My Fathers Son_Front Cover

 

 

Title: My Son’s Father: An autobiography

Author: Dom Moraes

Publisher: Speaking Tiger, 2020

 

 

 

 

1

Almost I can recall where I was born,

The hot verandahs where the chauffeurs drowse,

Backyard dominion of the ragged thorn

And nameless servants in my father’s house…

—‘A Letter’ from Poems (1960)

 

Missing my father is my first real memory of him. The summer before he went to war he had been a loved, distant figure, sitting at evening on the verandah of our flat with a sequence of young English officers on their way to the Burma front (the poet Alun Lewis, who died there, was one of them), all inhaling the rich flesh of cigars, sipping beer, talking: not my world that summer. My world was in the oval park outside our flat in Bombay, a park eyelashed with palm trees, above which, like a school of enormous airborne white whales, barrage balloons floated. Above these the glaring sun pulsed like an eye: vultures soared up towards it on tremendous, idle wings. Down on my knees in the rough scurfy park grass, a vigilant nanny nearby, I stared at the texture of the earth, the texture of a stone, the texture of a fallen leaf, all eroded to red dust by the sun. A spy, I hovered above ants busy in the red dust; grasshoppers stilting up into the air; briefly settled, hairy flies. Vivid colours stained my eye. Behind our flat was the Arabian Sea, an ache and blur of blue at noon, purpling to shadow towards nightfall: then the sun spun down through a clash of colours like a thrown orange, and was sucked into it: sank, and the sea was black shot silk, stippled and lisping, and it was time for bed.

At morning the sea was a very pale, indolent colour, ridged with wavy lines like Greek statuary. When I woke, I went into my parents’ room. They lay in twin teak beds: above them, on a wooden stand, loomed a three-foot plaster Christ, fingers clapped to where a raw heart swelled from its chest, for my mother was religious. Sometimes on Sundays she took me to church, though my father never came. He was not religious, my mother explained mysteriously to me, because he had been educated in England.

Anyway, there they lay, my gods, tranquil and powerful, in charge of the day ahead, my father reading the newspapers, my mother varnishing her nails. I ran to my mother first, since except in moments of stress I was gruff and shy with my father. Even so early in the day, she smelt of flowers. I buried my head between her small breasts, and was happy. Over us that summer Christ cocked an apparently benevolent eye.

The day unfolded like a year: breakfast, served silently by the bearer: scraping up cornflakes as I listened to my parents talk: shopping in the car with my mother (waiting, impatient, for her to emerge from the Army & Navy Stores, while the chauffeur strove to amuse me with funny faces): then the park with my nanny: the weeks, months, years, of one burning afternoon, breathing the turning world, vigilant: nightfall, my father on the verandah, the English officers drinking beer: bedtime, when I thought the chirping of crickets was the noise the stars made. It seemed to go on forever, before my father went to war.

By Dhruva Bhat

I had never been to a Starbucks before. Their green-and-white signs punctuating every street were an exciting reminder that I was in the U.S. for the first time; they hadn’t quite launched in Chennai before I left. (Five years later, they haven’t quite landed in Chennai either, still struggling to break into the market. Coffee is a Tamil ritual—dark decoction made in a tall filter, mixed with boiling milk and a mound of sugar, served steaming in a steel tumbler in a larger saucer, consumed at home, in restaurants, on the side of the street, under a banyan tree. For those who enjoy that sort of thing, a grande latte is a pale imitation that costs about ten times as much). I had heard of Starbucks, of course— seen the insides of their stores in TV shows and scrolled past selfies on social media of friends traveling abroad with their Starbucks cups. I had just never been to one.

I didn’t want to do anything so crass, so nouveau middle-class as to take a photo with a Starbucks cup; I didn’t even want to make time for a trip to a Starbucks, to put it on my list of things to see and do in Atlanta. That behaviour reminded me too much of the families in India who would dress up in garishly sequinned saris and crisp khakis to spend the day at a mall, who would totter at the bottom of an escalator gripping the handrails being too nervous to get on, who would talk too loudly and eat too messily and visit all the shops but buy nothing. I didn’t want my American cousins to give me the look my friends and I gave those people when we went to the mall; I had traveled internationally before, I knew that America was just one of a hundred and ninety other countries in the world, I was going to Harvard for God’s sake—I just also really wanted to go to a Starbucks.

When I saw one in the middle of the CNN Center plaza, I decided I would get coffee there. I could justify it; I was jet-lagged and tired. We had been walking around Atlanta, it was a hot day, and I needed something to cool me down. More specifically, I wanted a cold coffee: the kind I had had so many times in Chennai, milky, creamy and saccharine sweet, more a caffeinated milkshake than actual coffee. And so I headed over to the Starbucks, asking my father if he wanted anything. He said no. I had guessed he’d say no— he had probably converted the price of coffee from dollars to rupees and immediately decided against it. I knew you weren’t meant to convert currencies in your head when buying things because that would paralyse you; moreover, that was something middle-aged Indian men who were in the U.S. to visit their sons did before exclaiming: “Can you believe coffee costs so much in this country!”

