Saturday, September 29, 2007

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Play Based on a True Story

Date: 21 September
Venue: India Habitat Centre
Time: 7.00 pm
Performance: Pandies Theatre
Occasion: World Peace Week

A Play Called 'Margins"

Heartrending story of a young woman and a mentally challenged boy. On the night of a festival she is found hacked to death in the lonely house. The boy is held guilty but her mother contests the verdict....

All are welcome to this Kriti event

Literary Production in India and Teaching Creative Writing

I think I’ve been very fortunate to get a chance to teach creative writing. Delhi University has newly introduced this course at B.A. (P) III level. I was also a part of the team that wrote the textbook for the course. I feel that the teaching of creative writing might make an impact if not on Indian literary production and markets than perhaps on the way literary production in English is perceived. Writing the manual what Anjana Neira Dev, Swati Pal and I perforce had to do was make a study of the field of Indian writing in English. I will quote from the blurb that outlines the objectives of the manual: “What is it that writers do with words that creates literature or a news article or an advertisement? This is one of the primary questions addressed by this book. It deals with all the hard work that goes into the writing of poems, stories, plays, travelogues, newspaper reports and features, writing in the electronic and new media, etc. It aims at demystifying the world of creativity. The English language being an immensely flexible one, it allows many different cultures to express themselves through it. As this book expects its primary reader to come from somewhere within the Indian subcontinent, the authors have taken excerpts largely from Indian English literature that carries with it the flavour of plural traditions. The book should therefore succeed in instilling confidence in the reader to use English in a uniquely assertive manner.” In an interview that we conducted for the manual Mahesh Dattani was asked the reason for writing drama. Q: what drew you towards writing drama A: the dearth of good material in Indian English. Having tired of the Neil Simon comedies that was staple fare then on English language stage, I thought maybe I should try my hand at writing plays ‘about us’. Dattani has been commended for his style of language that Angelie Multani in her overview of Indian English theatre calls “ completely natural and rooted in an urban Indian ethos” At a workshop conducted recently at ZHC to discuss the pedagogy of creative writing one of the most interesting questions that came up for discussion had to do with drama. “How many Hindi words can we use in our creative piece for the portfolio?” a student wanted to know. A pitched battle ensued between teachers who felt that Hindi scenes interspersed with English scenes should be acceptable and teachers who argued that such a creative piece would pose insurmountable problems of evaluation. I can’t help but feel that through this course that emphasizes ‘doing’ – writing exercises and workshops – over a theoretical or historical perspective many such issues about the use of language would get highlighted and debated. “If someone asks where Shahid has disappeared, He’s waging a war (no, jung) beyond English” So sings the poet Agha Shahid Ali in his ghazal ‘Beyond English” that we used to discuss rhyme, rhythm, metre in one of our workshops. Poetry and drama are the neglected genres of Indian writing in English. Indian fiction in English has been commercially the most successful. I would like to conclude with what I hope is a poignant tale about what is accessible to an Indian course in creative writing and what is not. To discuss plot, character, point of view and setting in the Fiction section of the Manual we had decided to use the Pulitzer award winning writer Jhumpa Lahiri’s story ‘Sexy’. Our publisher got back to us in some panic: “We can’t get copyright permission for the story,” she said. We asked her to use the usual ploy: Indian university, too poor, it’s for students etc etc. “Oh no! she said “You know we don’t get to talk to the author at all. Her agent is a shark. We can’t afford Jhumpa Lahiri.” We had found the story ‘Sexy’ appropriate not only because it is well-crafted but also because it would provide entry points into gender, class and race. Looking for a replacement we were cautioned to avoid the big and the famous because of the issue of copyright. Hunting for a suitable story among the lesser-known writings proved to be extremely rewarding. It would be presumptuous to say more but I did get the impression that there were several fine literary offerings by Indian writers in English. In his ‘Notes of a working writer’ Vilas Sarang who writes simultaneously in English and Marathi observes that the short story form is taken far more seriously than the novel in Indian literature whereas it is marginal in England and America. The story we ultimately selected was Aamer Raza Hussein’s ‘Sweet Rice”. Protesting against ‘hamburger and chips and artificially flavoured yoghurt that colonised her family in London the protagonist Shireen finds a recipe book Naimatkhana by Muhammadi Begum. But ultimately it is not so much the recipe as the history of her admirable ancestress that empowers her in the alien land. All three of us – the writers of the manual - unanimously felt that ‘Sweet Rice’ was abundant recompense for what we had lost to copyright. There was meat here by way of fiction, history and above all a celebration of small everyday creativity. I’ll end with a quote from the story: “Sweet rice. A delicacy remembered from the day she’d kept all her ramzan fasts for the first time. Not the insipid sweet yellow stuff speckled with shaved nuts but something lush and golden orange, laden with succulent pieces of chicken and ripe with the subtle suggestive perfume of fruit. Grandmother had made it for her and named it – or so, in her 8 year old’s arrogance she had imagined . Shireen pulao, sweet rice.” (Excerpted from a presentation at the Workshop on ‘Contemporary Indian Writing in English and the Indian Market’ organised by Ferguson Centre of African and Asian Studies, Open University, UK, and Independent Publishers’ Group, Delhi)

