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April 12, 2013

The Opposite Of Opinion

Award-winning author Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi shares his notes from salons he hosted in Goa this season

  • Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi
    Raj Salgaoncar, Jaya Bachchan, Dipti Salgaoncar, Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi
  • Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi

When I was approached to host salons for Sunaparanta: Goa Center for the Arts, I was certain they had to be a counterpoint to literary festival sessions I’d guested in the past. These events, for the uninitiated, are mostly boring panels of middle-age writers vying to have their opinions heard. I find opinions boring; I keep changing my mind, after all. Having been guilty of precisely this sort of glib posturing I wanted my salons to be free of opinion. In place, I wanted conversation, observations, stories, perceptions – anything but opinion.

I started with Sudarshan Shetty, a conceptual artist of such daring that when I went out to Chembur to invite him personally, he left the room and went for a walk. I know I don’t have an agreeable personality but this was a slightly extreme response. Shetty’s assistant hastened to tell me he frequently went for a walk during meetings, and that he would be back shortly. Meanwhile, I photographed the chair I was going to seat him on; it did not feature him, as he was out, and I thought it an excellent ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Pedestrian’.

My second guest, in November, was Anne Enright. I asked her to talk to me about suicide. Not only am I a naturally glum person – so this fit in perfectly with me – suicide was at the heart of her novel, The Gathering. She told me that after she won the Booker Prize for The Gathering not once was she asked about suicide in the 70-odd interviews she had done in twenty-four hours. Luckily, the East doesn’t find death difficult, and we cheerfully chatted about suicide – and when we were done, we spoke about insanity. She told me about being institutionalised, and how that freed her: she literally had nothing to lose after she was told she had lost her sanity. She came through – and how, going on to write bestselling novels of powerful sorrow and eccentric heart.

Sooni Taraporevala, my third guest, did a wonderful presentation of her photographs, sharing not only images from her seminal book, Parsis: A Photographic Journey, but also stills from films she had either written or adapted for screen. So we saw Grant Road Station taken over during the filming of Salaam Bombay, Irrfan Khan in his first role, and Tabu looking wistful – and in dire need of a Good Hair Day – in The Namesake. I was delighted Isheta Salgaocar, briefly down from her stint at Columbia University, was present. Isheta had introduced me to her parents, Raj and Dipti, patrons of Sunaparanta, the salons had been throwaways from her abundant and generous imagination.

The final salon, in February, had Jaya Bachchan talk about the young woman who was gang raped and then left to die in Delhi. Bachchan’s passionate appeal for her in Parliament was partly responsible for the case getting the kind of national attention it got, and deserved. She had picked up the phone and spoken to the doctor at the hospital. ‘I hope she dies,’ the doctor had told Bachchan.The actor also took us through her various friendships with folks as varied as Satyajit Ray – who she said always drew his characters on his storyboard – and her husband, Amitabh, who she complained was painfully reticent at home. After each of the salons Raj and Dipti hosted a dinner for my guest – these were so handsome and thoughtful that they were a kind of a performance art to hedge the evening in a blustery sea wind of banter and wine. One had come to the evening with a fakir’s heart and returned with the queen’s jewels.

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