Saturday, February 27, 2010

To the Game and its Master

Getting up in the wee hours, with the alertness that was always missing in the other early risings, the careful walk down to the living room that had the TV in the corner, the soft baby steps, a cat walk, so that there was no noise to wake up the parents, along, with my oft repeated self quote ‘am not superstitious but a little luck did no one any harm’ - then switching on the BPL television (most oft on mute mode) and looking at the half-fuzzy, out of focus cricket scores, sometimes a third of the figure eaten up by the top right corner of the screen, and a me almost bending under, a tilt of the neck so as so get a peak into the half hidden digits, then squinting the eyes, and various facial muscles put to good use to get the clear figure,
"what’s the score man!"

All of this reminds me of the best times I spent with the game. In addition to the rituals I indulged myself in on the D-days, what really added the charm were the colourful uniforms, the white kookaburra balls and the lush green Australian grounds.
Yes, that’s my memory of the Benson & Hedges series in Australia. And then came the worst, the struggling Indian batsmen against the giants and monsters like Merv Hughes, Craig Mcdermott and company. It was always a lost cause. Post 1985 series, we had consistently failed to make a mark in the Benson & Hedges series. Sanjay Manjrekar, Kris Srikanth, Ravi Shastri, Manoj Prabhakar and others were always struggling. Often their wholehearted shots wouldn’t even as much as disturb the birds, conveniently sitting, lazing actually, at the boundaries in the Australian grounds. The scores would read: 3/32, 4/27 etc.
Australian score cards always had wickets before the runs. And in times like those, situations would arise that figures like 3/7, 2/5 – would make it really annoying to first read those scores with half awake eyes, and then figure –

“Yeh runs kaunse hai… wickets kaunse… out of sheer disbelief of the situation”!

During vacations the game and me used to be the best of friends, inseparable duo. The early childhood days in Bombay – the one bedroom hall flat was my Eden gardens! I used to constantly bowl at the two chairs, lying not so conspicuously in the hall. They were joined such that hitting the ball at their legs, that is bowling to their legs would have the ball go in different directions – depending on the spot of the leg that the ball was hit, all this, meaning the two chairs were my batsmen. And when I wanted to bat and enjoy the game, the vintage ball-in-the-socks-tied-with-the-ceiling was the best method. And when I fell sick or invariably got my leg injured or sprained, and was restricted to the bed, to stay in touch with the game, I would play the ‘Book Cricket’!

Turning the page of a thick book and getting the even page number as the score of the batsmen. I had my own unique set of rules and regulations for this form of sport. Eg: If the page number was 190. Then the last digit 0 meant the batsman is Out! Those tough book cricket days came as an unsuspecting, unusual companion to rescue. My favourite Book or I might say ‘collaborator’ used to be super thick Banking Examination book that my father used to read during his Banking Exams days.
I wonder how any of the kids didn’t like tear away all the pages numbered –digits ending with ‘0’; oh, we hadn’t been exposed to the phenomenon of ‘match fixing’ as yet.

Being the only child then, I did everything; I played my own tournaments; did my own commentary, organized my own world cups, and had my own winners. Of course India had to win in almost all of them, but when it used to be Wasim Akram bowling, I would allow him a 5-wicket haul! I shamelessly copied Wasim bhai’s style even while bowling in school grounds, for years to come! Like the young Andy Kaufman's wall in Man on the Moon.

There was a time in the early 1990’s, when India was playing dismally. I remember the 1992 world cup, only 5 points. 2 for beating Pakistan, 2 for beating Zimbabwe and 1 for the rain-washed match against Sri Lanka. Rest all matches were lost. Mark Greatbatch, Brian Lara, David Boon, Andrew Hudson all collectively assaulted the Indian bowling line-up. In those times I blocked myself, as far as I could from the stats floating around and indulged myself in my own drawing room cricket tournaments, cups and series, where I was calling shots, doing it all to make India look a little better in my mind. The game was so much a part of me; nay the game was me. That’s where my heroes lay and they were failing me.

Post 1996 World Cup, life became too busy with academics and I couldn’t follow the game as closely. Perhaps I grew up and stopped letting India win in my mind and the joy it brought along, Perhaps I was mature now:
“Hardik these things don’t happen simply if you make them happen in your mind”. Or perhaps India started performing great esp. around 1996 World Cup.

It’s been years since I followed cricket, but I sincerely thank god(and the Kochi sun) for giving me a strong headache on the 24th Feb 2010. I didn’t go to work and thankfully the Master chose that day to show the world, yet again what he Is capable of. That one milestone that only the most deserving one could and should reach. A double hundred.
Again like the movies of my childhood: Ajooba:
“yeh talwaar wohi shahzada nikaal sakta hai, jo iska haqdaar hai!”.
That sword stuck in Shammi Kapoor’s kingdom. And how amidst an emotional chorus of crying women did Amitabh Bachchan pull out the sword. Fans of Ajooba will remember this.