Inspiration! Really!

My class last week was about Inspiration. What is that mysterious element in creativity? Can one be creative without the magic? The students in my class – about twelve in number – would be nearly 21 years old. I was looking forward to the discussion. What does this generation think about the magical element in creativity? I was pitting inspiration against human effort and agency. Who ultimately writes that path-breaking novel? Who actually paints the glorious picture? The artist or that unknown something\somebody? I got interesting answers. 99% divine inspiration 1% human effort said one. Many slave at their art; very few go on to actually produce something. It has to be 50% countered another; without human effort there can be nothing. The debate was heated. I told them about Thomas Edison’s 5% inspiration, 95% perspiration formula. But by then the class had ended. I kept wondering about the class. Nobody had categorically denied the importance of magic. Was it just this group of 21 year olds or is this generation far less doubting than the previous one? Tell me please

Author Interviewed by Joel Kuorrti

(click on images to enlarge)

(contact the author at for the entire interview.)

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Dirty Picture (To be released in October 2007)

Like many fictions, Dirty Picture too is based partially on facts, some of which may already be known to the reader by way of media coverage.
My novel, however, is intensely personal. The characters took birth instantaneously when the nude photograph of a young girl crashed into my life - on May 16, 1992 by way of ‘Dainik Navjyoti’ - a local Hindi paper published from Ajmer.. Her eyes were blotted out. Fully dressed men with lascivious eyes flanked her on either side, fondling a breast each. Her hair was plaited into neat braids. Dirty Picture is about that girl; the eyes I created for her; the two men in the photograph; what I read in their expressions; and other imaginary characters.
Some events described in the novel did take place.
In 1992 ‘Dainik Navjyoti’ broke the story of a ‘sex-scandal’in Ajmer. It named influential men, most of them from the minority community of Muslims. They had been coercing several schoolgirls into sex. They had taken photographs and made video films of the act, the report alleged.
The way the scandal was written and read in Ajmer tells its own story. The first signed article in the press came out on April 22, 1992. The authorities seemed unmoved. The newspaper went on to publish two subsequent reports supported by photographs on May 15 and 16. The photographs shocked ordinary citizens - to the extent that many petitioned the newspaper to stop publishing more - but the authorities were still not convinced of the need to take action. In a press conference the Home Minister of Rajasthan admitted to the newspaper that he had seen 75-100 similar nude photographs one and a half months ago. The Deputy Inspector General of Police, Ajmer range, who was also present at the same conference, corroborated his statement saying that the police had arrested four of the involved men under ‘disruption of peace’ in April but had to release them on bail after two days. The police chief tried to explain away the situation by lamenting the limitations of police power. The police can only act after a complaint or an F.I.R, not on the basis of press reports.
People of Ajmer took to the streets. There were bandhs and demonstrations by various organisations. Allegedly to prevent a communal riot breaking out in the traditionally somnolent town, the authorities invoked the National Security Act (NSA) and arrested eight of the men named in the press reports on May 27, 1992. The NSA was in all probability being used in the context of a sex-crime for the first time.
During the long and protracted court cases that followed eight more arrest warrants were issued, several petitions to extradite the accused who had fled to foreign countries made, and one of the accused - claiming to be falsely implicated - committed suicide.