With the literary festivals season blossoming around Asia, Singapore will host its 22 nd writers’ festival from 1st to 10th November  with big names dropping in, including Pico Iyer. Pico Iyer, who has spent the last three decades in Japan will be talking on ‘Beyond Borders, Beyond Words’. Iyer will reflect on human connection and belonging. After his talk, he will be in dialogue with acclaimed novelist who has spent a large part of her life in Japan too and now lives in Singapore, Meira Chand.

This year Pico Iyer has been the writer in residence for the newly renovated Raffles Hotel in Singapore. He penned down a book on the Hotel called This could be Home. the novel was launched on 5th august. Long ago in history, this heritage hotel had housed the likes of great writers like Rudyard Kipling and Somerset Maugham.

Pico Iyer was born Siddharth Pico Raghavan Iyer in 1957. His great-great-great-grand father was a Gujarati writer-reformer in the late nineteenth century, Mahipatram Nilkanth . His parents were Indian academics who moved to England to study. Iyer’s unusual name is a combination of the Buddha’s name, Siddhartha, with that of the fifteenth century Florentine neo-Platonist Pico della Mirandola and the last name is that of his father. Schooled in Oxford and Harvard, Pico Iyer is known for his brilliant essays and travel writing. He has written a few novels too.

Mahmood Farooqui in conversation with Gargi Vachaknavi

 Dastangoi is the art of Urdu storytelling that was popular all across India and could regale commoners and elites alike. That was in times of Mughal splendour. The performers were artists and writers rolled into one who left behind over 46,000 pages of published fantasies. The Dastans were the stories told by these storytellers, the gois. Unfortunately this art form completely vanished, leaving behind few memories.

Inspired by the scholarship of one of Urdu’s greatest living writer S. R. Faruqi, Mahmood Farooqui began its revival in 2005 and has since then trained dozens of other storytellers or Dastangos, staged over a thousand shows all around the world and has composed over a dozen modern Dastans for the genre. With all the innovations that he and his team have spearheaded, a virtually new genre of performance and a new kind of writing for the stage has emerged in our times.

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Mahmood Farooqui performing

Farooqui is an award winning writer and performer. He was awarded the Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar by the Sangeet Natak Akademi of the Union Government for his efforts in reviving Dastangoi. His book on the 1857 uprising Besieged: Voices from Delhi, 1857, was awarded the Ram Nath Goenka Award for the best non-fiction book of the year by the Indian Express Group. He has been a visiting fellow at the Universities of Michigan, US and Berkeley, California and was a Rhodes scholar at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. His latest book is A Requiem for Pakistan: The World of Intizar Husain. He has written over 15 modern Dastans for the stage and has trained nearly 50 people besides performing close to 500 shows himself. His wife, film maker Anusha Rizvi, is not only the producer of the Dastangois but also the award winning writer-Director of Peepli Live, a 2010 satirical comedy with the involvement of greats like Aamir Khan and Raghuvir Yadav.

Mahmood Farooqui and his troupe will be performing in Singapore on the 14thof September. In this exclusive, he talks to Gargi Vachaknavi of his work, of how a Dastangoi performance varies from normal theatre and what he is going to perform in Singapore.

 

Gargi: Why did you think of reviving Dastangoi, an art of 13 th century storytelling in Urdu? What is the potential you see that makes you feel it is necessary to contextualise it for the present day?

Farooqui: I was a student of history and had been active in theatre for many years when I came across the great S. R. Faruqi’s study of the world of Dastans. I had been reading Urdu literature all my life but had never really heard of this incredibly enchanting world. When I dug deeper, I was totally bowled over by the genius of the writers and the of the performers. Here was theatre in its purest form, one or two narrators, sitting still and holding an audience captive, just like our ancient rishis (sages) narrated epics and Shastras to rapt listeners. I felt that this was the most essential art form of the Indian subcontinent. From the word go, it was an instant success perhaps because in India everything, including religion is a story.

The innovation I made was to have not one but two narrators and our designer, Anusha Rizvi, kept the basics very simple so we brought it into the ambit of modern theatre by using techniques of lighting, stage decorum and presentation.

Wole Soyinka was the first Nigerian author, poet, playwright and essayist to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986. He has taught in number of universities, including Cornell, Oxford, Harvard and Yale.

Soyinka had been living in America for twenty years before President Trump came to power. He was a scholar-in-residence at New York University’s Institute of African American Affairs when he tore up his green card. He said: “I had a horror of what is to come with Trump… I threw away the card and I have relocated, and I’m back to where I have always been.” He returned to Africa. 

The bestselling surgeon-author talks about the limits of medicine, our view of death, and battles over taste with the editor of the New Yorker: The Guardian

Atul Gawande

‘I’d like to reach the point in my career when I’m not just a physician-writer, where my writing is simply writing’ … Atul Gawande. Photograph: Susannah Ireland/Eyevine

Back in the mid 1980s when he was an undergraduate at Stanford University in California, Atul Gawande took a literature class. “I did a terrible job. I got my lowest grade.” Later, as a Rhodes Scholar at Balliol College, Oxford, he had a rude awakening after reading aloud his weekly essay to his tutor. “I didn’t know how to write. It was too flabby, too verbose. It was covering up the fact that my thinking was not clear. My entire goal while I was at Oxford was to be able to successfully read an essay without the professor stopping me and saying, ‘I cannot stand this any more. Can you just stop?'”