That night I thought about all the brilliant innings that he has played and fought so strongly for India. Fought for grown up kids like me who would not want India to win in their minds but win on the grounds. Maybe if he had started playing these innings in that early 1990s phase then I would have never left the game the way I did.
A writer said an amazing line about Sachin: “He may not play in the finals, but he will make sure that India reaches the finals” I thought about this one innings, perhaps the best, or one of the many best innings that he has played.

In 1994, on the day when I was playing holi with my friends in the building, the master was asked by the then captain Mohd. Azharuddin, to open the innings for India. The first time he was asked to open, in a match against New Zealand at the Auckland ground. The Master had started hitting the ball in his style. My father called me from our third floor flat:
“Come up, India’s batting has started”
I was still busy with the group of friends. My father again shouted from the window:
“Tendulkar has come to open the innings. 2 fours in the first over.”
“What!!!” exclaimed the group of friends.
We stopped playing and rushed to our respective homes.
2 fours in the first over in the pre T20 era and the age of Ravi Shastri’s 23 (65 balls) was a revelation.

That day I saw one of his best innings. Firecrackers were bursting on Holi, no we’d not confused the festivals, it was the Master’s 82* in 49 balls. I can never forget the way he approached the ball, the way he would come in position and hit that flashing straight drive, from right under the bowlers nose, the ball zoomed past. That square cut, you could almost hear the ‘knock’ sound of the kookaburra ball. The going on back foot and the lift over the mid-on and the amazing hook shot – the blitzkrieg of the genius. From that day he always opened the innings for India.

I can never forget the way he welcomed an aggressive “talking-too-much-to-media” Shoaib Akhtar in the 2003 World Cup. Six over thirdman. Youtube terms it as a “shot of the lifetime”.

To all the masters whom I started following off lately including Abbas Kiarostami, Michel Gondry, Micheal Haneke, Emir Kusturica, Wim Wenders, Werner Herzog. Sorry sirs – I forgot The First Master - My Childhood Master.

“No one like my Sachin.”

I feel extremely sorry for he had to make a 200* to make me realize how important a man he is for my game and how great an impact he had had and continues to have on our lives.

Time to play some cricket.
Phir dil do apne game ko…

Happy Holi to all the readers. Ironically aaj bhi holi hai...!!

© Copyrights 2009 All Rights Reserved. Hardik Mehta

Monday, February 22, 2010

The ground realities of My Name Is Khan

(Sorry for going off road from the "Road, Movie" diary)

Inside a single screen theatre in Ernakulam on a weekday. The Balcony is Full. The Stall almost. On screen Rizwan Khan with all the gimmicks that his cynics often blame him for: “Very Bad…Bad…” Seeing SRK I thank god that the normal masses do not follow the cynics. They see him doing “Very Bad..Bad..” and instantly applaud. A little later, more gimmicks follow: More applause. Clearly Shah Rukh Khan is a man loved in Eranakulam. I was genuinely surprised. In the land of a thousand Mohanlal and Mamooty fan clubs, here is this Mr. Ham being applauded for the gimmicks that most of the Bombay-Delhi India is done with and tired. When I go to restaurants, food stalls, bus stands, railway stations, airports – half of them do not understand hindi at all, and here in this theatre, not just enjoying they are loving him.

Outside the theatre there is a banner – The Shah Rukh Khan Fan club of Ernakulam welcomes you to My Name is Khan. Amazing isn’t it? And then the news: MNIK doing better business than 3 Idiots overseas. To be frank, I (like the cynics) wasn’t clearly enjoying the movie. Yea, it had some good moments, some genuine moments: like the “Marry me…” Needless to say, it’s over-the-top, exaggerated and all that. As Kajol asks SRK: “Marry Me!”. The young woman behind me sighed: “Wow, how sweet!” Ha. Remember those two women who had come out blazing all guns on Kaminey and how pathetic they found the movie. But watching Shah Rukh Khan do that sunrise scene, it made me smile and made me thought of this star who still can make people fall in love, even after so many clichéd, stupid and god knows what kinds of movies he has done. As my friend will tell you: “no one can love like shah rukh khan”

Aseem Chhabra in Mumbai Mirror says: “MNIK is not at all a crossover film”. I think Shah Rukh Khan and Karan Johar are crossover, their films aren’t and the films need not be also. Was K3G or any other of SRK’s film crossover? No of course not. Its only the Indian diaspora who watches it. That’s the way it has been. Forget crossover K3G toh ghar ka bhi nahi tha. Son coming out of helicopter and all that you know more. Infact many are not fond of all Karan Johar films being based in US, like as if he stays more in LA than Khar-Bandra. But shooting in US and making his stories happen there make him crossover? No. Yes. Maybe. But his films, No. Never. Infact I have never liked a single film the writer of MNIK has written. Sorry lady. You just don’t work for me. And add to that Dharma’s new pathetic animation film trailer: Cootchi Cootchi Hota Hai. Disaster written all over it.

