Sai Paranjpye: Memories

While opportunistic politicians were using a Pakistani actor to undermine the three pillars on which our society rests, namely the rights granted to Indian citizens by the Constitution, democratic principles and the laws of the land made expressly to protect us from street judgements and penalties, I was, most fortunately, reading Sai Paranjpye’s refreshingly honest and unputdownable memoir of her multi-faceted creative journey. No transliteration of the book’s title can represent its pronunciation correctly. Say begins like Sai, but the last letter is pronounced like the ‘y’ in yellow. The word means memory.

A story some way into the book struck me as one that should be read aloud to all aggressively-inclined politicians whose claims to patriotism are not so much about concern for the country’s welfare as for their own tottering political futures. Sai’s mother Shakuntala Paranjpye, then member of the Rajya Sabha, was once at the Delhi airport with Sai’s daughter Winnie.

“ ‘I want a ticket for the child,’ she said. The counter assistant said, ‘No need. We don’t charge children under two.” Mother said with great pride, ‘She turned two on Monday. That’s five days ago.’ The man must have pitied her naïvete. With an expansive show of generosity he said, ‘What is five days? Don’t worry, go. You don’t need a ticket.’ Mother was indignant. “What? I am a Member of Parliament and you hold a government job. Should we cheat and betray the country? Give me your name. I’m going to complain about you. It’s because of dishonest people like you that the country is suffering.’ The man pleaded for mercy, gave her a ticket for Winnie and saw her stride away in triumph.”

If Sai’s life has never lacked event, it is because she has found excitement in every challenge that has come her way, including writing a song overnight for her telefilm Saaj when Javed Akhtar failed to deliver the promised one on time. There isn’t a single audio-visual medium she hasn’t explored, from children’s theatre to radio to television to cinema, and back to theatre which has remained a lifelong passion. The chatty style in which she recounts the events of this kaleidoscopic life, make them so vividly real that the reader is pulled right in, seeing the sights she saw, hearing the people she worked with and laughing heartily at situations she found comical, of which there were many. For example, when she went to Paris on a scholarship, she met her Russian émigré father Youra Sleptzoff for the first time. Her mother, who’d met and married him in Geneva, had divorced him when Sai was still a babe-in-arms. In France he took her to meet a friend of his, an Indophile Count, who was keen to have her read the inscription at the bottom of a framed Ganesha he owned. He was certain it was something profoundly mystical from the Vedas. Sai peered at the inscription. It said “Bhuskute Brothers. Triveni Bazaar, Kalbadevi.”

“I swallowed. The Count and Papa were watching me with anticipation concentrated in their eyes. I made up my mind. I took a deep breath and recited the first line of the Ganapati stotra: ‘Pranamya shirsa devam gauri putram Vinayakam / Bhaktavasam smarenityam ayuh kamartha siddhaye.’ Perhaps I overacted in my enthusiasm. The count’s eyes grew moist; but Papa looked at me suspiciously. ‘All of that in this little space?’ Ah well! There it is. But mentally I sent up a prayer to Ganapati. ‘Bappa, forgive me. I’ve betrayed my upbringing. I’ve told a lie. But how could I have thrown cold water on that poor man’s happiness?’ ”     

Sai also tells a lovely anecdote about the great sound recordist Mangesh Desai that would make those who’ve worked with him nostalgic. He did the sound for Chashme Buddoor. At the end of five days of re-recording, he said, “Thank god that’s over!” Sai was hurt. So he explained, “Saibai. I have a foul tongue. How could I speak as I normally do with a woman sitting next to me? Biting back ‘b’ and ‘c’ words for five days was tough, I can tell you!”

Speaking of language, Sai’s prose style is like herself, direct, crisp and shorn of all pretention. Say’s sparkling, chaste, unsanskritised Marathi, replete with a rich vocabulary, supple phrasing, coined words and grandmother’s sayings, would make it an ideal prescribed text for non-Marathis who wish to learn the language. That’s not all. While learning it, they might even fall in love with it.

Published On : 26-10-2016