Transcript: Nayantara Sahgal | Mar 07, 1989

In animation, a marble entrance with two columns floating on misty mountains opens up to reveal a small bookshelf. Book covers from the collection flash by, including Cat’s eye by Margaret Atwood and The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie.
The title of the show appears as a book cover with a picture of the marble entrance: “Authors at Harbourfront.”

The Narrator says THE FESTIVAL OF AUTHORS AT
TORONTO'S HARBOURFRONT IS ONE
OF THE WORLD'S FOREMOST
LITERARY EVENTS.
NOW ENTERING ITS TENTH YEAR,
THE FESTIVAL ANNUALLY ATTRACTS
50 OF THE WORLD'S BEST AUTHORS
TO THE STAGE, TO READ FROM
THEIR WORKS AND PARTICIPATE
IN INTERVIEWS AND DISCUSSIONS
WITH THEIR PEERS.

The screen turns as if it were a book page and a male narrator speaks as clips of different authors speaking at Harbourfront flash by.

The Narrator continues NAYANTARA SAHGAL, FROM INDIA
IS BOTH AUTHOR AND POLITICAL
JOURNALIST.
HER NOVEL:
WON THE 1987 COMMONWEALTH
WRITERS' PRIZE FOR EURASIAN.
IN THIS PROGRAM, SHE READS
FROM HER LATEST NOVEL,
“MISTAKEN IDENTITY.”

The author’s book appears next a caption that reads “Nayantara Sahgal. India.” On the top right corner of the screen, a paused clip featuring Nayantara zooms out.

Nayantara Sahgal sits on a chair. She’s in her forties with wavy short black hair. She’s wearing a light orange patterned blouse and a salmon silk scarf.

Nayantara says THAT ONE CAN SPEAK FOR THOSE
HAVE NO VOICE, YOU KNOW?
WHO ARE NOT EITHER ABLE TO, OR
ORGANIZED ENOUGH TO BE ABLE
TO PROJECT THEIR OWN
DIFFICULTIES AND PROBLEMS.

(classical music plays)

Standing on the stage, Nayantara says THIS IS AN EXTRACT FROM MY
NEW BOOK,
MISTAKEN IDENTITY,
WHICH I'M VERY SORRY TO LEARN
IS NOT UPSTAIRS, BUT I HOPE
IT WILL BE IN TORONTO SOON.
THE YEAR IS 1929, THE PLACE IS
NORTH INDIA, AND THE NARRATOR
IS IN JAIL, BY MISTAKE,
WITH FOUR COMMUNIST TRADE
UNIONISTS AND FOUR OTHER
POLITICAL PRISONERS.
HE'S THE SON OF A WEALTHY
LANDOWNER, AND HE'S A
CURIOSITY TO HIS FELLOW
PRISONERS BECAUSE THEY ARE
ENGAGED IN ORGANIZING THE
MASSES AGAINST THE BRITISH,
WHILST THE BIG LANDLORDS
ARE ALLIES OF THE BRITISH,
IN RETURN FOR RANKS AND
PRIVILEGES, AND IF THEY ARE
LOYAL ENOUGH, FOR
THE TITLE OF RAJA.
SO TO PASS THE TIME IN JAIL,
THE COMMUNISTS ASK HIM TO TELL
THEM ABOUT HIS UPBRINGING.
AND THE EXTRACT I'M READING
WILL BE ABOUT HIS CHILDHOOD IN
THE ZENANA, WHICH IS THE WOMEN'S
SECTION OF THE FAMILY MANSION.
LIKE THE DELIGHTFUL OLD
CUSTOM OF WIDOW BURNING,
THE ZENANA WAS DESIGNED TO
KEEP WOMEN GOOD AND PURE
AND, OF COURSE, SAFE.

