US diplomat Ashley J. Tellis from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is speaking at the Nehru Centre this evening. The Asia Society folks who have organised the event are thrilled to see the turnout. Well, let’s face it. It’s Mumbai, not Delhi. How many people show up for an international relations or security studies conversation? Not too many. Before Tellis makes his introductory remarks about the relationship between the US, India and China, he asks the audience for a show of hands. The question is something to this effect: How many of you think that India and Pakistan can settle their own issues without any intervention from the US? I think almost three-fourths of the audience have their hands up in the air.
A friend who writes for a food website invites me to join him for dinner at Baluchi. It’s one of the restaurants at The Lalit, a glitzy hotel near the Mumbai airport. Thank God for his job, otherwise I’m hardly the sort to spend a fortune on fine dining. The food couldn’t have been tastier but I’m still wondering what was Baloch about it. The dal, naan, chhole and lassi were some of the best I have had. And the live rendition of Ghulam Ali’s ‘Chupke Chupke Raat Din’ by two local musicians certainly added to the charm of the place. But, to be honest, I expected Baloch cuisine to be a tad different from what I recognize as Punjabi. Moral of the story: Eat your food, and shut up. They cook for the foodie, not the anthropologist.
I am invited to judge a writing competition at Umang, one of Mumbai’s premier college festivals, hosted by N M College. The theme this year is ‘Call of the Wild’, aptly depicted using hand-painted posters all over campus. It’s a familiar set-up: participants getting mad about being promised two hours but given only one, organisers tearing their hair apart with every logistical nightmare that shows up unannounced. I am ushered into the room while they are quietly writing, with ripples of anxiety on their faces.
I hope there’s a time when I see a topic like this: A Dalit princess marries a Brahmin prince
A volunteer hands me the list of topics or prompts these participants have had to choose from. Here are some of those:
* The king falls in love with a girl who is destined to marry his son.
* A prince and a princess are in an incestuous relationship.
* A transgender king rules a very orthodox kingdom.
* A queen has a secret extra-marital affair with a troll.
* A prince who is set to marry the prettiest princess admits that he is gay before the wedding.
* A lesbian princess is in love with her best friend.
Hmm. Wild indeed, for a society that censors desire from private and public conversation. Some of the stories threaten to put me to sleep despite the strong coffee. Others get me so hooked that I can barely stop laughing. While the prompts do celebrate what would qualify as sexual transgression in our context, I hope there’s a time when I see a topic like this: A Dalit princess marries a Brahmin prince.
Chintan Girish Modi is a Mumbai-based writer who believes that Indians and Pakistanis can live in peace without killing each other