Story, story nights

Updated on Oct 01, 2007 03:29 PM IST

First-time author Namita Devidayal talks to Ashok Rai about her new book The Music Room, family and journalism.

HT Image
HT Image
Hindustan Times | ByAshok Rai, Mumbai

Every journalist worth his or her salt hopes to go way beyond the 300 to 500 worder print cage. How about narrating a story with more substance, comment and maybe, even personal self-therapy?

Some realise the ambition, some get swept away in the curfew of deadlines, some just don't want to share something that's private..or don't know how to.

Namita Devidayal's The Music Room, a torn-from-the-heart homage to her classical sangeet guru, Dhondutai Kulkarni, is several things.

A story of a grand old diva, a story of a townie girl coming to terms with herself and a rarefied environment, cut away from the pretty pinks bows and ribbons associated with childhood.

Because Dhondutai inhabited the rouge-lit district of Congress House aka Kennedy Bridge. She has shifted since to Borivli. It's at the Kennedy Bridge stretch where the classical jostles with the squalid, and where life is just no dabba of cherries. So, here's asking:

Why The Music Room? Did you think of any other story you could have narrated.. or is this the prime one in your life?
This story just flowed. When I first started it, I was dying of boredom in suburban America, stuck at home with my one-year-old son Chaitanya and scary Republican neighbours.

I needed a creative outlet. So when my son was in playschool for two hours every morning, I would write.

Ever flirted with the idea of chick lit?
Oh yes! I would really like to write an intelligent, funny chick lit novel. My friend Aparna and I have discussed the plot endlessly - it's about two south Mumbai girls who marry two north Mumbai boys, how their worlds collide, and finally well, I'm not going to tell you what happens.

Is the title of the novel in any way an allusion to Satyajit Ray's The Music Room (Jalsaghar)?
No, though there are lovely resonances. The music room is the space where I first started learning with Dhondutai, a space completely different from the one I otherwise inhabit.

Gradually, the physical space became a mental, meditative space, one which I would enter when I wanted the cacophony of my worldly life to dissolve around me.

Are there any facets of Dhondutai's life and art that you couldn't reveal in the book?
Yes, definitely. That is one of the dilemmas of writing a biography - especially when the character is still alive. But I subtly got certain ideas across, without being crass or hurtful.

Habituated to journalese, how difficult or easy is it to sustain a larger work?
Writing a book is more gratifying. In journalism, today's story becomes tomorrow's raddi. It is easy to sustain a larger work, as long as you have a story to tell and are very disciplined.

My advice to aspiring writers - 500 words a day and there's no , such thing as a writer's block.

There seems to be a story in the lives of your parents - painter Meera Devidayal and your father, a pukka businessman. Could you ever tell it?
No, because it would be filled with too many mean sides and I may subconsciously take my revenge on them.

But I think there are stories to be told about business families. I have actually started working on a novel in which the subtext is not music, but money .

Tell me about Congress House. Was there any mujra girl or a face you saw in the windows that disturbed you?
I would hear the ghungroo bells all the time because we were surrounded by the ‘nautch' parlours. My young teenaged imagi nation would make up all kinds of stories filled with sex and intrigue.

That was more fun than the real thing. The area was very dodgy, very different from my sheltered world of an Altamount road house and Cathedral school.

I clearly remember, I must have been 12 or 13, and was nudged on the breast by some creepy man under the bridge.

Have you seen the equivalent of the Congress House neighbourhood in any part of the world? Or nearabouts, let's say Soho in New York..or..?
Nothing comparable. But, because my husband Pratish Motwane is a blues musician, I have heard and read, amazing stories about similar whore-houses in Louisiana and Tennessee.

They bred some of the greatest jazz and blues singers - just as our kothas spawned some of the most riveting thumri singers we have heard.. and perhaps not heard.

Okay, so how's your temperature right now?
Unreal. Like I just gave birth!

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