“Give me a call when you arrive,” Sir had written back to me when I wrote him a mail saying I was coming to Kolkata and wanted to meet him.
On arriving at Kolkata I sent him an sms to which there was no reply. On the final day at Kolkata when I tried calling him on his mobile number the operator said the number does not exist. Then I called on the landline and Sir picked up the phone. He asked me to meet him between 12:00 and 1:00 and gave me directions to reach where he stays. Having early lunch I left to meet Fr. Gaston Roberge.
A decade ago my teacher and friend Anil Pinto introduced me to the book of Gaston Roberge- Chitra Bani [the copy of which still with me and I do not intend to return it.] That was the first book that I read on Cinema and I was impressed by the book because it laid the foundation for my understanding of cinema. Roberge Sir became the Dronacharya of this Ekalavya. Later when I drew my first salary I had written to the Institute started by Roberge Sir in Kolkata- also named Chitra Bani- and got all the books written by Roberge Sir till then. Those books not just helped me learn but also teach.
Remembering all of this I went to St. Xaviers College in Kolkata. The security stopped me and asked me who I wanted to meet. He called Roberge Sir saying I was there and asked me to wait for a while. In sometime Roberge Sir came towards the gate to escort me in which was very embarrassing. He said, “Lets have a cup of tea first,” and took me to the canteen. As we were walking towards the canteen I saw the following words printed on the back of his shirt, “Still learning how to think.” After a cup of tea at the canteen we walked to his room in the Fathers Residency.
Asking me to sit down Roberge Sir placed a bottle of water next to me and a bowl full of toffees on the table. “You can eat toffees as we speak,” and with a notorious smile said, “Whoever speaks more might require water. Usually its me who speaks a lot.” I smiled with him not being able to move my eyes off my teacher.
Being sure that I would not know, on meeting him, what to speak, for my admiration, I had written down in my note book a few questions to ask him. But when he sat right in front of me and was speaking to me in such a friendly manner I did not feel comfortable to ask questions from my book and thus turn the air more formal.
“Is there anything in specific that you want to talk?” asked Sir. “No Sir. I just wanted to see you once, from whom I have learnt so much, who I owe so much.” “And I owe a lot to my uncle,” he said and asked if I knew who his uncle is. I shook my head to say no. “Bharata Muni,” he said with that notorious smile on his face and I knew the class had begun.
“Bhartha Muni is the father of cinema in a way,” he said and pointed that Greek tradition did not have song and dance in it while the Indian text Natyashatra by Bharatha Muni spoke of song and dance. “Song and dance is sight and sound,” he said and went on to add, “When I first read the text by my uncle I was shocked to see the emphasis laid on sight and sound. It is audio-visual.” With a shine in his eyes he continued, “That is the idea of cinema. There lies the desire for cinema.”
Saying Indians are used to the dramatic tradition of Natyashastra culturally though they cannot name it Roberge Sir recollected an incident of watching a popular cinema in Bangladesh with a renowned filmmaker from India who dismissed the film completely. “When someone dismisses there is no point in discussing,” he said, after with raised eyebrows saying he had loved watching that film. “Several years ago when I was still teaching I asked once in the classroom if my students had watched Sholay. Everyone raised their hand. I then asked how many had watched it more than once. All of them raised their hand. Then I asked them what they had liked about the film. As they went on mentioning what they had liked I went on writing them on the board. By the end of it we had a number of elements but not one of them had mentioned anything that could be called as an Indian element…”
The flow of his words was interrupted by a call on my mobile phone. As I was taking my phone out of my pocket Sir said, “Please attend the call.” I took my phone out, cut the call and switched it off. By then Sir’s mind had shifted to his other preoccupation. “Mobile immobilizes you,” he said. “That is one of the reason I stopped using a mobile phone. It was making way for unimportant conversations. I am not against mobile phones. But people should reflect. The question is not about how many hours is spent in speaking to people or communicating through sms. The question is: are you becoming more human with that communication? The greatest danger of some of the technologies and even mobile phone is that it is not making us more human. And the most important thing at this point of time is to be humane more and more.” As he was saying this I pulled out my note book from my bag I started making notes of our conversation.