Now coming to the more controversial part of the film. There is no point cursing MNIK for its stereotypes and caricatures. Guys, really what are you trying to compare here. Vishal Bharadwaj and Karan Johar. Please open your eyes. Big movies have it in them to stereotype and make caricaturized characters. It a part of the propaganda: “please the crowd”. And hello an indepth cinema critic will even tell you how Mr. Bharadwaj has stereotyped so many times in his movies too. I have heard it and have accepted that from one of my professors. By the way, what the hell was Danny Boyle doing in India with that god-knows-how-many Oscar winner film? Combining the wonderful ingredients of child prostitution, forced begging, Hindus slaughtering Muslims, Bliinding of kids, Cricket betting all into one delicious dish called Slumdog, like a Hot Dog. We need to understand the psyche and the concept of shelling millions of rupees in a single movie and how they see the film’s reception by audiences worldwide and then view them in a particular context. Some small magazines, weeklys or one independent person writing on blog has no weight against MNIK, Slumdog or any such big Foxy movies. There is a huge sum of money put in for “crowd pleasing” – whether it is India, world or any target audience. Forget big movies, do not festival filmmakers only make their films for festivals almost depriving the lesser intelligentsia. Like telling them: “oh no aint for the masses.”

And at the outset, let me just clarify before those intellectual bricks come in to hit me. Supporting over the top commercial movies doesnt mean supporting the likes of wide spread disease like Wanted. One cant even take or sit collectively for 15 seconds of Wanted and the deadpan Salman Khan, The movie is extremely gross and Prabhudeva almost finds new lows as a film director. Wow! What a start. But then statisticians will tell you that it was the highest grosser of 2009. That idiot spectacled trade analyst will come and throw figures at you the way Salman throws women all around him. Anyways statisticians are more harmful than critics. Not that critics are any less harmful. That Times of India lady saying: Rizwan is better than Forrest. Ma’am even Forrest hammed big time. So what are we trying to compare here. Let SRK be SRK and let Tom Hanks be what he is. Indians, in their mid 20s or late who have grown up and then went abroad to settle for a ‘better’ future have seen him doing all that and more. But he essentially works. He defines the term bollywood song and dance. Aamir doesn’t. He cant pull it off the way SRK can.

(P.S: I got pissed off on seeing that basketball player as Obama in MNIK, at least Forrest Gump tried their best with visual effects making Forrest meet the President. Not ‘at least’, it was real good.)

Part of the problem is also that many of Indian critics are actually so westernized in their approach and consume Star World and the likes that somehow no one’s sensibility appeals to me except probably Rajeev Masand who I think is a way better critic and analyst than all his contemporaries. The rest either suck up to stars or behave like intellectual sobs or worse: hardly know anything about movies or moviemaking.

Sometimes I wonder whether understanding the commercial films and the way they work is understanding one's own country and the audience’s demand or the way they have been watching movies over the years. But then never bow to the demand else you end up in a nowhere land. As every good director will tell you, that make films for your own self. If you like it, people will like it. If the Dardene brothers makes those wonderful music-less movies, they are brilliant and I love watching it, but in my growing up or hearing and telling stories, music has been an essential part, so whenever I will tell stories they will have to have the musical way of telling it, which brings me to My Name is Khan’s music: It is brilliant. Full stop. Any further arguments would be treated with furious anger and vengeance.

As Great Bong will tell you about Slumdog and I quote: “This crowd-pleasing is done through punching together as many stereotypes that Westerners have about India as is humanly possible” In the same way what’s wrong if My Name is Khan doing that for Americans targeting us who have never been to America or wont be in their lifetime.

The point of the matter is: Remember folks (and these are just my views)
Point no. 1: Great cinema is about grey shades of a character and not about just Black and White and Big Cinema is about Good and Bad, Black and White. Zyada sochoge toh pachtaaoge.
The way Rizwan’s mother explains him. Simple enough, eh?

Point no. 2: Shah Rukh Khan is what he is. As the film comes to an end in the Ernakulam theatre (thank god!), the crowd applauds again and I am surprised again. They all love it. Maybe! I love the music, no doubts. Shankar Mahadevan is my hero.

