I saw the woman in glasses (on the left) 25 years ago.. Early in the morning she was running on the Juhu beach in Mumbai, sari and all, balancing the basket of fresh fish on her head that was tilted at a slightly awkward angle – probably the best way to balance the uncertain load on her head. I was told by her later (as she would deliver fish to my doorstep), that she ran to be able to get the fish to her customer in the freshest state possible. But I guess also to beat the competition. Over the years every time I got to the beach in the morning at the right time – I would see her run with the catch that just came off the fishing boats. How does she keep that fit, I thought ? And then a couple of years ago, I would never see her again. I wondered if she now had a different beat. Or something had happened to her.
Then today I saw her again. I asked her why she did not run on the beach any more and she showed me her swollen foot and leg. I asked her what was wrong, and she laughed and said “Age, Baba” something you would not know about yet (as if !). The she introduced me to her daughter (in the picture) who now does the same run. Anyway I wished her well and left. Later this evening she and her daughter turned up at my apartment in Juhu fully dressed up. They had cooked for me ! The most delicious Soorma Fish Curry you could have. And enough to feed me and many of my friends in an impromptu dinner party I quickly arranged.
Pity that we are losing these friends to the Super markets. Over the 20 years I have visited Mumbai off and on, I have had the same Milkman ( who beat me at football on the beach and would drag me to his house every festival for his mother to feed me to extinction), the son of the same fruit seller who’s charming negotiating skills taught me a thing or two of how to negotiate with Studio heads in Hollywood. And the family of the same sabzi wallah. I even have the same Bai who comes searching for me always to see if I am back. She has a bad back so I tell her to stay at home and I pay her salary in any case. But she insists on coming and supervising the cleaning of the house by a new, younger Bai. “This is my house”, she says proudly” Your mother employed me and only she can ask me to stop”. Well, my mother passed away many years ago, so I guess the Bai is here to stay.
And then I have Suresh who follows me around the world insisting that I need someone to look after me. he has been doing that for almost 15 years now. When in London, his cooking skills made me the most popular person in London. Friday nights in my house in London would be famous as Fish Curry nights – where Suresh would cook up the most amazing food for 30/40 people. If you want Suresh to go into deep colours of red, ask him to show you his picture with ‘Cate Memsahib’, where Cate Blanchet has her arms around Suresh and planting a firm kiss on his cheek. As a thank you for all the meals he fed her during the Golden Age shoot.
The other day the son of the Fruit Seller heard I was in town and came to say hello. He told me his story of woe. The police will not let them put out stalls in the street anymore, the shops are too expensive and the supermarkets are eating into their business. But they are now hitting back back with technology. Mobile phones !
Now I have everyone’s mobile phones. And if I am flying back from New York, I can phone my Fish seller, My fruit seller, my Vegetable vendor and my Bai – all of them a day ahead and tell them exactly what I need delivered to my doorstep as I arrive.
I hope the supermarkets do not drive these people out of business. I grew up with them, as I am sure many of you did.
Archive for the ‘About Myself’ Category
Walking the streets of Delhi just as dusk has set in. The slight smell from the fog mixed with the smell of traffic fumes on Janpath. Memories. Of my mother, always in her colorful saris, red shawl, her carefully bobbed hair just down to her neck. And laughing, always laughing as if she feared if she did not, somehow the demons of unfulfilled child hood dreams would get to her. As they ultimately did.
But God, I loved that laughter – and the streets and smells of Delhi were filled with her laughter this evening. And my father, quite and often brooding, a compassionate smile on his face as he watched his life partner laugh, hiding his pleasure at it, but feeling it’s warmth just as me and my sisters did.
And when my mother passed away he missed it so much that he gradually too let go. The laughter that filled our lives had gone – but we the kids were off on our own adventures – our own dreams, heartbreaks, ambitions – the family house empty of laughter and hope – still lies there languishing – waiting for someone to fill it with the bubbling excitement – so it’s walls can lose the forlorn dampness that is spreading everywhere.
And this evening as I walk through Janpath to my hotel – the restored and magnificent Imperial Hotel – the sweet acrid nostalgic smell of Delhi winter – brought tears to my eyes – as passerby’s saw me and stopped “wasn’t that Shekhar Kapur who also cried on TV” ?
i thought it was a dream. A fantasy of my mind.
I was in high pass that was completely iced up, snow was thigh deep. The afternoon winds had picked up, and though we were warned not to go to the pass in the afternoon, we were foolhardy boys looking for any challenge that even nature could throw at us.
The wind was so high that it threatened to blow us off our feet. Temperatures dropped dramatically. It started to snow and visiblity was merely two or three feet. We realized that we had challenged nature to our cost and were now panicking. Then mysteriously we saw a hut which we thought first was an illusion. Then as we struggled through the thigh deep snow, every breath made to count, the hut turned from illusion to reality.
Once inside we struggled to keep each other warm. The threat of freezing to death in this hut in the middle of nowhere loomed large in our minds. Darkness was not far away, as exhaustion set in, and we fought the overwhelming desire to sleep by telling each other of fantastical sexual experiences that were complete fabrications of the hormonal fantasies of 16 year old minds.