Realizing the conversation had drifted he asked me where were we before we started talking of mobile phones. When I reminded him that we were speaking of Sholay he nodded and returned to somewhat the same theme we were speaking of before being interrupted by a mobile phone call.
“The opening shot of Sholay is that of a train arriving. The train, in the film, is arriving to a village. But the film train has exported us to a fantasy world called cinema. Its not a different world but a parallel world. Its not entirely imaginary. But its not entirely real either. That is how art is in the Indian tradition. So we cannot use western concepts and western ways to understand Indian art or Indian cinema. We need Indian film studies and not studies in Indian films.”
Suddenly without him realizing or me realizing the topic got shifted. “The education system needs revival. The syllabuses are all outdated. Colleges have become assembly line productions that look at students as products. In my opinion every student’s particular desire for knowledge should become the syllabus, the time frame for education should be dictated by the individual’s rhythm and the exam should be life itself. Education should prepare students for life,” Sir spoke in one breath. Pausing for a while he asked me if I had seen 3 Idiots. I nodded. He said that the two suicides in the films were murders committed by the education system. “Its sad that no institute seems to have responded to 3 Idiots. Suicides after suicides are reported from institutes across the country proving 3 Idiots right. But nobody is waking up and changing the way of education,” said Sir and went silent for a while as though mourning for all the suicides because of education system, that he spoke of.
“Sorry. I got carried away. Where was I?” asked Sir. “You were mentioning of Indian way of studying films,” I reminded him.
“Yeah. India has a dramatic tradition. Plus the Indian way of life and western way of life are different. So there has to be different aesthetics for both. There is. And there should be different ways to understand them also. Though it might sound simplistic I must say that in a broad sense we can say that the western life is mind-centric and Indian life is heart-centric. You see that most of the times people dismissing Indian cinema as illogical. When they say that they are using a mind-centric definition of logic. But as Pascal said, ‘Your heart has the reason that reason does not know.’ We just need a different way of reading them and understanding them,” said Sir and went on to say that though there are different traditions within India they, to understand, were like different trees from the same family which were not similar and though were different from each other there was some cultural unifying factor. “To understand one’s own culture is very important and to be rooted in one’s own tradition also,” he said because he is of the opinion that its only then that one will genuinely respect other cultures.
“Before one understands cinema the Indian way one should have an understanding of cinema which is universal,” said Sir and gave his definition of cinema which he said is universally applicable: The film is an imaginary sequence which starts with the filmmaker who imagines it and translates it to an audio-visual sequence. And the audience imagines the sequence through the audio-visuals sequence that has been presented. [Imaginary sequence & audio-visual sequence are key in his definition and so is the creator and the audience.]
Giving his definition of cinema he got back to the need to understand cinema in an Indian way. The western aesthetics, he said, aims at purgation of emotion while the aesthetics of Indian art tradition aims at the arousal of emotion to the highest level possible where the experience goes beyond self and becomes collective. The emotion gets elevated, he said, to ‘saadhaaraneekaran’ where the experience is beyond the individual level and is united with the experience of all those who experience the same emotion.
“I am not comparing the western aesthetics and the Indian one trying to evaluate which one is better. I am just saying what the differences are,” he explained himself and emphasized that knowing the differences is important.
“Classroom mentality,” he went on to say, “cuts you from your own tradition.” He remembered his students at National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad telling him that they all had watched Kuch Kuch Hota Hai more than once but asking him not to watch the film when he expressed the desire to watch the film. “Its not for YOU to watch,” the students had told him which kind of intrigued him even the more. He said he went and watched the film that very day in the nearest cinema hall in Ahmedabad and loved it. “I did not understand and still do not understand the untouchability our academia teaches us about something which is popular,” he said and went on to recollect another episode from his life.