The mood of the authorities seemed to swing from helpless passivity to active vengefulness. Turning down the appeal for bail application of some of the accused the Jaipur Bench of the High Court observed in 1994, “The modus opprendi (sic) of the exploiters had been to trap innocent girls under false allurements and friendship, then they were sexually forced under terror or even by use of force and their obscene snaps were taken to blackmail them in future. Some girls were blackmailed to the extent of bringing other girls for the exploiters. The magnitude of the scandal can be visualised by the fact that it had rocked the State of Rajasthan and its impact was felt all over the country.”
The Ajmer District and Sessions court gave its judgement in May 1998 holding eight men guilty and sentenced them to life-imprisonment.
I was born and brought up in Ajmer. Although based in Delhi at that time as now, I experienced the Ajmer scandal close to the bone: the doubts, the slander, the cynicism, the heart-breaking conclusions. During my visits around the time the stories were coming out in the press and for a long period after that, I would hear people talk about the ‘scandal’. This is what I heard: ‘Ajmer tapes’ are still freely available in the blue-film circuit. Muslim men consider it their job to ‘spoil’ Hindu girls. The real culprits have escaped; the arrested men are scapegoats. The real culprits are bureaucrats and politicians; the arrested men are scapegoats. Why did the girls keep going back to their tormentors? Could it be that they were enjoying the sex act? Certain Hindu sub-communities have issued whips against their boys marrying girls from Ajmer. Three of the girls involved in the sex scandal have committed suicide. It wasn’t suicide; the families murdered their girls to escape the stigma. What else could they have done?
I tried to investigate. In 1996 I met the journalist who had broken the story in the Hindi language paper. Santosh Gupta impressed me as being courageous, forthright, and progressive in his outlook. I went through the statements the girls had submitted in court. I watched a video-clip. I spoke to one of the lawyers who had represented the accused. I had a conversation with my reluctant mother who was the Vice Principal of Savitri Girls College, Ajmer at the time of the scandal. I interviewed a police constable. I read all the articles in the press I could lay my hands on. I wanted to meet the victims but my contact Santosh Gupta refused help, “Let them be. They are trying to build a new life. Some of them have got married. They don’t want to talk about the past.”
Decent people do not dwell on the dirty picture. The purdah of shame had been draped; I was being told off. The police constable had told me about the burning of many photographs in the police station to protect the identity of the daughter of a senior police officer. The decision of the newspaper to not publish any more photographs, the arrest of the accused under NSA and the effort to prevent a foraging of the presumably ‘salacious’ past in order to facilitate new lives for the girls were meant in the same vein.
My novel is an attempt to go beyond the purdah and reveal what festers within.

The Higher Education of Geetika Mehendiratta

Born to an academic, middle-class family in a small town of indeterminate character where there was nothing to do except cry, make a phone call or masturbate’, Geetika Mehendiratta struggles to understand her own private world of intellectual intensity and uncontainable sexuality which is being subsumed in the dusty world of Desertvadi.

Coming to Lutyenabad ostensible to pursue an education that her parents deem absolutely essential for women in the present times, Getika does manage to get ‘highly educated’ though perhaps only in the truer sense of the phrase. Researching she finds that the only way to hold on to anything is by relinquishing the position of the ingénue, committing an action and being committed to it.

In this forthright first novel, the often comic and sometimes heartrending aspects of Geetika’s life on the campus are communicated in a prose that has texture, an intuitive verbal intelligence and a very Indian bilingual sensibility.

Praise for the novel

The Higher Education of Geetika Mehendiratta

Anuradha Marwah Roy’s remarkable first novel, intelligently crafted, touchingly told. Free from stylistic affectations, her fluent prose is devoid of the subverting impact of pleonastic frills – a virtue few debutante-writers can claim to possess. Reflecting a bilingual sensibility, what emerges as a very obvious concern is her desire to be recognized as a natural storyteller.
Bishwadeep Ghosh in ‘The Sunday Times of India’.