(music plays)

Back in the interview, Nayantara says IN A COUNTRY LIKE INDIA, OR I
SHOULD THINK IN ANY ANCIENT
CULTURE, THE WHOLE OF
TIME IS ALWAYS WITH YOU.
IN A PLACE LIKE INDIA, THE
PAST IS AROUND EVERY CORNER.
AND, YOU KNOW, ANY SITUATION
THAT CROPS UP WHICH MAY SEEM
TO YOU TO BE HAPPENING
TODAY, COULD JUST AS EASILY,
PERHAPS, HAVE HAPPENED 500
OR A THOUSAND YEARS AGO.
AND ITS MODERNITY WHICH
SITS SORT OF EERILY
ON THE LANDSCAPE.
IT'S THE MODERN HAPPENING THAT
ONE SOMEHOW CAN'T BLEND IN
VERY EASILY TO MOST OF THE
INDIAN LANDSCAPE, AND THAT'S
WHY I FIND A MODERN INDIAN
CHARACTER VERY HARD TO CREATE.
BECAUSE THERE IS
REALLY NO SUCH THING.
THE MODERN INDIAN IS SO MADE
UP OF A VERY OLD PAST THAT...
WELL, WHAT HE OR SHE
PRESENTS ON THE SURFACE IS
REALLY VERY SURFACE.
YOU SCRATCH A LITTLE BIT, AND
THEN THERE'S A WHOLE COMPLEX
CHARACTER THERE, ARISING OUT OF
THE A VERY ANCIENT TRADITION.
SO THAT TIME IS A KIND
OF EVENT, AS YOU SAID,
WHICH GOES ROUND AND ROUND.
AND, YOU KNOW, YOU CAN SEE BITS
OF IT AT ANY TIME YOU WANT.

