'Yes Kangana was always meant to be on it. She was really looking forward to it too but she's shooting in Delhi until the end of January and wasn't able to get even half a day off to come to Mumbai.' It was our friend and former colleague Rajiv Masand, one of India's best regarded TV film critics, whose opposable thumbs are rumored to be as closely watched in Bollywood circles as the Khan Ab-count or Katrina's Kaif's ring finger.

We had texted him to say that we'd been delighted to see an excerpt of his Bollywood Roundtable Series featuring the year's top actresses Tabu, Priyanka Chopra, Alia Bhatt and Parineeti Chopra but that Kangana (Queen) Ranaut's absence was unfortunate.

Rajiv Masand with Parineeti Chopra, Tabu, Priyanka Chopra and Alia Bhatt
Rajiv Masand with Parineeti Chopra, Tabu, Priyanka Chopra and Alia Bhatt

“We were happy to fly her in and out just for an afternoon, but her producer said he couldn't spare her for even half a day. It was our loss entirely, but eventually I think the show still works,” said Rajeev of the show that was perhaps more revealing than any one had intended.

Because, on watching it on Saturday night, we'd been struck by how very much Peecee's arch remarks, her dry quips delivered with narrow-eyed Hollywood siren insouciance heralded the beginning of a whole new avatar for the ambitious actress. One that channeled Rekha (all those clanging hints at being in a secret relationship) and SRK (the new found verbosity and psychobabble)

Unfortunately set off against Alia Bhatt's fresh-faced Annie Hall endearing goofiness, it evoked nothing so much as Kaa on the branch with young Mowgli! How telling it is when mega stars, each a diva and goddess in her own universe, have to engage with each other unrehearsed in front a watchful, hyper aware public.

“Next week we've got the male actors!” said Masand.

Oh boy!

The politician and tortoise
“We just found a beautiful letter my dad wrote in 1976 to someone who lost Archie, his or her pet tortoise,” said Mukul Deora about an exquisitely worded missive penned by his recently departed father, the late Congress leader Murli Deora, while he had been Leader of the Congress in the Greater Bombay Municipal Corporation.

A picture of Murli Deora with son Mukul from the family album Mukul Deora
A picture of Murli Deora with son Mukul from the family album and Mukul Deora

The letter was characteristic of Deora's gentle humor and impish charm. He had penned it to Neela D'Souza, the wife of the then Municipal Commissioner, whose pet tortoise Archie had been missing, a situation that had prompted her to write a column in a newspaper.

The letter addressed to Neela D’Souza
The letter addressed to Neela D'Souza

'My dear Neela,' wrote the young politician, 'This morning as I was being driven to office, I saw a cluster of people on the sea-shore and wondered for a moment if all of them had gathered there after reading your heart-rending Call for Archie.'

'Perhaps the air in Bombay was too stifling after the salubrity in Delhi and he decided to give himself a brief holiday,' wrote Deora, ending with a cheery: 'he couldn't drown. An Archimedes can never!'

“No one alive can truly comprehend the concept of non-existence. It's just not possible. Even when we have disposed of the worldly remains of a loved one, and intellectually 'know' he or she is dead and gone, it is only by the continuous action of missing that person (when we) begin to realise that we will never hear their voice when we pick up that ringing phone, never catch them taking a quick nap before a bridge game, never bump into them stomping around in their bathrobe and slippers, with their skinny Indian legs that you have inherited.

“For when they are gone, you will notice how the hair on your toes, the shape of your knock-knees, the way your eyes react to the blinding morning sun, every little strange and insignificant idiosyncrasy that defines you, is actually theirs.

And as you stare at old photos of them, you slowly realise that they never really go, but will always be a part of you,” said musician and putative film producer Mukul Deora about his recently departed dad. And then he attached this photograph.

Good Ol' Boys and Girls
It was a swathe of some of the cities best and brightest who'd gathered as alumni of that bastion of SoBo establishment, the Cathedral School Class over the weekend at the Palladium.

Aditya Garware, Atul Ruia, Mayank Tejura, Chait Sinh amongst others
Aditya Garware, Atul Ruia, Mayank Tejura, Chait Sinh amongst others

And to prove that even pillars of society let their hair down at class reunions were the likes of former Captain of the national Rugby team Chait Sinha, media maven and philanthropist Maleeka Lala, real estate tycoon Atul Ruia, industrialist Aditya Garware, philanthropist, music impressario Tina Kapur, and Ambani-in-law Elina Meswani. Nice!

Beyond Mangoes and Tongas
“It is the culmination of 40 years of immersion in Indian literature, first as a reader then as a reviewer and later on as an editor, publisher and novelist,” said David Davidar, publisher extraordinaire and the man who with the deft of his strong (tennis playing) forehand had set the Indian publishing industry in to motion way about his latest book 'A Clutch of Indian Masterpieces: Extraordinary Short Stories from the 19th Century to the Present.' (Aleph)

David Davidar
David Davidar

For a man who'd spent a lifetime collecting words, Davidar had used his well. The handsome, inky blue tome is indeed an extraordinary collection of masterpieces, hewn from that of stories that make up the great Ganga of Indian writing.

What's best about this anthology is that though it salutes the hoary old masters of the Indian canon of Manto and Tagore (with their familiar and exquisite stories of mangoes and tongas), the book also carries the stories of many subsequent and outstanding writers. We found Nisha Da Cunha's 'Old Cypress', Kanishk Tharoor's 'Elephant At Sea', and Amrita Narayan's 'Stolen' particularly riveting.

At Rs 795, and with an excellent foreword by Davidar, this is a treasure. 'Nuff said. Book your copy now!