What is not to be taken for granted are the clear flashes of insight into character, the incisive use of dialogue to pad out the even tone of the narrative style, so that Geetika becomes unforgettable not just for her polysyllabic name (which she hates) but because she has been so believably and recognizably put together – the new Indian woman coming to terms with herself in an Indian society from which she can expect no quarter and to which she will grant none.
Carol Andrade in ‘The Metropolis on Saturday’

The book is wholly modern and yet Indian enough, is fluently written and easily read.
Muriel Wasi in ‘The Hindustan Times’

It is a charming story, written blandly and without excessive emotion, about growing up. The style is reminiscent of Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole series.
Prita Maitra in ‘Sunday Magazine’

Geetika, the girl, the teenager, the post-graduate student rings true. You delight in her discoveries and share her pain.
Sunil Mehra in ‘The Pioneer’.

Geetika traverses the geographical and mental space between a small town in Rajasthan and the national capital. First novels are notoriously unreliable for future projection, but collectively these books point to an indigenous state of good literary health.
Meenakshi Mukherjee in ‘Far Eastern Economic Review’


This website is for and about writing; creativity from the inside and outside.

I write as a woman and as an Indian; also as an androgynous exile.

Writing, as I experience it, is not a profession from which one can occasionally take a vacation. It is an identity or identities – a flow of selves and subjectivities. My virtual identity on the net is a confluence where some of me meet, interject, compound.

In this website I put extracts from my published work, some observations on them to provide a perspective; and portions of lectures from the creative writing classes and workshops I teach.

Literature and politics! Are they inextricably intertwined? Should there be a point to creative writing?

My writings have a ‘point’, often a discernible politics. However, I have been and am firmly at the outermost periphery of groups whose causes I have allegedly espoused – leftist, feminist, or Indian nationalist. Their problems with my creative formulations far outnumber the rare affirmation of my work that blows my way. As I write about issues that concern gender, caste, and community; as I delve into small-town life – a territory usually avoided – in my fictions; how can I afford to fall into politically correct clichés.

It bothers me at times that I stir more hornets’ nests than cash registers. Outspoken! Imprudent! Tone it down! These are some of the editorial comments my MS routinely gather like burrs all down the trouser-legs through their long sojourn through jungles of publishing. Till some pioneer editor rescues them and puts them out for a select reading public.

It has happened with my three novels – the first time in 1993 with The Higher Education of Geetika Mehendiratta when the refined gasped and paled at the taboo M-word in the opening paragraph; the second time with Idol Love when I was told that to satirize Hindu fundamentalism in 1999 – the period of Hindu ascendance - is to go against the popular tide; the third time, a few months ago in 2007, with Dirty Picture when a publisher-friend advised “Don’t publish it now; at this point in time.” I suppose she was thinking of my reputation. My latest novel has sex, violence, and communal politics, perhaps beyond acceptable dosages. And I am a single mother with a live-in relationship in a middle-class milieu in Delhi.

I am going ahead with its publication because I don’t feel vulnerable. Deep down I know that I have been true to my creativity and ultimately that’s all I can do. Writers have agency in the sense that they may choose to write about certain things and not about others; but creativity also has a mysterious component to it – what some call ‘inspiration’ – that makes some of us obsessed with difficult and potentially explosive ideas. There’s precious little we can do but write to put them down.

However, I also feel that the time has come for me to write about writing. I have been at it long enough and I seem to be on a path ‘less traveled by’.

Thus ‘virtual paperback’.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Idol Love

Love is essentially unfair in Idol Love, a novel set in the immediate present and the foreseeable future. There is always a lover and a beloved, a worshipper and an image. Sacerdotal relationships span an age, connecting the untidy, festering Delhi of today with a sickly sweet-smelling Rajdhani, the name of the capital in the twenty-first century.

It all begins when Rajni falls desperately in love with a Ghalib-spouting professor who is set up as the leader of the Secularists after the demolition of a Masjid. He makes impassioned speeches and forms a bond with Rajni during anti-communal demonstrations. Their love-story refuses to end even with death, because in Raminland – the India of the future – everything can be preserved over centuries by faith.

A tale of rebirths and recycling is conceived by a writer who lives to be a hundred, most of the time locked up in her South Rajdhani flat. It doesn’t help matters that miracles take place outside: idols drink milk in temples, and human beings freeze into images. The media only report tales told by the powerful. So to make sense of the fictional world around her the writer is forced to step out into reality where she finds stranger things.