“I was invited to Bangladesh once,” he began and continued to say that on reaching Dhaka he asked them which film was running in the theaters and on being told that the film Beder Meye Josna [Josna the daughter of snake charmer] which was the highest grossing Bangladeshi film ever. But the organizers advised him not to watch the film because it was a popular film. “I was told not to watch a film which thousands of Bangladeshi people had watched and probably watched it more than once,” said Sir. The film, he said, was based on a story which was almost 125 years old. “The story had lived for so long and the film had appealed to so many people and I was advised against watching this film,” said Sir and went to say that he has had such experience often where he has been advised not to watch films which millions have watched and had struck a chord with the masses. He said one needs to understand the pulse of people and understand why popular films become popular. “My uncle,” he said referring to Bharatha Muni, “said that to understand art one should begin from where the audience are,” and stressed the need to understand cinema also with the audience and their experience in the center and not just by placing the creator or author in the center.
Gaston Roberge Sir came to India in 1961 which he calls as being “reborn” at the age of 26 from Canada as a Jesuits priest. Remembering his journey from Canada to India via New York he said in New York he had watched Satyajit Ray’s Apu Triology which made a lasting impression on him. He said he did not even imagine then that the filmmaker would become a dear friend of his soon. Speaking of Pather Panchali he said, “There are eight close-up shots of Apu and Durga tasting pickles. EIGHT,” and remembered a scholar commenting that it had delayed the development of the story. “The scholar,” he said, “had seen the film as a westerner,” and very proudly continued to say, “But I had watched it as an Indian and so could enjoy it the way Apu and Durga enjoy the taste of pickle. I felt their joy.”
“Then I came to India,” he said and then hurriedly added, “Actually I am still coming to India.” That is when I realized why Sir was referring to Bharatha as “Uncle.” I remembered how long ago in some interview he had said that he had come to India not to convert but had get converted after arriving to India. Coming to India and settling in Kolkata Roberge Sir also started the Institute Chitra-Bani apart from writing around 20 books. His Institute and his books nurtured many, like me, over the years.
Speaking of India he expressed sadness on how the spirit of India, not as a state but as a civilization, had undergone changes. “Sustainable development is an oxymoron,” he said and added, “Development is all about money and profit. And sustainability is not some project but a quality of human mind.” He also said, “Spirituality is not a part of any religion but a quality of humans.”
When I asked him for an autographed copy of any of his book for a friend of mine he walked to his desk took out a copy of Cyber Bani and wrote on it, “This copy of Cyber Bani is dedicated to abc a friend of my friend Samvartha,” and signed it. While signing the copy he was explaining the concept of super-book which is non-linear and said how he had tried to achieve it with Cyber Bani.
“My first book was Chitra Bani. This is Cyber Bani. Things have changed so much and are changing so much,” he said as he was walking me out of his room. When we came out of his room I was looking for someone to click a photo of ours. There was none. I asked him to pose for a selfie with me. He asked me what a selfie is and when I explained he said, “This is something new,” and posed for one. By then someone came near the lift and he requested them to click a photo of ours together. We both posed again.
[The notes that I made on 4 Sep 2014 while conversing with Fr. Gaston Roberge were majorly some key words here and there. I had intended to write down the entire conversation, with the help of the notes, immediately. But my itinerary did not permit initially and when after months I went back to my notes I couldn’t make sense of the key words. I had to spend a lot of time staring at those key words that I made note of and had to press hard on my memory to recollect my conversation with Roberge Sir. That is the reason I have titled this: A Remembered Conversation.
This meeting with Roberge Sir and this post wouldnt have been possible without three teachers of mine who I have to thank here immensely. Anil Pinto, for introducing me to the book Chitra Bani. Richie (Fr. Richard Rego) who helped get in touch with Roberge Sir years ago. Buroshiva Dasgupta for making this meeting possible by forcing the lazy me to visit Kolkata.]
The title of Raynuka Nidagundi’s new book amrutha nenapugaLu suggests it being memories [nenapugaLu] of Amrita Pritam but literally it means fond/ immortal [amrutha] memories [nenapugaLu]. As the words are woven into sentences, sentences into paragraphs and paragraphs into pages in this book of conversation with Imroz one realizes that the book is not just Imroz’s fond/ immortal memories of Amrita but also Raynuka’s fond/ immortal memories of her moments and conversations with Imroz.
