On the margins of a lit fest

At a tony home in a leafy lane on Malabar Hill, the first soiree of the Tata Lit Live unravelled on Wednesday evening.

Because this was at a private residence, and not just any old home but that of a couple preternaturally refined and erudite, the words of TS Eliot rang like a tattoo in our head as we entered the book and art lined home: In the room the women come and go talking of Michelangelo.

Germaine Greer with Gerson Da Cunha. Pic/Malavika Sangghvi
Germaine Greer with Gerson Da Cunha. Pic/Malavika Sangghvi

But of course, it was not just Michelangelo who occupied the conversation that night, but politics, and religion, and food, and love, as authors like Vikram Seth, Germaine Greer and Kiran Nagarkar, and grande dames Sophie Ahmed and Asha Sheth, and poets like Gieve Patel navigated between the bar and the dinner table groaning with the best of Mumbai Parsi cuisine, fish with tartar sauce, beet root salad, and prawn curry Goan style.

We, of course, did nothing, but sit goggle eyed and fascinated by Greer and her ability to hold forth on a range of unconnected subjects such as Shakespeare’s remarkable ability to pass no moral judgment on his characters, Salman Rushdie’s writing to gender politics in current conflicts.

Tall as an oak, with a loud booming voice and a personality to match, we were privy to a mild flirtation between the iconic feminist and Mumbai’s very own thinking woman’s pin up, Gerson Da Cunha. “Germaine has just reminded me that she stayed at my home at Churchgate with me and my wife,” Da Cunha informed.

“Knowing Gerson nothing would surprise us,” we said. “But I moved out after a couple of days,” said Greer, her eyes twinkling mischievously. “Because of his behaviour, no doubt,” we replied, teasing Da Cunha, who, if rumour is to be believed, was the object of attraction of many a besotted female author in his heyday.

“I moved out because there was NO BEHAVIOUR,” boomed Greer right back. The best things that occur at lit fests are always in the margins.

Vivaan turns director
Walking the corridors of the NCPA on the first day of the Tata Lit Live festival, we spotted the young, affable Vivaan Shah, son of thespians Ratna and Naseeruddin Shah, who had made his Bollywood debut in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Saath Khoon Maaf.

Vivaan Shah
Vivaan Shah

And we were not surprised to learn that the method trained actor, had donned a new hat in the form of a director, and was making his debut at the festival in a feature titled Comedy of Horrors. Its a take on hair raising stories by Ambrose Bierce and Edgar Allan Poe. Nice!

Bringing back Modi, Thackeray-style
You want to know what earthy wit and chutzpah is? At a conference organised by a TV channel yesterday at a SoBo five-star, one of the chief guests, MNS’ firebrand leader Raj Thackeray took to the mike, and in classic Bal Thackeray style, proceeded to take the micky off PM Narendra Modi much to the amusement of the audience.

Raj Thackeray, Narendra Modi and Salman Khan. Pic/PTI
Raj Thackeray, Narendra Modi and Salman Khan. Pic/PTI

In chaste Hindi, Thackeray announced tongue firmly in cheek, that Part Two of Bajrangi Bhaijaan had been announced, and that it was going to be about “rescuing Modi from abroad and getting him back to India by hero Salman Khan.” Did the audience roar with hilarity? Are the RSS’ regressive ways objectionable?

No tipping please
Danny Meyer of the Union Square hospitality group, which has opened popular restaurants like The Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Cafe, the Shake Shack chain and The Modern (at the MOMA), has recently taken a bold and much applauded move, to abolish the practice of tipping across his establishments.

Danny Meyer. Pic/AFP and Floyd Cardoz
Danny Meyer. Pic/AFP and Floyd Cardoz

Meyer, in an open letter (uploaded on his website) wrote, “I’m proud to let you know that Union Square hospitality group will eliminate tipping throughout our family of restaurants. The total cost you pay to dine with us won’t differ much. But for our teams, the change will be significant.”

Meyer, who was also the early proponent of banning smoking in restaurants, years before the law was passed, has taken it upon himself, to bridge the gap between kitchen staff and wait staff in a more equitable formula. We wonder if Meyer’s long-term former executive chef Floyd Cardoz (who left the group to open Kamla Mills located Bombay Canteen), will follow suit? Does this mean no more murmurs of bad tippers? Watch this space.

The mystery of the missing family
Oh dear! This popular author of mystery novels who hails from a prominent city business clan, would do well to keep up with his folks once in a while. This columnist was embarrassed to run into his mother and find that the graceful lady had not been informed, or had a clue about his recent public outing at a lit fest.

“I would love to attend,” said the graceful lady yearningly. But when we scoured the audience for her yesterday at an event in SoBo where her son held fort, she was missing! Time to disengage from public image and connect with family, perhaps?

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