© Copyrights 2009 All Rights Reserved. Hardik Mehta

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Road Movie Diary: Chapter 1

There has been a splurge of great reviews, neat trailers, festival news and loads of interesting information coming about Dev Benegal’s film “Road, Movie” and how wonderfully it tells the tale of a traveling cinema amidst the mythical Indian landscape...and more. Undoubtedly, Dev worked relentlessly on the film for many years and thus the outcome looks so impressive. I wonder how many from my generation would put in that amount of time, patient effort and dedication towards one film. A casual look at the visuals of Road, Movie and you know stuff like this cant be produced overnight. But then, we all will be hearing stories about the movie from the cast and crew on various websites, television shows, Youtube videos and The Making snippets. But as far as Bhaand Group is concerned, needless to say I would be trying to concentrate on telling my story, my journey and my first baby steps into the world of movies and how “Road, Movie” was indeed an amazing canvas to work on.

“No, no you don’t need to come for an interview or something like that. Susan is going to come on the 14th of July, so make sure you are here by then,” said Sopan over the phone call on that June morning in 2008. I was in my editing session of the final graduation film that we had made. On hearing Sopan’s voice I was elated.

“We would be giving you some stipend,” Sopan modestly added.
“Sir, thanks for the opportunity, money is not an issue” replied a beaming me.

Those were the days of campus recruitment and some television channels were surely taking keen interest in hiring the students, cheap labour we joked amongst ourselves. My story was a lil different - I was kicked out in the first round itself of a popular hindi gec channel selection, and I son enough realised, not all rejections are bad. The call from Sopan was like god sent.

The news spread that I would be joining Dev sir’s next movie. On hearing about the film, a classmate came and asked.

“So what will you be joining AS?”

I didn’t know what to say. the channels had taken students as Associate Producers, so suddenly the importance of ‘jobs’ was replaced by ‘positions one is joining at’.

“Actually I am suppose to assist the producer, lets see. I really don’t know what to term the post as...”

Hell joining a movie was important.
That evening I quickly went to the nearest cyber café and googled “Dev Benegal – Road Movie”. One of the pages mentioned that the screenplay had been shortlisted to Atelier Du Cannes in 2006. Susan B. Landau and Ross Katz would be producing it. So what followed next is obvious. Google their names.
In the next few days, I got my tickets booked for Bombay. The final viva examinations were yet to be completed. Although they were nothing short of a formality, yet one did have to come back to Delhi for that and again head back to Bombay.

On 14th of July, Sopan called and asked me to be at the Sahar airport, Andheri. Susan’s flight was expected around 9 30 pm. I really didn’t know how to go about receiving a Hollywood Producer coming for the first time to India. I thought to myself, should I go with a placard and stand there amidst all those five star hotel personnel like the guy who was standing ahead of me: “Mr Robert Peterson from London – Hyatt Regency Welcomes you. I started thinking of ideas through which I could avoid standing with a placard, but then ideas have an amazing tendency to elude you, when you require them the most. Even for a former copy writer.

Completely clueless I just stood besides all those placard holding gentlemen.
Wasn't I working on a film project? I rubbished the potentially destructive terrain of thought, I am working on a film project - all this is also the film project. Lessons learnt soon enough.

I looked around and took out an A4 sized paper from my bag and wrote with a Black sketch pen SUSAN B. LANDAU – AUGUST ENTERTAINMENT. The letters had started growing smaller with a progressive diagonal tilt by the time I reached the end of the name ...A..N..D..A..U...

I cringed, how would a Hollywood producer feel on reading this. Her first impression of Indians. Without wanting to evoke the current flavour of 'prove your indian quotient', somehow I have a tendency to place my national pride in these little details, my countries impression on people who come for the first time. Errr.

This was pre-Slumdog Millionaire era. I tore that A4 paper and came up with another, a relatively better version. I again looked around and couldn’t spot Sopan anywhere. If he would have been around I could have saved myself from ‘holding the placard’ situation... I silently thought to myself. But I couldn’t find a single recognizable face in that airport crowd. Nevertheless, as soon as the flight from New York was announced as “Arrived” I went ahead and stood with the placard. Half and hour passed and a lady on a wheel chair was brought in by the airport staff. She came in right to the placard and signaled, boy I am here. I was still looking up, until a moment later, and I realized that Susan had a severe back pain and had to take a wheel chair and come outside the airport. I folded the temporarily made placard, took her luggage aside and received her with general talk. I was praying in my hearts of hearts for Sopan to appear magically. She was very kind and she did tell me
‘Producers wont be so kind on the Movie sets! '

The airport staff who had driven the wheel chair for Susan told me:
“Wheel Chair wapas le jaane ka hai..” ( I want to take the Wheel chair back).
I felt like thrashing him:
“toh mei inko kahaan bithaau?” (Where should I make her sit?)