But this book is not just about memories but also love and longing. Love and longing of Amrita for Sahir, a narrative which is unavoidable, the longing of Imroz for Amrita and along with it the subtle invisible yet omnipresent love and longing of Raynuka for Imroz. But that love and longing for Imroz should be understood, I guess, as a love and longing for Imroz not as a person but as an essence and also the desire to be Amrita, not as a poet but as the partner of Imroz.
All in all this book where the nenapu [memory] is only a nepa [pretext] is a book of multiple loves in which one can see various shades of love: Sahir’s inability to love, Amrita’s passionate love, Imroz’s unwaxed divinely love and Raynuka’s inaccessible love.
The author recollects an anecdote from Amrita’s childhood. The story goes like this: Amrita’s father used to insist that everyone at home reads a chapter from Gurugranth Sahib before going to sleep. He was of the belief that reading of it will build an invisible castle around the person which evil powers will not be able to cross and a sound sleep is guaranteed. Amrita in her autobiography says, ‘parchaaiyaan bahut badi haqeeqat hoti hai‘ and names this ‘parchaayi‘ as Rajan who she wants to cross the castle and invade her dreams. She would try and skip a few lines from the chapter like leaving a small gap in the castle by missing a few bricks for Rajan to enter.
Narrating this the author Raynuka wonders who Rajan was- Sahir or Imroz and says it could be Imroz for it is he who came into his life and stayed. But there is a strange co-incidence here which makes me believe that Rajan was Sahir.
One of the most celebrated poems of Sahir is Parchaaiyaan. And Sahir is actually the one who invades her dreams and Imroz is someone who said, “Tumhaare saath jaaga hoon.” The one who came into her dreams and one who came into her life were different. Not just different people but also different kind of people.
The most popular anecdotes about Amrita’s love for Sahir are her smoking the cigarette buds that Sahir had smoked and her deep desire during her pregnancy to want a child who is like Sahir. There is another anecdote about she writing the name of Sahir on Imroz’s back while sitting behind him on the scooter as he drove her to the AIR office where she was working. Such was her love for Sahir. Writing about this episode in one of his poems Imroz writes, “manchaahi peet per manchaaha naam” and continues to write:
“uski kalam jab bhi likhti
manchaaha hee likhti
aur uski zindagi manchaaha hee jeeti
apne aap ke saath aur
apne manchaahe ke saath bhi.“
Now that was Amrita. Free will. Passionate. Intense. Such was her love too. Not just for Sahir but also for Imroz and also for Pritam Singh.
Amrita married Pritam Singh and also had two kids with him. Then they got divorced. But at the dusk of his life when he was unwell Amrita brings her home where she is living with her kids and Imroz and takes care of him till the dusk in his eyes slips silently into the night. At the dusk of her life Amrita asks Imroz to be next to her to be by her. What ever she did she did it the way she wanted to and did it passionately.
On second thoughts it appears that she never read the chapter from Gurugranth Sahib and there was no one Rajan and there was no castle built around her. Her name carried, till the end, and still carries the name of her husband Pritam. She wrote on air on sand on floor everywhere the name of Sahir and she lived her life with Imroz. Such passionate lover and true lover!
When partition took place Amrita wrote her most famous poem, “aaj akhan waarish shaah noon” which Kushwant Singh in his dismissive tone says as the only piece of writing from Amrita worth mentioning. The first para of the poem reads:
“aaj akhan waarish shaah noon
kitaan qabraan wichon bol
tey ajj kitaab-e-ishq da koi agla waraq pol“
“Today I call Warish Shah
“Speak from inside your grave”
and turn today the book of love’s next affectionate page.”
From here she goes on to describe the plight of Punjab saying:
“ek royi si di punjaab dhi
tu likh likh waare wain
ajj lakhan diyaa rodhiyaa
tenu waaish shaah noon kain”
“Once one daughter of Punjab cried
you wrote a wailing saga
Today a million daughter cry to you Warish Shaah.”
In this now historical poem Amrita is not just asking Warish Shah to give voice to the pain but also to speak of love- ‘turn today the book of love’s next affectionate page’. This amidst all the mindless violence of partition.
