Thought Box

A Bouquet of Talks

A Bouquet of Talks

by Aparajita Krishna November 14 2020, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 15 mins, 47 secs

This is a bouquet of assorted fragrances, writes Aparajita Krishna

These are narrations that are independent of each other and yet appear to me to be tied with a common thread. They touch upon matters of life, death and the questions therein. It is akin to a bouquet of philosophies.

Amrita Pritam in her Rasidi Ticket talks of a writer’s fate to suffer and then like a Phoenix raise her/his work from the ashes.

Satyadev Dubey talks of matters of life, death and thereafter in a heart-to-heart conversation six months before his temporal exit.

Ranjit Kapoor talks of his Encounter with the man who said to him, ‘You did not know that I had gone mad?’

Rasidi Ticket - Amrita Pritam – Chapter: Kaknoosi Nasl

(An Excerpt in translation from the writer, novelist, poet, essayist’s biography)

It is said that a phoenix is in the shape of an eagle. Its wings are shining, kirmichi and golden in color. There is music in its voice and it is always alone, on its own. It lives to be 500 years at least. Some historians believe it lives up to 1461 years - some even estimate that it lives up to 97200 years. When its period of life approaches its end, it collects the branches of fragrant trees, builds a nest, sits in it and sings. Consequently a fire gets lit and the phoenix along with its nest gets burnt. From the burnt ashes of its dead body a new phoenix rises. It then collects the fragrant ashes, goes to the temple of the Sun and offers the ashes to the Sun.

Some historians describe its death in this way - When the phoenix senses that its end is near, it flies to the Sun temple and sits in the fire that is lit for prayers. When it burns and turns into ashes, a new phoenix rises. 

The home of this bird of ancient Egyptian history is said to be in the direction of the sunrise. Historians thus believe that this bird’s native place of origin is Arabia or Hindustan/India - more so India because the twigs of fragrant trees connect with the land of India.

A poet of Latin has linked the phoenix with the Roman Empire. Some priests have related it to the death of Christ and his resurrection. And some link it to the birth of Christ from the womb of his mother. But I would like to link it, relate it to the existence of every true writer, whichever country he/she may belong to and in whichever century. For it is a writer’s fate to suffer and then like a Phoenix, rise again from the ashes.

A long conversation with Satyadev Dubey

It was on 17th June 2011 at 5.15 pm that I had met Pandit Satyadev Dubey at Prithvi Theatre to formally conduct an interview. Theatre’s maverick philosopher-teacher, the Dronacharya who also embraced the Ekalavyas, film-writer/director, actor, the just feted Padma Bhushan recipient, a fiercely individualistic legend had at the age of 75 looked back to look ahead.

While Dubey is departed, his spirit lives on in his work and in the many people and institutions he nurtured. In this talk also figures out matters of life, conclusions, death, re-birth!

Dubey, how would you define yourself today?

Well it is funny that you ask this question Appy. Day before yesterday I spent a sleepless night trying to sort of see who I am, or talk to myself; and I came to the conclusion that I have done nothing in my life. Everything has happened to me - a series of coincidences including my coming to Bombay.  I left Bilaspur because I didn’t want to be known by my grandfather’s, my father’s, my uncle’s, my brother’s name. So you can say that ultimately I came to Bombay to search for an identity and finally I found it. It will take too much space going into it, but one thing is that I wanted to join St Xavier’s College and I had opted for English literature and Hindi. Surprisingly, the only other person who had this combination of subjects was Vijay Anand. So, obviously I became a chamcha of Vijay Anand (a little hesitant laugh) and he looked after me. So it was fine.

Willy-nilly we were always together. Then of course I came to know Uma Anand, Chetan Anand, Dev Anand and the entire family. And then Vijay Anand became big. He kept on becoming bigger and I realized that without his trying to, my position is becoming a servant. I was looking after the house and the sisters and everything. And one day it struck me ‘What is my destiny?’ I had no complaints against Vijay Anand or the family. But suddenly I realized that I am becoming a servant. I remembered Prem Chand’s story that you get a lot of rights, but you do not realize that the right belongs to somebody else. So, anyway, that is the beginning of my career. And ultimately I was ambitious and in short I kept on trying to find my own identity.

In between I went to Sagar University and took my master’s degree in English. I came back and things started happening to me. Again I would not claim that I did those things. They started happening to me. I joined the Theatre Unit School of Dramatic Arts and met a lot of Gujarati and Marathi friends. The Gujarati group especially helped me a lot, even by challenging me. ‘Tu bau baat karre che - Now do something’, and I took the challenge. I translated a play by Pirandello. That became my first production. Everybody said ‘Oh, but this is better than Prithviraj’. And slowly I shifted towards theatre. This is the starting point. The rest you will find in Shanta Gokhale’s book and in a lot of interviews.