In the old-new land she only half recognizes, incantations are rising from sacred fires to become storm clouds; the complete Indians, now called Ramins, are further suppressing the dispossessed Drohis; revolutionaries with their links in Ghetto 99 and the followers of Maya are singing Ghalib’s ghazals. Moreover, intrigue hangs heavily in the air as another Rajni’s mother-in-law plots to have the young woman’s body ‘restructured’. As one story whirls into another, the aged writer – never out of her depth – throws herself and her books ibnto the fray, in the bargain taking on three generations of her own family, the image-making industry, and the Sadhoo regime of Raminland.

Praise for Idol Love

Anuradha Marwah-Roy’s Idol Love (1999) presents a chilling picture of an Indian dystopia in the twenty-first century.
Antonia Navarro-Tejero in The Essentials of Literature in English Post-1914

This is an intricately crafted story, and marvelously innovative in the use of English to suggest Indian languages - the author indicates subtle differences between the Hindi spoken by the Dasas and the Urdu of the Drohis without using a single italicized desi word. A novel of ideas, Idol Love is an ambitious risk to take at this moment when fiction by Indian women seems largely to swirl gently around the vicissitudes of quotidian life.
Nivedita Menon in ‘The Book Review’.

It is a modern love story set in contemporary Delhi against the backdrop of the Babri Masjid demolition and has an interesting twist.
Renu Govil in ‘The Statesman’

Anuradha Marwah Roy’s second novel Idol Love is soaked in the suicidal sadness of unrequited love or alternatively the love of idols in a Hindu state, is shown to be a hypnotist seducing us into false prophecies.
Manish Chand in ‘The Asian Age’.

Anuradha Marwah-Roy is erudite, has a way with words and compels attention.
Khushwant Singh in ‘The Hindustan Times’

Extracts from Idol Love

Their Meeting

You said you don't like my poetry
because it says fuck
even to little babes.

I saw myself as a paan-chewing madam pimping verse.

But later in the day when you asked me
about ayahs who manage my children, how many?
I saw myself as a socialite with painted lips.

I blanched and ran to the loo
and scrubbed my lips.
In the mirror, they looked used.

But then I clicked open my purse
and took out a lipstick.
My verse may be screwed
but my lips will be adequately shielded.

Cold dosas between us, their guts out,
I indifferently spear mine, my dreams were different.

Your self-confessed gentleness keeps you bound
to your uncomfortable chair.

You talk poetry.
You have many words at your behest, it is easy.
In sinuous syllables I read your message,
as you talk on,
still bound gently.

I know I must unbind you
with skeletal prose.

I ask,
are you getting late?
Oh yes, I have to leave right away,
you say.


Which smell should I give you?
Toothpaste-mint or Aftershave-Aramis?

All I have of you is a back
and the sun streaking your hair
and your hands counting out the change
over the counter,
and the crumpled bill for our dosas,
ten rupees thirty paise.

It should not be thus,
so unremitting of emotion,
three ten-paise coins,
one, a little bent.
The Critic

In Rajni's file there are several versions of a poem called `Woman-writer'.
I see her most clearly in this double-barrelled title. Contrary to expectations, she is not assuming an anti-man position, nor is she stating the obvious.
The woman in the title is more a choice of origins. Just as some writers, at a particular time in their careers, call themselves black. The title Woman-writer affixed to a love-poem suggests that Rajni knew that her face too had colour, but it was not the black of protest or the canonical white of tradition. It was the suffusion of a longing imperfectly blended with the fury of failure.
As the Professor spoke about her poetry, the woman began spilling into the writer and she became the woman scorned. Her heart that used to bubble at the thought of her poetry, began to feel like a wrung rag. The notebook that had expanded in her imagination to contain the awesome meaning of existence, contracted suddenly into imperfect syntax. She saw herself as a woman who wrote about unmentionables.
To be rejected by Riaz was unbearable. She squirmed with the injustice of his denial to her. He was being unfair, though she didn't quite know how.
She quarrelled with him incessantly in her mind. The worst of these fights was the deafening silence that followed her neurotic ranting.