This if juxtaposed with Faiz’s most quoted poem ‘mujhse pehli si muhobbat mere mehboob na maang‘ then we see a striking difference. While Faiz asks his lover to not ask for love like before and gives the reason, “hai aur bhi gam duniyaa mein muhobbat ke siwaa” Amrita amidst all the “aur bhi gam duniya mein” asks for love for she finds it to be the need.
The person who she loved immensely- Sahir- sadly, was more with the mindset of Faiz’s poetry it appears at one level for he in his poem titled Gurez writes these lines:
“Main zindagi ke hakaayak sey bhaag aaya tha,
Ki mujhko khud mein chupaa le teri phoosoon-e-zaaye
Kahaan talak koi zinda haqeeqaton sey bachey,
Kahaan talak khade chup chupke naghma-pairaayee.”
[I had run away from the realities of life,
To find shelter in the wonder of your beauty
But for how long can one avoid the realities of life,
For how long can one sing songs from the shadow?]
But Sahir was more complicated than that…
Sahir was a giant. Giant poet too. His innumerable admirers to this day associate most of his songs with Amrita Pritam. More than any his “kabhi kabhi” and “chalo ek baar phir se ajnabee ban jaaye hum dono.” The possibilities are high.
In “Kabhi kabhi” after long descriptions about what he feels and imagines in the end he says, “main jaantaa hoon kay tu gair hai magar youn hee, kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayaal aata hai” like a lost lover who sings even after the curtains are closed hallucinating an opera. In “chalo ek baar phir se” he is in the most difficult situation struggling with the necessity to become strangers again- not just forgetting- and the impossibility of becoming strangers again after having lived life and shared moments of life together.
There is a poem that Imroz has written about Sahir and Amrita where he says, “muhobbat zindagi bhi hoti hai, sirf kavita ya nazm nahi” [Love is life as well/ Not just a poem or song] which rings true because Sahir who wrote some of the finest lines on love and some of the most romantic lines did not have a sound and healthy love life.
Sahir tells Amrita that in Lahore he used stand for hours outside her house nearby a cigarette shop looking at the road-facing window of her house hoping to catch a glance of Amrita. He looks no less passionate than Amrita nor any less sensitive.Imroz in the concluding stanza of his poem writes:
“nau sou meel ka faaslaa koi faaslaa nahi hota
aur bhi hongey faasle jo tay nahi huye
waqt ke saath uski kavita behtreen kavita tak pahunch gayee
aur uske nazm bhi behtreen nazm tak pahunch gayee
Par dono zindagi tak nahi pahunchey
pahunch jaatey toh dono ki zindagi bhi
kavita kavita ho jaati nazm nazm ho jaati“
[A distance of nine hundred miles can be bridged
There may have been other distances that weren’t bridged
With time her poems got better and better
And his songs too got better and better
But both couldnt reach each other’s lives
Had they, then their lives Would’ve resembled a beautiful poem]
Why dint his love for Amrita did not translate itself into a relationship, companionship? What is the distance, pointed by Imroz, that Sahir couldnt cover? There cannot be one answer to this.
In Sahir’s biography by Akshay Manwani we get to see quite a few possible reasons. Kaifi Azmi points at the inferiority complex that Sahir suffered with because of his not-so-pleasant looks. Javed Akhtar points at the, “strange, unhealthy, even complicated,” relationship Sahir shared with his mother which Kushwant Singh bluntly and straightly calls, “mother-fixation” and pins the term “Oedipus complex,” which according to him made Sahir, “incapable of consummating the few love affairs he had in the short life of 59 years.” Akshay Manwani draws our attention the poem Hiraas [Fear] by Sahir to point at his strong anxiety of rejection. This could have stemmed from his average looks which Kaifi sahab points at. But then Imroz, in Akshay Manwani’s book, speaks of the distressed upbringing and troubled childhood which could have crippled him.
“Hardships and distress at an impressionable age”, as Dilip Chitre says speaking of Namdeo Dhasal, “is not an easy burden to carry and to shed it after years of conditioning requires superhuman strength of spirit.” What complicates it further are the issues that keep entangling with the already existing ones.
