My Family and Other Film Fanatics

…with due apologies to Gerald Durrell.

Since my review of Aan consisted to a large extent of my family’s almost constant commentary on the film, I figured it was time to introduce you to them – and show you what we’re all about, especially when it comes to watching, appreciating, and mangling cinema.

This is an early shot of the Liddles:

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Tumsa Nahin Dekha (1957)

If Rajkumar is the trademark ‘Shammi Kapoor at his peak’ film, then Tumsa Nahin Dekha is an equally – if not more – important film, because this is the one that made Shammi Kapoor into the icon he was by the mid-60s. Till Nasir Hussain got Shammi Kapoor to shave off his moustache and act as the devil-may-care hero of this film, Shammi was (as my father puts it), “Just another actor with a thin moustache and the usual roles. Nothing exceptional.” Tumsa Nahin Dekha gave him the opportunity to transform from the half-hearted, unexceptional sort-of-hero into a Shammi Kapoor who became almost an institution in himself.

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Short Story in the Brunch Quarterly

Although I have been busy (winding up the writing of the second Muzaffar Jang novel, finalising the cover and final text of the first set of Muzaffar Jang stories, and beginning work on the second set of Muzaffar Jang – as you can see, Muzaffar Jang more or less rules my life), I have also been doing other writing. An example of this has just been published, in the Hindustan Times Brunch Quarterly, July-September 2011 issue.

Though most people know me as the creator of Muzaffar Jang, the Mughal detective, here I’ve ventured into territory I’ve never traversed before. The editor at the Brunch Quarterly said, “Could you please write another historical detective story for us?”, but since the word limit was 3,000 – a little difficult to fit detection into, at least for me – I decided to make this a somewhat different story. No sleuthing. No Mughal India. But, yes; it’s still not contemporary – it’s set in the Calcutta of the very late 19th century, and it involves, if not a crime, at least something not very nice.

An excerpt from the story, which is named Mangoes and Indigo:

Oscar Leadbetter, after two months on board ship, followed by a cross-country journey from Bombay to Calcutta, was ushered into his cousin’s presence by a turbaned servant. The man, his white muslin jama swishing about pyjama-clad knees, bowed out. Oscar stood before the vast mango-wood desk behind which his cousin sat. Stephen’s drooping moustache and thinning hair were blond, his icy blue eyes the gift of some long-ago Nordic ancestor. He turned that frosty gaze on Oscar.

‘I have had to get rid of my last secretary to accommodate you,’ he said. There had been no invitation for Oscar to sit, no ‘Koi hai?!’ yelled to a servant for whisky.

Oscar murmured something about trying his best, and was treated to a cold stare before Stephen began listing his duties. They were many, and varied. Oscar would receive and segregate correspondence.  He would write suitable responses. He would keep the accounts for the house. He would be in charge of making large purchases – not the meat and vegetables, or the dhobi’s lye, but the substantial ones. Furniture, for instance, or mattresses.

‘Do you expect them to wear out every few months?’ Oscar asked.

Note: Although you can read Hindustan Times online, Brunch Quarterly is in the form of a magazine, available at most large newsstands. Pick up a copy and read for yourself!


A Morning Swim

The fog hung, forbidding as a pall, over the Yamuna. The water would be icy today, thought Rashid as he huddled beside Imam Miyan’s rickety tea-stall, chewing a stale rusk. There were few people about at this hour of the morning; just the rickshaw-pullers, the coolies and the beggars. It was so cold, there’d probably be nobody at the river either.

Imam Miyan’s hefty fist clouted Rashid half-affectionately. “Eat up, you swine! Do you want to be late? Better get there before the fog lifts and people start arriving.”

Rashid nodded, his thin shoulder hurting with the blow. Not that he would ever protest; Imam Miyan was the only adult who was even remotely kind to him; and when you were just eight years old and an orphan, kindness mattered a hell of a lot. Rashid summoned up a watery smile, but kept quiet. As far back as he could remember, he had been having breakfast—a crumbly rusk and a cup of tea—at Imam Miyan’s stall. Whether his parents had been friends of Imam Miyan’s he neither knew nor cared; all that mattered was that Imam Miyan was good—sometimes.

Rashid finished the rusk and dug out a coin to pay, but he was lucky today—Imam Miyan refused the rupee.

Bihari, three years older than Rashid, was waiting at the corner, his scabby knees knocking together with the cold. They walked together to the riverside, and Bihari muttered, “Do you want to go in today? It’ll be like ice.”

Rashid nodded vigorously, trying to push away the thought of the chill water, the itching rash on his body and the stench that awaited him. They had reached the stone steps leading down to the water, and he stripped hurriedly, handing his clothes over to Bihari. The river was a swirling mass of sewage, carrying with it plastic bags, wilted marigolds and garbage. A sacred river, they called it- sacred enough for the ashes of the dead, from the cremation ground upriver, to be ceremonially immersed in it. Ashes, with bits of charred bone sometimes, wrapped in red cloth… all of it whirling downriver, somewhere to an unseen nirvana.

Rashid dived.

It was cold. Cold and opaque, wrapping its foul, grasping fingers about his thin little body, numbing his senses with its rotting presence, encasing him in an insidious envelope of slime. Rashid plunged, deep and swift, down to the riverbed. It was murky and horrible, but he swam around, in widening circles, till his lungs felt as if they would burst, and then he rose, gasping, to the surface.

A few gulps of cold air, and then he was diving down again, into the depths of the Yamuna. Six dives it took before he hauled himself out, shivering and retching. Bihari was sitting on his haunches, sifting hurriedly through a pile of slime, but he rose to help Rashid up the steps, dripping and exhausted. Rashid shrugged on his ragged clothes, watching Bihari through a putrid, shivering daze. After a moment, he said, “Come along. People have started coming; it wouldn’t do to get caught.”

Bihari stood up, and with their sodden, stinking burden, the two boys began walking back to the slums, Rashid still wet. He glanced back once over his shoulder, and saw men, wrapped in white, already beginning to go down the steps to the river. Chanting, breathing prayers, bringing with them flowers and fruit, incense and coins—all to be thrown into this sacred, smelly river. New coins, bright and shining—offerings to the Yamuna, propitiation for past sins—and Rashid’s daily earnings.

(Winner of the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association’s Short Story Competition, 2003)

With intent to abscond

I have spent the last few days busy with other activities (yes, I don’t even remember which was the last film I saw—which says a lot!) I have been busy giving interviews, getting photographed—ugh—and rehearsing reading aloud with getting jittery and breathless.
For those of you not in the know, this is all because I’m on the verge of the launch of my first novel, The Englishman’s Cameo.

The Englishman's Cameo by Madhulika Liddle

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