In May last year, PEN tried to re-invent itself. They moved to new premises (from ground floor to second floor), inducted new executive committee members : Literary organiser and activist Aspi Mistry, writer Sampurna Chattarji, architect Savio Lobo and journalist Ronita Torcota.
At that time, PEN secretary Ranjit Hoskote said that, "the PEN committee went through a lot of introspection and has now inducted four new members in the executive committee. This, the PEN feels will save the literary body from going through a phase of inertia that it underwent in the last nine months."
Unfortunately this did not work out as planned. PEN went through another phase of inertia. They then felt that maybe South Mumbai was too far away for most of their target audience & so 3 months back they started PEN @ Prithvi. The first meeting in May garnered a large audience, but at todays meeting there were just 23 of us. Including Ranjit, Sampurna and the 3 panelists.
The Invitation from Sampurna said :
DECIPHERING THE CITY
A panel discussion with Naresh Fernandes, writer and editor, Altaf Tyrewala, novelist, and Nishtha Jain, filmmaker, talking about ways of understanding the city/urbanscape through their own methodologies of making.
Date: Saturday, 8 July 2006
Time: 6.30 pm onwards
Place: Prithvi House, 1st floor (opposite Prithvi Theatre, Janki Kutir, Juhu, Bombay)
Most Mumbaiyyas would recognise Naresh's name as the editor of Time Out, Mumbai but not as many would know that, he is also the co-editor with Jerry Pinto of Bombay Meri Jaan, an anthology of writing about India's largest city. In 1996, he was among the authors of Murder of the Mills, a citizens' report on industrial sickness in Mumbai's textile industry, and in 1993 he was among the contributors to When Bombay Burned, a collection of reportage and commentary on the Mumbai riots.
Naresh started the discussion with a few incidents from his youth, linked them to his experience as a Wall Street Journalist in New York. He dwelled on how other than the Rajabai Tower & The Gateway of India there was no other monument that could be identified with Bombay (he did admit that VT was too large to fit on the cover page)
The setting was informal (shoes off & seating on chaadars) so his chatty informal style went perfectly well with it. He was interesting & amusing to listen to.
Altaf Tyrewala is the author of No God in Sight (Penguin, 2005). Time Out, Mumbai readers would also recognise him from his column 'Tyred & Tested'
Altaf read out a short piece on his relationship and feelings towards Bombay, which will be printed in a future issue of Time Out, Mumbai Essentially it was about how the city keeps calling him back and how he feels moored to Bombay. He also read out one of the short stories from his new book. Seems like that too will be in monologues like the previous one.
I have a soft corner for Altaf, since the time I met him at a Juhu Book Club Meeting and he remembered my name from a piece of fiction I had written for the Caferati Flash Fiction Contest and he had judged. Read about that episode here.
If reading his book was a pleasure, listening to him read from it, was an experience that actually transported us into the mind of his protagonist.
Nishta Jain's 2005 film, City of Photos explores neighborhood photo studios, unearthing the imaginary buried under gritty physical realities. Currently she is shooting a film about the city of Mumbai as seen, experienced and imagined by migrants to the city, including herself. Her other films are Call it Slut (2006) and Shadows Out of Time (2002).
From this point the quality degenerated. Nishta kept rambling, mostly off topic, highly prejudiced against muslims. (for eg : describing her City of Photos where one of the backgrounds at the studios for pictures was the crashing of the twin towers she said "I thought only the muslims wanted to take their pictures in front of that background, rejoicing and all that, but even others were taking their pictures with it") All this while when Altaf was seated right next to her. Its not wrong to have an opinion, but you also need to be sensitive to the feelings of people around you. Wonder how someone so prejudiced and closed to new ideas & concepts can be a documentary film maker. She went on & on & on in a monologue highly punctuated with "You know's" (minimum of twice in each & every sentence)
This started a verbal free-for-all by some attendees between whenever she stopped to catch her breath and her actually catching it. A lot of pseudo intellectual crap was bandied about by those who wanted their voice heard. (eg: 1 woman - "Suketu came home and read to us one of the stories from his book, of the birds fling in the taxi in Worli"- no one gave her any "bhav" so at this point she added- "from Maximum City you know") A few members did come up with a few good points, but they were overshadowed by those with verbal diarhoea. Naresh & Altaf wisely distanced themselves mentally from these attempts at verbal one-up(wo)manship.
Ranjit wisely called an end to the chaos (albeit an hour too late). Sampurna announced the relaunch of "PENumbra" the magazine. Most of us rushed away to salvage the rest of our Saturday evening.
I did enjoy the first 2 speakers, after that it was a waste of time. Nothing about the city was deciphered. There were some large cribs against other cities. some talk about villages being feudalistic & cities being capitalistic. In villages you survive but in cities like Mumbai you live & other such high sounding notions & inane conversation topics. None of which would benefit anyone in the crowd nor would be remembered by any.
Most memorable incident of the evening ? Altaf completed his reading, looked around at the audience for reactions & once Nishta started to ramble, he gave a quick questioning look at his wife (I didn't catch her name), she gave him an approving look & a nod & only then did he smile a relaxed smile. Authors are human too. . .
PEN - Indian chapter of International association of Poets, Playwrights, editors, Essayists & Novelists. They hold regular readings and workshops. You can be an Associate member or a full member. No qualifications to be an Associate Member. One has to have 2 published works for full membership.