(I have managed to re-write what I had lost and here it is, for your reading pleasure.)
When we reach Karjat we get the feeling as if we are lost. Nobody knows where to turn. We crossed a railway track, cruised down a picturesque road where we stopped and Cyrus made his smart quip about peacocks. Yes, there were peacocks in the forested hills, we looked hard but didn’t find any brilliant flashes of feather in the abounding greenery. There are the rolling hills to one side and the railway line we crossed on the other, and we don’t know where Shah Farm is. So we wait for the others.
We get out, walk a bit, try to scale the hill, and try to look cool to the locals, who ignore us, anyway. “They even give wrong directions,” so be careful Cyrus says. Not likely, since none of them remotely know of any Shah Farm, there are plenty of Navjivan Farms and Dr. Modi’s farms, though.
Cyrus jokes about a friend who was given candies as change, at toll centres and on his way back has enough candies to pay an entire toll in candies. Smart, isn’t he? Shows how these toll rackets work. But the guys manning the toll wouldn’t accept the candies. Uh, oh! He also tells us about an aunt, a talented raconteur, who could make up stories on the go and used to keep him and his cousins entertained in childhood. It is a pity that the genre of short story is dying and no magazine, newspaper, or publisher prints them anymore.
During my childhood the Sunday Review section of the Times of India (edited for some time by the immensely talented Darryl D’Monte) used to feature a short story, and once, even a novel serialisation. Those were the days. Days of sprawling on a sofa and reading the Sunday Review and the comic section from front to back. My sister used to cut up and keep some of the serial stories for reading later. Nowadays newspapers have become high-tech and glossy, but I hardly feel like opening them as they are full of the dull faces of made-up stars and models, as if the common man doesn’t matter at all.
Then as we wait for the rest, Peter rolls in, in his Maruti 800, looking spiffy in trademark bandana after the recent affliction, and out comes a snazzy-looking camera which he trains on us. Then Manisha and Brahm drive up, followed by an entire posse of Suniti, Batul and Gerard and acolytes, Ravi and wife Mena and pretty daughter Deepika, and who else? Don’t remember. Yes, there was Ayesha and her filmmaker dad, George.
So we make a convoy, with Suniti who knows the way to Shah Farms in front, and we somewhere in the rear. Soon we straggle away from the convoy and are once again lost. Then I remember this wise Chinese (or, is it Japanese) saying:
“The journey is as important as the destination.”
Then somebody remembers, we are supposed to turn left before the temple. And someone says, no it’s the “borewell”, but there aren’t any borewells, we can only see a handpump. “But a handpump is a borewell,” some wise guy quips and we all nod in acceptance. How brilliant! Wonder why I didn’t think of that.
Then we turn left at the borewell and are in a sleepy somnolent village of some sort. We walk along what’s called a “ottayadipatha” in Malayalam, translated as “one foot path” on which only one person can walk. “I am afraid of stepping on sn…” Manisha says, her voice is lost in the murmur of the rain. I say, “Don’t worry, snakes don’t come out in the rain, they stick to their warrens.”
“I said snails, silly.” Oh, ho, again wrong detour.
The Shah Farmhouse is a turn of the century structure, an epitome of the sloping roof architecture, which I so love. It is cool in summer because of the high roof and safe in monsoon because of the sloping roof that fully covers the beautiful and broad verandah. I can sit in such a verandah for hours looking at the rain, if only I had some peace and solitude, which seem unlikely because the Farmhouse is bustling already with the voices of a hundred writers, who are also vociferous talkers.
I meet a lot of writers, film makers (who all have nice cars), and have tea with friends. Rochelle is there, Rohington, Raamesh is playing host which he does graciously, and so are Manohar, Raylynn, and others I will mention as I go along.
Peter makes the opening remark and asks us to introduce ourselves. We do. I open the session with a workshop on “Web Content Writing.” I have half an hour, and am interrupted several times and lose time as I try to clear doubts and simple definitions like, “What is content writing?” I can’t complete my presentation. But I think I made my point that a website or blog has to be search engine optimised.
Next is Raamesh with a workshop on “Nonsense Writing” and he seems to be a professional in this genre as he quotes from several writers with whom I haven’t had any acquaintance with. Must admit I am confessing my ignorance of nonsense literature here.
This was followed by a workshop on “Performance Poetry” by Suniti and she performed a poem she had written called “Odd Job Woman.” Bhaskar also pitched in with a poem he had performed. Must try out this genre sometime, I haven’t yet performed any poem of mine.
Then followed lunch, which was rice, chapatti, chana masala, baji, salads, and was topped by vermicelli. I ate sparingly as outside food still made my stomach growl. More conversation with Rochelle, Shirish, Kavitha, Mena and her cute daughter Deepika.
Nupur comes all the way from Delhi, via V.T. station, and via Bhivpuri Road station. Nupur manages a content management business in NOIDA and is in Mumbai for her sister’s childbirth. I learn that Nupur and Shubhra, another friend, are cousins. Well the surprises of life never cease.
After lunch I am drowsy, a bit lazy, so instead of attending the sessions I laze on the sofa in the verandah with Gerard. He is from Paris, a city I have heard so much about, and would like to visit. “Why not?” is his response.
Gerard is blue-eyed, pony tailed, un-intimidating and very polite. He answers all my inquisitive questions such as “How many times have you visited India” from me. Eighteen to be exact he says. He loves India and spends a few weeks here before going back to Paris where he works as a librarian. He is high on Indian literature and says there’s a big demand for Indian literature in France and almost every book is translated into French.
The same sentiment was expressed at Kitab 2008 by Christine Jordis. The French find Indian novels interesting as they have great narration, lots of details, and exotic locales. Gerard speaks good English with only a slight accent and I remark how we can understand each other perfectly.
It must be interesting being Gerard. Holding a steady job and travelling all over the world as he does.
Then after tea, and batata vadas, we set off back to Bombay. I am cooped in the back seat of the Toyota Innova, and sitting in this most un-noticeable of positions, beside everyone’s bags and water bottles, I make notes for this blogpost.
I chat with Rasika and find that she is – can you believe this? – the current Miss Navi Mumbai. Rasika is pretty and has a nice smile and doesn’t mind sporting it often. I also find that she is daughter of the owner of my pathological laboratory – Gune Pathological Laboratories.
As we near New Mumbai we are racing a storm, and when we reach CBD Belapur we are right inside the storm. It is raining, the kind of rain that will last the entire night, that could even go on after that. The waterdrops drum on the hood of the vehicle and the back and I look at the scenery and look back on all the intelligent and stimulating talk I have had.
Reaching home I am so drowsy and tired, I take a bath and fall asleep, to dream of poems, workshops and two beautiful women (one of them a Miss Navi Mumbai!) who enlivened my journey, and of Cyrus who kept a barrage of jokes and witticisms to ease tedium of the ride to Karjat and back.
And a huge thank you to Shishir for having me on this trip, I will only be too glad to share the damages – petrol, toll, whatever. I will forever be grateful.