulled back a few punches. I empathize with a sense of not wanting to share every single incident that one has encountered in one's life - even incidents that one has begun to discuss in a book. I also understand the tactical need - and the courtesy - of protecting a few identities. There are places where the book drags on - these are mainly areas where anecdotes become chronologies; a series of movies and plays and people.
These are the areas where it seems as if Shah is ticking off check-boxes, not narrating something substantial in each event perhaps there might not be something substantial in each event; but as a reader, I am not interested otherwise.
Reading through his account of mainstream Bollywood, I have grown to share his condescendance of the vast majority of Bollywood, and the mediocrity it spawns. Don't misunderstand me - I never for once considered Bollywood to be the crucible of great cinema. But, before this, I was largely indifferent - at least passively dismissive.
The lack of originality and independent thinking goes a long way in explaining why I haven't seen a movie in a cinema hall in a long time that I haven't been disappointed with. His approach to theater is intriguing and engaging. There is a lot of content here that makes sense, and highlights that quite often our own approach to creating theater is shallow and lacks a foundation.
I am going to urge my friends who are associated with Theater to read this. There are a lot of learning experiences here. What is particularly appealing to my some psyche is that this approach is not mere philosophy - it is a healthy combination of ideas and abstractions with a pratical approach to his ware.
This memoir has - quite obviously - influenced my perception of Naseeruddin Shah. It has shown to me that this masterful actor is as human as the rest of us, that he also has made mistakes, that he has also compromised with life - but at the end of the day, remained true to what he wanted to do.
I am personally loathe to upgrade humans into pantheons; but there are a few who miss the cut by a whisker. Naseeruddin Shah is one such almost-hallowed individual. This book has been another example of one such individual - whose magnanimity is magnified because of his innate humanness. That, I suppose, is why he is so extraordinary. All-in-all, a good book. Rather, an inevitable book. Let us be honest, even if this book were complete to use Naseeruddin Shah's phrase cat-vomit, we still wouldn't have been able to put it down.
As I turned the last page over, I was overwhelmed. There was a stage of reflection - you know that feeling you get sometimes, when you look out of the window, see what a beautiful day it is, and how beautiful life it is, and you're feeling both happy and sad at once? Nostalgia floods in, and there is joy and there is sorrow. You just know that there was something special.
The opening quote on the book - lyrics from Floyd's "Time"; they're so apt! Sep 26, Arun Divakar rated it it was ok. Then along came this book which is the autobiography of an actor whose work has been a mishmash ranging from frivolous Bollywood capers to beautiful cinema. However it turned out to have the same fate as of some his earlier box-office disasters! The upside of this work is that Shah comes across as very candid when he writes about his childhood.
There are extremely detailed chapters on his wanton childhood, his squabbles with his father, the first tentative steps in acting etc. The humor is self-deprecating and the tone is easy to engage with.
The times Shah spent as just another extra artiste being a face in the crowd and the periods of abject poverty in his life are truly amazing anecdotes of survival from a legendary actor. My interest however started wearing off when Shah progressed from a struggling actor to a more experienced one with a couple of films under his belt. His tone starts to become consistently sardonic and condescending as he discusses the movies he acts in, the plays he is a part of and also co-workers.
According to him, the entire Bollywood industry which churns out popular movies is a cess pit. Which leads me to wonder why he continues acting in them? Not recommended. Apr 11, Varun Kashyap rated it really liked it. Takes some time to grow on you.. An honest account of his failures, the arrogance,the know it all that brought about it all, though in retrospect , and how he turned the corner..
The disturbing relations, the many liaisons, the friendships that won't last.. It makes you feel more that you know what this person is and i feel thats what an autobiography intends to do and its a success at that part. To be on the emotional ride of failures after failures, to be outcast in your own family, to find your life's calling , spread along the relationships , the friendships and you get a moving account of a person , of a life, less of the star more of the human being.
You feel him more humane and closer than the larger than life images and status stars have.. The writing is good, not much detailed, but being from Meerut i could relate to many of the places, i think most of us should be able to. I was not looking for filmy anecdotes, rather i was avoiding this book just because its going to be another "he said so on the set of so and so " and i am glad its not like that.
If some one if turned off by that may be they should avoid e. One you walk through his life you do realize the thought process behind that thinking, you do realize the background and the mettle against which Mr Shah compares it to, i did find his views logical and on firm sense not out of jealousy for other's work. I still have the report card for that year too, which proclaims that I stand 50th in a class of I excelled in English at times, but that was all. Maths was totally beyond me as were physics and chemistry, and as for trigonometry Much to my envy, both the Zs featured in the school plays.
This needs some recounting. Every time I ever saw a play, and this dates back to Mr Fixit, I would, while waiting for the curtain to rise, be intensely intrigued by exactly what was going on behind it. But at that time I wanted nothing more than to be privy to what was brewing on the other side.
This was Class 8, the year , and I was twelve or eleven, depending on my mood. Get the thought out before the damn stammer hits, you know It was a monumental discovery. Now I was actually standing behind the curtain. I was there! I took a long while savouring the feeling that there were people out there who were curious about what we were doing, about what I was doing. I kicked the hem of the curtain to make it billow and make them wonder even more.
Warm, safe, comfortable. You have no weight, no cares.
