Saturday, May 23, 2009

A modern day fable for adults

Writer Omair Ahmed takes pride in claiming to be ‘old-fashioned’ owing to his non-presence in Facebook and Twitter. What’s more he even uses that most enduring image of the days of the yore ink pen. Whatever Omair’s personal life be, his sophomore work The Storyteller’s Tale is definitely a modern-day fable for today’s adults.

The early 18th-century story is set in Delhi (which Omair tells was the suggestion of Ravi Singh, the Penguin India publisher) when Ahmad Shah Abdali was pillaging his way across the north. The protagonist, modelled on the Delhi poet Mir Taqi Mir, is a storyteller deprived of his ‘beggarly poet’s’ income owing to Abdali’s exploits.

In the desert of Rohilkhand, the storyteller comes across the haveli of a begum whose husband is busy looting Delhi. What follows are four stories narrated in turn by each protagonist. To write them Omair took just four days. When told that this would be an amazing hook for the story, he brushes it off and insists that it be mentioned as six weeks (the time he took for conceptualising). Still, six weeks is an amazingly short time.

Omair says that he was a reader and never a raconteur or listener during his childhood. He was anyway too busy “looking for a shark’s tooth in the desert” of Rasta Nura, a small seaside city in Saudi Arabia, where he spent the first 12 years of his life.

Ever since Gorakhpur has been his mitti. This book is a homecoming for Omair who branded himself a jaahil (ignoramous) in the acknowledgements. In a family where Urdu poetry “is in the blood”, Omair is an outcast considering his not-so-particular interest in it till late.

“I am not being self-deprecating by calling myself a jaahil. It’s a clear assessment of what I know and what I don’t know,” he says in a tone unmistakably self-effacing. During the course of his diverse career, Omair saw to it that Bill Clinton gave his speech safely in Rampur and was political adviser to the British High Commission.

But what continues to give him a helium high is the fact that he made it to the international relations programme at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi in, “mind you”, open quota. Omair‘s short stories and first book Encounters have Islam as the leitmotif and for him “it’s extremely important”. “There are certain
organisations that say Islam is not part of the country. Yeh meri mitti hai, tumhe problem hai to tum jao yahan se is Omair’s retort to those “certain organisations”.

Mention Bhutan, and Omair’s eyes light up. He is working on a part-travelogue and part-documentation of the political history of the world’s youngest constitutional democracy. “In India 60,000 riots happen in a year. Apart from a couple of stirs, a riot never took place in the country. It is a perfect example of the top-down democracy and it has learnt from all its neighbours,” says the man who is clearly fascinated by his subject.

Apart from this, he is compiling a short-story collection called Unbelonging, another novella Jimmy the Terrorist, a book on Gorakhpur and a biography of his great grand-uncle, who was the former Pakistani High Commissioner to India, all for Penguin India. “I have sold my soul to Penguin,” says Omair. When he has to be, Omair Ahmed is all business.

Dreamers: This Bernardo Bertolucci film ends when the 1968 student revolution in France, which was the 'comeuppance' of the De Gaulle regime, is reaching its crescendo. Mathew, an American student, who is on a student exchange program in Paris meets up with the brother-sister duo Theo and Isabelle (a comely Eva Green) and shares their love (read madness) for cinema. In the initial reels when Matthew justifies the reason for sitting right at the front of the screen, will alter the way a viewer watches a movie from then on. The way iconic scenes from 'Band of Outsiders', 'Blonde Venus', 'Queen Christina' and 'Breathless' are inserted and 'reenacted' in the film almost justify the 1968 setting. Plot wise, Matthew gets attracted to Isabelle who shares 'not so' sisterly relationship with her brother. What follows are generous doses of nudity, not that you will be complaining. Eva Green flashes her pendulous pair of breasts that will find cinematic comparison only with the ones shown in Bergman's 'Cries and Whispers'. Watch out for that scene when Eva Green cries after having lost her virginity. Its vintage Bertolucci.


At 10:51 PM, Blogger Ayesha said...

Great review. Easy to understand and an interesting read, although disjointed in parts


Post a Comment

<< Home