Saturday, November 4, 2000
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

Making documentaries is her forte

SIX years ago when dining with the Mathens, I suggested to Nirmala to plant avocado trees in her garden. Avocados donít need much care, they are prolific fruit-bearers; rich in nutrients and taste like butter. Though taste for them has to be cultivated, once you acquire it, nothing equals them in mixed salads and nothing makes good wine taste better. I also introduced Nirmala to Groverís wines made in her city. After six years, Nirmalaís avocados bore fruit. She sent the first pickings to me with a bottle of Groverís red wine through her friend, film producer Kavitha Lankesh, who was in Delhi to receive some kind of award for her film Deveeri. Kavitha was an unexpected bonus: more animated than anyone I have met: feline lissomeness and tiger-brown eyes. And all of 35. I was completely bowled over and wished she was living in Delhi and not in distant Bangalore.

It transpired during our brief meeting that I had met her father, the late P. Lankesh, editor of Lankesh Patrike and author of several novels in Kannada. It was on his novella Akka (sister) that she made her award-winning film Deveeri. It is based on a true story of an orphaned boy of the slums who lived with a young woman who treated him as a younger brother, and fed and mothered him. She carefully guarded him against her night-life; she was a common prostitute. Once she did not return to her hovel. When Lankesh asked the boy about her absence, he replied: "It has been four days since my sister returned home. That bitch!" In due course of time the boy discovered the sordid truth about his "sisterís" life. By then he was in the kind of life slum children lead. He was caught and sent to an orphanage. He longed to return to his slum to be with his Akka.

EARLIER COLUMNS
The Indo-Malaysian connection
October 28, 2000
Lessons terrorism taught us
October 21, 2000
Blood-letting in Punjab
October 14, 2000
Translating the Japji Sahib
October 7, 2000
Indian concept of beauty
September 30, 2000
To forgive and forget
September 23, 2000
Memoirs of Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit
September 9, 2000
Times are out of joint
September 2, 2000
His voice is immortal
August 26, 2000
No end to hostility
August 19,2000
Visit to a once peaceful metropolis
August 12, 2000
The most abominable crime
August 5, 2000
Unveiling Indian women
July 29, 2000
A spiritually incorrect mystic
July 22, 2000
India without Pilot
July 15, 2000
Young millionaires of Pakistan
July 8, 2000
Lamenting old age
July 1, 2000
Maharaja Dalip Singh
June 10, 2000
Writers’ code of honour
May 27, 2000
A lyricist & revolutionary
May 20, 2000


The film was very well received. Kavitha went on to make documentaries on different subjects largely depicting life in Karnataka.

Kavitha LankeshI asked Kavitha about her career. She has done her postgraduation in English literature from Bangalore University. When she was 16, her father suggested she got married and started assembling jewellery for her dowry. She persuaded him to give her the money to travel and see the world. He agreed. So she went all alone over Europe and the USA. Ultimately she agreed to give marriage a try. It did not work out. "I have tried my hand at marriage but I felt the loneliness. I felt that the loneliness within the confine of a marriage was much more than now when I am really alone. Probably because loneliness within company is much more than the solitude of the present," she said.Kavitha lives in a sparsely inhabited suburb of Bangalore. Her mother runs a saree store in the city. For company she has two German Shepherds who accompany her when she goes jogging in the early hours of morning. Then she does yoga asanas for one and a half hours. That explains her suppleness. "Believe me I am like rubber and it comes to use for some strategic positions," she says somewhat naively.

Kavitha admits to having a quick temper and "a bitchy way with words". She has her allergies: foods, unpunctuality, liars, horn-happy drivers and people unkind to dogs. I share most of them but have learnt to put up with fools. I am not quick-tempered but have a large vocabulary of Punjabi abuses. She is somewhat confused about religion. She is a Lingayat, reads Basavannaís vachanas, Panchatantra tales and P.G.Wodehouse. She quotes Somerset Maugham. "I am a deeply religious person who doesnít believe in God." That goes for me as well. "I get easily bored with people", she says. So do I. We are kindred spirits, 50 years and 1500 miles apart.

Travelogue

Elizabeth is a Belgian married to an Indian Muslim from Bhopal. She, her husband and children are settled in Canada. Once a year she visits her parents in Belgium. Elizabeth is blissfully happy being Mrs Khan because despite being married over 20 years, she is still very much in love with her Indian husband and his country. Some days back she wrote to me from Belgium, enclosing a poem on her first visit to the Taj Mahal. I quote a few verses from it:

He wanted to show me the Taj Mahal, he said

Eternal monument to Love Eternal

And so it was that on the hottest day

Of the hottest season we set off

In his ancient Ambassador

On the dusty road to Agra

My face soon turned the colour

Of tandoori chicken

Cooked alive, I did not complain

I was in love.

Our progress was slow, too slow he felt

He honked impatiently at a herd of goats

Ahiste, Sardarji, Ahiste, the goatherd chuckled

The Taj has been there for a hundred years

Or more, it will still be there tomorrow

Such insolence from a mere village boy

He said, and I thought, such wisdom

* * *

Even the Third World

is not equally third all over

When we were driving again

He asked me what I was looking at

So intently, and I said: Your country

I am soaking it up in my every pore

And will carry it with me forever

Its colours and its scent and most of all

This mood By the entrance to the Taj Mahal

A vendor with two pitchers

Water for Hindus and water for Muslims

We Sikhs can drink either, he said,

But personally, I prefer Coca-Cola.

* * *

The Taj, they say, is crumbling now

Its blinding sheen grown dull and gray

Once solid stone turned brittle, porous ...

And I have long ceased to believe

In tales of kings and queens

And love that lasts forever

For nothing wrought by human hands

Or hearts, I found,

Can claim to be eternal.

Israeli humour

Israelis tell stories at the expense of Arab leaders. A young Israeli woman gave birth to a seven-pound boy in a hospital in Jerusalem. "Good morning," smiled the nurse, "So you are the mother of a fine seven-pound boy?"

"Thatís right."

"What are you going to name him?"

"Arafat".

"Arafat?" the nurse blanched. "Are you kidding?"

"Nope."

"I .... I never heard of an Israeli mother calling her child by that hateful name. Does your husband also like that name?"

"I am not married," said the young mother.

(Contributed by Judson K. Cornelius, Hyderabad)