The outside world is outside. It can get to you only when you let it. Then the curtain opened. Suddenly, the womb was gone and I was staring into a black void. Never having been onstage before, I was blinded by the intensity of the lighting, but then I felt the boards under my feet, and I took a breath.
In the dazzling blackness, dim shapes of heads gradually began to identify themselves. They looked expectant, receptive, not hostile and judgemental, as in life. And every one of them seemed to be looking at me. I had one of the first lines. They had listened and they had responded! And I discovered that no one in the cosmos is more desirous of loving you, for that moment, than an audience is.
It was the defining moment of my life and made me feel I was of some worth after all. Acceptance and appreciation were things I was not familiar with. And vain though it may sound, it is absolutely true that never again while stepping on to the stage have I ever felt the slightest anxiety.
All I have felt is impatience. And being up there, for the most part I have known only joy, even when subjected to hostile audiences. Anyway, that is also why meeting the audience after a performance is not my favourite activity. The arrival of the December vacation in school was heralded by icy winds and the appearance of our trunks in the quadrangle. The day of departure was a day of celebration. An overnight journey, and finally chugging in over the Jamuna bridge past the ramparts of the Old Fort and into Old Delhi station and parental embraces, followed by warm toast and tea in a pot in the station refreshment room.
And then the final leg of the journey to Ajmer, arriving there normally in the dead of night; and the tonga ride home, perched precariously on our trunks all the while. I love the smell, and it is definitely responsible for my love of horses.
The Sunday morning English matinee was allowed us but other outings were uncommon, and with Baba being the kind of person he was, so was socializing. We visited and were visited by maybe one family, the Capoors, Mrs Capoor being the most beautiful vision of a woman I have ever seen in my life, but even them we saw only on festivals or weddings or suchlike.
Spotting Mrs Capoor taking a walk while we were cycling past would make our respective day. Playing cricket was our only pastime, and our most, and only, prized possessions were a bat, a ball and a set of stumps.
None of us ever became terribly proficient at the game despite playing it every day in every vacation. These weddings were monumental affairs. Uncles, aunts and cousins of all varieties from all over the country, from Pakistan and even further, would descend, the celebrations were unending, and the feasts and the flare-ups massive. Guns and fireworks went off and antique swords flashed about.
Until later stricken by paralysis and heartbreak at his warring sons and getting reduced to a pathetic sideshow, he was a gargantuan figure, his great quilted coat engulfing all three of us. She was a tall, slim, elegantly turned out hard- faced lady with twinkling eyes, who smoked asthma cigarettes. The lands they owned were still to be divided and fought over by their children, so the estates were still enormous, but the picnics and shikars and mango-eating contests were to be among the last indulged in.
Habib Shah owned the MeerutSardhana Roadways, a fleet of three buses which plied the sixteen miles between these two places, and brought bagfuls of loose change every evening. The last useful function any of the buses performed was to provide us children with a great space to play in, in its remains.
The Meerut-Sardhana route today has scores of buses going up and down, but the Shahs blew their chance to control it long ago. Ammi had four brothers, two of whom left at Partition and two the eldest and the youngest stayed behind. The youngest, Shahabuddin Babar Shah Mamu , was a lovable rogue who was never to amount to anything, but has stayed my idol always. But at that time these square-jawed studs walked among the stars for me; all three of them handsome, humorous, hot-tempered, tall, tough and temperamental, quick to take offence, crack shots with a gun, fast and effective with their fists, seemingly invincible, indestructible people, with an unending capacity for enjoyment.
It was this very attitude, I guess, which took Shah Mamu to a grisly death not too long after, Chand Mamu to the complete disintegration of property and family reputation, and Agha Mamu into an imaginary shell of his own making, where he dwelt to the end in extreme bitterness, his days of power and charisma a distant memory.
But in his salad days Agha Mamu who, I suspect, modelled himself on Clark Gable, upstaged his siblings completely. He was the third of at a rough count twenty children Naushaba Begum bore, of whom eleven survived, which means she must have done precious little but bear children for close to thirty years.
Though there was almost a quarter-century of difference in age between him and the other two, it had more to do with the confidence quotient actually, as was visible one evening when Agha Mamu, who had arrived a few days later than the others, and Chand Mamu were seated side by side on modha chairs in the courtyard of Habib Manzil, with all us adoring children sitting around.
Shah Mamu seldom appeared when Agha Mamu was holding forth as he was now, his arms expansively spread on the armrest; and never before had I seen Chand Mamu look so small, though he in fact possessed a remarkable personality himself. Ratna in fact ranks him among the most heart-stoppingly handsome men she has ever seen, but that evening this man who so far had lit up the gathering with his presence was almost unrecognizable, sitting with arms stuck meekly to his sides inside the armrests.
This I suppose was my very first lesson in acting. BUT a wondrous new store of movies as well. Titles of movies to be shown through the year would be published in the school diary at beginning of term, and I salivated copiously reading the list.
I was no longer a child, I was told, and disapproval abounded. It became worse than school could possibly be. I suppose I could live with the disapproval of the teachers.
