T r e a d Softly... YOU MIGHT TRIP ON TEXT

Friday, September 10, 2010

T M T (the moment of truth)

The NCPA looked large, grand and gorgeous. it was filling with people, celebrities, socialites, readers and passionate invitees. it was good to see the magic store of nu-cham-vu on the panels, and blown up and prominently displayed. i wished vinayak, my son, was there to see his illustrations being made so accessible.

It was, of course, a moment of happiness as well as nervousness.

when the book was nominated, i felt okay. when it was shortlisted, i was happy. but now, on the brink of it, i felt rather prickly! ruskin bond was the chief guest. he spoke beautifully and simply, and narrated events during a time when the book business was but a fraction of its present size and scope. he used to do exactly the sort of thing i did--- go to a book store and secretly place my book at an advantage! of course, your books are always behind someone else's. so this is a nice, neat trick to reinforce your concern for your own book. nowadays, because of media coverage, you might be noticed by people in the shop, and they'd say, look at this writer, he's moving his own book around to give it prominence!

there was violin playing by some wonderful little kids, and it kept up the dirty, rotten suspense in a nice sort of way. a string of kids would play, they'd be joined by another, then another, and finally the stage was almost filled with wonderful youngsters blessed with talent. the comperes for the evening were arundhati subramaniam and ranjit hoskote. arundhati is my friend and theatre-person the late bhagyam's niece, and i'd communicated with her when i was leaving for scotland for the charles wallace residency in 2004. arundhati had gone the previous year.

they'd said the children's prize would be announced first. actually, it was the last to be announced! you can imagine my condition. earlier, i'd met my competitors, young siddhartha sarma and rupa pai. before the event i'd had coffee and a nice, relaxed conversation with siddhartha, who's a gem of a guy.

only one of the children's judges had turned up in mumbai that evening. she climbed up on stage and smiled down at the audience and said breathlessly that it had been very difficult to judge this one because there were books for young adults as well as for little children in the reckoning. "but then we came to a solution, we decided we'd look at the best in each category and then make our choice."

which means, if she'd been given all the books in fiction, non-fiction, translation and children's books to judge, she'd still have looked for the best and made a choice.

"a little child's picture book" was being judged against "stories for young adults"--- in her own words. and she had chosen the best.

siddhartha sarma's the grasshopper's run got the children's prize, and later siddhartha told me: i needed that money for a project i've planned. he's a very earnest young chap with a talented pen. but his book is young adult fiction, not children's writing. the distinction should have been made much earlier in the competition.

later, when i thought about the lady's breathless admission on stage, and this multi-category aspect of the judging, i thought: why am i feeling this way? is it simply a case of sour grapes?

no, it wasn't. it was a case of wine and whisky being placed under one category. and judged as the same thing.

T M T (the mumbai trip)

It was a wonderful trip, sponsored by the Vodaphone Crossword Prize people. and Mumbai, of course, was Mumbai. the hospitality was great, and there was this event management group and a girl named meghann d'sa who took good care of us, and when geeta (my wife) was late coming back from lunch with an old classmate and i was getting worried, meghann became the first professional i met who could be caring, efficient and effective all at the same time. she called geeta and then called me back and said with a smile in her voice, she's safe and coming back!

we went to my friend bobby's house, spent time with his lovely daughters, met his wife lata in the evening, and this was a highlight of the trip. one evening we all enjoyed ourselves at the leopold cafe where they're busy pointing out to everyone that this is where the terrorists struck. each violent mark is marked and preserved for a prying posterity. every foreign visitor to india was at leopold's that night. jam-packed! and cacophonic.

the first evening, we had a little event at one of the crossword stores. writers gurcharan das, kalpana swaminathan (who finally got the fiction award), salma and i debated the topic: will e-books ease out books? even though i was the only one whose book was now an e-book (lament of mohini) and whose books (the magic store of nu-cham-vu and maria's room) are also available as digital "talking books" for the blind and the dyslexic, i said books will never die out. gurcharan on the panel and bobby from the audience, as well as another youngster, said: you're just being nostalgic, books will soon be replaced by e-books. it was a good time out for us, and we enjoyed ourselves. two mornings later, geeta and i had breakfast with salma, the writer of the tamil book, the hour past midnight.

it rained almost throughout the trip. i'd forgotten my phone at home, so i was relatively free and untied. there was, of course, the nervous thread leading up to the awards function on the 20th. the venue was the ncpa, where i used to listen to music and also watch many of those "art movies", late70s and 80, when i was working for the indian express across the road.

in fact, there was so much that was familiar in spite of the way the city has grown. and it was wonderful to drive through on the sea-link. on my last visit, i'd seen it being built. this was truly enchanting, the spreading wings of the bridge trailing over the ocean froth.

and then the evening, and the awards function....