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Naseeruddin Shah, “And Then One Day”

Naseeruddin Shah, “And Then One Day”

Naseeruddin ShahThe same year I watched a play for the first time, in the Sem concert hall. It was called Mr Fixit and has faded from my memory almost entirely but while watching it the only thing I wanted was to be up there with those people. When a long limousine, which I later discovered to be plywood cutout on wheels, came gliding on to the stage, I was back in the same universe of wonder where I had watched ‘that man’ dancing on that stage a hundred feet high. And I have since steadfastly believe that the only magic that happens in this world happens on the stage. Films take you captive, they feed you everything on a plate, the legerdemain they create transports you into a state where you may as well be dreaming, but theatre takes you into a world where your imagination is stimulated, your judgement is unimpaired, and thus your enjoyment heightened. It is only in the theatre that there can be this kind of exchange of energies between actor and audience. The finest definition of theatre that I have come across is ‘one actor-one audience’. Implying of course that any meaningful interaction between two people anywhere fits the definition of ideal theatre, with the same qualities needed of both participants as are required from them in an actual theatre. Theatre really is a one-on-one experience.” ( p.13-14) 

Renowned actor Naseeruddin Shah’s memoir, And Then One Day, is a fabulous example of what a memoir should be –an insight into the personal life of the man/memoirist combined with the vast understanding with their life/passion. A good memoir should not consist entirely of personal details and who said what to whom, where and when; given that it is about an individual who is admired and looked up to for the success they have achieved in their career, a reader wants to know more about the industry/niche the author represents. This is what Naseeruddin Shah does. This is a smartly written memoir which is not a necessarily sugar-coated description of success having come easily to the actor. He attempts to be as realistic in his telling with his love for theatre and films being apparent from childhood.

A life of performance is what he yearns for, knows it is hard work and is willing to do it. For instance after the disastrous workshop of Grotowski held in Poland, that Naseeruddin Shah fled from, made him realise “no one at all could in fact help, and whatever I wanted to learn I’d have to do on my own”. It is a love for films and theatre that seeps through the pages of the memoir, Naseeruddin Shah does not merely rattle off names of films he has seen, plays he has acted in or actors he has hobnobbed with, there is a reason why every person mentioned in the book is present. Whether it is Mr Kendal and his love for staging Shakespeare or Captain Hook in the animated Peter Pan, Spencer Tracy in The Old Man and the Sea, Jose Ferrer in I Accuse!,  Peter O’Toole in Becket or appreciating Shammi Kapoor and “Hindi cinema’s certified nutcase Mr Kishore Kumar” and Mehmood, “one of the most skilful actors I’ve ever seen, was not quite up there with Chaplin in terms of ability but much ahead in terms of self-love”. Every description and analysis is filled with a love and understanding of the profession, it is as if being in the world of cinema is like oxygen to Naseeruddin Shah.

Also as a good memoir should be the historical background of newly-independent India, the growth of Bollywood, the emergence of alternative cinema and changing tastes of the audiences is neatly woven through And Then One Day. This is a book which will continue to sell well beyond the immediate buzz of a beloved and admired actor having written his memoirs since it is a rich repository of information about the profession, the literature and theories around it, without being dull.

Of the many, many news stories, reviews, blog posts about the memoir, so far the best interaction has been between Barkha Dutt in conversation with Naseeruddin Shah, NDTV, 14 September 2014 ( Prithvi Theatre, Mumbai) – http://www.ndtv.com/video/player/we-the-people/watch-master-s-take-in-conversation-with-naseeruddin-shah/338122 . As of this week, the publishers, Penguin Books India have collaborated with the Hindustan Times to release a series of short films called “Naseer on Naseer”. The first one was released on 22 September 2014 – http://www.hindustantimes.com/audio-news-video/AV-Entertainment/Naseer-on-Naseer-How-and-why-I-became-an-actor/Article2-1266974.aspx . These short films echo the sentiments of the actor as recorded in his memoir – his love for acting and the stage.