So theatre in a way chose you as much as you chose theatre.

Ya. Exactly! - With the emphasis. Good way of putting it. I am not dissatisfied with the students just as I am not dissatisfied with my teachers - P. D. Shenoy, even Alkazi at the Theatre Unit. And the point is I am not even dissatisfied with the people who worked with me.

If at this point of time you were to summarize your life, how would you? You have played so many roles in life: a maverick, a legend in theatre, playwright, actor, director, film writer, film director - but for me the most enduring image is of Dubey the teacher.


How would you, out of all these roles, summarize your life; in the sense bring it to some kind of a completion.

I would say that somewhere deep down I have always been a teacher and it’s a role, which I continuously play in real life also. Even in my casual conversation I am a teacher. Somehow I am stuck. I must tell you a little incident. Vasant Deo’s father was an astrologer and I asked him to look at my patrika. He looked at it and said ‘Kul ke deepak ho, mangal ooch ka hai and you are very fond of talking. You continue talking. Doosron ko faida hoga and you will get name and fame’.

Khud ko nuksaan hoga aisa nahi?

Aisa nahi. And it so happens that without trying I have changed the lives of a lot of people. It’s only later on they told me that because of me they had changed and things had happened. Therefore I have accepted that as my destiny.

Did your destiny as a teacher satiate you? The whole discipline of teaching! Your role-call of students builds a fine body of work. To name some of them - Amrish Puri, Amol Palekar, Chitra Palekar, Sunila Pradhan, Ratna Pathak, Naseerddin Shah, Sunil Shanbag. My first impression of you and my enduring impression of you is of a teacher who is running after the world to take from him. Have you found a student who has most satisfied you in terms of the hunger for learning; as much as you have the hunger for teaching?

The point is it will become a very, very detailed subject so let us put it in short. People get shocked when I compare teaching to sex. The point is there is nothing to be shocked about. You cannot teach without having a good student. And you cannot learn without a good teacher. My famous quote is always this, ‘the problem with teaching and acting is the same as in sex. People only talk. But it has to be done’. I have been lucky and I am not boasting when I say I have had fantastic teachers and fantastic students who still carry on excellent work. On Amrish Puri of course there has been a book. Ratna has been my favorite actress. Naseer was not my student. He was my actor who has done about 12 productions with me. To mention one name, Sunil Shanbag - I would say that Sunil is the person whose career I am fond of and would like to see his plays. I would like to see him grow. He is a challenge. He is still doing very fine work though I don’t think he has taken anything directly from me. The point is when you are teaching it is like ‘Aerial Seeding’. You seed the entire area and you never know when things will sprout. That is my approach.

So they all have taken from you even if to reject later.

Ya! That is what even Rajneesh used to say. ‘Don’t get carried away with me. You must find your own path’. And a lot of people found their own path and one of them is Mahesh Bhatt - from U G Krishnamurthy. The point is people tend to stick to the teacher. And that is disastrous. Unless you are searching for your own path you will never find anything. Then you will keep on repeating what the teacher has said. And it will lead the future students nowhere and it will lead the current teachers nowhere. Ultimately you have to strike a fresh note.

Now that is always a problem. That is why in my teaching methods I never prepared my lectures because I had so much to tell. I just waited for things to happen. And surprisingly because there was nothing called a syllabus in my teaching people would ask interesting questions. And therefore I found interesting answers. And as a teacher I knew you have to entertain and since I had a lot of experience of theatre I was also a very entertaining teacher. Teaching through entertainment is an art, which you are born with or not born with. And therefore my teaching went across. Whether it is the NSD or Theatre Unit I have been very lucky everywhere. Even with friends - I have entertained friends. I have never consciously taught them. I have entertained friends and got entertained. And this give and take according to me is better than sex. Though people prefer sex but that’s sad.

There is anarchy of a kind in your life. Even in your theatre. But your teaching has been very systematized - usmein anarchy nahi rahi.

And so have my productions. Completeness - a beginning, middle and end to put it very crudely. And now the tragedy will be that my life is ending because I am getting old and yet I still believe in the beginning, middle and end. So beginning ho gaya hai, middle bhi ho raha hai and end bhi aa jayega. And, at the end of which I have made this film called Ram Naam Satya Hai. I think it will make a mark. In my old age I have really started believing in astrology. In my case I do not believe in individual predictions but I see the patterns of my life and therefore even before starting the film I waited. I said my luck is running high so my film will get made. It has got made; just a little bit of it is left. Therefore ‘Ram Naam Satya Hai’ may very well be my Ram Naam Satya Hai - but the point is there is always a desire to make a film. I made short films before this - Aparichay ke Vindhachal (1965), Tongue In Cheek (1968) and Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe (1971).

