On the weekend, I got to be in the same spotlight as Tom Alter. Except, of course, that there was no spotlight, it wasn't a stage, and the audience was around 40 people. Anyway. Hadn't crossed paths with him for quite a few years. The last time was in a recording studio where he was doing American accents (while I was attempting the Brit) for some docu or the other. Before that, we played in the same basketball tournament quite often, the Javed Khan season opener at St Xavier's College, me for a team that always lost in the first round, TA for Nagpada YMCA. (Or was it Central YMCA? Never mind. The lads of the team he played with (and indeed the entire Bombay Central area) were famous, aside from their truly sublime court skills, for their fluent cursing. Many of the lads from Nagpada went on to play for the top two sides in the city at that time, the Central and Western Railway teams, for the State and for India. Man, that was one long parenthetic ramble.) And before that, of course, we had seen him in many a movie and on stage, and had developed huge admiration for the man.
So, as I started out saying, there I was, having to gulp down nervousness about my first public reading, worsened by a fupped duck commute in to town (wouldja believe, three separate taxi breakdowns?), complicated by an aching butt due to a disagreement with some stairs earlier in the week (which, added to persisting discomfort from an earlier injury, means one is, at this point, unable to turn the other cheek), trying desperately not to look like the complete pretentious idiot, and one of the the other contenders for attention was The Alter. Doomed from the get-go, I tell you.
Ah Tom. The man is greying, there are a few wrinkles, but the voice is still amazing, and he exhudes charisma. His rendition of Sudip Sen's Rain turned something I thought was more gimmick than poem into pure magic. He also recited a few Urdu shers from memory, plus a poem he wrote as a young man. Awesome.
Oh yes. As if having Tom around wasn't bad enough, also in the overstuffed armchairs were Ranjit Hoskote, Sampurna Chattarji, Jane Bhandari and Menka Shivdasani, accomplished and published poets all, and Caferati buddies Manisha Lakhe and Rohinton Daruwala. The last two, and Jane and Menka being warm, encouraging friends helped only a little. They're all so frigging talented. And from all the pals I carpet-bombed with the event info, who should turn up but Sonia, with Ulrik, and Joan, one with a successful book out, the other a finalist in the Oxford e-Author short fiction contest. One is doomed to be surrounded by people vastly more talented than oneself.
As I said, my first time reading outside the safe environs of Caferati (I'm not counting Kala Ghoda because there I was in emcee mode, which I'm used to; couldn't see the audience, which always helps; and besides, there was a large and supportive Caferati turnout), so I'm afraid the evening went by in too much of a blur for me to be able to add much more than this. And I swear I didn't touch the wine until after the reading, and as a consequence, got one glass of luke-warm white. Damn. Anyway, one awaits verdicts from Joan and Sonia (who had taken a strategic position near the door and wasn't there at the end, so one doesn't know whether she actually stayed past the opening address) and Caferati cheerleaders, Jugal and Suniti.