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|Newsletter No. 671|
Three Trips to India - Another on the Way
It is too long and too complicated to relate here and now, but in 1977 a delightful woman gave me a free ticket to fly around the world. And in December 1977, my feet touched ground in Bombay (as it was then called by all the world). I called my dear friend Pearl Padamsee from the air port and she said that there would be a dinner party that evening for the recent graduates of the National School of Drama in New Delhi, that not only was I invited, but that as far as she was concerned, I would be the Guest of Honor. The party was held in the mayor's mansion and the host and hostess were Pushpindar and Neelam Chowdhry. The evening was delightful in every way. Attractive and intelligent people, great food and warm conversations. I was made to feel completely at home. Most of the evening was spent talking with a young man named Om Puri, who was to become a major actor in Indian cinema. The host and hostess insisted I move from my hotel into their home. This kind invitation was accepted. Neelam and Pearl took me around the city and introduced me to dozens of their friends.
But my first contact with India began in 1962 when I co-organized The Writers' Conference (with John Calder and Sonia Orwell) for the Edinburgh International Festival. Among the 70 writers to attend from all corners of the world was Khushwant Singh. Then in London in the mid-60s, I was invited to dine with the Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. For reasons I will never know, she hosted a small dinner party for about a dozen writers, poets, theatre directors, journalists. It was an intimate and splendid evening. Again in London, the architect for my Arts Laboratory project was Chotu Padamsee. This led to a meeting with his brother, Alyque Padamsee. And then to Pearl Padamsee. Also in London in the 60s, the editor, Sonny Mehta, became a friend. Later in Paris, I played host to Anand Patwardhan, a superb film-maker, from Bombay. Sanjeev Prakash, from New Delhi, stayed in my atelier in the mid-70s and we have been friends ever since. He was a film-maker and was studying video techniques while in Paris. Later Sanjeev became involved with environmental politics and taught at the University in Bergen, Norway. And Pearl Padamsee cooked a curry for my Sunday evening salon in Paris on a number of occasions.
In 2001, a beautiful woman appeared one Sunday evening in my salon. She was Dolly Thakore. We both talked of how sad it was that Pearl Padamsee was no longer with us. Then when I made my second trip to India in 2002, my first stop was Mumbai. Dolly hosted a party for Antonia Hoogewerf, my travel companion, and myself and she invited many of the people who had attended that first party in 1977 including Om Puri. This time I gave him a copy of a book I had written that mentioned our meeting in 1977.
It is thanks to Antonia and her love for India that caused me to make this second trip to India. After Mumbai, she and I flew to Kolkata, and I found myself being seduced by the charms of this city. Antonia and I hosted one of my Sunday night salons and we invited about forty or fifty people. An old friend of mine, Sanjeev Prakash, journeyed from New Delhi to join us. And Sanjeev introduced us to dozens of his friends. Shashi Kapoor was staying in our hotel and we spent lots of time with him and with his daughter and her husband.
After Kolkata, five of us traveled by train to Delhi. There we dined with Pramod and Neelima Mathur and met their son, Varun, and daughter, Reeti. Varun took me out to the University of New Delhi and it was extremely interesting to see the campus. (I was only sorry not to have been able to attend some classes.) On another night, we dined with the delightful Sushmita Sarmah (who I met in Paris when she discovered my autobiography in her friend's library, read it and called me).
Then in 2006, I attended, with a number of friends from Paris, the Kolkata Film Festival. It was again Antonia who raved about this exciting festival. But I also must credit the English film critic, Derek Malcolm, who once said to me that his favorite film festival in the world was the Kolkata Film Festival. I have to agree with Antonia and Derek because it is truly an exciting event. We met dozens of people including the Director, Nilanjan Chatterjee, and others connected with the Festival including Soumitra Mitra, Debasish Halder, John and Susan Mantosh, Gautam Halder, and many others. We met the poet, Lomak Das, the film-maker, Gaurab Pandey, the man-about-town, Chiru Sur, and Sanjiv Goenka (who let us use the terrace of his home for two Paris-like salon evenings). There were dozens more I could mention including Padminie Dufrine, who lives in Paris and Kolkata, Sona and Saugata Banerjee, Abhijit Bose, Subha and Dhrubajyoti Nandi, Gaurav Dutt, Alka Nag, Roger Biswas, Vinod and Aruna Kapur, Paras Nath Dwivedi, Sudeshna Banerjee, Sanjeev Beri and Rajiv Beri and their families.
Some people travel to see things. I travel to participate in the daily life of friends and to meet new friends. After three short trips to India, I now have many friends in this incredible country. This coming November, I will once again travel to Mumbai, Kolkata, and Delhi and will participate in the superb Kolkata Film Festival. And I suspect that I will be there in November 2008 as well.
Jim Hayne, 1 August 2007
This short essay was commissioned by Dr. Chittaranjan Mishra. He and I were both Delegates to the Viva Pinter Conference in Lyon, France in March 2007. It can be found in the October issue of the Lekhalekhi Magazine.
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