In conversation with Dayanita Singh

>> “The idea for the salons came about thanks to Isheta Salgaonkar, with whom I once plotted the idea of putting conversation at the centre of our lives. She mentioned this to her parents, Raj and Dipti, who delighted in the idea and realised the same,” said author and cultural impresario Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi, whose salon at Goa’s Sunaparanta, we attended over the weekend.

Raj Salgaonkar, Dayanita Singh and Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi 

Shangvi was in conversation with the luminous photographer, bookmaker and savant Dayanita Singh, fresh from her triumphant solo show at London’s Hayward Gallery.

The theme of the evening was ‘The muse and I. How the people we love influence the work we make’ and as the two held the audience spellbound in an exquisite jugalbandi of words, we warmed ourselves at the bonfire of their conversation.

Singh recounted inspiring moments with Zakir Hussain, Anish Kapoor, Vikram Seth and Sunil Khilnani, thinkers, artists, poets and above all, men of ideas and insight. “I invited Dayanita because she is, like me, a ‘converasexual’: someone who gets off on the idea of conversation. She is also our foremost artist for how she thinks about her work, transcending limiting notions like photographer or woman artist,” said Shangvi, adding, “The salons are in their second year now, with guests as varied as Booker Prize winner Anne Enright, actor Jaya Bachchan, and historian William Dalrymple.”

Hmm... we like the word ‘converasexual’ . Though we’d prefer to shorten it to ‘conversexual’.

But the word of the evening? Dayanita’s description of herself as a ‘soloist.’ Now that’s an idea worth sharing…

The prodigal son
>> So, Sidhartha Mallya is back in town, on a Christmas break from LA and Hollywood, where we are informed he is trying to break into the movie business.
Spotted at a newly launched midtown club, which appears to be the hottest spot in town, the IPL team owner and host of the Kingfisher Calendar show, is said to have attracted a fair share of attention. “There were other Bollywood stars present,” says a source. “But it was Mallya who got the most requests for pictures,” said a fellow guest, adding , “And what’s more, he was polite and gracious and obliged everyone.”

And who was his date? we enquired. “No one in particular. Looks like he came with a big bunch of his guy friends,” says our source.

Everyone can breathe out
>> “Queenie Singh didn’t want to have a big party as her son is taking his Std X exams today, so we decided to surprise her on the eve of her birthday by calling around 80 of her close friends,” said Sharmilla Khanna, who along with Rhea Pillai, Madhoo Shah and Rukshana Eisa hosted a surprise party last night for their friend, the high-profile society diva and jewellery designer. “We’ve done up Bandra’s Nido’s beautifully with candles and flowers and called 70 to 80 friends,” said Khanna. “Especially lots of her model friends from the good old days like Hemant Trivedi and Suzanne Sablok, and from the current lot like Carol, Dipti and Netra, along with her friends from Bollywood like Lara Dutta, Malaika Khan amongst others,” said the excited Khanna.

Queenie Singh

“Her sister will be flying in from New York too. But the biggest surprise is that her daughter is flying in for the evening from Singapore.”

Gosh, that’s a perfect birthday party, we said, but why so much fuss?

“Queenie’s birthday is very important to her... It wasn’t so important for me to celebrate mine but Queenie, as a friend, made my birthday very special,” said Khanna. “She surprised me in Dubai this year, where I’d gone to celebrate it. At 5 pm, I open my door to find her standing there with a cake and a lit candle. I was shockeddddddd!!!” said Khanna. Ah so, we said, that is a thoughtful gesture…

Rukhshana Eisa, Rhea Pillai, Sharmilla Khanna and Madhoo Shah

“So we have the Moet flowing and a great menu by Chef Vicky, like his signature lobster and smoked salmon.”

And what was the toughest part of organising the evening, we asked the irrepressible event organiser.

“The toughest part,” said Khanna, “Was keeping the surprise a secret in a city like Mumbai. Madhoo, Rhea, me and Rukshi have been soo stressed!”
Happy birthday Queenie. Though we couldn’t be there, we hope the evening went off wonderfully and you were surrounded by your loved ones.
As for Sharmilla, Madhoo, Rhea and Rukshana … it’s the morning after… exhale…

Magnificent Mary
This Sunday, I had the singular pleasure of interviewing pugilist, five-time World Champion and winner of the Olympic bronze medal in 2012, Mangte Chungneijang, also known as Mary Kom or Magnificent Mary. It was on stage at the Mehboob studios for the Times of India Literary Carnival and to prepare, I had stayed up the previous night to read her soon-to-be-released autobiography aptly titled Unbreakable (Harper Collins).
I have no words to describe how moved I had been on reading about her life.

Born into poverty and hardship so grinding that it is almost hard to imagine, this slight young woman had conquered insurmountable odds to become a world champion and a national treasure.

The standing-room-only audience in the packed hall had broken into frequent and spontaneous applause throughout our conversation.
And yet, when she had arrived in the Author’s Lounge, with her mother, six-month-old son and her beloved husband Onler, she’d done so with no fuss or flurry.

And while walking towards the hall, when we’d been asked to step aside to make way for a big Bollywood presence and his entourage, I’d noticed she’d done so politely and with grace.

Greatness is also what you do outside the ring.  

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