For someone who wistfully imagines a life where it would be possible to walk out the door and go anywhere at all, I travel very badly. I get migraines, which is unsurprising when you consider how many times I open my suitcase to see if I've forgotten something, or my ticket to check the date and the time and the place of departure (what if I went to Nampally instead of Kacheguda?) It didn't help, also that I had fat politicians drinking cheap rum from newspaper- wrapped bottles, playing cards and eating chicken biryani, spilling more than half on my berth and the floor (I asked them to clean up and was met with disbelief and shock) as travelling companions.
But Bangalore, despite its relentless traffic, was good. I checked out the place where my reading was to happen the following day. We decided it couldn't be on the lawns, tempting though it was to imagine people festooned on the bamboo deck. I'd have felt like a rock star, but unless I had rock star sound equipment to match, I couldn't compete with the traffic noise. Inside, the Used In India exhibits occupied a large part of the space, curving around one corner. If Aditya, my friend who'd invited me for the reading, had been around, he might have had it moved, arranged for the rock star sound equipment and made everyone's life hell for a few hours. But he wasn't there, and we managed.
On the afternoon of the reading, M, the person making all the arrangements, was having litters of kittens: I decided to get ready early (pink sari) and go hold her hand. As it happened, I retreated into Aditya's office after checking that the mike worked and stared at his bookshelves, cameras and stuff. I might have twiddled my thumbs even but I can't remember.
6.45 and people had begun to trickle in. Friends, poets, family. Swar, with whom I'd spent most of the previous day, was there. People started buying books and I signed dutifully.
Quarter past seven. We really ought to begin.
Mamta Sagar introduces me and says she met me first through my poetry. I'm looking at everyone because I know once I start to read, I won't meet anyone's eye. She mentions two poems that are not on the list of what I'm going to read. I hope no one notices. People have begun flipping through the book, though, and I'm not encouraged. I start. With 'Nocturne', I think. Start slow, with nothing major, give people time to get used to everything. But the second poem is one that's always got a response - a chuckle, a nod of recognition. Here, nothing. I'm getting a little more disconnected with each poem I read. The phone rings. Should I stop? wait? Rochelle answers the phone. I find out later that it's my aunt asking for directions. She's passed the place once already and will take another half an hour to make it. The reading will be done by then and she, her son and I will be upset. It's good to not know too much.
A few more poems down and a school mate from 20 years ago, whom I'm seeing for the first time in two decades, asks me if I could announce the page numbers of the poem I'm going to read. I've noticed the frantic search through pages, but I've ignored it so far, hoping that people will have learnt their lesson; with my poems, by the time you've found the page, I'm done reading it. So A asks me to announce page numbers and I'm forced to say, please listen instead; it's not often you get to hear poems recited. Read later at home. You have the book after all. (I hear more about this for the rest of the evening! As we get more drunk later, the story becomes more colourful and my requests more outrageous.)
I was told later that I read fine, even well; I'm not sure why I got the feeling I wasn't getting through though. Shelley, now's when you reassure me.
So I read through my list, and was afraid to open it up for questions, because of the kind of questions I got in Hyderabad, but it's an automatic response. 'Any questions?'. Mani Rao, about whom more in another post, wanted me to read one of the two poems Mamta had mentioned. I groaned. I don't like reading poems I've not rehearsed or figured out how I want to read. This was one of them. But I read it anyway, very badly, I'm sure.
The signing thing began. Mani wanted me to read the other poem as well! I said, tomorrow ( I never did read that one, did I Mani?). I was, I believe, rude to someone because of not answering a question as fully as he wanted; my aunt came in late and looked very pissed off; people said hello, then goodbye; N asked me a few questions for an article she would write in the Hindu's Metro Plus (google it later. The link's not yet up).
Tea and snakes were laid out, people must have eaten and left. I've no memory of anything until later at S's place when the single malt arrived. After that I don't remember much anyway until the following day's disastrous reading at the Bangalore University.
But that's for tomorrow.
Update: Anindita's article on her (new) blog