On the stage, Nayantara reads I'VE BEGUN AT THE BEGINNING
AS COMRADE AYER ASKED ME TO,
REMARKING THAT IT TOOK ME NINE
YEARS, INSTEAD OF MONTHS, TO
BE BORN, IF ONE COUNTED THE
TIME MY PARENTS SPENT BRIBING
AND BARGAINING WITH EVERY
MAJOR DEITY IN THE PANTHEON
FOR A SON.
BEFORE I LEARNED BETTER, I WAS
CONVINCED I HAD SPENT NINE
YEARS IN MOTHER'S WOMB.
MY PARENTS SPENT A YEAR
TRAVELLING ON PILGRIMAGE TO
THE SOUTHERN SHRINES WITH
400 OF THEIR TENANTS.
AND THE FOLLOWING YEAR, THEY
TOURED THE NORTHERN SHRINES
WITH 200.
THERE WASN'T A SACRED INCH
THEY HADN'T COVERED BEFORE
MOTHER CONCEIVED, SUDDEN
AND MIRACULOUS THOUGH
THEY CALLED IT.
I HAD HEARD IT TOLD AND RETOLD
SO OFTEN THAT I FELT I HAD
ACTUALLY SEEN MOTHER PROSTRATE
HERSELF INTO A STATE OF
NERVOUS EXHAUSTION
ACROSS THE SUBCONTINENT.
UPRIGHTING HERSELF AFTER ONE
SHRINE, ONLY TO LAY HERSELF
FLAT IN FRONT OF ANOTHER.
[laughter]
BUT NOT, MIND YOU, LIKE A
HUMBLE SUPPLIENT FOR DIVINE
OR HUMAN FAVOUR.
SHE WAS MORE LIKE A WARRIOR
QUEEN FALLING ON HER SWORD IN
DEFIANCE OF DEFEAT
AND DISGRACE.
IT WOULDN'T HAVE SURPRISED ME
IF BETWEEN HER TWO OFFICIAL
PILGRIMAGES WITH FATHER, SHE
HAD RUN OFF TO JOIN A CARAVAN
OF MULETEERS OR TREKKED ON FOOT
WITH NOMADS OVER CLIFF-SHADOWED
MOUNTAIN TRACKS TO PERSIA, TO
HANG AN AMULET ON THE TOMB OF
CYRUS THE GREAT, CALLED THE
MOSQUE OF SOLOMON'S MOTHER,
BY WOMEN PRAYING
FOR FERTILITY.
FATHER HAD BEEN HEAD OF THE
TWO EXPEDITIONS, BUT I DON'T
RECALL HIM FIGURING MUCH IN
ACCOUNTS OF ACTUAL EXERTION.
THE TOIL HAD BEEN MOTHER'S
SINGLE HANDED TRIUMPH,
MAYBE BECAUSE FATHER WAS
SHORT-WINDED, AND INCLINED TO
BE PODGY, AND DIDN'T HAVE HER
LIGHT-FOOTED AGILITY, OR HER
RUBBERY SPINE.
AS A CHILD, I IMAGINED
HER JOURNEY MORE OR LESS
HORIZONTAL, ACROSS LIMITLESS
LEGENDARY EXPANSES, GARLANDING
EVERY DEITY, ANOINTING
EVERY SACRED ROCK WITH
VERMILION, FROM THE SNOW
LINE DOWN TO TROPICAL JUNGLE,
FROM SEA TO SEA.
IT WAS THE FIRST EVIDENCE I
HAD OF A COUNTRY OUTSIDE
OF VIJAYGARH.
NOT THAT THIS SORT OF
EVIDENCE CARRIED MUCH WEIGHT.
MY PARENTS' COUNTRY
WAS VIJAYGARH,
AN ANCIENT CORNER OF THE
LEVEL OBLONG CLOSE TO AYODHYA,
BIRTHPLACE OF VISHNU'S
DIVINE INCARNATIONS,
RAMA AND KRISHNA.
NO ORDINARY TRACT THIS, MADE
UP OF BIRDS, FLOWERS, TIGERS,
RAINFALL AND SQUARE MILES.
THIS WAS HOLY LAND.
FLAT LAND OF THE GANGES.
HINDUISM'S HEARTLAND.
THE SOIL DEFILED AND
DESECRATED BY MUSLIM INVASIONS
WAS WHERE RAMA ONCE
VIRTUOUSLY RULED.
WHERE KRISHNA HAD SLAIN
DEMONS AND DANCED WITH HIS
MILK MAIDS TO THE
DIVINE ORCHESTRA.
THE AIR WE BREATHE WAS
SANCTIFIED BY MIRACLES.
HEREABOUTS, THE YOGI,
GORAKHNATH, HAD USED HIS YOGIC
POWERS TO FEED THOUSANDS
ON A GRAIN OF RICE.
MOTHER'S FAVOURITE MIRACLE
WAS KRISHNA'S BIRTH.
NO WONDER MINE WAS
SUCH A LETDOWN.
[laughter]
KRISHNA'S PARENTS'
