There were some people already there and I reached by 6.30 PM for the 7 PM function.
Someone had told me before, “Oh, what is this discussion nonsense? I have been to 120 book readings. Authors get someone famous to read or read it themselves. Discussion!”
Yes, we had this interesting discussion. At first I read out Parveen Shakir’s poem. Then the Prologue. Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt and academician and Indo-Pak peace activist Ritu Dewan, flanking me, co-read a few portions with me.
Detailed report will follow in the Journey Interrupted blog with more pictures.
Here, let me mention a few sidelights:
I did not know my co-panellists until the day I called to ask them two days prior to participate. May I add that several people did want to be a part of this debate; some are well-known names. I did not call them for that. If that were the case, it would have happened long ago. These are people who are known for being committed to the issues they stand up for. I shall therefore not flaunt those names here. It is more important to highlight that my city has the right attitude. None of them knew me personally. Just as I cold called Mahesh and Ritu. Both agreed and read most of the book before they got there. This shows just how seriously they took it; they could have chosen to take the easy way out and talk ‘generally’.
At the event, when I responded to something about people’s animosity and added that “There are nasty people everywhere…(pause) I too can be nasty”, this former MLA immediately shot back, “Farzana, that is such an understatement!”
Interestingly, on the crucial issue of peace measures and Kashmir, we – Mahesh, Ritu and I – disagreed; I was alone…and do believe that most in the audience was with them on this.
It was touching to see a very old man come up to me with a wrinkled piece of paper that had his name and address. “I have great respect for writers and I know your work,” he said as he handed me the chit. Or the other elderly gentleman who remembered Lahore.
The SMS I got later that said, “I was the young man with the persistent questions. I freelance and want to do a Q & A with you.” I called back the next day; he was surprised; he did not expect a call so soon. I always call back strangers (this is lest some of my friends jump in to say ‘Boo’). The reason was that he had not written his name. Later I got another SMS apologising for the oversight: “Had it been any other author it would have been the end of my fledgling career.” How could I tell him I had made many such goof-ups in my early days?
And I continue to make them. People must have wondered why I would not let go of my handbag and kept it near my feet. The reason is that I was carrying medicines and was in fact not feeling too well at all. Or the time I dropped the papers...
I could not talk to most of the people I have known; some left their visiting cards. It was touching, since I had not even personally invited them.
When the discussion was over, someone pointed out that I had not formally launched the book. So the copy wrapped in red with a satin ribbon had to be opened. The ribbon part was easy; I was gingerly trying to prise the tape when Mahesh said, “Just tear it”.
I tried and mumbled, “Must make this copy feel like Draupadi.”
It had been about two hours of reading, talking, answering…and I wanted to slump down. A Doordarshan camera appeared in front of my eyes and I had to say something; then some other channel walla wanted to know if I could speak Hindi, I said “Bilkul”, and then kept using words like “Nazariya”, “Daayra” and I thought it was quite impressive. He quickly finished his queries and said, “Bas, theek hai”. Earnest kid. Wanted me to sign a copy. I wrote his first name. “Khan bhi…” he reminded.
“Woh khud likh dena.” My pen was not quite in great shape.
I don’t know if anyone who reads this blog was there, but my thanks to every single person who attended. And to Ritu and Mahesh. I knew we are all different people and that was the idea.