Pathfinders is the name of a book on Indian art, literature, music, dance, theatre and cinema brought out by Ace Publication of Mumbai, to which I have made a small contribution, doing some half a dozen profiles of Indian classical musicians. Along with me, S Janaki, Executive Editor of Sruti, the magazine I edit, and Gowri Ramnarayan—who contributed substantially more than I did—were the other two writers from Chennai featured by the book.
The book is really mammoth in size, weighing 5.5 kg as it does, and is a visual treat. It has contributions from some very eminent artists besides critics and experts. It is by and large readable and rich in content. It should be a collector’s item that will make its owners proud, if only they make a suitable stand on which to place it and turn its pages. It was released in Mumbai sometime last year, when I got to browse through it.
Last evening, the publishers collaborated with Taj Coromandel to launch the book in Chennai, amidst some fanfare. The programme started half an hour late, unusual for Chennai book releases, with a jugalbandi concert by Rakesh Chaurasia (flute), Purbayan Chatterjee (sitar) and Satyajit Talwalkar (tabla), a pleasant enough affair appropriate to the occasion.
This is when Shashi Vyas, musician-music critic and son of eminent vocalist Pandit CR Vyas—whose brainchild the book was—took over. Welcoming a number of celebrity guests from the music world seated in the front row, he went on to thank a number of people who had helped bring out the book. He also made frequent references to Vijayabai, who was like a mother to him and who was writing her biography (“She’ll fire me [sic] for revealing this secret”), leaving everyone in the audience who did not know Vijaya Mehta, the theatre personality, guessing Vijayabai’s identity. He also went into raptures about the greatness of Vikkuji, (Vinayakram) and Sriniji (Mandolin Shrinivas), but missed out on Lalgudi GJR Krishnan who sat next to Shrinivas in the audience. Later, he spotted Chitravina Ravikiran in the audience, thanked him for accepting his invitation, and recalled the exciting interactions they had had at the National Centre for Performing Arts, Mumbai. Followed speeches by Ravikiran and Vijaya Mehta, which were well received by the audience.
Now I come to the central part of the evening’s proceedings: the book release.
Vyas had both Vijaya Mehta and Vinayakram release the book, in the presence of all the celebrity guests who were asked to ascend the stage. Shrinivas was very reluctant to do so, but we soon found out he was only drawing attention to the noticeable lack of an invitation from Vyas to GJR Krishnan to join the crowd on the dais. Once this omission was repaired, both Krishnan and Shrinivas joined the star spangled daispora—to coin a word—of the evening.
Now Vyas launched into a fairly comprehensive vote of thanks, in which he expressed his gratitude to a number of actors—from the publishers and Taj Coromandel to the stenographer and the light boys—before condescending to mention the editors and at long last the writers from Chennai. He finally remembered the name of Gowri Ramnarayan and of course “her husband Mr Narayan.” Some of us then loudly reminded him that he had omitted to mention the name of my Sruti colleague and fellow contributor S Janaki.
Obviously horrified to realise what he had done, Vyas then went into overdrive and profusely thanked Janaki and Sruti (we had helped the book with many photographs from our archives). “How can I forget Janakiji and her Sruti Foundation for all their help, blah, blah, which was all very well but for his obvious ignorance of the fact that besides being Mr Narayan, Gowriji’s husband, I happen to be the editor of the magazine which gave him permission to use all those photographs.
As it happens ever so often in life, here was another instance that brought me down heavily from whatever imaginary perch of self-importance I had assigned myself.