Arun Khopkar, Bhaskar Chandavarkar, Bipin Naria, Department of Indian Theatre in Chandigarh, Doordarshan's A Face in the Crowd, Ghashiram Kotwal, Haryanvi joke, KG George, Kumar Shahani's Maya Darpan, Mani Kaul, Meena Chandavarkar, Moog's Synthesizer, Nirad Mohapatra, Nirmal Verma's Parinde, Osian's, Pankaj Saxena, Pradeep Hooda, Shyam Benegal, Sudhir Tandon, Suresh Kalmadi, thinker and friend, Uski Roti, Vinay Shukla, Vishnu Mathur
On a recent visit to Pune I learnt of Professor Bhaskar Chandavarkar’s demise in 2009. I couldn’t have been in India at the time; otherwise there was no way I would have missed the news. And now after reading Arun Khopkar’s brilliant Bhaskar Chandavarkar: musician, composer, thinker and friend, I feel somewhat relieved that I couldn’t visit the bereaved family either; a condolence visit is something that they had wished to be spared. My wife and I were visiting Bipin Naria and from there Bhaskar Chandavarkar’s house is less than a kilometer away. Chandavarkar sahib, gone? World must be a different place, then. I can still recall his childlike delight every time he heard this Haryanvi joke that I told him decades ago after once returning from vacation. A Jat peasant comes asking another to lend him his bullock cart that’s standing idle next to him. The owner promptly declines, saying that his katra (a male buffalo calf, considered pretty much useless beyond softening the mother for milking) was tethered to it. The man sees the sham excuse but has no option but to withdraw. However when he has gone some distance the owner calls him back. Expecting a change of heart, the man returns. “Well, at the moment the katra happens to be tied to the cart,” the owner tells the revived man, “but to you I wouldn’t have given it even if it weren’t!” As young teachers, Nirad Mohapatra and I used to have such wonderful evenings in their beautiful Kothrud bungalow. We would be offered home brewed white wine in Czech, finger-cutting, cut glass goblets. As the elegant couple sought to initiate us into the nuances of the European wine drinking culture, Nirad and I would be eyeing the next fill of glass. Meena Chandavarkar also ran a primary school called Abhinav Kala Mandir near the Institute. Often I had to go there to answer for my son’s doings—or rather not-doings—and saw the dedication with which it was run. Later I made a short film on Meena and her school for Doordarshan’s A Face in the Crowd series. During our student days, the Chandavarkars lived just 5 minutes from the Institute at the Law College and Karve Roads’ junction. Vinay Shukla (Godmother), KG George, Nirad and I were then a gang and would freely spend evenings listening to Chandavarkar sahib’s riyaz. As non-Maharashtrians, this was for us soaking in music and local ambience in one seamless go. It’s here that I first heard the rough rendition of Triveni, a piece he was composing for a Max Mueller Bhavan concert but also offered for my never-made film on Nirmal Verma’s Parinde. And it’s here that he told us about a certain Ghashiram Kotwal (what an odd name, I thought!) that he was rehearsing somewhere in town. I still remember our class in LH 5 when Chandavarkar sahib told us that sounds of musical instruments differ essentially in the range of frequencies within which they happened to operate, and of a wonder machine called Moog’s Synthesizer that could actually reproduce the sound of any musical instrument—even tabla—by just choosing the right frequency range on its keyboard! We felt devastated. Tabla played on keyboard!?!? RIP Professor Chandavarkar Sir. It was a privilege learning from you.