GUARDS HAD FALLEN ASLEEP.
LIGHT FLOODED THEIR PRISON.
ITS GATES FLEW OPEN, AND THE
BABE'S FATHER CARRIED HIM TO
SAFETY TO A COWHERD'S
HOME ACROSS THE YAMUNA.
SO KRISHNA, HIS PARENTS'
EIGHTH BORN, ESCAPED BEING
DASHED AGAINST ROCK AT
BIRTH BY HIS UNCLE KANS,
WHO HAD KILLED THE FIRST
SIX WHILE HE WAITED FOR HIS
FUTURE DESTROYER.
THE SEVENTH FETUS DODGED
KANS BY GETTING HIMSELF
MIRACULOUSLY TRANSFERRED
TO ANOTHER WOMB.
COMRADE PILLAI IS BUSY TAKING
IT ALL DOWN IN A NOTEBOOK.
THE OTHER THREE
ARE DIGESTING IT.
WHILE I TAKE A BREATHER, THEY
AGREE THAT ALL SUPERSTITION
HANGS FROM THE SAME TREE,
WHETHER IT'S GRAINS OF RICE,
LOAVES AND FISHES,
OR GUNS INHERIT.
BUT BACK TO GEOGRAPHY.
ONE OF OUR TWO RIVERS HAS
VANISHED, OR WAS ALWAYS A MYTH.
IN THESE PARTS, ONE
NEVER KNOWS FOR SURE.
BUT THE OTHER, THE YAMUNA
IS REAL ENOUGH AND DOES
EVENTUALLY JOIN THE
MIGHTY GANGES AT ALLAHABAD.
BUT SO DOES THE VANISHED
RIVER BECAUSE IT IS THE
JUNCTION OF ALL THREE THAT
MILLIONS THRONG TO EVERY YEAR
FOR A REDEEMING BATH.
AND THERE IS NOTHING IMAGINARY
ABOUT THOSE COLOSSAL COLUMNS
OF SWEATING
FOOT-SORE PILGRIMS.
MOTHER AND HER SENIOR MAID
SERVANT, BITAN, GOSSIPED ABOUT
THE NINE-YEAR SAGA
IN THE AFTERNOONS.
SOMNOLENT TALK, WHILE MOTHER
LAY ON HER BED AFTER LUNCH,
AND BITAN KNEADED
HER BACK AND LEGS.
HER STRONG, OLD HANDS, PICKED
UP EACH DAINTY FOOT, CRANKED
THE ANKLE, PULLED AND CRACK
ITS TOES, AND FINISHED ALL
DROWSILY PIOUS WITH THE REMARK,
'YOUR PRAYERS WERE ANSWERED.
THAT'S WHAT COUNTS.
WHAT DOES IT MATTER
HOW LONG IT TOOK?
YOU HAD A SON'.
AND SMOKE AND ASHES GOOD IT
DID ME, GROWLED MOTHER, FACE
DOWN IN HER GREEN PILLOW.
PALE GREEN BEING HER
ASTROLOGISTS PRESCRIPTION
FOR PEACE OF MIND.
BITAN'S MURMUR OF AS THE BOTHA
WILLS, ARCHED MOTHER'S HEAD
BACK FROM HER PILLOW, AND
BITAN SWITCHED TO THE LESS
CONTROVERSIAL SUBJECT
OF MOTHER'S LABOUR.
FROM ITS FIRST WELCOME WINCE,
TO MY JAGGED DELIVERY THE
WRONG WAY AROUND, WITH MY
HEAD AND SHOULDERS CAUSING
LASTING HAVOC.
SOME AFTERNOONS THIS WAS
THE WRONG SUBJECT, TOO.
I'M TOLD THAT MOTHER AND
THE WOMEN AROUND HER BED,
REGISTERED THE WHOLE
REPERTOIRE OF HUMAN SOUND.
FOR YEARS AFTERWARDS, BITAN,
STROKING THE SOLES AND TOPS OF
MOTHER'S FEET, CONSOLED HER
WITH THE LITANY, 'AT LEAST YOU
HAVE A SON, NO MATTER
WHAT ELSE HAS HAPPENED'.
[laughter]
AND WHATEVER ELSE HAD
HAPPENED, SHE COULD NEVER
HELP ADDING BECAUSE BY THIS
TIME IN THE RETOLD SAGA,
MOTHER GENTLY SNORED,
WAS THE POTTER'S FROLIC.
THE POTTER MAKES AND BREAKS
US WOMEN ON HIS WHEEL,
SHE WOULD SAY.
BUT THE SAGA THAT HAD BROUGHT
ME INTO BEING HAD TAKEN SO
DREARILY LONG, THAT MOTHER WAS
22 YEARS OLD BY THE TIME I
WAS BORN, AND HAD BEEN
LAMENTING LOST TIME SINCE MY
HEAD AND SHOULDERS BURST
FREE, AND I HEARD HER FIRST
TORMENTED CRY.

