In his new book, for writer-musician Amit Chaudhuri a single thematic concern undergirds the selection: can anything be written about?
Telling Tales, out now, is a collection of essays and newspaper columns written over the past 20-odd years, covering disparate topics. “Is it possible to write about anything? And write about it in a way that is writerly, not scholarly or journalistic,” he said, just before his session at the festival on Saturday.
“Can the same person at one point of time be writing about Derrida, at another point in time be writing about chana chur and then about Geoffery Boycott?”
Chaudhuri, grew up in Mumbai, spent 16 years in England, and now lives for the most part, in Kolkata.
“It’s a mixed relationship,” he said, of his with Mumbai. “I grew up here, went to school here, I was very unhappy in school. It felt like I was in Alcatraz,” he said, laughing. “But it was fine, I emerged unscathed and am sure a better person. It’s a place I have a lot of affection for, its architecture, its spaces, its variety of life.”
Remarking on the “disturbing experience” of watching the rise of the new city in the early eighties, he spoke of the rise of parochialism, the city’s seeming contrasts, and its various hues.
"It is exciting when new centres come into existence,” he said. “One thing I’ve found difficult about the city was the ingenuous, innocent ostentatiousness of the rich… you wonder about what made them so optimistic and upbeat when there are such contrasts."
Just before the evening’s panel discussion on “Music, Language and the City” wound down, Chaudhuri played an original song (“My Baby’s So Cruel”) his 18-year-old self had sung on All India Radio. “I had no bad experiences in love, or any experiences in love,” he said, prefacing the song. Later, after the rendition ended, he clarified that “it was a fantasy on two levels”. “The fantasy of being a Canadian singer-song-writer and the fantasy of being a disappointed lover.”
The session, a glimpse of the intersections of writing and music, rock culture and urban life, was moderated by journalist Naresh Fernandes.
“Sometimes you get obsessed with some crazy idea and need to carry it to its logical conclusion,” said Sidharth Bhatia, author of “India Psychedelic: The Story of a Rocking Generation”, on how the book began.
Bhatia’s book, a romp through the musical scene of the sixties and seventies sparked off by the Beatles and meeting its end with the rise of disco, is a simultaneous exploration of the youth culture of the time. A time, when the Taj discotheque served nimbu pani and had an exclusive membership scheme, a time when young men flashed long hair and wide bell bottoms, when urban legend had it that Led Zeppelin gave an impromptu performance in a city disco. “It was a glorious time,” said Bhatia.