Tapping Into Lesser Known Zeal

By Oindrila Mukherjee

People Who Meet People
By Swapan K Banerjee
Rs. 699

With every person, Banerjee’s technique of approach and confrontation alters, drawing out what appear as self-confessed revelations. A review by Oindrila Mukherjee.

FROM Khushwant Singh to Taslima Nasreen, from subjects like literature to dance, cinema and music, Swapan K Banerjee’s compilation of interviews encompasses personalities from varied spheres of life. With every person, his technique of approach and confrontation alters, by virtue of which the monotonous process of questioning and answering appears like a self-confessed revelation. He broaches controversial topics with ease and manages to draw out candid replies from his subjects.

Khushwant Singh confesses that his sense of secularism stems from a disgust for religious fundamentalism and a fear that such obsession with religion may lead to the “end of India”. A state of mind that is as much relevant today as there is no denying that we continue to debate on the extent of religious fanatism that clogs our freedom. When asked his opinion about the later generations of Indian writers, English and regional, Mulk Raj Anand refrains from diluting his disappointment over the works of Arundhati Roy and VS Naipul, though he finds Salman Rushdie “brilliant” and says Taslima Nasreen’s ideas are “important”.

What sets this book apart from other such non-fiction involving recorded interviews is the introductory prelude to each piece that takes one right into the world of his subjects. Banerjee gives us a brief account of the background and follows this up with the exact moment he interviewed them. Descriptions of the scenic beauty of the places where he meets some of his subjects are bound to arouse interest.

He interacts with Ruskin Bond at Ivy Cottage, amidst the picturesque valley of Mussoorie. The reader, therefore, can literally feel the angst when Bond expresses his concern over the loss of greenery and nature in Mussoorie and Dehra that had inspired him to create evocative backgrounds for his stories.

Banerjee draws out the persons behind the persona, quite successfully tapping into the lesser known literary zeal that Victor Banerjee, the actor, possesses and so focuses less on films and more on his famous recitations at the Poets’ Meet at Woodstock. Allan Sealy, on the other hand, comes across as most down to earth, in sync with his writings. Most ostensible is Nasreen’s acute sense of isolation, her earnest desire to “go back” bound to affect readers and make them see her struggle to live for her ideology

The book highlights a dimension of cultural transmutation that art, especially music, offers. He has Kala Ramnath, one of India’s finest violinist, talking about difficulty she had to face in adopting to an instrument essentially associated with Western classical music. In contrast, he records the inspiration that Eastern classical music instilled in Ken Zuckerman, a Jewish- American. Zuckerman, incidentally, had been a guitarist but Ustad Ali Akbar Khan’s performance at San Francisco Bay had him falling in love with the sarod. “This is what I’m going to be,” was his cathartic response. These impromptu anecdotes about such personalities tell a compelling story.

However, without trying to undermine the tremendous effort put in to compiling such rare interviews, there is the impression that this book concentrates more on writers and people associated with literature in some form or the other. Moreover in Banerjee’s conversations, the name of Mahasweta Devi comes up quite a few times but her non-inclusion comes across as a disappointment. Also, given the genre of musicians that feature, it might have been interesting to have included conversations with a drummer or those involved with unconventional music such as pop and rap.

The reviewer is a student of the Statesman Print Journalism School.

First published in The Statesman

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