February 22, 2020
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Mussoorie Diary

I’m not a great traveller. Airports confuse me, railways stations confound me. I have trouble making out what is being said on airport or railway station loudspeakers.

Mussoorie Diary

Sun-Kissed Kalinga

I’m not a great traveller. Airports confuse me, railways stations confound me. I have trouble making out what is being said on airport or railway station loudspeakers. On one occasion, I got on the night train to Delhi and woke up next morning in Lucknow. A friendly station master put me on another train to Delhi. So last month, when I had to go to Bhubaneswar and then to Pondicherry, I took Rakesh and Beena with me. It’s nice to have company when you get lost. After Delhi, Bhubaneswar always comes as a relief. People there complain of the heat, but towards evening a cool breeze, a zephyr, comes in from the sea and plays gently with the fronds of the coconut palms. And at Puri, a two-hour drive away, one of the finest beaches in the world stretches mile upon mile, making me wish I’d become a beachcomber instead of an old man of the mountains.

In Bhubaneswar, I discovered the KISS (Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences), and its amazing founder and guiding light, Dr Achyutananda Samanta—a humble, straightforward, inspired man who has taken upon himself the responsibility of educating and looking after over 10,000 children from tribal areas across Orissa. Samanta is a man who has known poverty and deprivation. He grew up convinced that “illiteracy causes poverty and literacy drives it away”. He started KISS in 1993. Today, it is the largest free residential institution for tribal children in Asia. Other institutions are linked to KISS—an international school, and an institute of technology. At 45, Samanta is a tireless worker, a believer in destiny, constantly striving for excellence.

The Bond Movie

After Bhubaneswar, it was my destiny to visit Pondicherry for the first time in my life—to keep a tryst with another kind of genius, the director Vishal Bhardwaj, whose ambition is to achieve excellence in the field of cinema. An original and unconventional director, he has already left his mark with such films as Maqbool and Omkara, as well as a lyrical adaptation of my story, The Blue Umbrella. Last year, he took up another of my stories, put me to work on it, developed it into a film script, and is now in the throes of completing the movie. Songs and dances to be added later. I offered to sing and dance, but I was gently told that I should stick to writing.

We were in Pondicherry two days before the film unit arrived, and I spent most of the time watching the World Cup matches in my hotel room, while Rakesh and Beena went shopping. The football was a great disappointment. Players seemed more intent on kicking the ball into the crowd than the goal. For every goal scored, there must have been at least 30 missed chances. The tribal boys at the KISS rugby team would have done better. (Yes, they play rugby, not football; they also won the world under-14 championship last year.)

The film crew finally turned up, a bit bedraggled after two months of continuous shooting in Coorg, and I was able to further my education by being present, and to some extent involved, in a cafe scene on the Beach Road. (A very rocky beach, unlike Puri’s endless sands.)

Whether they make little or a lot of money, people in films have to work very hard. The public sees the glamour and the glory, but it’s not an easy life. The bigger the star, the harder the work, the more the pressure. And all those involved in the making of a film—performers, directors, cameramen, make-up and costume people—are never idle. It’s a great life, but a tough one.

I grew up with the movies—Hollywood musicals, Hitchcock, Bogart, Ealing Comedies, Nimmi, Johnny Walker—so it was especially gratifying that in the twilight of my life, I should be involved in one.

Old Bill Couldn’t Come

Landed in Delhi late evening. Temperature 40 degree Celsius. No sea breeze. Instead, heady odours drifting in from the Yamuna. Grabbed a taxi and headed for the hills. More traffic at night than by day. Mostly huge container trucks. We reached Mussoorie at 3.00 am. The town was fast asleep. I slept till noon, when I was told I had an afternoon book-signing at the Cambridge Bookshop. Rakesh got me there in time, but I was all grumpy and groggy. Little girl, seven or eight, says: “I want Shakespeare’s autograph.”

“Sorry,” says Sunil Arora, the proprietor. “Shakespeare couldn’t come, but you can have Mr Bond’s autograph.”

“I don’t want Mr Bond’s,” she says. “I want Shakespeare’s.” And she leaves in a huff.

Another, slightly older girl thrusts a book at me and asks me to sign it. The Secret Seven by Enid Blyton. I sign ‘Love from Enid’ on the fly-leaf, and she leaves quite happy and content.

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