I cared not a whit for them, and even after all these years I have to struggle a bit to suppress the aggrieved feeling that, in all my years there, not one teacher in that school ever made the slightest attempt to reach out to me. And I guess I did. I drove her to despair, she always said, but she never gave up on me. She would gleefully play along with our whispered suspicions that she went home on a broomstick, and when in really severe mode she used the handle of a feather duster for chastisement.
In later life after having been roused to fury by something my own children did, I often, on calmer reflection, realized that it was my own insecurities and failings in something completely unrelated that had made me bully them thus, and I did it only because I could.
I sometimes wonder how many disappointments and failures poor Miss Perry or Brother Burke must have lived with to relish being so relentlessly cruel to the children in their care. After standing around politely for a while, not his style at all, he barged straight into the drawing room where the extra class was on, and brazenly demanded that she let me off.
Miss Perry held her ground until something sounding suspiciously like profanity to her ears was said. She blanched and weakly threatened to send him to the Principal. Valiant valiant Shah Mamu! I leave it to your imagination, dear reader, to visualize what happened to me. A real sight for the gods would have been a run-in between Brother Burke and Shah Mamu.
Old Burke, after continuing to terrorize and according to many, also teach students rather well for many more years, went back to Ireland in the mid nineties, and finally mingled with his own earth. My prayer for him is that in the big projection room in the sky he has the most comfortable seat and an unending store of his favourite movies for all eternity. That, and I also hope he keeps getting rapped on the head with a hard knuckle every now and then when he least expects it.
As for Miss Perry, sometime in the mid nineties I learnt she was in a home for the aged in Lucknow. Cricket, my second, er I still never got a chance to act on the stage, and the gulf between my parents and me began to widen. I have had only fleeting contact with both over the succeeding years but can never forget how they made me feel. Going home for the vacations was now drudgery worse than school. Most maternal uncles and aunts were long married, and the assemblages at Sardhana were for funerals rather than festivities.
Habib Manzil was losing its grandeur, it looked kind of washed-up now. The old walls were starting to crumble and new walls were coming up with succeeding generations laying claim to their share of the houses and the lands.
The divisions had begun. Ammunition had become prohibitively expensive, and blackbucks were disappearing from the face of the earth, so that was more or less the end of shikar as well. Expensive luxuries were now being done without. The gramophone was catching rust with neither the stock of records nor the stock of needles being replenished.
The cousins were all growing up and getting on with their lives. Sardhana was becoming a bore. No one even saw ghosts there any more. So apart from the Maulvi saheb who tried to teach us Arabic and Urdu, there was a procession of tutors on whom my poor misguided father spent another good portion of his salary, and who I hoped would be devoured by Zulu, our crossbred German shepherd, on their way in. One almost was, but got away with ripped trousers and a sprained wrist, but no blood.
Holidays, in fact life, had become a monumental drag. The cricket field, the scene of so much gloriously sweaty laughter, lay abandoned. Now there was only the occasional tonga ride, the cricket commentary on the radio, and Zulu to play with and, of course, the Sunday morning English movie at Prabhat Talkies. Back at Sem, Miss Perry was succeeded as class teacher by John Lefevre, a dapper, affable bachelor who had a rumbling baritone, rolled his cigarettes and always smelt of tobacco.
He was kind and much loved. Cricket was trying to force itself to the forefront of my awareness, and was grappling with movies for the honour. Apart from the literature stories and the odd poem worth memorizing, I found nothing of the slightest interest in any of the books I was made to read in class.
Cricket was interesting. The last-straw thing happened when I was the third victim bowled round my legs in a hat-trick pulled by one Prabhat Kapil. I continue however to sustain a passion for the game, which at that time was aflame. I had a vast collection of pictures of cricketers past and present which, when I left school, I just left behind. Those pictures would be priceless today. Cricketers were godlike creatures blessed with special gifts; besides, there were so few. There were many more actors, so I plumped for the easier alternative.
Cricket is a heartless mistress and much tougher than acting. In cricket one mistake could be the difference between humiliation and glory.
In the movies, everything always turned out all right. You could put your faith in a superhero and rest your own head on your pillow and sleep. They seemed silly and have never stopped seeming so. The back- projections looked like back-projections. I actually remember an actor wearing a wristwatch in some period costume drama. Everything in those movies seemed tatty and in poor taste; watching one I never felt convinced that this was actually happening.
So I guess there is something the matter with my perception. Be that as it may, Hindi movies and their actors have never held much fascination for me; a role model in the Hindi film industry has been hard to find except perhaps for the eccentric Mr Raaj Kumar, and he not for his acting which was dreadful but for the way he safeguarded his interests, prolonged his career, and sent all Follywood on a flying fuck to the moon whenever he felt like it.
Nazrul Haque, a classmate, introduced me to cigarettes and found a willing pupil, a fascination for the smell of burning tobacco and the manner of people who smoked it being not uncommon among young boys. The remains of a cigarette were actually found by the dorm matron once in the pocket of one of my shirts going to the laundry.
The punishment for smoking was expulsion and no questions asked. While I vigorously protested my innocence in the face of undeniable proof, it did seem for a while that my trunk would emerge shortly from the box room on its own. It was common knowledge that many senior boys smoked, and it was concluded that the cigarettes had been planted in my pocket; some senior was shifting evidence that might have damned him.