(violin music plays)

Sitting, Nayantara says IN A SOCIETY LIKE INDIA, WHICH
IS SO RIGIDLY STRUCTURED IN
TERMS OF THE FAMILY SYSTEM,
AND THE CASTE SYSTEM, WHERE
FOR EXAMPLE, IF YOU USE A WORD
LIKE AUNT, IT WOULD DEPEND ON
WHETHER SHE WAS YOUR MOTHER'S
SISTER, OR YOUR FATHER'S
SISTER, OR YOUR MATERNAL
UNCLE'S WIFE, OR YOUR PATERNAL
UNCLE'S WIFE.
AND IN A SOCIETY WHERE
PHASES OF LIFE ARE EQUALLY
STRUCTURED, WHERE YOU'RE A
VIRGIN, THEN YOU'RE A MARRIED
WOMAN, THEN YOU MAY BE A
WIDOW, AND NONE OF THESE
PHASES CAN BE INTERMIXED.
AND THEN, IN A SOCIETY WHERE
THERE ARE CERTAIN VERY RIGID
CONCEPTS WHICH ARE ALMOST
INGRAINED INTO A WOMAN SINCE
THE DAY SHE IS BORN, AND THE
BASIC ONE AMONGST THESE WOULD
BE THAT SHE DOES NOT BELONG
TO THE FAMILY IN WHICH
SHE HAS GIVEN BIRTH.
SHE BELONGS TO, AND LITERALLY
IN HINDI, THE WORD IS PARAYA
DHAN, WHICH MEANS OTHER
PEOPLE'S PROPERTY,
OTHER PEOPLE'S WEALTH.
SHE BELONGS TO THE FAMILY
TO WHICH SHE WILL BE GIVEN
IN MARRIAGE.
SO FROM CHILDHOOD, AND
MARRIAGE USED TO BE IN
CHILDHOOD, THE EXPECTATION IS
SHE WILL LEAVE, AND GO AWAY,
AND HER FAMILY WILL BE RID
OF HER AS FAST AS POSSIBLE.
AFTER THE LAW BANNING CHILD
MARRIAGE CAME SOON AFTER
PUBERTY AS POSSIBLE, AND THEN
POSSIBLY, A CUSTOM LIKE SETI
CAME BECAUSE A WOMAN WHOSE
HUSBAND WAS DEAD WAS
CONSIDERED AS GOOD AS DEAD.
SO IN SUCH A SITUATION WHERE
FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS AND
CONCEPTS ARE SO RIGIDLY
DEFINED, CAN A WOMAN BREAK OUT
INTO WORDS AT ALL?
YOU KNOW?
OTHER THAN THOSE WHICH
ARE PRESCRIBED FOR EVERY
POSSIBLE OCCASION?
AND SO WHAT THE RADICAL
WOMEN'S ORGANIZATIONS ARE NOW
TRYING TO DO, FOR A START,
IS TO PERSUADE WOMEN
SIMPLY TO SPEAK.
NOT TO KEEP THINGS
TO THEMSELVES.
NOT TO KEEP THEIR TROUBLES
AND PROBLEMS TO THEMSELVES.
TO PUT THEM INTO WORDS.
AND IT IS A HUGE HURDLE FOR
THE MASS OF WOMEN TO OVERCOME.
I'M NOT TALKING ABOUT THE FEW
WHO MIGHT BE UPPER CLASS,
EDUCATED, PRIVILEGED.
BUT THE MASS OF INDIAN WOMEN
ARE NOW GOING TO HAVE TO GO
THROUGH THE EXPERIENCE OF
PUTTING THINGS INTO WORDS.
SO WHEN YOU SPEAK OF WOMEN
WRITERS, THAT'S A VERY, VERY
SMALL, ELITE, WHO ARE NOT
PERHAPS EXPERIENCING THE REAL
INDIAN EXPERIENCE AT ALL.
AND I'M AMONGST THEM.
MY ENDEAVOR IS TO
GET CLOSER TO THAT.
BUT I AM DIFFERENT BECAUSE
I HAVE HAD ADVANTAGES
THAT THEY HAVE NOT HAD.
AND THAT MOST INTERESTING
OUTBREAK, AND OUTBURST,
IN WORDS, IN MY VIEW,
IS YET TO COME.

