Millennium Post

Old man and the she

It’s a muggy Wednesday. Humidity has taken away happiness and even a stroll inside Khan Market has to be postponed for a cloudy forenoon. Across the road, inside his spacious Sujan Singh Park pad, Bhaichand Patel is telling me about love and longing, as posters of old Bollywood take us back in time. 

It is always a good idea to let Bhaichand talk about the past. I have done this once before, when I telephoned him for Happy Hours: The Penguin Book of Cocktails. We ended up talking about free spirits, the kind that never quite settles down, hopping continents and conjugal beds.

Bhaichand has written a novel this time, his first, and the hero Ravi makes music for Bollywood and keeps two women. ‘The company of women,’ Bhaichand tells me, ‘is one of the greatest pleasures of life. So, why not?’

It’s a roots and wings thing. Ravi, son of a potter-turned-beggar and a homemaker who becomes a whore, makes it big as music composer in Bombay. He needs a wife to match his newfound status.

But her socialite ways drive him away into the willing arms of has-been star Dolly.

He stocked her flat with a case of his favourite whiskey, and when he visited they ordered food from one of the restaurants on Linking Road — she preferred Chinese cooked the Punjabi way. Ravi ate his meals with the relish of a country boy. When the greens were in season, she cooked his favourite dish, sarson ka saag, and he ate it with dollops of homemade butter on hot makki ki rotis just off the tawa.

Mothers, Lovers and other Strangers works like a Bollywood movie. It goes back and forth in time and tells the tale of a village boy who comes to the big city to make a better life.  And Bollywood happens.

There is no way the world of Bombay films could have been left out of his first novel. ‘I know Bollywood. I knew the old actors, many of them, as people not stars. I practiced law in Bombay and I met them.

My senior was a famous lawyer and he had them as clients. Then, it was more difficult to break into Bollywood. Those memories guided me as I started writing,’ Bhaichand says.

A big part of the book, though the years are not mentioned, is set in the early eighties when Bollywood  is on the cusp of change and Ravi’s career is taking flight. There is a tall actor with baritone voice and the musicians still play the harmonium.

Malik had been a music director for over ten years by the time Ravi joined his team, and he knew his days were numbered. His specialty with the ghazal, soft, easy-listening music, but ghazals were no longer popular….The tastes of moviegoers had changed; producers were now looking for faster numbers that had little to do with the plot but allowed buxom women to lip-sync and gyrate to the music.        

Bollywood and big dreams apart, Bhaichand’s book is about loving and losing. Ravi loses his mother early. She walks away with another man as his father becomes an invalid. ‘My mother was a whore,’ he later tells Dolly. But goes in search of her when fate lands him in a cruel place.

Does Bhaichand believe in fate himself?

‘Fate has a huge part to play in life. My father wanted me to stay back in Fiji. Be in the family business. But I practised law in Bombay and then went all over  the world.’

Writerly days seem to have replaced wandering days.

Bhaichand is an unpretentious writer, a quality rather rare. His characters do not speak in punchlines, but like normal human beings do. No wonder, he had Khuswant Singh telling him to write more. Free thought, like free love, takes you to newer heights.

So, what next? ‘A Bollywood script.’ But, of course!
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