Talking of your commitment to Maharashtra.

It’s my commitment to Maharashtra.

Somewhere it’s the Marathi people and to some extent the Gujarati people who gave me an identity. My teaching has flowered more amongst Marathi students. Of course the fact is that Marathi women have always been beautiful. It helps if students are attractive and responsive then you don’t have to have sex with them. You can talk. And that talk is the most important thing and you have to be entertaining and somewhere you have to give insights. While giving you don’t know but unknowingly you give insights.

Do you see death as finality? Or in your Hindu belief you think there is an after-life?

I do not believe in after-life and I do feel there is something called rebirth. Willy-nilly one gets stuck with some beliefs and re-birth is something. How it takes place I am not going into the logic of that.

In the realm of imagination, say in your re-birth, would you want to know the Dubey that you were? Would you want to be in ‘parts’ the Dubey you have lived? 

(Emphatically) No, frankly No! I am done and over with. I would like to discover a new Dubey. Like in a new play you discover something new. Otherwise it gets boring na. I can go over my life again and again and again but the sameness is not interesting. Suddenly in retrospect you get insights from the past life also. And you feel ‘Oh my God I did not think of this!’. It can happen. So when an idea strikes you it is like getting a re-birth.

Last night I was reading Shaw. Shaw is my favorite author - every time I re-discover things. Reading Shaw is very exhilarating and exciting even though everything he says I have read before and know. But it is still exciting. So it is like re-living life.

Speak about your book…

Shanta Gokhale has written a book. I have not read it. I would like to.

Is it focused on some aspect or is it a biography?

I don’t really know. I hope to buy the first copy and then know about myself as Shanta knew me. It is coming out in mid-July.

Uska naam bhi nahi pata? You do not even know the title of the book?

Nahi (we laugh)

Satyadev Dubey: A Fifty-year Journey Through Theatre, written by Shanta Gokhale was released in 2011. Dubey made his temporal-exit on 25th December 2011. 

Ranjit Kapoor: An Encounter With ‘You did not know that I had gone mad?’

(An excerpt from my talk conducted on the 18th May 2008 with the celebrated theatre-man, film writer, director Ranjit Kapoor)

There was a time in life when I thought that if I were to pen my biography it would run into volumes. That is because I had spent twenty years in my father’s theatre company - a life of a gypsy, Khanabadosh ki zindagi. Gradually I felt that there isn’t anything of much importance to tell the world. After all, that kind of struggle is in everyone’s life. All that I have read and studied, that too is not my own. It is somebody else. Up till now there is nothing that has transpired in my life that would inspire others.

However, there is a very nice anecdote, which I must share.

There was a gala in Mumbai in which we two friends would live during our struggle days. It was a big godown on the second floor. It had a double door shutter. Two of us had to open it together. It took effort to do so and especially during the monsoons. We could open it only in two to three installments, then go inside and shut it with the same effort.

The godown had lots of stuff kept in there; a lot of kachra. That was our living area. For our meals we would go to Ram Punjab Hotel near Paradise cinema. On the way to the eating joint we would be talking non-stop. We would pick up a beer. This had become a ritual. One day, while we were returning back to our gala my friend remarked, ‘When we are on our way to the hotel we talk and talk. But as we start our return back to the gala and take the turn towards our place, we fall silent.’ I too wondered, ‘Yes, why do we stop talking?’ My friend observed - ‘because we know what is going on in our mind then is the thought of opening the damn shutter? A chore!’ I remarked, ‘You are correct.’

Once in my friend’s absence I had to open the shutter myself. I had to look around for someone to help me. I even deliberated not going out for dinner.

Then, one day during our play rehearsal an actor colleague of ours dropped in. He was Raj Babbar’s batch mate at the NSD (National Scholl of Drama, Delhi). A year senior to me, his height was 6 feet 2 inches. Huge guy. It struck me that I should ask him to stay back. We went out for dinner. Then we returned to our gala. He opened the shutter easily in the first try itself. Inside was dark. Outside it was raining. We got talking. I asked him, ‘Where had you been for the past two years? You just disappeared.’ He replied, ‘You did not know that I had gone mad?’ I instantly exclaimed, ‘What are you saying?’ He informed me, ‘Yes, I was in Agra’s mental asylum for one and a half years.’ I got up and sat straight. He started to tell me his backstory. My heart was palpitating. ‘This man of 6 feet 2 inches turned mad?’ Then followed his narration with full involvement. I half listened to it. My mind was preoccupied with fright. That whole night passed in his narration.  

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