Caught in all this Sahir, the one who gave all of us our anthems of love and pain of love, was crippled emotionally and cursed by some sort of inability to love, which cost not just him but also his mother who wanted to see him happy in a relationship and obviously Amrita Pritam and also to an extent also cost Sudha Malhotra who is said to have had a fling with Sahir but denies it.
Probably Sahir knew his inability to love. Hence when Amrita goes with Imroz he accepts it and lets her go gracefully. In this book by Raynuka we also come across Pritam who is also a sensitive human but his marriage with Amrita was not warm. But when she moves in with Imroz lets her gracefully. Probably even Pritam, like Sahir, was incapable of love. But both seem to have accepted it gracefully.
Imroz in his conversation with Raynuka says, “Sahir would have never married.” Listening to this Raynuka says, “Possibly Imroz understood Sahir better than Amrita.” Possibly. It is easy to understand why Amrita also chooses Imroz over Sahir eventually when one puts Sahir and Imroz side by side.
In a self portrait poem by Imroz the first line reads, “main ek lok-geet.” What a desire. To become a folk song. Now see this alongside Sahir’s demand for lyricist’s name on film posters and to be announced in radio along with the name of the singers. Imroz never signed his paintings. Sahir had ego battles with Lata Mangeshkar which made him take an oath that he will not write for her voice till he earns a penny more than her per song. Sahir’s ego battle with S.D. Burman saying a lyricist is more important for a song and not the music composer ending up in both agreeing to not work with each other ever, is also quite famous.
While Sahir was all for authorship and its supremacy Imroz desires to be a folksong where there is no authorship. Folk is unself conscious. Sahir was a shayar while Imroz was lok-geet. One wrote about love and the other lived love. While one was a, “chalta phirtaa taaj mahal” the other sees the structure of Taj Mahal, in a poem of the same title, as a pompous show of power.
In the initial pages of this book by Raynuka we hear Imroz speaking of some mundane things. Imroz speaks of him and Amrita doing household things together. Him bringing groceries, she cooking, him getting her cigarettes being a nonsmoker, him preparing her cups of tea at ungodly hours in the night. Him picking up her kids from the school in the afternoon for lunch while she cooked.
Speaking of Sahir to Akshay Manwani Imroz says, “Its just that a creative woman was drawn towards another very talented man.” The true test of any relationship is the dailiness. Imroz becomes a partner in the dailiness of Amrita’s life. There mundane is the spiritual.
Amrita and Imroz, at their house, had different rooms for themselves. Under the same roof they inside the same house yet in different rooms. One cannot help but recollect the words of Khalil Gibran: “… Let there be spaces in your togetherness, and let the winds of heaven dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love… Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of the lute are alone though they quiver with the same music…”
Imroz in his conversation with Raynuka tells her about an incident with Amrita where Amrita is still dodging the idea of living with Imroz who was seven years younger to him and tells him, “duniya dekh aao aur phir sochtey hain.” Imroz immediately gets up and goes around Amrita seven times. Imroz also speaks about his lack of faith in astrology, his feelings about the futility of religion and worshiping. But he does a kundali of Amrita asking her to replace the nine gruha with some other nine words. This new kundali of Amrita becomes a painting in itself. His love for Amrita becomes no less to a faith in itself and a worship in itself. At one point he says, “I do not live in a way that is unsatisfactory to the God. I never disappoint the God.” But who is the God here, becomes the question. Was it Amrita? Probably.
Imroz speaking generally about history to Raynuka asks how those who looted can be called as baadshaah? and asks further if they won the land through means of love and peace? Imroz was named by his family as Indrajit [One who triumphed over lord Indra] and was rechristened as Imroz by Amrita. His aversion for triumph in any means other than love and peace is also reflected in him foregoing his name which indicates a kind of triumph. He becomes Imroz which means ‘today’ i.e. present continuous. Tomorrow is a dream, yesterday is a memory but today is a truth. Today was a truth even yesterday and will be a truth even tomorrow. In that sense it is immortal through amrutha!!!