The suspicion that I was a complete idiot began to grow into a conviction, and I had not a clue what to do about it. This belief must have made it even tougher for him to swallow my increasingly dismal performance. I think he did believe it, and wanted me to believe it too, but it was a little while before that happened, and in the most unexpected way.
My utter disinterest in learning anything except cricket scores and the speeches in Julius Caesar had now reached the proportions of an ailment. Zaheer, the brains of the family, was deputed by Baba to coach me in maths, and he valiantly tried, sacrificing his own precious study hours trying to drill some mathematical sense into me. My mind would not sit still long enough to assimilate the solution of one problem, and then it would be time to move on to the next!
It has often been a boon too in later life while having to sit through the narration of a script one has given up on in the first five minutes. Anyway, academic rock-bottom was hit when in the final exams of Class 9 I fared abysmally and actually gave in my trigonometry paper empty, with an inscription that I hoped would amuse the examiner: I averaged about 30 per cent, not enough to get me through.
That day I got to it first. When I saw Baba, steam seemed to be coming out of his ears, but then he often looked like that. He handed me the cycle without a word and entered the house. Completely unaware of what was coming, I merrily rode the bike around to the back of the house to find Baba, face black with rage, standing there like the wrath of God. He flung at me a folded piece of very official-looking paper which got me bang in the chest and, just like in the movies, fell right into my hand.
Preparations to admit me into a school in Ajmer began, the only hitch being that all schools in Ajmer were almost at the end of their own academic terms, with barely three months to go before final exams. It was a brilliant plan, designed to see that I lost only a few months, and not a whole year. But I managed to foil it as well. And as I write this, the disquieting thought creeps into my mind that, for younger actors who may be reading this, I am hardly an example worthy of emulation, and I begin to wonder why I am writing it at all.
Is this a story worth telling? No matter. But I had managed to delay it. Turning my cycle homeward at last, I frantically searched my mind for what lie I could possibly tell this time. Just quietly told me to go eat.
I must confess that on this day I actually felt sorry for him. But before I go into this, for me, totally momentous year, I must first go a little further into what my years in Sem did for me, and to talk of the only other friend I had there, apart from Pearly and KC—the mirror.
No one ever passes a mirror without glancing into it. In Sem, there were a number of rather large mirrors all over our locker rooms. On one occasion, tardy in dressing, I got locked in there for the duration of morning prep. I went around the locker room looking at myself in every mirror there. Like anyone else I really wanted to know what I looked like. Not even any sign of a moustache.
These sessions with the mirror would leave me terribly unsatisfied yet they never stopped. I could see I looked nothing like an actor should, and felt discriminated against by nature. Watching impossibly handsome film stars playing larger-than-life figures in the movies, I became convinced that these people were photographic tricks.
How could anyone look so perfect, not a hair out of place all the time? A foreboding of defeat was accompanied by a complete loss of interest in academics, and in life. The mirror ceased to be my friend for a while. Then one day we were shown a film called The Old Man and the Sea.
It had two central characters, a fisherman played by Spencer Tracy, and a large fish he catches and tries to bring home. The fact that it was a classic of literature was not something I knew or would have cared about at that time. But being introduced to this old man, who was a photographic trick of course, was a revelation. He looked so real, he almost smelt of the sea. The sunburnt face, the tattered clothes, the bare feet, the calloused hands. He looked like he had spent his life on this boat.
And this was an actor?!! He looked like old Habib Shah at moments and he looked as real. The travails he endured in the movie looked real, the way he rowed his boat looked real, when he hauled in the fish it looked real. His strength and his suffering, even his sweat, looked real. I nowjust had to know whether I at least had these qualities, or nothing at all.
At the first opportunity, I re-established contact with my old friend and carefully examined my own face to see if twenty-thirty years from now I could maybe play a part like the Old Man. If it was going to take that long I was prepared to wait. I ended the session somewhat satisfied that I could. I had no problem seeing myself, hat at a rakish angle, fag in mouth, gun-belt dangling at my waist, strolling down a deserted street and languidly turning to knock down half a dozen bad guys with unerring aim, but evidently no one else could.
So I tried visualizing myself as the Old Man walking home exhausted, oar in hand, dragging his nets behind him. A hockey stick served very well as the oar and my sports jersey as the nets. It was a not unconvincing effort, I have to say.
My dreamworld, now slowly enlarging itself, was becoming an almost tangible reality and beginning to engulf me. I retreated completely into it and was, as I realize now, in very real peril of getting lost. The fisherman was an actor! And he was real. When absolutely alone, and I guess this was where I unconsciously started to train myself, I began to will myself to believe I was actually trudging up a snowy cliff as I ascended the stairs to the dormitory, and I found that I could.
I could believe, as I lay in my bed, that I was in a boat adrift in the sea. I believed I was stranded in a desert as I stood alone on the First field with my towel wrapped around my head. I was the avenger and the thin green bamboo in my hand was a flashing blade.
I was the war-weary veteran returning to his family, I was the shadowy killer, I was the clown, I was the wicked sorcerer, I was the wronged lover, the righteous hero, the infuriated father, the ruthless gangster I was everything I wanted to be.
This imaginary world, compared to which the real one was downright drudgery, was where I constantly dwelt. Enjoying my own company most, even though I considered myself pretty stupid, may have cost me my supposed childhood when one should be happy and joyous and revelling in friendships, and learning, but it was the path I took, and I have not regretted it for an instant.
