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My friend, Mani Kaul

india Updated: Jul 19, 2011 21:44 IST
Shalini Singh
Shalini Singh
Hindustan Times
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My first meeting with Mani Kaul is associated with one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. It was in 2007, at Mumbai’s Carter Road Cafe Coffee Day.

It was my second year into journalism and first foray in covering cinema for Tehelka, the weekly news-magazine. Kaul had suggested the venue — a popular hang-out where people of all shapes, ages and sizes met — presumably because he lived closeby.

I was nervous. I had heard of Kaul’s legendary status as a filmmaker but hadn’t got a chance yet to properly see any of his films. To make up, I had read up as much as I could find on him — there didn’t seem to be much surprisingly — and prepared a long list of questions. We arrived at the same time.

Pleasantries were exchanged and as the noisy crowd seemed to blur out, the slowly setting sun behind Kaul provided a wonderfully surreal backdrop to the almost rhythmic conversation. For a

500-word interview, the nearly three-hour must have been inordinately long. He spoke about his films; the woman in his debut Uski Roti had been inspired by his “traditional and strong mother”; his father’s influence on him (“a feudal mindset” and a “terribly honest government servant”); the quality of attention in an increasingly fragmented world; marriage as a “useless institution” because it robs people of their individuality; India’s chaos being its biggest strength; art being a function of giving up the self to thousand possibilities; his experiences with teaching in universities abroad; teachers such as Ritwik Ghatak who influenced him...

We finished the conversation with him agreeing to help me ‘read cinema’ further. We kept in touch over email. In my naivete, I had then wondered how certain ‘popular’ figures get lauded while gems like Kaul are forgotten.

Later, he had joined Osian, the arts and cinema archives company as its creative director. We met again in 2009 in Delhi at the film festival and there was a new energy to him.

He had moved to Delhi, Gurgaon to be specific, and said he was completely enjoying what he was doing. We chatted again for a long while, this time with no interview to be bound to.

Occasional phone calls and text messages followed when I promised to look him up now that he was in Delhi. But life caught up with itself and I never did catch up with Kaul again. I had no idea that he was suffering from cancer.

July 6, a Wednesday, began as a strangely gloomy day for me. Shut out from the world for a large part, I only learnt of Mani Kaul’s death in the evening. We keep waiting to do things; for things to happen to us; to make that call; to meet that person, but...