What one senses from the first page till the last page is the subtle yet omnipresent love of Raynuka for Imroz. From the way she describes to the kind of questions she poses to Imroz and the way in which she does one can infer her love for him in the most non-worldly way. Looking through her eyes it is impossible to not love Imroz.
There is some kind of femininity in Imroz. He is fragile. He is soft. There is a very lovable child like innocence in him. As the great filmmaker Tarkovsky says, “When a tree is growing it is tender and pliant. But when it is dry and hard, it dies. Hardness and strength are death’s companions. Pliancy and weakness are expressions of the freshness of being.” The tenderness of Imroz is like a just born child unlike the body hardened at the time of death. There is a beautiful mix of the feminine and masculine in Imroz which makes him beautiful, lovable and natural.
The paintings of Radha and Krishna are usually in blue [Krishna] and slightly golden [Radha] and when they both come close, in paintings, at the point where their cheeks meet the shade is green. Green is the colour of nature. The place where the masculine and feminine meet that is closest to the nature and that is natural.
So inevitably there is a beautiful attraction that Raynuka feels towards Imroz naturally and this love as said earlier is subtle and omnipresent throughout the book. With the love stories of Sahir, Amrita and Imroz we also get to see soft and silent love story of the author Raynuka. Hence it appears like Amrita and memory of Amrita is just a pretext to meet Imroz be with him and converse with him. One can also not help but wonder if there is a secret desire of the author to become Amrita, not as the poet but as the one who has won the love of Imroz.
When Amrita wrote the name of Sahir on Imroz’s back he says, “For once I thought my name was Sahir.” Once at the Asian Writer’s Conference Sahir and Amrita had exchanged their name badges. Sahir became Amrita and Amrita became Sahir. In this beautiful conversation between Imroz and Raynuka we wonder if the author is longing to be Amrita.
In all these becoming of the other and foregoing off the self is beautiful love story in itself. There are, they say, two kinds of Ishq i.e. Ishq Haqeeki and Ishq Majaazi. The earlier one is love for/ of God or divinely and the latter refers to the love for God’s creatures. One school of Sufism believes that the latter can grow into the earlier like a branch can become a tree in/ by itself. The earlier is where the lover and the loved become one. The latter is slightly self indulgent.
In this book where we see the love of four individuals we see both these kinds of love and various shades of love.
The book also gives some sociological glimpses: the popularity of cinema of those days, the usage of lingua-franca Urdu by commoners, the Hindu-Muslim divide [separate glasses for Hindu and Muslims in Amrita’s house], the houses allotted to refugees in Delhi.
Speaking of the poem main tenu phir milaangi [I will meet you again] which has been popularized, by media, as the poems Amrita wrote for Imroz on her death bed Imroz says it isnt a poem she wrote on her death bed as many believe but some time long before and got popular only after her death. This punctures the mythic stature of their love story as we have constructed. This makes us wonder if their entire love story is some myth we have created and romanticized? Or probably for us lesser mortals it is mythic and for the unusual and extraordinary like Imroz it is just mundane and matter-of-fact.
Post script: When the author, in one of the pages, says its only the fortunate will ever meet and have an Imroz the man himself dismisses of anything called as luck destiny and fortune. Why wouldnt he believe so? This is how one of his poems read:
Zindagi Tasweer Bhi Hai
Aur Taqdeer Bhi..
Man Chaahey Rangon Sey Ban Jaaye Toh Tasweer
Anchaahey Rangon Sey Baney Toh Takdeer…
Life is a reflection
And also destiny
If colored in accordance
With your dreams, a reflection
And if not in accordance with
Your dreams, destiny.
Imroz was fortunate to have the colours of his life in accordance with his dreams.