I started then and have not stopped. This role-playing thing was great fun then and it has stayed great fun.
You are paid to stay a child. The weekly letters home had become a chore, I had absolutely nothing to say to either of my parents. Nothing exciting ever happened to me. There were no achievements to report. No joys to share. No troubles to unburden myself of.
I once tried writing a long letter to Baba about The Old Man but got a curt reply telling me to concentrate on my studies and that was what he wanted to hear about. Not good enough. She always complained that he never read out our letters properly to her. Around this time, the suffocating relationship with Baba made me start detesting and fearing his company.
Ammi was emotionally supportive, and I could vent things on her, but with Baba it came to a point where all I got was sternness and disapproval. His desire to see us well educated consumed him, and he believed I was throwing away the opportunity to equip myself for life. We got creamed and a couple of hard knocks on the head was the reward for my pains.
He once caught me reading Billy Bunter during study hour and the mandatory knuckles on the head preceded an order to stand in a corner and memorize three pages of my history book in the remaining time. But to his utter astonishment and mine I managed it even before the hour was over. My recitation done, the disbelief in his voice is a memory I greatly treasure: I fervently protested for two whole days, hoping for the kind of miracle that had happened before with the cigarettes, but on this occasion my guardian angel had nodded off and the stains had led straight to my doorstep.
The third day was movie day and the thought of missing the movie made me crack. Deciding that I needed further correction, he made me sit behind the projector with my back to the screen through the movie.
I heard the entire film but did not see a frame of it. A more perverse punishment I would not be able to devise even for old Burke. The film was called The Charge of the Feather River. Let me explain. With the possible exception of Mr Balraj Sahni and, in his middle phase when he allowed himself to be directed, Mr Dilip Kumar.
These two gentlemen by virtue of their quiet intensity, their economy and precision of expression and their dignity and poise stood way above the crowd. And there were the luminous ladies: I just love them all. And there was the one and only Helen. Delectable stars, every one of them, all worthy of lighting up any screen in the world.
But none of the above do I consider seminal inspiration in any way. The fact is I stumbled upon Hindi cinema somewhat later in life although the first film I ever saw, and I recall it vividly, was Bahut Din Huwe. This particular film probably because of two factors: Ammi never watched movies until I started acting in them, and Baba only occasionally watched English-language war films.
Hindi cinema being anathema to him, we would get to watch only films of his choice, either in English, or Dilip Kumar starrers in Hindi, so I was probably taken for this movie by Akabi or her younger sister Nikhat, both Hindi film addicts who made full use of this government perk during their frequent visits to Nainital.
I also recall seeing Nagin which might well be the cause of my abiding terror of snakes, and one of the first Hindi colour by technicolor films, Sangeet Samrat Tansen. It was after the Cowardly Lion and Captain Hook, however, that some living actors made an impression: Starved of the weekly fare in Sem, my attention turned to what was available. The Sunday morning English movie was still allowed me but the Hindi movie posters I saw everywhere provoked a mad curiosity because I had seen so few.
Genuine curiosity or craving that had to be stilled, I do not know, but my bicycle as consolation I actually had my own one now would often, instead of heading to school, turn in the direction of Prabhat or New Majestic Talkies almost of its own accord. Classes began to be skipped to catch the afternoon matinee; a friendship with the son of the Plaza Talkies owner and free movies thereafter was the fallout of my frequent visits to that theatre.
Playing the morning matinees would be B-movies or old classics. Some of the so-called classics were pure brain- damage but I got irretrievably hooked on Dara Singh and the kitsch he starred in, to practically bail out a then floundering Hindi film industry I later learnt. To call these films shabby would be high praise; they were often just a series of wrestling matches put together to form a sort of apologetic narrative, stolen in bits from ancient Douglas Fairbanks or more recent Steve Reeves starrers.
I guess they served as case studies. When the new term began, we had quickly bonded over humble pie, and almost as quickly discovered each had as much of a movie bug as the other. Combining our creative juices, we worked out a strategy for seeing as many Hindi films as possible. Ticket prices for the cheaper seats were well affordable then. Oblivious to my secret film watching, Baba would still innocently give permission, and ticket money, for the Sunday morning English matinee. A brainwave hit.
In summer, classes gave over at one thirty so we invented cricket matches in school in the afternoons and took off, ostensibly to play them. What probably persuaded my parents to swallow this story was their knowledge of my obsession with the game. The two of us would dress up in full cricket gear, except bat and pads of course and cycle off to imaginary cricket. Strangely both my parents were quite uncurious about the outcome of these matches.
Absolutely not to be missed. No question of asking for permission either. We decided there would be an all-important school match that day.
Looking faintly ridiculous in our cricket gear we met at New Majestic a good hour prior to show time, parked our bikes, and joined the end of a serpentine queue extending into the street, and seeming to consist of every ruffian in town. Would we make it to the ticket window before the movie began? Would there still be tickets?? Our whites were in end-of-match condition by the time it was our turn. Pitcher not for you, only adult.