“I wanted more, I could happily have stayed on that stage forever, and in a sense I have. Whether I’d done well or badly was of no consequence. As an imitation of Mr Kendal it wasn’t too far off the mark, but the real revelation for me was the charge of energy I felt that day, and have continued to feel whenever I am onstage. I found myself doing things I hadn’t planned and doing them with complete certainty and to the approval of the audience. It was as if another hand was guiding me. This feeling has stayed with me till today; and therefore, though I am grateful for compliments, I never take full responsibility for either my successes or failures but do try to make sure that they ‘theatre god’ does not turn his back on me. ” (p. 60-1) 

Naseeruddin Shah And Then One Day: A Memoir Hamish Hamilton, an imprint of Penguin Books, Gurgaon, India, 2014. Hb. pp. 330 Rs 699

 

Child sexuality

Child sexuality

Dark Room, Pankaj Butalia“A discussion of childhood sexuality is further complicated by our definitions of the very term, childhood. When does it end? Is a sixteen-year-old a child? The contemporary world brackets adolescence within childhood rather than as a phase of preparation for adulthood. By attaching adolescence to childhood we absorb into childhood a time which is sexually potent and where sexual energies are more overtly manifested, setting up a disciplinary framework shaped by a specific ordering of our social codes. Contrast this, for example, with the sexual practices of many tribal communities, which build into their social and celebratory practices a way of recognising and sanctioning sexuality among the young.” p. xxx, “Introduction” by Dr Shalini Advani, Dark Room

Dr Advani, in her powerful introduction, “Childhood Sexuality: History, Memory, Mythology” to Pankaj Butalia’s Dark Room: Child Sexuality in India dwells upon the silences that govern sexuality in children. All though research shows that children as young as four year olds are curious about their bodies. In fact in an essay published by Lauren A., discussing her experiences as an undergraduate student who is also a sex-worker, mentions that “when I was 5 years old and beginning to discover the wonders of my body, my mother, completely horrified.” ( http://m.xojane.com/sex/duke-university-freshman-porn-star?utm_medium=facebook ) At least Lauren A. is truthful about her experience. In 2010, Tehelka published an article about sexuality amongst urban schoolchildren. http://www.tehelka.com/sex-lies-homework/

Pankaj Butalia’s Dark Room: Child Sexuality in India is one of the first publications of its kind in India that hopes to open this conversation outside of the specialized, academic circles. It needs to be discussed, work has to be done in the family domain since most of the perpetrators of child sexual abuse are known to the victim and inevitably related. This collection of eleven stories, he says, “is a modest effort to put together intimate accounts of sexual episodes from childhood”. But he does recognise that ” For adults, it is …a delicate balance that has to be negotiated. On one hand, parents need to give their children space and not inhibit the natural progression they need to make in the development of their sexuality. On the other hand, they need to be extremely careful that their children do not transcend boundaries of what could be called age-appropriate behaviour.” It is a courageous attempt to put this volume together since many of the people interviewed preferred to remain anonymous; yet it is a book to be read.

The Bad TouchThere are many stories about children and sexuality, most of the time it is focused upon child sexual abuse. There are many CSA (Child Sexual Abuse) survivors who are beginning to write and share their experiences. Organisations like RAHI (Recovering and Healing from Incest), based in New Delhi, are doing phenomenal work in this area. Payal Shah Karwa has recently published a collection of true stories called The Bad Touch that includes contributions from Harish Iyer and filmmaker Anurag Kashayap.  Everyone else chose to write under pseudonyms. It is a disturbing and traumatic book to read. There is an incredible amount of pain shared. What horrifies one is the manner in which children are preyed upon and sexually abused. Recently Woody Allen and Mia Farrow’s daughter, wrote an open letter about the sexual abuse she had suffered as a young child. http://kristof.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/02/01/an-open-letter-from-dylan-farrow/?module=BlogPost-Title&version=Blog%20Main&contentCollection=Opinion&action=Click&pgtype=Blogs&region=Body . There will be innumerable stories like these, but it is crucial that they are shared. It is the creation of common pool of knowledge and awareness. 

A couple of years ago NDTV had a programme on CSA. It was a brilliant conversation on the topic of CSA. More importantly it focused upon boys and girls, otherwise much of the conversation seems to focus upon girls. Whereas boys are equally vulnerable. Unfortunately I am unable to locate the link to it.

Last year too, a short clip on CSA went viral on Facebook. It was brilliantly made. Once again I am unable to locate the link.