How was she to negotiate the significance of this silence, the anatomy of his absence from her life? She who shut her eyes tight one night and said, no, I can't carry on like this, I will have to forget him? She made a valiant effort.
She tried not to think of him.
While returning home from the library she repeated the titles of the books, the bibliography that she had been given, like a rosary.
When they passed each other accidentally in the corridor, she acknowledged his smile with an equally casual hello.
She should have succeeded. After all, what was there to remember?
At two in the morning, she gets up and fumbles for her notebook. Her husband snorts in his sleep. She looks at him with exasperation. His stomach was giving him a lot of trouble these days. Everything tasted the same, he complained at mealtimes. The cook was cursed. Everyday the mother-in-law pointed out that food cooked by servants can never really match the housewife's efforts and when she herself had been younger she had managed everything, hadn't she? But with girls nowadays working outside, home and children inevitably tend to get neglected.
Rajni sighs. She is defeated, so is he. Blame and guilt have gnawed into their marriage. She looks at the yellow tint in his cheeks. Perhaps it is his liver. Perhaps under repeated misuse it is giving way ultimately.
Then suddenly as she turns to the poem in hand, another image flashes in her mind. Then it comes in torrents: the pain of vacuity. When there is nothing to remember how can she honour the commitment of forgetting? How can she get rid of the incubus of fantasy? And she feels lips that she had never touched close to her mouth; as tears drench her cheeks she feels invisible repentant arms draw her into their security and she cries into the night, into sleep.


You have closed the door.
I won't look in,
I won't knock,
I won't call,
I won't cry.
I am going to be
dead for a while.
I will sit here
on your doorstep.
I will wait
for you
to come and
open the door.


Shyam hummed to himself as he brushed his hair. The mirror was chipped, the sink below it had cracked, the tap dripped. He stood at a distance to avoid the dripping water. As he peered into the mirror, he made a seventy-five degree angle.
He didn't understand the words but enunciated them perfectly,
Harr qaum rast rahe din wa qiblagahe,
Man qibla rast kardam bar sim-e-kajkulahe
Every people has its right path, its faith and its focus of worship.
But I, focus my worship on the tilted cap of my Beloved.
Things were beginning to look up for him. The previous year he had been sent by the Ramin government to Europe for a music festival. His rendition of Ram bhajans in London had endeared him to the N.R.R. (Non Resident Ramin) community so much that he was promised three sponsorships for the coming year. He had also put in an application for Ramin status here at home. The interview call could come any time. He had moved to Rajdhani recently, hoping to expedite matters.
Ustad Ram, his maternal uncle, had even secured a job for him. He would be tutoring a Ramin Ardhangini. Before this he had only tutored little girls in Kanpur. Rajdhani was a revelation. The Ramin-areas in Kanpur were nothing like this. The opulence of the buildings seemed unbelievable to him. The whole city was made of shimmering glass and steel. Of course, the meanness of the Drohi areas remained a constant, but that didn't seem too bad. For the first time since he could remember there would be some money in the house.
"Ammi", he called.
There was a vague answer from the kitchen.
"Ammi, do you know this song?" He belted it out, throatily.
His mother emerged from the kitchen, touching her ears to indicate that it was yet another sacred song that he was profaning. "It is Farsi", she said reproachfully. Anything Farsi elicited the same response from her.
"What does it mean?"
"I don't know. Ask Mamu..."
"Ammi, I’m going to start work today."
"Hoon", she said, observing his clothes closely. He wore a light green embroidered kurta. She had spent a month making the complex pattern of flowers, leaves and netting on it. She could have sold it in the Ramin colonies; there was a ready market for such embroidery. But that was when Shyam was about to go abroad and she knew that their passport to freedom was tied to his ability to sell himself there.
"While you are in the Ramin area, try to see Ustad Brijbasan. He was a friend of your Mamu but of course after he got Ramin-status he has not bothered to keep in touch with us."
"Ammi, this is not Kanpur. Brijbasan lives in East Rajdhani. The pass I have is valid only for Kalka-South. It will take the whole day to get to the East. There are just two buses that go there. But tell me, aren’t you well today, Ammi?"
He was asking her why she hadn't smiled at him as she had always done for the past twenty-one years, even through the tears that had mourned for his father's death.
She looked at his carefully combed hair, a lock had been schooled to fall on to the forehead. She smelt the fragrance of roses that emanated from him. She looked at the trousers he wore, a bit shiny at the seams, carefully washed and ironed by her; and her heart cried out to him to stop, not to go into the Ramin areas in this big and dazzling city.
But where were the options? Where were the jobs? All the respectable jobs were with the Ramins. There was the alternative of working with a Drohi-don, earning a lot and then being found with a little hole in ones body, in a ditch.
But it was one thing to teach music to girls in a school and another thing to penetrate a Ramin-household. The Ramin-buildings, large like temples, arose in front of her eyes. Who knew what went on behind those silent, guarded walls where tall, fair-skinned Ramins lived like gods? Did they breathe, eat, shit like other human beings? Or did they suck blood off young heifers after slaughtering them on their altars?
She knew she shouldn't express her irrational fears to her son. She shook off her misgivings and smoothed back the lock of hair from his forehead.
"I want you to go very far in life, son. You must get Ramin-status or apply for migration."
"Aha, you want to live in Paris in your old age. You want to be a memsahib," he teased.
"Yes, of course," she said, "I want my son to be a sahib."