I am adult! No cricket match was ever so ignominiously lost. The visits to these shrines however never stopped or decreased, but my regret at missing Two Women that day remained with me well after my teens and beyond. I have a very keen memory of these movie theatres, my temples of learning, with their sometimes Victorian, sometimes art deco facades and almost identical baroque interiors. Flat glass cases full of movie stills, the winding staircases accompanied by very widely grooved wall panelling adorned with movie star photos.
No Indian star ever featured. Inside, some had a contour curtain which rose to dramatic music and purple lights when the movie, after an interminable wait, was about to begin, and I could feed my distracted gaze upon something, apart from the round-bottomed cherubim blowing little trumpets amongst billowing streamers and bunches of grapes in bas-relief above the proscenium arch. Even recalling the names of these movie houses still makes my heartbeat rise to 48 frames per second: All of them are now defunct except maybe the hall in Sem.
I began to go terribly snobbish about Sem until one day, as I was leaving school, a red open-topped Willys jeep driven by a white man with a highly recognizable face pulled up. The passengers in the jeep were two white ladies and a most interesting-looking Indian person.
It took me a minute to identify the driver. He was Geoffrey Kendal. Mr Kendal himself had always seemed to me to be on a par with the greatest actors I had seen on the screen, but like them he too was, I thought, an illusion unreachably distant and impossible to touch. Among my repertoire of acting fantasies was a pretty close imitation of this man who had already affected me profoundly in some mysterious way. I had no idea as I stood there gaping at this red-faced god as, cigarette- holder clenched in teeth, he alighted, how much his life about which I was to discover later would inspire me, and that memories of his attitude to his work if not the work itself would keep coming back.
Never doing a commercial performance, the troupe travelled extensively over the subcontinent and in fact over most of the continent, with no permanent base, without a home, ever willing to perform wherever they found an audience.
Their austere approach to theatre was startling, and any one of them alone could fill the stage. At that time it was enough that this, in real life rather ordinary- looking man could onstage transform himself into anything.
With no fuss at all he could be the manic-depressive Hamlet one minute, and love-stricken Malvolio the next. His voice had the mellowness of old oak and his body was an instrument capable of any virtuosity. He looked huge and intimidating with as much ease as he managed to look timid and funny. And when required, he could just disappear. An actor-manager in the old sense of the word, he always played the central parts but conceded to his fellow actors the space they merited.
Never once while watching him perform—and I watched him perform over a period of well-nigh forty years— did I feel that he was at all concerned with anything but serving and conveying the text.
That, along with his astounding versatility, produced the sheer clarity and precision of the result. Mr Kendal always had the same effect on me as that mystery man dancing on that platform in another lifetime I wanted very much to be up there with him. Flinging my bicycle aside I sprinted up to the jeep, heart pounding in anticipation of a conversation with HIM.
Somewhat disappointed at how little stuff there was, I deposited it in the auditorium and hung around for as long as I was allowed to. There was no sign of a rehearsal about to begin and I was obviously overstaying my welcome.
But I had shaken hands with this great actor. He was real too! I had actually touched him. I resolved that at the first opportunity I would pour my heart out, beg him to let me join his troupe and come away with him. Certain that I would knock him over, I commenced fantasizing about travelling and performing with Shakespeareana while my classmates were slogging over physics and maths. Poor benighted souls, my heart bled for them.
There was of course the small matter of breaking it to the parents but surely Mr Kendal would take care of all that. Baba was partial to the English anyway.
And now that there were only four in the troupe surely they could do with an extra hand. When Shakespeareana visited Sem, it was an occasion. Usually ten to fifteen strong, they were the toast of the school. Some then youthful Indian aspirants who later moved on to greener pastures were also among them. Their very presence among us whether in the dining hall, on the playing field or onstage was invigorating.
They were a very cool bunch of people all playing many parts, all having a grand time. The productions themselves were basic in design.
The costumes were functional but the authenticity of the acting and the intonation of their voices—I reiterate I have never heard Shakespeare spoken better—made these straightforward uncomplicated presentations appear more splendid than anything I had seen on the stage till then or have seen since. The troupe over the years shrank in size, most of the members having taken what I can only hope were their own directions in life.
In the mid eighties when there were just Geoffrey and Laura left, I witnessed what would prove to be their final performance in India, and not only had they not wearied of their mission, they were in a state of thanksgiving for having had the opportunity to lead their lives the way they had chosen to. Seldom have I encountered such contentment in people at the end of the road; the complete satisfaction of knowing you have done whatever you could with your life.
Watching them perform was to know what it is to be one with the spoken word, and the verve and joy with which those two septuagenarians still approached their work gave me a final lesson in what it is to love and serve the theatre. My carefully rehearsed speeches flew out of my head as I stood before this giant glowering down at me in his half-costume.
I did not hear of or see Mr Kendal again for another dozen or so years but this encounter was, I daresay, the one which really lit the spark, and made me resolve to take control of my life and actually DO something. You could opt for arts or maths or bio. Studying only English lit and history and social studies seemed like a breeze. And then one day a play competition was announced in the school.
Each class was supposed to produce a half-hour piece with the best ones to be staged on Annual Day. The students themselves were supposed to take the initiative in devising the show.
I knew instantly what I thought our class should do, and since no one else displayed any enthusiasm about it my vote carried. Shastri, now a psychiatrist in Chicago, not that his playing the role necessarily had anything to do with that. JR promised he could stick on me the best beard ever: My own performance had been ready for some time; all that remained was to get the others to learn their lines and take them through the paces.