At the reading, she continues LIKE THE GREAT ACTRESS SHE
WAS, MOTHER IMITATED THE RAJA
OF RAMGANJ, BOWING LOW
BEFORE THE COMMISSIONER,
AND BACKING AWAY,
BENT OVER DOUBLE,
UNTIL HE BUMPED HIS
BACKSIDE AGAINST A WALL,
AND JARRED TO A
COMPULSORY HALT.
FOR THE VICEROY, HE WOULD
HAVE GONE THROUGH THE WALL.
[laughter]
IT WAS ONE OF HER
REPEATED DOZEN STORIES.
THE SIGNAL FOR HER MAID
SERVANTS TO GIGGLE DUTIFULLY.
AND FOR MOTHER TO LAUGH, AS
SHE DID EVERYTHING ELSE,
THROWING CAUTION AND CONTROL
TO THE WINDS, HER HEAD FLUNG
BACK, THAT MASS OF HAIR
UNWINDING IN COILS OVER HER
SHOULDERS, AS SHE REACHED
UNDER IT TO HOLD HER SKULL
LIKE SOME PRECIOUS BREAKABLE
OBJECT WHOSE FATE SHE HADN'T
QUITE DECIDED YET.
IT WAS A SIGNAL, TOO, FOR
BITAN TO WAIT, SHREWD AND
IMPASSIVE, WITH HER HANDS ON
HER HIPS, FOR MOTHER TO STOP.
WHATEVER HAD COME OVER THE
SHY, 13-YEAR-OLD ROSE BUD
BRIDE THAT BITAN HAD
BROUGHT TO VIJAYGARH?
WHAT IN THE WORLD COULD HAVE
HAPPENED IN SOMETHING SO
ORDINARY AS MARRIAGE TO WOUND
HER DOVE, HER TIMID LITTLE LOVE?
EVERY CUSTOM RITUAL
HAD BEEN OBSERVED.
EVERY DETAIL PERFECTLY PLANNED
AND BEAUTIFULLY CARRIED OUT.
THE CHILD HAD BEEN PLEDGED
AT FIVE, DELIVERED AT
MENSTRUATION TO THIS HOUSE.
A LATE BLOOMER, IT WAS TRUE,
PITEOUSLY RELUCTANT TO BLEED,
UNFOLD, BE A WOMAN.
SHE HAD RUN TO HIDE WHENEVER
THERE WAS TALK OF MARRIAGE.
HER FINGERS HAD TO BE PRIED
LOOSE FROM HER MOTHER'S NECK
WHEN IT WAS TYPE
TO SAY GOOD-BYE.
BUT ALL BRIDES SOB
HEARTBROKENLY.
SO DO THEIR PARENTS.
ALL THAT WAS TO BE EXPECTED.
BUT LOOK AT HER NOW.
MISTRESS OF THE THREE
UNIVERSES TO HEAR HER.
FRIGHTENING WHEN SHE DANCED
HERSELF INTO A FRENZY WITH HER
FRIENDS AND HER MAID SERVANTS
AT THE SHIVA PUJA, THAT A
VISITING SATHU PRESIDED
OVER EVERY YEAR.
DANCED LIKE A DRUNK.
A WOMAN POSSESSED.
HAIR FLYING, SARI SLIPPING.
A WOMAN IN FLAMES.
WAS THIS A STORY BITAN TOLD
ME, OR DO I REMEMBER MYSELF
AT THE AGE OF TWO?
UP FROM MY SEAT ON THE WARM,
DARK, WINTER LAYERS OF A
WIDOWED GOOSE'S LAP TO COPY
HER, HOLDING THE CORNERS OF MY
EMBROIDERED MUSLIN KORTA,
AND TRIPPING ABOUT TO A
DEAFENING CHANT UNTIL I AM
SNATCHED UP FROM THE PATH
OF MOTHER'S FRENZIED FEET.