Amrita had written, ‘arey kismat ko koi aawaaz do, kareeb sey guzarti jaa rahi hai.” [Please call and stop fortune which is passing by so close]. Some times fortune favours some…
Sahir in his original poem Kabhi Kabhi which he later altered for the film writes, “Yeh teergi jo mere zeest ka muqaddar hai, teri nazar ki shuaaon mein kho bhi sakti thi…” [This darkness written on my life’s fate, could have been erased by the light of your eyes…” and in a later line says, “Magar yeh ho na saka…” [But this could not happen] Sahir, may be, was weak not to fight against destiny or fate but was certainly quite weak when it came to romantic relationships and could not open the doors for his good luck even when it knocked on his door. He wrote:
“tadbeer se bighadi hui taqdeer banaa lein,
apne pe bharosa hai toh ek daaon lagaa le,”
[Through action mend your rotten luck,
if you believe in yourself play the odds this once]
But he couldn’t mend his rotten luck through his actions. Probably he, being entangled way too much within himself, did not believe in himself enough when it came to romantic relationships.
[Special thanks to Shireen Azam]
I was watching DCH after a long time and when we started watching the film it did not occur to me that one of the key character’s name is SHALINI. So when Preity Zinta introduces herself as, “SHALINI” I was like, “Oh yeah her name is SHALINI in this film,” and laughed to myself…
While studying at the Film Institute my teacher Anjum Rajabali introduced this fictitious character named SHALINI in our class. We were in the screenwriting course and in class when we would be discussing character development, character arc, scene construction, dialogue writing either some film would be used a reference. But sometimes Sir would come up, spontaneously, with an imaginary moment and explain.
In one of our initial days in class Sir, who always keeps his class conversational, in his signature style of putting his hand in his pocket and leaning forward slightly said, “Imagine Samvartha is in love with some girl. Say SHALINI…” and continued to explain character development with the love story between Samvartha and SHALINI.
It being one of our initial days I felt quite special because Sir took my name and wove a story and I actually assumed that all the 11 of us would become characters some day in some imaginary situation for the class.
Next time when Sir wanted to give a hypothetical example without referring to any existing film he said, “So imagine…” and paused to think a bit and with a notorious smile looked at me . “Samvartha has finally won SHALINI and now…” and he continued the class. When all my classmates laughed I realized that I was that ‘chosen one’ in that class and that it would continue till the end of the course.
The imaginary love story between Samvartha and SHALINI continued in class after class. Once, in one of those off moods, when I asked, “Sir why me always?” Sir said, “This Samvartha is not you. This Samvartha has a SHALINI in his life.” What could I say? I let the story continue where now problems had emerged between an imaginary Samvartha (?) and SHALINI. In one of the next classes when SHALINI made her appearance in the class I told Sir, “Please find this SHALINI and make me meet her. Any ways I am single I will consider dating her.” He immediately said, “If I have to go find SHALINI for you then what will you do?” and the story between Samvartha and SHALINI continued…
By then everyone in class knew that whenever Sir would say, “Imagine…” who, in the next few minutes, would make special appearance in the class. Thus SHALINI became this non-existing yet ever present member of our class.
When our course was to get over when I told Sir, “SHALINI abhi tak nahi mili…” he said, “tumney doondha nahi theek sey...” and both of us had laughed.
After the course when I got back home my mother kept pressurizing me to get married and I had all the excuses in the world. At one point she asked, “Do you like some girl?” and out of the blue I remembered this imaginary girl and told my mom, “Yes. SHALINI.” My mother was slightly upset, yet curious. She asked, “Who is SHALINI?” and I was like, “Ask Anjum… I dont know.” Then to calm her down I had to tell her the entire story of SHALINI which brought a smile on her face.
Almost a year after our course while talking to Sir over the phone he said, “Samvartha you have to be there for the decennial celebration.” I said I would be there for sure and later had messaged him saying, ‘Sir please ask SHALINI also to come for the decennial celebration.” He had replied with a smiley.
In Pune just before the decennial celebrations began Sir and some of us were having lunch together and I was sitting right between Anjum Sir and Ashwini Sir. After the initial questions, “How are you?” “When did you arrive?” Sir said, “One of the agendas of this decennial celebration is to find SHALINI.” Both of us laughed and Ashwini Sir asked who SHALINI is. I narrated the whole story to Ashwini Sir who on listening to it smiled.
After that day nothing/ nobody reminded me of SHALINI and yesterday while watching DCH when the name was uttered there was a flood of memories… FTII, teachers, classmates, friends and the faceless non-existing yet ever present SHALINI.