Let's Talk About SexMany times the best way to teach children about sexuality and help them in protecting themselves is via literature. Walker Books has three titles, classified according to age ( 4+, 7+ and 10+) called Let’s Talk About Sex. These are useful introductions to children and even an excellent guide for parents/educators in giving the child sufficient information appropriate for their age.  Years ago, I also read a lovely picture book by Sohaila Abdulali on good touch and bad touch. Unfortunately it is not available in print. Otherwise it would be a wonderful resource tool to have. Finally, Ponytale Books published Lighthouse in the Storm, a collection of 24 stories written by members of the AWIC Book Therapy Project. In it there is a story by Ken Spillman, ” A bubble of shared knowing”, a chilling story about sexual abuse.Lighthouse in the Storm

Pankaj Butalia Dark Room :Child Sexuality in India HarperCollins Publishers India, New Delhi, 2013. Pb. pp. 180 Rs. 350

Payal Shah Karwa The Bad Touch Hay House India, New Delhi, 2014. Pb. pp. 208 Rs. 299.

Lighthouse in the Storm AWIC, Ponytale Books, New Delhi, 2012. Pb.pp. 230 Rs. 225

24 Feb 2014 

Interviewing authors

Interviewing authors

John Freeman, How to read a novelistRead. Read. Read. Read.

The mantra that most writers suggest is the best way to hone one’s craft. The same holds true for reviewers, publishing professionals and anyone else in this profession of letters. In order to improve the skill one seeks to excel at, it is best to read as much as possible. Yet there is always more to learn about an author. Usually a good interviewer creates a portrait of the author that is deftly written and sharp in its analysis of their writing. ( It is fascinating to observe the interviewer being influenced by the writer, evident in the style of writing, the form the interview takes shape and at times even in the vocabulary.) With the internet becoming a repository of information about authors, their lives and anything else of remote interest to them and being at times to connect with contemporary authors in real time via social media platforms, the need to publish a book of author interviews seems to be futile. Having said that I have thoroughly enjoyed reading How to Read a Novelist by John Freeman and British Muslim Fictions by Claire Chambers. Two exquisite collections of excellent interviewers engaging with authors. In a matter of few pages they are able to introduce the author, give a bit of personal history (if required and relevant to the interview), a perspective on their oeuvre and highlight at least one essential aspect of the author that makes their writing unique. When John Freeman interviews Sarajevo-born, now settled in Chicago, Aleksandar Hemon, Freeman observes: ‘Hemon has been widely praised for the unexpected images this style creates, but it was not, he says, the hallmark of a deliberate, honed, and in some cases mapped out. “I wanted to write with intense sensory detail, to bring a heightened state.” He is a sentence writer who counts beats as a poet does syllables.’ (p.134) Or what he has to say of Michael Ondaatje — “Genres bleed between books in Ondaatje’s work.” Or about E. L. Doctorow that “his novels don’t read like researched books but restored originals, recently rediscovered.” Similarly Claire Chambers too has wonderful insights about the authors she meets whether it is Nadeem Aslam, Kamila Shamsie, Aamer Hussein or Mohsin Hamid to name some of them. The hard work that both John Freeman and Claire Chambers put into familiarize themselves with the authors is masked so well that each interview seems to effortlessly done. Yet it is obvious that considerable thought has gone into the preparation for every interview. They seem to be acutely aware of not being “over-prepared”, instead focusing on having “an actual conversation with all the unpredictability and freshness of a good one”. British Muslim Fictions

The beauty of each interview is that there is something for every reader to glean—it could be a person discovering an author for the first time or of a reader familiar with the author being interviewed. There is a restraint and a respect that each interviewer has for their author that shines through every profile. It also helps achieve the fine balance of the professional and personal dimensions of an author being presented without it seeming to be voyeuristic. Just enough of the authors personal lives, descriptions of their homes or even of their peculiar habits, such as Kazuo Ishiguro never likes to discuss what he is writing till he is done with it. These are two books worth buying, treasuring, reading for pleasure, to ponder over and if a student of creative writing, essential reading.

Women writingWhile reading these books, there were two other books from India that I recalled — Just Between Us: Women speak about their writing and The Big Bookshelf . Books published a long time ago, but continue to be relevant since they too consist of author interviews. The Big Bookshelf is based upon the years of experience Sunil Sethi had as host of NDTV’s Just Books. (http://profit.ndtv.com/videos/watch-just-books)  It ran for many years to finally end in summer of 2013. All though in October 2013, the state television channel, Doordarshan, launched a books programme called Kitabnama:Books and More. ( Link to episode 2:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPCp8QyqAD4 ) It is a weekly programme, designed and curated by author Namita Gokhale. ( She is also one of the directors of the Jaipur Literature Festival.) Sunil Sethi