Then this much older man came in. I do not remember him as a mountain man. He looked like he was from the plains, as he carried something that looked like a briefcase. He sat down and huddled next to us for warmth, and we were happy to have an extra warm body.
The man opened what looked like a brief case and brought out a half bottle of very cheap whiskey. I remember that clearly, for I was surprised it was not rum. In all my fantasies, the drink that somehow turned up magically to save you was not whiskey, but rum. In any case we were happy to share it, the mind being numbed to the fear and the cold. And then I remember the man doing the most extraordinary thing.
He started laugh. A kind of senseless laugh that we had heard was part of mountain sickness. A light headedness that came through the starvation of oxygen in the brain. And as he laughed, the man suddenly opened the creaking and half broken wooden door and ran out. The cold hit us like a hammer as the below freezing wind came howling in. The temperatures below a figure where it ceases to matter. We were not covered or prepared for anything under minus 2 or 3 max. Wind factor must have dropped it to minus 20 at least.
The man ran out laughing and trying to dance in the wind. We looked aghast and shocked. I think bravery only happens when you have no time to think or consider the results of our actions. Foolishly we ran out after him as he ran further and further away from us. Exhausted and our bodies stinging from the cold we finally brought him down in a tackle that even professional Rugby players would be proud of. Dragged him back to the hut, while he kicked out struggling to get away. The laughter giving way to a peculiar wail. The mountain sickness had got him. It could kill him inside an hour.
I do not remember more. I know we must have been rescued. I cannot even remember who the friend was with me. And often thought that this was a “fantasy’ ‘adventure young men often make up about their ‘adventurous’ past.
And then as I went to Rohtang Pass two days ago. To speak live to the UN conference on climate change from the Rohtang, I saw the hut. It struck me like an emotional bolt. It was not a fantasy. The hut now in ruins, was still there. Exactly as I remembered it.
But gone was the ice, the freezing cold. The Glaciers we struggled with, the ice that was an essential part of the landscape. I asked my guide why the hut was in ruins, and he said that there was no longer needed as the thickness of the ice never formed to danger levels. He said that he never saw the Rohtang without glacial ice on it till a few years ago. Now it was bone dry.
He told me that many years ago a man was found frozen to death clutching a brief case. He had apparently been in that position throughout the winter. Had we forsaken him ? Did we walk away from him saving our own lives ? I cannot remember, and maybe somewhere the friend with me will read this and complete the story for me. Did my mind just block out a great act of cowardice that we both committed by leaving a man behind to die ? I cannot tell,
But one thing is certain. The Glaciers are disappearing. We are killing our planet.
india times said I was on a spiritual search because of the turmoil of my personal life and post oscar success of golden age. Not true. I have been in turmoil since I was 10.
In Delhi we used to sleep under the open skies on the terrace in summer. There was no light, sound or other pollution at that time. The universe was there to comprehend in all it’s fairy tale glory. The stars bright enough to create shadows of my hand on the white sheets. It was beautiful, as my mother would give me a glass of water from the earthen pot called the Surahi. I still miss the taste of the earth in the water I drank in the light of the universe. And as I would lie there, staring at the stars the inevitable question would nag me again. Where does the universe go ? What lies at the end of the universe ?….
bumping my boat
from shore to shore
not sure if the ports are bouncing me back
or the springs are in my boat
so strong that they push me
back into the rough seas
the moment they touch land ?
because till i see the destination
i will not know I am there
the things i did
and those i did not
the way things went
and the way they did not
the things i can
and those i cannot
it’s just the way it is
and just the way it was
The gift of talent, I believe, is a huge responsibility. It does not really belong to you. It never did. If used for merely acquiring wealth fame and power, talent turns into the devil that eats into your soul. Like a gambling debt, like an addiction. Not to a supreme creative endeavour but to the artificial surrounds of wealth, power and fame.
Talent is Prasadam. It can be taken away if not placed at the altar. Talent is the temple. And when it is lost, as it will be if abused, all that is left is the empty shell of addiction. Talent can never be yours, for it is much more substantial than your ego. And the more creative force there is to talent, the more universal, the more beyond yourself it becomes. It is as if someone loaned you the gift to tap into a universal creativity.
Of course there is temptation. The pull of the mortal and material needs never cease. It’s a constant battle to retain the purity, the innocence, the child like playful quality of creative talent.
Just watching a documentary of an Asian Indian actor tracing her roots. And then the documentary talked about her Grand Uncle and his family being massacred on a train as they fled from the newly created Pakistan. She even met her great aunt who was on that train when she was 20, but somehow survived. Why do I feel a stab of pain each time I hear or see anything on the partition of India ? I am a partition baby, but I don’t really remember anything… but after all these years, whenever I see people from the other side of the border speaking Punjabi, looking and speaking exactly like my grandfather, I can’t help shedding tears …
Recently I had a really upset fan write to me, who reacted adversely to a TV interview of mine on National TV. Where I said that I was far more comfortable with failure than I ever will be with success. He thought I was looking down upon those that are working hard and striving to succeed.