So what I said went. And amazingly, for me, I seemed instinctively to know what I should do. The stage, I really did feel, was where I belonged. It was the only place apart from the cricket field where I felt happy in my skin.
During this time, coincidentally, I also got called to a try-out for the school cricket team, and so cricket now became my alibi for going to rehearsals. However, in this new school where the extent of my idiocy had not yet been noticed, I could operate with a degree of confidence I had not known before. In real life too, people began to listen and they sometimes approved. I had not known that before either. The day arrived. Among the top contenders were something called The Ugly Duckling and The Referee, both farces being done by Classes 10 and In the former, a guy called Ashok Wahi delivered a pretty competent performance as the Queen, and the latter, a play about mistaken identity, had cricket captain Arvind Ahluwalia in a double role.
We preceded these two with our Merchant. Our performance followed the juniors and seemed to be over in a flash. I wanted more, I could happily have stayed on that stage forever, and in a sense I have. It was as if another hand was guiding me. The heady euphoria of acceptance I felt then I can still recall and savour, despite the fact that we lost out for Annual Day to The Referee.
Cedric went on to be my first mentor but because for the first time in my life I was being told I was good at anything. Cedric had in his hand what looked like a few typed pages.
It never occurred to me to consult or commiserate with Ahluwalia, I felt no sympathy for him. My self-esteem took a gigantic leap upwards and it was days before it stopped soaring. At the end, two special prizes were announced: We were handed an envelope each, which on being torn open turned out to be empty.
No, it was well and truly empty, but even that did not dampen my spirits, and in the time it took me to cycle home and eat a cold solitary dinner, I had decided that acting was what I was born to do. No way was anything going to keep me from doing it for the rest of my life. Life suddenly seemed worthwhile. I had trouble getting to sleep that night, and still do every night after a theatre performance. Back to their roots Life went on apace, new Dilip Kumar films now appeared only once every few years instead of annually, much-loved Jawaharlal Nehru died, youthful John Kennedy got shot and Cassius Clay became King of the World by destroying mean old Sonny Liston.
All this while my stock in the school was growing. People were actually taking the initiative to befriend me. I played a few cricket matches actual ones on the school team without doing anything spectacular.
Debating was another field in which I found I could participate, and mostly bullshit my way through. My speeches, peppered with quotes from Shakespeare, were well memorized, thoroughly rehearsed and delivered with all the panache I had acquired at the feet of Mr Kendal.
I invariably blustered my way to some prize or other but seldom did I know what I was talking about. While it all obviously went down very well with the judges because it made them laugh, it was not debate, it was elocution. This served me extremely well at the school, and later college, level but I was finally caught out a few years later in a national level debate at Baroda where, representing Aligarh University, I came away empty-handed despite having had the audience eating out of my hand.
Neither acting nor debating would I have discovered had I stayed on in Sem. What a fortuitous coming together of energies this was: Before the year was out, Rev. I attempted coaxing him to try Julius Caesar next. He was reluctant. Even my relationship with the parents was somewhat on an even keel. Ammi, in any case, was always unconditionally supportive. She regarded me with a kind of detached amusement, making no attempt to get into my head apart from occasionally enquiring what was going on inside it.
She never criticized, never chastised, I think that deep down somewhere she instinctively understood. Baba thought I was applying myself better, when all that had happened was that I was at last doing that which made sense to me. The tutors kept coming and going and receiving some credit for their efforts though all I remember of them was one smelt of horses, another had huge muscles and one had his name tattooed on his forearm. These were radio days. The Philips two-band Baba had bought in continued to serve him till his death, and on it he would listen to the news on the BBC or the Voice of America.
Cricket commentaries were permitted but within tolerable limits. So of course, the moment he pedalled off to work at 8. Ammi never reacted to this infringement of the rules on my part, nor did she ever tell on me, maybe she secretly enjoyed the music too. Only once did I feel I was testing her patience when she caught me practising my dialogue in front of the mirror. I began to feel that it might be possible to be a professional actor. In spite of the face I had, why not I reasoned.
If I was good at it why should it be a lottery any more than going into the army or studying medicine would be a lottery? If my peers could decide what they were going to do, and many of them had and were readying themselves, what was there to prevent me from deciding what I wanted to do and prepare for it as well? The only confidants, my brothers, were both bemused at the idea, but the elder Z did actively encourage me to dream the impossible dream and even showed me how Shylock should be played.
Both were, however, sceptical about my chances. They had by this time embarked on the course of their future lives, and were well on the way to doing the family proud. The younger Z, somewhat wilder, a prefect, athletics champ and all-round Cool-Cat in school, went into the National Defence Academy and straightened himself out.
The only thing that interested me about life, I remember, was watching how people behaved. I can still actually recall the grains in a voice I have heard fifty years ago.
Oblivious to the strides I was taking in learning to be happy in my own skin, Baba would think up an alternative profession for me nearly every week. That exhausted almost every possibility that then existed for a young man to plan his future around. None of his ideas worked for me. I was set on what I wanted to do but the screws had begun to be tightened.