Susan gauged the situation; she offered that she would sit down, if the staff were in hurry to take the wheel chair. I didn’t know where to look and suddenly Sopan appeared. He's always been God sent. He had a bouquet of flowers in his hand and then I realized, if I had brought a bouquet than I could have saved myself from the A4 size placard. Maybe a name inside the bouquet or something to hold at least would have made me look a little better. Before Sopan could make a little conversation, Dev came. So there I was with the three of them. The movie was going to be executed between all three of them.

Dev came and said: “hardikji aap aa gaye...?”.
In my heart I said: “aa to gaye hain ab...dekhte hain yeh shaher kitne rang dikhata hai…”

Next moment I got the slice of Dev’s humor when Susan asked
Susan: Dev, how far is your home?
Dev: Its one-hour from here (the airport)
Susan: Is that Bombay or some other city?
Dev: It is indeed Bombay, Susan – an hour further from my home is also Bombay.
For someone like me who knew Bombay, had spent my childhood here but hadn't experienced it's recently and now ever-expanding city limits, this was indeed funny. On hearing Dev, Susan gave a unique surprised look. And Dev with his Buddha-like smile. Hardly did I know that for the next few months, these two expressions would be the most I would see.

Cut to a few days ago. 10th Feb 2010. Again Sahar airport, but this time at the Departure lounge. Sopan and Faisal were flying to Berlin for the “Road, Movie” screening. I was again there to see them off. I remembered my first day, the placard holding intern with Bombay dreams in his eyes. Felt like telling this to Sopan, but then there was a lot of commotion on the airport. And so the blog!

To my classmate or the generation who is more concerned about the position than the work place. Respect and believe in others and the world will respond to you in better ways than you would have thought.
“yaar ghaans kaato lekin achcha ghaans kaat-lo to bhi bahut hai...”

Coming up: The Road Movie diary number two: Shopping with Abhay Deol and Amba Sanyal, the Costume Designer of the film.

© Copyrights 2009 All Rights Reserved. Hardik Mehta

Friday, February 12, 2010

Images from the Darkness

As an avid fan of Arvinda Adiga's masterpiece story - The White Tiger. I quote:
"Please understand your excellency, India is two countries into one: an India of Light and an India of Darkness."

Further the protagonist Balram Halwai, while dividing India into different shades of Light, almost heroically tells the tale sitting below his "chandelier" in his office.

A chandelier. wow. what an example.

In Indian weddings held in the India of Light, you will find Darkness just about everywhere. In the pictures below I kind of tried to capture that moment when the "Darkness" of India carry the "Light" on their heads to make the weddings look Grand - thus making a clear demarcation about "top" and "bottom".

The mobile chandeliers being carried by Darkness on their heads.

Please click on the Image to View Large.

© Copyrights 2009 All Rights Reserved. Hardik Mehta

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Final chapter – The Inheritance

For those who have been missing the story, here are the links to Chapter 1 and Chapter 2.
Suggestion: Don’t continue reading the Final Chapter, if you have not read the earlier two Chapters.

Warning: a long post.

The routine life was now set. Face the situation. Prepare for the impending disaster. Learn how the visually impaired tackle daily life problems. And the worst, wait for that day, when darkness will come to swallow your world.

Meanwhile the family members got busy trying to trace this defect in their own genes...where, where did it happen last? From grandfathers to great grandfathers the rest of the forefathers, as far as the family tree could be traced but they couldn’t spot the root of this defect. Not even an iota of evidence of the genetic ailment. This baffled the doctors too.
“How can that be? There must be, there has to be! The genetic connect.”
The pointless debate was put to rest, none of this meticulous tracing would avert the current predicament of the young man. Whatever had to happen… had already happened.

The young man yearned to move away from this dark chapter. In the summer of 1992, amidst the tunnel of darkness, came the first stroke of light in the form of...

The young man’s father was a good singer whose dream to sing for a famous hindi film music director was cut short due to familial bindings in the 1960s. And why do we talk about the father now, because here again another genetic transmission happened, albeit a different sort… this ‘inheritance’ was to become the light and sound of his life to come.

So though the father’s musical sojourn was cut short – that didn’t stop him from letting his children take a sneak peak into it. The young man had learnt harmonica for a few months during his childhood…musical roots which had then deepened within him, but as they say… once a grown up with the ‘grown ups’ responsibilities to shoulder, sometimes drawing from once own roots becomes a task. We forget to acknowledge what forms the core of us, what roots us. We forget, till it shakes us from within.