A man used to come home for lunch. As he sat eating, his wife would tell him about how a neighbor always threatened his wife that he would relinquish the world if such and such thing weren’t done his way. The poor woman would always relent and they would carry on. Fed up with the same routine one day the man looked up from eating. “That’s not the way to relinquish the world,” he said to his wife calmly. “This is.” He got up, washed his hands, and relinquished the world. I heard of Mani Kaul’s illness from Sudhir Tandon about 6 months before he died. Sudhir also introduced me to one of his Osian’s colleagues at whose house in Gurgaon Mani was then staying. I took details of the address but was hesitant to go unannounced. Soon after I sent word through a common friend who too wanted to meet him but neither of us heard from Mani. I understood. In the limited time that he had, there was none to waste on those that weren’t truly empathetic to him. That was certainly true for me. Starting off as an admirer, after seeing Uski Roti his high-handedness seemed like an affront to me. I couldn’t match him in one on one debate—I know of no one who ever did, or could—but wrote a detailed piece on my objections to that as well as Kumar Shahani’s Maya Darpan. I never heard back from either of them. Vishnu Mathur was certainly piqued by my article and threatened a rejoinder but that too never materialized. Mani and I fought both in public as well as through email on different occasions. I felt that under the cover of arrogance Mani was always trying to pass off no-cinema as great cinema and that was not acceptable to me. He was otherwise a man of great generosity and courage. I recall an evening before Uski Roti. He wanted to meet a certain Suresh who had been a close friend of his cousin from their Air Force days and who was now running a restaurant opposite the Deccan Gymkhana bus station. “Indian Coffee House,” we all said in unison, “run by Suresh Kalmadi!” The same evening 5-6 of us marched into the restaurant and occupied a large table. Came and joined a young, bearded and beaming—but heavy-backed the same as now—Suresh Kalmadi. Typically, Mani introduced all of us I years as filmmakers and by name. We fumbled with the menu but he ordered expensive. Perfect strangers until a while ago, both Mani and ‘Suresh’ chatted like old pals. Finally Mani called a passing waiter for the bill and stopped mid-gesture as Kalmadi waved off the waiter. “But it should be a large bill!” said Mani feigning surprise. “Are you sure you…?” Then unfreezing, he looked at all of us by turns and smiled beatific to Suresh Kalmadi, “Dekh lo yaar, there goes your entire profit for the day! Or a large part of it, anyway!” I was abroad when Mani passed away but experienced a stab in spite of the distance. The world did a flip-flop like at the moment of total solar eclipse. For all our differences, after all I had known the man for well over 40 years! I would always remember Mani as a great raconteur—the sample at the beginning is one of my personal favorites. He could hold a group enthralled for hours. He loved attention and knew how to get it—but only face to face, in the live. Cinema to him was only a peg on which to hang his orator’s skills. That was his nasha. For the rest, I’m afraid, the emperor wore no clothes. But there wouldn’t ever be another like you, Mani; that’s for sure. Agitating the scene even for its own sake is better than the dead of the stasis and only you could send the 70s swinging for Indian cinema the way those years did. Thank you my friend. As they say, bhool chook, leni deni. E&OE. RIP.
A shot rang out. One: Are you hit? Other: No, I…don’t think so. One: Then, looks like I’m the one! Soon after graduating, Pradeep Hooda returned to the Institute and told me that he had married his Puneri girlfriend, moved to what was still Bombay, had children, made 3-4 feature films and was already on the point of separating from his wife. “Incredible, man,” I said in genuine awe. “Such a long journey in so short a time, how did you manage all this?” That’s when he cited the brief exchange that I begin this piece with. This was Pradeep Hooda’s way of saying that he simply happened to be in the right place at the right time. Brutal honesty with a sense of humor! Haryanvi has these little stories—almost like Urdu shers—for all shades of situations and Pradeep had inexhaustible stock of these. Like all things earthy, these ‘quotes’ tend to be untranslatable. I have tried to retain the brevity and punch of the original from Pradeep’s narration in the hope that you can enjoy it. I first met Pradeep in the Department of Indian Theatre in Chandigarh, where he was a student. During tea break, he brought a couple of others to meet me. Turning to them he said, “You heard him in the lecture, and hear him now!” I didn’t understand. Then, explaining to them as well as to me, he laughed, “They wouldn’t believe that the same person could speak high English one moment and theth Haryanvi another! I brought them to see for themselves.” “But who are you? And who are they?” I asked Pradeep intrigued. “I am a student here,” he explained, “in the same class that you are teaching. But they are outsiders.” “But I haven’t seen you all these days?” “Yes, I’ll explain,” he faltered. “You see I had gone home to Delhi and have just returned…” When he came to Pune for the interview, I was surprised he had cleared the written exam. (Having set some part of them myself, I wasn’t sure I could have cracked them but he had.) He had brought another boy with him and they both now sat opposite me in my house. Coming from the same culture, I knew what calling on me under the circumstances meant and was ready with my escape lines but it never quite came to that. Perhaps they thought their presence in my house was enough to take the hint. I wasn’t on the final selection board in those days but gave them a rehearsal of sorts in my living room. Shyam Benegal was that year the Chairman and while I thought the second boy had brighter chances, the panel was impressed, no doubt, by Pradeep’s Haryanvi plain-speak character. In the event, both got selected and went on to complete the three-year course in Film Direction. The other boy was none other than Pankaj Saxena, the suave, bright and current programming chief of BBC South Asia. Pankaj and Pradeep remained friends through the Institute years and beyond. Most ironically it fell upon Pankaj to call me up the other day and convey the news of Pradeep’s sudden death. Fifty-five is no time to go, boy. This was one hurry that you should have really, really avoided. But since you are already there, in the spirit of true Haryanvi pragmatism, keep them humored with your wisecracks. And RIP.