It was the only place Baba and Ammi could afford to now live in, and rather than settle in an alien town or in Ajmer which was beyond their means, they settled for the known devil. The old Nawab probably left no clear will when he passed, and the haveli was apportioned off to the various claimants, and divided even further by succeeding generations. It was in the charge of his cousin and the section of it that was not being used as a buffalo-shed was in ruins.
There was a large section of the courtyard however, with two cavernous rooms on either side. The meeting to take back ownership was stirring stuff: Another once grand haveli was being further partitioned. Baba was to live most of his remaining life there, Ammi with one of the three of us for the rest of hers.
No forebodings crossed their minds when they made the move. All they wanted was a place to rest their ageing bones, but their stay in Sardhana was by turns peaceful and turbulent, marked by a major falling-out between Babar and Khalid Mamu over what else property, a quarrel in which my parents naturally sided with the former, thus antagonizing the other.
What exactly it was all about I have some idea, but do not wish to speculate upon it further. It forever soured relations between Khalid Mamu and us, and it hurt Ammi terribly that her brothers were at war with each other.
His complete detachment from non-essentials was the one thing that always affected me, no matter how bad the equation between us may at that time have been. He would give away stuff on impulse. He consistently refused the official car the Dargah kept offering him, choosing to cycle to work.
He finally consented to be given what was then known as an auto cycle a mo-ped which he never used, and on which we were infrequently allowed to zip around. When it ran out of petrol, rare because it covered about a hundred miles to the gallon, you could even pedal the thing home.
He had always disapproved of the idea, probably fearing it proclaimed a Muslim identity. Those were the days before prudery became fashionable and much before the moral police had begun flexing their biceps in India.
I had no idea what one actually DID when in the act of sex. I had no idea what he meant. Despite my energetic efforts to persuade Rev. Cedric to stage another play, he kept resisting. I could, having seen Mr K as both. By the time I left his office I could see myself quite clearly in both parts, performing to hordes of delirious audiences. Without having read either play, I even mentally designed posters for both.
For that matter have you read the ones I asked you to? It HAS to be recited or read visualizing it as it should look onstage. No mean task for one so green behind the ears. But with some persistence it began to reveal itself a little. I could sort of imagine it, just as I could sort of understand the language and the plot. What I had no problem visualizing, however, was that Romeo was not the part for me, Mercutio was my man.
My reputation as a debater was also taking wing, representing the school at various inter-school, district and state levels with some distinction. Most memorable of all, however, was a visit for the state-level debate to Kishangarh, a town about 20 kilometres from Ajmer, but for reasons completely unconnected with debating.
Word was they were available really cheap. Despite being the object of much salivating fascination, none of us had ventured anywhere near them but this time we were staying in Kishangarh, there was no getting home before dark. Mir, a classmate, and I decided to visit the tents. Girish was not with us, and JR refused to come along. He sniffily assured us he knew. At fifteen, all I knew of sex had been gleaned from books written by Ted Mark: At last I would uncover the mystery of the female anatomy, luxuriating on silken sheets, alabaster legs wrapped around me; I would be drinking from honey-lips by candlelight, the odour of roses and incense everywhere.
On the way there I enquired with a great show of nonchalance what one was supposed to do after penetration. I must be one of very few guys who had sex before learning to worship at the altar of Onan.
A couple of vicious-looking mongrels welcomed us as we made our approach. Two girls, not exactly young, were outside and a distinctly older one made an appearance shortly. Mir seemed adept at the bargaining, it was short and expert. Between the two younger girls, Mir and I both decided on the same one, then to avoid further delay left it to the girls. My anxiety and impatience tried like hell to transform the smell ofburnt rubber into the fragrances I had envisioned. I thought a little romance was in order.
As I blundered around in the vicinity of her breasts she slapped my hands aside, closed the ragged tent flap, hoisted her kameez, holding its hem under her chin as she undid the drawstring of her salwar and, issuing a terse monosyllabic instruction, plonked herself on the bed with her legs in the air, the salwar dangling from one ankle. I was aghast, but mad with desire as well. At the end, as a very great concession, perhaps because she liked me so much, she finally allowed my hand to venture into the neckline of her dress for the briefest of moments, but in its groping, dislodged a button and so in strong colourful language the session was declared closed.
When I emerged, somewhat dazed, Mir was still in his tent. And I felt great. I felt grown-up. This was like the whole experience of acting enclosed in a capsule. Having tasted blood, so to say, the appetite started its demands, but making love to more women at that time did turn out to be somewhat more difficult than doing more plays. I flipped for her because she was the first girl in my life to take the initiative in starting a conversation with me. I saw her once in my life, I later even forgot what she looked like, but devotedly believed that I had found the woman who was meant for me.
The closest I got to her physically was getting her to write a message in my autograph book. Then we sent each other many letters; mine made her laugh, she always wrote. The moment I made a declaration of my ardour, she terminated the correspondence.
Schooldays were now numbered. I now only had to figure out whether potassium permanganate dissolves in water or not and how a poor chloroformed frog is opened up without cutting it to shreds. The thought of the approaching final exams was giving me insomnia but, as usual, without the accompaniment of that which I thrived on, I began to lose focus again.
The formulae and the Latin classifications once again became meaningless jargon. Final exams rolled around, physics giving me special nightmares. The opening paper was to be chemistry, followed by physics.