Sunday, March 15, 2009

Purpose of solitude

This interview has been published in the New Indian Express

"One-and-half teaspoons of sugar please,” said Siddharth Dhan­vant Shanghvi for the tea that was served. This was a surprise considering that anyone who read his latest book The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay would say he never resorts to half measures. After all, the book pans the page 3 crowd, politicians who subvert the judiciary with impunity, Bollywood culture, and the Shiv Sena. One interesting anomaly is that you will find Mumbai being spelt as Bombay throughout since Shanghvi says: “Bombay, not Mumbai, is at the heart of my book.” Excerpts from the interview.

Samar, the immensely gifted pianist in the book, reaches dizzying heights at a very young age and then stops pursuing his passion. Something similar happens with Rhea too who doesn’t find the urge to continue with pottery. Now you said that Flamingoes is your last book. Should one draw parallel between these fictio­nal lives and yours?

You cannot actually draw a parallel. There was always this conflict between the dicho­tomy of purpose and meaning in my life. All my life I have been confined to solitude, which is non-negotiable, to write books. This was the purpose. However, now I am yearning for a meaning. I find meaning in a walk on Juhu beach, listening to a piece of music, conversations with friends. I want to be true to those things rather than to the public symbols of success. Maybe I will watch the green mould on the wall or make jam at home. That sounds far more cheerful than writing a book for over six years (Flamingoes was started in late 2002 and was completed in late last year).

What do you intend to do now?

I don’t know (laughs). A very close friend of mine who has written screenplays for some really successful films has asked me to help her out. That is one option I am mulling over. As of now, there are many noises in my mind, which I want to get mellowed until I get to hear my own voice.

A politician in the book says that Zaira got killed since she was wearing a backless gown. One sees the Mangalore attacks and can’t help but say that maybe the politician is indeed echoing sentiments of a large populace.

Absolutely. What happened in Mangalore is not anti-women, it is anti-human. You are not only insulting women, you are insulting men also. Such moral regression is unforgivable. During the recent Valentine’s Day, a man got married to a donkey, in Ranchi. His crime: he was seen with a woman. That was absolutely ridiculous.

Karan, the protagonist of the book, leaves Bombay in a fit of revulsion after looking at an impotent judiciary and a burnt Iqbal. Did you feel the same away about Bombay, which formed backdrop for both your books?

I have a love-hate relationship with Bombay. Bombay is all about Bollywood ecology- neon lights and superstar images. However, nowhere else will you find such unexpected kindness from people. During the 2005 floods, people helped each other caring least about identities. It’s completely ironic and absolutely sentimental, and this gives Bombay the edge of jazz when it was still all about the blues. Bombay tells you that humanity might be flawed but resplendent. That’s the reason why I mentioned it as Bombay in the title. You cannot take away what is rightfully mine. As an artist I am claiming ownership on Bombay.

‘A lushly, wildly, imaginative fairy tale.’ This was how LSD (Last Song of Dusk) was described. Flamingoes is anything but that. There are obvious references to Shiv Sena, Jessica Lal, Salman Khan, Fire, the beau monde, M F Hussain and even Lalu Prasad Yadav. Was Flamingoes a conscious departure from LSD?

It’s rather an unconscious departure. Flamingoes is a stronger book compared to LSD. The book is a witness to the times we are living in.

But wasn’t the obvious reference to Jessica Lal and devoting an entire part of the book to the trial a bit of an overdrive?

It might seem like overdrive for you since you are an Indian. However, my friends in other countries who have read the book found the tale very gritty and real.

You have been very actively involved with AIDS. You have written extensively on it for The Chronicle and recently one story, ‘Hello Darling’, was published in AIDS Sutra. How has been your experience?

I am glad you have read Hello Darling. It is more important to me than the two books. I am involved with an international foundation, which has to remain nameless, and I am involved with children with pediatric AIDS. I do creative brainstorming and have recen­tly done an ad campaign that will get broadcast nationally and internationally.

Don’t you think that the page-3 crowd was shown in bad light?

Well, if they think that I have caricatured them then they are flattering themselves. They are exactly the way I have written. The woman who shows the left cheek of the butt is a friend of mine and she also said, “I’ll show it (the reference in the book) to my mom”.

In the book, why are all the characters apart from Adi so pessimistic?

I find optimism very boring. I think bad luck is much more reliable than good luck.

A recommendation:

Fucking Amal: It comes down to individuals if Swedish director Lukas Moodysson is perceived as the most important or notorious director among his peers. Lilya4ever and Together might qualify as his more important movies and F**king Amal is unlike any other Moodysson flick- meditative, something which Wong Kar Wai would have smacked his lips at. Young Elin is the coquettish girl of her school who is secretly admired by Agnes who does not have any friends as such in the quiet town of Amal. Things go on the upswing when Elin chooses to attend to Agnes' birthday party and then Elin asks almost rhetorically 'What is your worst nightmare'? Elin replies herself 'Of spending my entire life here'. That sets the platform for this teenage lesbian drama where, thankfully, for once, sex is not emphasised upon at all. Every scene makes sense in this uplifting story of two girls who do not want to have blinkers on. This is one of those rare teen films which you can watch for the second time.


At 5:16 PM, Blogger sowmitra said...

orey seriously ask your editor to chk ur article once...some basic editing works have not been done apart it's wonderful...and you have done a terrific job...kudos!!!

At 11:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

interview's cool. i am glad SDS wants to quit writing.
i have put up your write-up(not the interview) on my blog,as well.

At 12:49 PM, Blogger garcia kafka said...

@sowmitra: thank you.. Do tell me about the editing mistakes

@Manu: Thank you for putting my write-up.. Did you read SDS's 'Last Song of Dusk'? Cos I think that is the most singularly amazing work to come out of India after Pankaj Mishra's 'Romantics'..

At 1:51 PM, Blogger sowmitra said...

why does the article keep changing every other day? why doesn't he put both of them together...and probably these are minor mistakes...still don't think at the publishing level they should be occurring...check the spacing and one question is not put in bold...

At 5:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

pankaj mishra is ok. i didn't read the romantics - who wrote the blue bedspread?that was bad - but i read his travel writing.
the only thing i ever found amusing,till now i mean, about LSD was precisely that,the name but since you are speaking so highly of it,probably i will find it out and read it.


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