THE BIG SE­CRET BE­HIND SH­WETA BACHCHAN’S LIT­TLE NEW NOVEL

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - News - Text by Swa­pan Seth The au­thor is a con­nois­seur of lux­ury and an ad guru. He launched his agency, Equus, and has some of the most pres­ti­gious cor­po­rate hon­chos as his clien­tele

“Youcome­toth­is­place, midlife.Youdon’t knowhowyougot here,but­sud­denly you’restar­ing­fiftyinthe­face. Wheny­outur­nand­look­back­down theyears,youglimpsetheghost­sof oth­er­livesy­oumighthaveled;all hous­esare­haunted.Thewraiths and­phan­tom­screep­un­dery­our car­pet­sand­be­tween­the­warpand weftof fab­ric,they­lurk­in­wardrobe­san­dlieflatun­der­drawer-lin­ers.You­thinkof thechil­drenyou mighthave­had­but­didn’t.When themid­wife­says,‘It’saboy,’where does­the­girlgo?Wheny­ou­think you’repreg­nant,andyou’renot, whathap­pen­stothechildthathas al­ready­formediny­our­mind?You keep­it­file­d­i­nadrawerof your con­scious­ness,likeashort­story that­n­ev­er­workedaftertheopen

in­g­lines.” —Hi­lary Man­tel. I hadn’t com­pleted nar­rat­ing this quote to Sh­weta Bachchan Nanda when she hit the buzzer but­ton.

“I know Hi­lary Man­tel!” she bel­lowed.

Frankly, I would have been dis­ap­pointed if she hadn’t. So what if 95 per cent of the uni­verse doesn’t.

In a town where, largely, who you know tells oth­ers who you are, I must con­fess that I do not know Sh­weta. I have spo­ken to her twice. And met her once.

IN GOOD MEA­SURE

But I fol­low what she writes. And what she writes tells one what she reads. And ba­sis that I had an idea about Sh­weta. She was mea­sured.

Vince Lom­bardi once fa­mously said: “The mea­sure of who we are is what we do with what we have.”

For about 18 years, she was a fan­tas­tic mother. She had her two chil­dren with her.

“I cringe ev­ery time any­one tells me that my equa­tion with my daugh­ter is one of friends. I am al­ways her mother; I have enough friends and so does she. What we are, though, is def­i­nitely a mod­ern re­work­ing of the tra­di­tional moth­er­daugh­ter role.” She once wrote. Fan­tas­tic. Yet firm. And now with an empty nest, she clearly had to be mea­sured with what she had. Her sense of fash­ion has al­ways been on point. And her writ­ing al­ways made a point.

So, I asked her about M&S. I called it MNS. Re­fer­ring to her newly-launched prêt la­bel.

She was quick to cor­rect me. “It’s MXS. MNS is a com­pletely dif­fer­ent or­gan­i­sa­tion in Ma­ha­rash­tra.”

Since I have no idea about fash­ion, I let that snarky bit pass. I deftly moved on to the book. Hus­ton Smith once said: “The faith that I was born into, formed me.”

The Bachchan faith is words. It man­i­fested it­self in the po­etry of her grand­fa­ther. It res­onates in the de­liv­ery of her fa­ther.

Char­ac­ter was her cra­dle. She grew up watch­ing her grand­fa­ther write notes on pa­per that she can still smell and an ink blot­ter that she al­ways wished she could use to blot his let­ters.

Birth­days were po­etry in the Bachchan house­hold. The birth­day child had a be­spoke poem writ­ten by her grand­fa­ther and read out by him. Both her brother and she grew up to the voice of their fa­ther read­ing out po­ems writ­ten by his fa­ther.

BEYOND THE WORDS

How many fam­i­lies have the rich­ness of words as their fam­ily heir­loom?

And then I ac­costed her with an ac­cu­sa­tion. I said, “You are a voyeur.” She agreed. I hate fic­tion. I have a very poor imag­i­na­tion and an ab­so­lute re­pul­sion for the make be­lieve. Which is why, I do not see movies with space­ships or war­riors on horses or ladies with bon­nets.

I don’t get them. It is a char­ac­ter flaw. And no as­per­sion on the finer­ies of fic­tion. The only ex­cep­tion I made was for Tony Par­sons. I could iden­tify with him as a fa­ther. His son was my son. I could em­pathise with the one syl­la­ble an­swers his son gave him. It then ceased to be fic­tion for me. I felt much the same with Para

dise Tow­ers. Mrs Kapoor was me hav­ing my daily con­ver­sa­tion with my mother (who, upon read­ing this, will call me and tell me that I do not call her ev­ery day).

Lata was Sho­bita, our neigh­bour’s maid. Di­nesh was Ravi, our cook who had sev­eral things for Lata. Mrs Mody was the one Parsi spin­ster or widow that ev­ery build­ing had. And Mrs Roy? Why, she is a dop­pel­gänger of our 80-year-old maid, Sand­hya. Com­plete with her “crisp white cot­ton sari, her long hair pat­tern­ing a damp patch on her blouse.” And Mr Roy bought the fish for his home. Much like my fa­ther-in-law does.

All of this begged the ques­tion that Sh­weta’s mother asked her. As did I.

How does she know this when she’s never lived in a gated com­mu­nity leave alone a multi-storeyed build­ing? No one that she pos­si­bly knows lives in a multi-storeyed build­ing so one can also rule out in­sider trad­ing on this trans­ac­tion.

Many years ago, some­one in ad­ver­tis­ing, said that cre­ativ­ity is all about “the abil­ity to ob­serve, ab­sorb and con­nect.”

Steve Jobs also spoke about con­nect­ing the dots.

She said she’d tell sto­ries to her­self when she was a child. That was the cur­rency of her house­hold. She would look at things while be­ing driven in a car to school. That’s how she con­cocted the fallen S of Par­adise Tow­ers in the build­ing sig­nage.

But who did she ob­serve? May be a friend’s mother-in-law? May be her grand­fa­ther?

Clearly Sh­weta is a very fine sculp­tor of char­ac­ter. Ever curve in her char­ac­ters is chis­elled with minute de­tail and grave thought. And this is where Par­adise

Tow­ers breaks away from Sh­weta Bachchan Nanda. It be­comes ev­ery­one’s book. It be­comes ev­ery­one’s al­bum. It has an en­gag­ing and en­dear­ing egalatar­i­an­ism to it.

In Anand (1971), Ra­jesh Khanna tells Amitabh Bachchan, “Zindag­ibadi­honichahiye. Lam­bi­nahin.” I think that is the real story of Sh­weta Bachchan Nanda as well. And it is to be con­tin­ued. I am told. By her. Model and jour­nal­ist turned en­tre­pre­neur, Sh wet a Bach chan Nan dais mak­ing her de­but as a fic­tion writer with Par­adise Tow­ers. Pub­lished by Harper Collins, the book is due to re­leaseonOc­to­ber10 brunch let­ters hindu stan times. com Fol­low @HTBrunch on Twit­ter

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