On reaching Kalka-South Shyam parked his cycle at the stand. He fished out the pass from his pocket and walked to the guard napping at the entrance.
"Music-master?" The guard enquired superciliously.
The guard dialled a number and spoke into the receiver. A green light came on at once on the board behind him.
"Go up to the tenth floor and press the button at the door marked 108. Music-master, eh?"
"Yes," Shyam replied again, wondering why the man was winking at him.
"Five thousand rupees an hour, not bad. Be sure to satisfy", said the guard, guffawing. "Saale Drohi!"
Shyam felt his skin bristle with anger. However, there was no change of expression on his good-looking face.

He pressed the call-bell. The door swung open. He walked into a blue and gold room. There was nobody there.
"Salaam, Ustad Sahib", said a disembodied voice. "Turn to your left."
He entered another room, this time pink. Something pink, gold and cream gleamed in the centre of the room. As he entered, she sat up on the fluffy pink carpet and repeated, "Salaam waalekum, Ustad Sahib."
"Waalekum salaam, madam", he replied, lowering his eyes to her feet that looked like soft doves poised for flight. She was reclining on the carpet, yet the muscles were tense.
"Ustad Ram used to tell me a lot about his gifted nephew who started singing even before he could talk", she said. She spoke Raminlingo like a foreigner, stressing the wrong syllables.
He heard himself reply in English, "Madam is very kind. But my uncle is too indulgent. I can see he has been much too indulgent with you."
Of course it had happened before. Shyam had the feeling of having lived through all this, many times. He, too, had grown up on a diet of images.
The film of the year was a controversial one. It had been a major hit in the ghettos. Flash back! Twenty-one years ago, in a hospital for Dasa-Drohis, there had been an emergency case. A Ramin woman driving past the Drohi colony had suddenly gone into labour. In the primitive conditions that prevailed there, huffing and puffing, she had miraculously delivered a baby boy. Of course, they had been unable to save her after the trauma. In the confusion that followed her death, the Ramin boy was lifted by a Drohi nurse and placed at the side of a fellow Drohi who had just lost her baby.
That boy grows up as a Drohi. But blood will always tell: fairer, taller, prouder than any other Drohi, he catches the fancy of a lovely Ramin girl.
After an hour of incredibly action-packed footage, which includes the slow extraction of the toe-nail of a Drohi, the big screen is inundated with the tears of the false Drohi-mother, begging the hero's forgiveness, "Go, live the life that is your due, which selfishly I kept from you. Go, Annadata, go...I can never call you `son' again."
"You speak English?"
"Yes, madam. I learnt the rudiments in school. After that, I taught myself. I want to emigrate."
"Oh", she said. "But you haven't heard me sing."
"I wasn't talking about that madam." In accordance with the script, he looked at her fearlessly in the face. "Every art," he said lapsing into Raminlingo, "has its code of behaviour. You call me `Ustad', so you must be my shagird.
"Yes", she said.
"Yet you don't get up to greet me."
A shadow of recognition fell across her face. She knew the script too. Who didn't in this magic land where such myths were dispersed every minute through celluloid? To be Ramin, to be discovered to be Ramin, to discover a Ramin among Dasas and Drohis, was the stuff fairy-tales and fantasies were made of.
Her eyelashes were like spikes, he noticed. They stood stiffly around the swimming space of her eyes which were taking in his embroidered kurta and the lock of hair schooled to stray. Just below her left eye was a faint, bluish mark. Smudged eyeshadow? The break in perfection bothered him. He began to blush with stage fright.
"I’m sorry", she said. She stood up a little awkwardly and brought out her tanpura from a coffin-like case. Then, remembering something else, she placed it gently on the carpet and took out the tablas from their case. She placed them on the carpet,
"Please sit."
She sat down with the tanpura only after he had taken his place.