So coming to back to 1991 - As Salim in his auto rickshaw continued to ferry the young man from his Bank-to-home and back, the dark boredom had settled in.

Much like several other men, who turn to different kind of vices/devices to fight boredom, the young man too took upto one such addiction: tobacco.
Lesson no 1: Addiction is perhaps one of the very few things in the world that is above the class and caste divides, it eats up all, alike.

The young man had developed an amazing addiction towards ‘mawa’. ‘Mawa’ as referred in the colloquial Gujarati language is wrapped up in a small square-shaped plastic bag with a small thread tying the whole bundle. The constituents apart from heavy intakes of tobacco are lime, small pieces of betel nuts, and areca nuts like shrapnels of a military bomb. Infact the ‘Mawa’ in that small plastic wrapper is actually like a mini atomic bomb, which works a little differently. If dropped on someone, its uniquely evil elements would near hypnotize the senses; lure the individual for life, and ruin him hence. A ‘Mawa’ has to be vigorously rubbed on the palm to get its soothing hypnotizing element out. The young man had fallen for the charms of this mini atom bomb. Darkness can swallow you in different ways; tobacco was one of them.

Salim and the young man had become great friends by now. Lesson no 2: Tobacco can be a great ‘unifier’.
Someone should suggest the ‘mawa’ on the Indo-Pak border. The new friendship atomic bomb – Mawa sponsored by Danikchand.

On one of the regular evening meets at the Pan Shop in the city, a friend heard the young man singing casually. He loved the sound of it. He looked at the young man and a little later the discussion took another direction.
“What’s the point in continuing this Bank job?”
The young man of course came up with those societal reasons. Supporting the family, earning pension post retirement, getting the daughter married, when the time comes etc. etc. The friends won’t give up. The Friend who heard him singing just now pounced on the idea of trying out his hand in music. All the friends now suggested that the young man should give music a chance. This was 1991-92. Electronic music had just started to come up. India had started developing post liberalization symptoms. The economy was looking ‘good’ as we were told. Electronic goods were on a high.

Since the young man had a propensity to play the harmonica and sing, his friends suggested him to buy an Electronic KeyBoard. The young man was not sure of this investment. It could create a huge hole in his annual earnings. Nevertheless the risk had to be taken.
Music as the world will tell you, is often the best healer. Many visually impaired people have taken up music – From Charles Ray to all the railway station beggers. But here the story is a little different. Soon, the first mid-range Yamaha KeyBoard was brought from Bombay and the young man started to get a hang of the black & white keys and some simple functions in a few months. Now comes the most difficult phase, a reality check in some way - the Electronic Keyboard can avail thousands of instruments with a few change in buttons and some numbers.
For eg: 463 - Indian Flute.
522 – Acoustic Guitar
525 – Spanish Guitar
127 – Church Bells

The world of music was indeed on one’s fingertips through the Keyboard. It was a cumbersome task to learn from where and how all these instruments originate through just a combination of few buttons. If all this seems complex for someone who is gifted with eyesight, then for the young man who has just arrived in the world of darkness, it looked like an impossible task… it was foolish to even think of this idea! But by now the accidental idea had gone down deep within the young man – and brought to life an old-forgotten enthusiasm; As wise men would say: “Passions cannot be perceived on weekends” The way a poet and a painter do not create their work on working or non-working days, so the regular bank job was bid adieu to.

Soon another question that came up: “what will he do after learning the whole of KeyBoard? Is he planning to compose, sell, play – but where?” The friends suggested playing and singing in the Orchestra Parties that happen in and around their town. But for a visually impaired – to travel around the city at nights, to perform at big functions, to support the family, all couldn’t happen together. The family too couldn’t help the young man here. His children were in school, how could they support him everywhere.

And just then God sent Salim.

Salim, the auto rickshaw driver, was still hanging around the young man even after his Bank job was done. He had been observing the young man’s child-like enthusiasm on the new Keyboard. Somewhere deep down him, he too wanted to be a part of this madness. Madness is like magnet; it can attract and connect the most weird two things together. Soon, Salim volunteered to become the young man’s assistant cum sound engineer cum driver. He came up with the idea of supporting the young man in all the Night Orchestra shows by driving him around the town in his auto-rickshaw. He also took the additional responsibility of carrying all the instruments and holding the young man’s hand in those initial days of struggle.

If Salim had not lent the helping hand in these troubled times, this story would not have been written. As days passed, Salim also learned the art of sound mixing, joining microphones, checking the right volume, whispering the lyrics when the young man sang and a hell lot of other activities including preparing the ‘mawa’ after every performance for both of them. Stuff that could only happen in movies. A good muslim confidant is always there for the protagonist to prosper. Life is like movies. Ain’t it?

