An unexpected birthday party the evening before my reading made me more nervous than I realised. We were supposed to slip out of this particular engagement, but alas, Resul does emo blackmail very well, and there S, M and I were, with a huge box of chocolates for a kid we'd never seen, whose gender and age we were uncertain of (I don't live in Bombay; what's your excuse, S?)
Luckily for us, Banno, Dhanno and Teja were there. (This is actually an entire other story, so I will save it for later.) What I'd come to expect, after four days in Bombay, was that if anyone wanted to see/buy my book, they were almost certainly telling me they weren't going to be there for the reading. So when Teja said, I want two copies of your book, I was kind of expecting the three of them to take a long vacation starting immediately.
So it was with much joy that I saw Banno walk in to the reading just as it was, I believe, about to end. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
The morning after the birthday party, I woke up at some unearthly hour, because I hadn't yet decided what I was going to read, in what order, or how. I hadn't timed my reading and had no idea how long it was supposed to be. The two glasses of wine from the night before were still, against all laws of digestion, sloshing around in my stomach and making me very, very queasy. And then disaster struck.
S, my bedrock in Bombay, the still point of the worst times of my life, S who was supposed to drive me to town so I could be calm and poised and cool and fresh and rested and you get the picture, staggers out of his room at 10 am. M and I are talking about when I will need to leave so that I'm at Theosophy Hall at 5 (a whole hour before the reading). He gets his cup of tea, and the phone. And under my indignant gaze, S makes an appointment with someone for 5pm in Andheri! I gensture wildly and say, 'My reading! My reading is today!' S looks faintly puzzled. When he hangs up, and I give him an earful, though I realise that nothing matters anymore and that I'll have to take a train after all.
So I did. And arrived in more than good time, to find that Sampurna's PEN meeting hadn't yet begun (we were supposed to meet after the meeting). We sat in the AC section of Sanman, waiting for Aspi and Ranjit to turn up. I pretended to merge into the background when they arrived, with little or no success. Luckily the meeting didn't last long, and seemed more like an excuse to come early and consume cheese sandwiches and batata vadas.
The Theosophy Hall is one of those old buildings that no one seems to be able to find any more. You have to say, where's the Alliance? Or, Where's the American Center, or something like that. It's an ancient building, with wooden staircases and an old lift. The third floor is actually a library, which also doubles up as the PEN's venue for readings.
The bookshelves are all floor-to-ceiling ones, filled with aged, crumbling books. Go closer and you realise that you can't actually take out anything, because there's a bar placed horizontally across every shelf. Unless you know exactly what you want and where you can find it, and the librarian is feeling especialy kind, you don't have a hope in Maitreya's dreams of ever checking out what's on those bookshelves. Aspi told me the library has some 8,000 books. Wonder who read one there last.
5.30 pm, the chairs come out. Some of them are bandaged with packing tape. Sampurna assures me that these chairs are the steady ones; the ones to watch out for are the ones that look solid. They tend to tip their occupants over. I move to a bandaged chair. Sampurna's right.
Sampurna asks me if I'm going to read 'Beastie Babies'. I say No rather emphatically. This prompts all those present to try their hand at reading the poem. It's quite interesting to see how the emphasis shifts with each reading. The Sahitya Akademi guy finally arrives and set up. People start to trickle in.
I may as well tell you who did turn up, and get it over with, because the list of those who didn't would fill a room as large as the Theosophy Hall. Chandrahas, Jugal, Rochelle, John, Maya (the last four all from Caferati), and Banno and Nishtha. Menka walked in just as I finished answering the last question. Peter decided to join us at Brabourne once and for all. Oh, and Rashid Irani and Kiran. And Praba Mahajan. And my son!
The reading went off all right, I think. Shall wait for someone else to talk about it. It lasted all of 25 minutes. At some spots I could feel the people connecting. As usual, I was in a daze. It wasn't until we were at Rashid's, consuming beer, that I felt remotely human. There was an impromptu reading which probably went off quite well on account of my being slightly high.
What finally amazed me is the effort that some people made to come for the reading. Peter and Menka came from New Bombay - and missed the reading, but at least we met. I can totally understand why it would not be worth anyone's while to travel for two hours to listen to ten or fifteen minutes of a reading. So thanks to all of you who did come!