Ooooof! I have been MIA for far too long!! Sorry about that, guys. Kolkata was amusing, frustrating and exhilerating as only Kolkata can be - a once-great city, stuck in a tragic time warp. I love Kolkata with all my heart, but there are aspects of it that drive me insane. The people are wonderful.... and argumentative in the Amartya Sen mould. It's great to interact with as opinionated a bunch as the average Kolkatan. The famous 'addas' have not stopped, and Mamata's antics are avidly discussed over singhadas (samosas, to you and me), mishti and chai (round the clock!). The mighty Clubs of Kolkata continue to dominate social life, with their strange, antiquated club rules (So Brit. So dated). But life is lived most graciously, especially by old moneywallas, like the Sarkars. Lunch at their mansion was just wonderful - winter blooms in the well -tended garden, exquisitely served authentic Bong cuisine on the magnificent mahogany table ( prawn chops to die for, an apricot chutney dripping richness, a delicately flavoured fish pullao, an array of traditional desserts like a pistachio flavoured payesh). Rakhi Sarkar is a remarkably relaxed hostess, while husband Aveek provides the spiciest food for thought!
The debate on, "Is the media misleading the masses?" was a real phataka. I spoke for the proposition since I strongly believe the media is playing a dangerous game and manipulating public opinion, especially irresonsible tv channels that reinforce divisiveness in an already polarised society. Since I was the first speaker, that too on an all male panel (so , what else is new?), I felt slightly weighed down by the additional reponsiblity of opening up the debate on a provocative note. I think I did well (and I am no veteran debater), for the house carried the motion with a show of hands that made my team the winners by a generous margin. Moderated by the British High Commissioner, Simon Wilson, the stuffy old club came alive for an evening of high quality debating skills, thanks to terrific panellists who held their own brilliantly. Rajdeep Sardesai was so emotionally charged up, he almost broke into tears at one point. Too bad his team lost!!
This was my third exposure to the Sufi Music Festival (in its eighth year) at the Horniman Circle garden. It started off a little shakily, with a diffident singer from the Siddhi tribe in Saurashtra, followed by a Turkish performer, a loud and boisterous group from Punjab, an Egyptian group with a melancholic lead singer and ending with the Qawwals, the Ajmeri brothers . There were two crowd pleasers that night, Young Jassu from Rajasthan who plays the desi castanents (Kachra Singh was missing this year) with the Langas, and the troupe from Ajmer, with a flamboyantly dressed leader, who was clearly hoping to be spotted by a talent scout from Bollywood, and why not? Without government recognition or patronage, how does one keep these centuries old traditions alive? But the real treat was reserved for the next night with a mehfil at our friend Javed Gaya's wonderful home. The legendary Warsi Brothers from Hyderabad performed for a select audience of fifty music lovers - and what a performance it was!! My hair stands on end revisiting the evening when Amir Khushro's evocative couplets came alive and for four hours we were transported to a mystical world - another reality, far richer than the one we live. And I thought to myself : this was the Mumbai I grew up in - all-encompassing, generous, tolerant, culturally wealthy, open to influences from far and wide. The mehfil gave me hope. Our host Javed Gaya, is an elegant gourmet and much more. His table was groaning under velvety khichda, kababs, mirchi ka salan and much more (including the famous pineapple halwa). Watching Javed's many friends enjoying his hospitality I felt re- energised and renewed my dream about the old Mumbai - thank God it is not dead and buried yet. It exists . In shrinking pockets that continue to value such ideals in the face of daunting discouragement. Once again, I was back in a refined, rarefied, gracious environment, where a grande dame dressed in antique silk, wearing rare basra pearls,anointed me the ' Shama-e-mefil'. I shall always cherish the compliment!