With all arrangement being done, the biggest task was now to play and sing together in front of a large and little unpredictable audience. How would they take a visually challenged entertainer? One could never know what would be their mood and what would be demanded from the singer-performer – a bhajan, a qawwali, an item song, an old classic, a ghazal. Any and every genre has its following. For a performer on stage, this is the task –to be prepared with all at all times! You never know what kind of demand would come next. All you know is you have to be ready with at least 400-500 different kinds of popular tunes which the Orchestra night crowd could demand. And if one makes a mistake, the crowd may get annoyed but will try to give you a sympathizing behavior due to one’s disability. And let me tell you any disable man in this world hates that kind of attitude. Remember Sai Paranjape’s beautiful film “Sparsh”

Having known the seriousness of the situation, the young man confined himself into a room and started concentrating and practicing the KeyBoard – 14 to 16 hours a day. There was no time for any social activity. Days, nights, weeks, months, years passed. Manna Deys, Talat Mehmoods, Jagjit Singhs, Ghulam Alis, Mukeshs, Rafis, Kishores, Narendra Chanchals, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khans, Kailash Khers – anyone and everyone was practiced and performed. The young man would listen and sing Salim would copy all the lyrics for him from the audiocassettes. The young man’s elder brother who had been with him all throughout his darkness couldn’t understand this madness. He thought this as a ‘phase’ that too shall pass. The young man spent some of his best years confined into a room under the huge photo of Saraswati Devi – the hindu goddess of arts and music. This was the ‘phase’ in the young man’s life that can’t be put into words… the sincere… sublimal devotion… stuff that purity it made of. Like the two decades that Andy Dufresne would have spent in the landmark film ‘The Shawshank Redemption’.

By now, the young man had started performing with different local orchestra groups that played at parties, weddings, occasions and hotels. Money started to come.
In a few years, the unbelievable happened. They saved up enough money to bring a bigger and an advanced model of Korg Keyboard from Bombay. Again got dedicated to learn this even more complex electronic instrument.

Such was his dedication towards playing the Keyboard that his guru, Mr. Kanti Sonchhatra who taught him in his initial years, challenges that today this young man (who is now 55 years old) is undoubtedly one of the fastest piano/keyboard player in our country.
“Let him sit in competition with almost all the piano players who can see the keys and lets judge”.
Yesteryear’s great singer – Manna Dey himself has felicitated the young man in his own town. He has a picture of the legendary singer with him in his almirah that is full of different trophies and medals.

A lot has changed since the day he first brought his Electronic Keyboard. His friends have moved on, but they do occasionally meet at the pan shop. His daughter is married and is going to be a mother in a few months.
Salim no more drives the auto-rickshaw. He has taken the driver’s seat in a brand new Maruti Alto. Their friendship is always talked about in the town. Salim and the young man – both still rub the tobacco on their palms and chew it regularly.

Seeing this the elder brother comments: “God took away his eyesight; and now tobacco will take away his voice”

The young man laughs it off. He believes it’s his genes that led him to the world of darkness and it’s the same genes that had music flowing in them. He inherited the ailment and he inherited music. Of how RP happened – it still remains a mystery.

Freeze. Visual of him sitting in his verandah, laughing with the red stained teeth and a sound that resembles zest for life.

Post-script: I have plans to make a documentary on the young man. But this was the back-story of the protagonist. The documentary isn’t about his back-story. It is about his today and the genes that could affect my future generation or me, and the idea of dealing with life as it comes.

The young man happens to be my uncle.

This story would not have been this interesting if it was not for the wonderful editing by my partner in rhyme and crime: Akanksha Tewari. Thanks.

Below are the few pictures that ‘psycho’, Bharat Parmar and me took during one of his performances.

I remember a Graham Parker song: – “Passion Is No Ordinary Word.”

© Copyrights 2009 All Rights Reserved. Hardik Mehta

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Inheritance - Part 2

To continue from where we left

The second incident was a grave reminder of ignoring initial symptoms. The young man couldn’t keep it to himself anymore. Once back home from the Kashmir tour, he gathered strength to mention all of this to his family members. Needless to say all of them were baffled to hear something strange like this. Initial tests were conducted. The local doctors couldn’t identify the problem. Some thought it to be the regular far or near eye sightedness. Thus they suggested different kind of vision correction eyeglasses. Some suspected it to be lack of Vitamin A in the body, thus asked the young man to eat a lot of carrots. A helpless condition can bring out the worst in one’s psyche., one would want to go to any limits to get himself cured. Carrots were brought home daily and he ate a hell lot of them. But the matter couldn’t be undone.