"Ab na bolo mosey Sham, Madam, if you can remember the notations of ragas, then why is this poor thumri forgotten every time?"
"I’m sorry," Rajni said, raising a tired face and looking vaguely at the ivory and gold drapery rod.
"Na bolo Sham, jhooti preet ki batiyaan, O Sham."
"That's your name, isn't it?" She said, suddenly. " Shyam Sham?
"My grandmother named me Rashid Ahmad, Madam," he heard himself say. "Shyam is just a disguise my mother makes me wear. But will you please concentrate on the thumri. I don't travel for an hour a day to discuss nomenclature."
"Then please go", she said, haughtily. "I only want to discuss names, today."
"As you like, madam. Here’s my resignation."
"You can't resign, like this."
"I can madam. I am not a Dasa."
"Please. Ustad Ram used to allow me to use the tape-prompter."
"Over my dead body, madam, classical music is not learnt with gadgetry."
"I can't remember words. I don't know what they mean."
"You don't understand Raminlingo?"
"Not this kind of Raminlingo. I mean these words, ratiyaan, batiyaan, etc."
"Do you want me to teach you music or not?"
"Yes yes."
"Then you forget about the gadgets. Sham is Krishna. Krishna is the embodiment of romantic love in classical music. His beloved is expressing her feelings of jealous love for him. The words are those of rejection, but the mood is love - Shringar. She tells him not to beguile her with words any more but to go wherever he spent all those nights away from her", explained Sham, exasperatedly.
"Will he go away, then?"
"Madam, this is poetry."
"But if she tells him to go away, he will and then...She doesn't really want him to go, does she?"
"Madam, don't we often say the opposite of what we mean? a few minutes ago, when you told me to go away."
There was silence for a while. Shyam was suddenly embarrassed.
"But then you were leaving."
"Well, madam, Krishna would probably plead with his angry mistress. That is what she wants. Should we begin again?"
"That is what I wanted, too", said Rajni, looking at him naughtily. `Ab na bolo mosey Shyam’
Flushing beetroot red, Shyam pretended to study his fingers, as they danced on the tabla.

"Salaam, Ustaad Sahib," she said coquettishly.
He knew the stages of seduction. She would first be an obedient
pupil, then a wily courtesan.
"Salaam", he said.
"Ustad Sahib, I practised all night. You can't be angry with me today."
"What did you practice?"
`"Nindiya na aye, Sham, daras bina, Nindiya na aye.” And I know it means I can't sleep, Sham, unless I see you."
Her arms had a sheen on them. Like pearls. She was wearing pearls in her ears.
Once in his arms, she would be what he wanted her to be, pliant and demanding at the same time.
What was he doing? He could be killed for this. Yet hadn't he known, hadn't Ustad Ram known what would come to pass if he started teaching her? Did he have a chance? He had never known such wealth. She seemed to be the embodiment of poetry, of every love song he had known.
"Ustad Sahib is feeling out of sorts today."
"One who risks his life, does at times fear the consequences."
"And don't I risk anything?" she asked, her lips trembling. That was a trick that undid him completely. Did she know that? With superhuman effort he kept his distance.
"What do you risk, Madam?"
"Why, Ustad Sahib, this unfortunate creature has a heart, a heart that she cannot control."
"And what does your heart say?" he asked smiling, in spite of himself.
"Oh, it wickedly keeps repeating a name."
"And what name is it, madam?"
"What will you give me if I tell you?"
"What can I give you madam? I have nothing."
"Which is to say, you don't want to give anything."
"And do you think that allegation is true?"
"As true as your heart."
"I wish I could reveal it."
"What stops you?" she asked inching closer. "O Sham."

'Idol Love' (Ravi Dayal Publisher) is available at