and Sartaj and Ganesh.
I was thrilled last year when I got hold of a copy of Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games shortly after it was released, and resolved to go back to reading before sleep each night.
But work and waking hours grew longer and longer, sleep became more and more elusive, add to that dozens of films watched, and soon the book was parked on my nightstand. No reflection on the story or the writer, there just aren’t enough hours in a day right now.
With wallet, Palm, make-up, notebook (the paper kind), iPod, work papers, apple, mobile phone, mints, hairy eared dwarf lemur (huh ?) all being borne by one shoulder or another in my work bag, ferrying the three Bombay Boys and their hardcover home with me to and from the office every day was out of the question.
And so, at fortnightly intervals I Xeroxed several chapters at a time, and, harkening back to the weekly serialization from the days of Dickens, I’ve been submerged in photocopied chapters of the sprawling cops-and-robbers tale, reveling in all the filmi references and savoring passages like this one (from a night when Inspector Sartaj Singh and his colleague Katekar are on a stake-out, talking while they wait for some goondas to appear):
…Sartaj nodded. All this was true, and it was a restful pleasure to lie under a thela and complain. They had already complained about the municipality, corporators, transfers of honest civil servants and policemen, expensive mangoes, traffic, too much construction, collapsing buildings, clogged drains, unruly and uncivilized Parliament, extortion by Rakshaks, bad movies, nothing worthwhile to watch on television, American interference in subcontinental affairs, the disappearance of Rimzim from soft-drink stands, inter-state quarreling over river waters, the lack of good English-language schools for children whose parents didn’t have truckloads of money, the depiction of police on the movie screen, long unpaid hours on the job, the job, and the job. When you had complained enough about everything else, there was always the job, with its unspeakable hours, its monotony, its political complications, its thanklessness, its exhaustion.
It’s been a great ride so far, and I’ve just crossed the halfway mark. I dread finishing it, because I love disappearing into the stories and hearing about Sartaj’ and Ganesh’s lives, though the monogamy is starting to take its toll. Is Sacred Games going to be the only book I’ll read in 2007??
Well, maybe not. For the shortest of time, I’m having the literary equivalent of a dirty weekend, barreling my way through a quick read: Jessica Hines’ very recent release Looking for the Big B: Bollywood, Bachchan and Me.
I’ve read several critiques of the book, and many, like this one, complain about the excess of Hines and the scarcity of Bachchan, and it’s true, it’s really a book about the intent of writing a biography. In between all the I-me-my, there are some revelations about the leggy patriarch of the film industry, and she gets tremendous access to him, at times.
There are some humorous passages, which have been a welcome diversion this past week, sitting at the bedside of an ill parent in hospital. On the subject of the power that a famous actor’s assistant and other staff wield, vis-a-vis to whom they grant access to the celebrity, she writes:
I think there must be Star Servant Training Courses where the object of the telephone exercise is to frustrate anyone on the other end of the line to the point of apoplexy. Points would be given to the trainee servant who managed to make callers actually go purple, and first prize would go to the truly obstreperous who could make the caller collapse on the floor sobbing, having lost the will to live.
…trying to get to talk to the stars is like cutting through loft insulation with a pair of nail scissors.
But she does gain entrée to Amitabh’s home, and world.
Of Bachchan Sr.’s office, she writes:
…you reach it by going up a flight of stairs past walls hung with hundreds of photos of Amitabh and his son Abhishek (but mainly of Amitabh). Going into someone’s house or office and being confronted by hundreds of photos of them might be alarming, but then Amitabh is often everywhere you look outside his house too so the whole continuous-flow effect works.
As I read about her visits to Bombay, KL, the Malaysian highlands, and Dubai, in pursuit of The Big B, two thoughts occurred to me. First, I couldn’t help but wonder if Mrs. B back in Bombay has no qualms about her hubby having dinner alone together night after night after night in the over-the-top Burj Al-Arab, with a clearly smitten woman half his age.
And second, I found myself remembering the hilarious fictitious account written by Maruja Torres called “Oh! Es él! Viaje fantastico hacia Julio Iglesias” [Oh! It's him! Fantastic voyage to Julio Iglesias].
In that 1986 novel, the heroine, who writes for a Hello! type magazine in Spain, is sent on the assignment of a lifetime, to follow Julio Iglesias to the US for his musical tour, and gain access to the Spanish dreamboat, for a big interview. It’s a great spoof on the “pink press”, as that niche of magazines are referred to, and of the Galician crooner to boot.
So, Looking for the Big B may not be In the Afternoon of Time, but, depending on how much you know about the industry and the actor already, and to what extent the excess of Ms. Hines presence in her own book will (or will not) bother you, it can be a light, fun read, where you may learn a few things you didn’t know before, about Amitabh and others in the industry.