In a span of two years, the condition started to deteriorate, very fast. At first reading the newspaper started becoming difficult, font sizes changed automatically, the letters would dance. Exactly there you are dyslexia: Ishaan Awasthi. Taarein Zameen Par. But No. Real life is more dangerous than reel. In Ishaan’s case, it was The problem; In this case, the dancing alphabets was the start of the problem that was to come.

In a few months, as a Bank Cashier, the man couldn’t differentiate the rupee notes. The Bank staff thought this to be a creative excuse for not working. In a lazy small town, idle minds do have a tendency to come up with such lame excuses. What was more annoying for the young man was that no one could be explained what the problem was, neither anyone had heard something like this ever before.

Day by day the frustration started taking a monstrous shape. Doctors, specialists, surgeons, saints were consulted. But neither science nor nature could avoid the inevitable. A renowned eye-surgeon in Ahmedabad took the young man’s elder brother aside and revealed the cause – a genetic disorder called RP – Retinitis Pigmentosa

A disease that in sometime will lead to complete blindness.
A disease whose cure in this technology-driven world is not yet found.

That was 1988.
Till this date, the cure is not found. Last heard, a man has regained his eyesight with the help of a bionic eye in London last year. More research has to be done on this aspect. But then we are in 1988 pre-liberalized India right now.

The surgeon, in his firm voice told the elder brother: “In most RP cases, the blackness starts from corners and spreads towards centre leading to a pinhole kind of an image, something like when we see through a tunnel - only the central part is seen, the rest is black. In scientific terms, they call it Macular Degeneration”.

During the early 90s, Cuba as a nation had developed some cure towards a few peculiar ‘eye & retina problems’. The elder brother had hardly heard about that tiny nation on the world map. Research on Cuba started. The first stop: the money to go there and the money on the surgery. The round of letters, requests, and permissions were kick started. Many funding agencies, charitable trusts, generous foundations and philanthropic men & women were contacted. Loans were taken. Some amount was borrowed. Meanwhile the young man started complaining of his night vision. It had started receding.

Time was now running out. A few months later, both the brothers went to Cuba for the surgery. In those days there were hardly any direct flights to Spain (one of the largest Spanish-speaking nations) forget Cuba. Thus Rome and Madrid were the en route stoppages to La Habana, Cuba. Its ironical, how the young man’s disorder took him to places he had never been to in his lifetime. He saw the beautiful streets of Rome and thought how different was it from the streets of Junagadh in Gujarat. Except that the later has a lot of cows and cow dung. At La Habana, in every taxi he went, he would come across this one song. It probably was played the highest number of times in every taxi there. Kaoma’s Lambada. When the brothers heard the song umpteenth time, they asked a taxi guy to lend them a cassette. The driver got them one.

The Cuba operation never worked. Science doesn’t have answer to every problem that nature can create. The surgeons in Cuba said, “We can’t repair the eye condition, but what we can do is, stop the eyesight from receding any further. So whatever vision that is lost till now, is lost but the young man wont lose it any further.”

Bull shit. The conclusion: Not just Americans, even Latin Americans can give you bull shit. They were certainly able to stop the vision from receding, but hardly for two to three months unlike their claim of halting it permanently. The young man knew the blindness was approaching.

Slowly the man, then in his mid 30s lost his eyesight and with it, the faith in god.

Needless to say horror, frustration, joblessness and fears of career, life, family & children seeped in. In cases like this of depleting vision what becomes blinded is human psyche. Even if he could see and drive his two-wheeler to office in daytime, the family members insisted him in not driving and almost blackmailed him in getting a permanent rickshawallah to ferry him to and fro from the bank. The rickshawallah religiously did his job. Remember his name: Salim. There is more about him. The Bank Manager could understand the critical condition; so the young man’s department was changed and thankfully was not asked to leave the job, unlike our melodramatic movies of the 80s. His wife had a job with the Income Tax department. His mother at her age of 68 took the responsibility of bringing up both the kids. Yeah, by now the young man was no more young, he fathered a second kid, this time a boy.

The routine life was now set. Face the situation. Prepare yourself for the impending disaster. Learn how the visually impaired tackle daily life problems. And the worst, wait for that day, when darkness would come.

You cannot blame a person for not thinking about committing euthanasia.

But as the clichéd idiom goes, where there is a will, there is a way. In the summer of 1992, amidst the tunnel of darkness, came the light in the form of...

To be continued...

p.s: just a visual sample of how someone with RP sees the world in the initial stages.

picture courtesy:

© Copyrights 2009 All Rights Reserved. Hardik Mehta