(music plays)

Sitting, Nayantara says THIS BUSINESS OF, SAY, INDIRA
GANDHI, AND BENAZIR BHUTTO, AND
SO ON, AND SIRIMAVO
BANDARANAIKE, YOU KNOW,
ON THE SUBCONTINENT,
IS THE RESULT,
I THINK, OF A LIBERATING
NATIONAL MOVEMENT WHICH FIRST
CALLED WOMEN OUT TO TAKE
PART IN THE STRUGGLE.
AND I THINK THE WHOLE OF THE
SUBCONTINENT PARTICIPATED
IN THAT AND IS HEIR TO
THAT EMANCIPATING PROCESS.
AND THAT IS WHY, WHEN INDIRA
GANDHI BECAME PRIME MINISTER,
NOBODY TURNED A HAIR.
AS YOU WERE SAYING.
I REMEMBER BETTY FRIEDAN
WAS IN INDIA AT THE TIME
TO INTERVIEW HER.
AND SHE RANG ME UP, AND SHE
WAS VERY, VERY EXCITED.
SHE SAID, Mrs. GANDHI HAS
ASKED ME TO FLY WITH HER TO
JAIPUR IN HER PLANE, AND I'M
TO INTERVIEW HER IN THE PLANE.
AND WHAT QUESTIONS DO YOU
THINK I SHOULD PUT TO HER?
AND I WAS ASTONISHED.
I THOUGHT TO MYSELF, SHE WOULD
OBVIOUSLY HAVE TO PUT THE
QUESTIONS SHE WOULD PUT TO
ANY PRIME MINISTER, YOU KNOW?
NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT THAT THE
PRIME MINISTER WAS A WOMAN.
BUT IT DIDN'T STRIKE
BETTY FRIEDAN THAT WAY.
SHE WAS THINKING PRIMARILY OF
THE EXCITEMENT OF ADDRESSING
A WOMAN PRIME MINISTER.

Nayantara continues reading MOTHER HAD A GOOD BARGAINING
RELATIONSHIP WITH THE POTTER.
SHE COULDN'T BE BOTHERED
FASTING AND PRAYING AND
VENERATING COWS, EXCEPT WHEN
STRICTLY NECESSARY AS PART
OF A BARGAIN.
WHAT SHE ENJOYED WAS THE
FANTASTIC RANGE OF YOGIC FEATS.
SHE COULD SPEND HOURS
LISTENING TO STORIES OF
SPECIAL POWERS.
SHE ENTERTAINED AN AMAZING
ASSORTMENT OF SADUS ON THE
OTHER SIDE OF HER CURTAIN.
FROM AN EXHIBITIONIST WHO
COULD WIND HIS PENIS AROUND
A ROD, TO A YOGI WHO COULD
BECOME A GIANT, OR SLIP
HIMSELF THROUGH A CREVICE.
AND ONE, I RECALL, WHO HAD
CONQUERED HUNGER AND THIRST
BY CONCENTRATING ON THE
HOLLOW OF HIS THROAT.
AS FOR THE ART OF BEING IN
TWO PLACES AT THE SAME TIME,
ANY NUMBER HAD MASTERED THAT.
WHETHER THEY WERE
BROAD-CHESTED, VIRILE
SPECIMENS, OR SKIN AND BONES
SMEARED WITH THE ASHES OF
FUNERAL PYRES, THEY ALL HAD
THE TRADEMARK, EYES THAT BORED
HOLES THROUGH YOU.
MOTHER MADE USE OF GIFTS
WHERE SHE FOUND THEM.
INCLUDING A CLAIRVOYANT TAILOR
IN THE BAZAAR WHO CONSTANTLY
FOUND THINGS HER GEESE HAD
MISPLACED WITHOUT EVER TAKING
HIS HAND OFF HIS
SEWING MACHINE HANDLE.
WHEN FATHER HEARD IT RUMOURED
THAT THE COMMISSIONER WAS
DRAWING UP A LIST OF
CANDIDATES WHO MIGHT BE
ELIGIBLE FOR RAJAHOOD, IF THEY
PASSED ALL THE TESTS, AND HE
WAS ON IT, MOTHER'S TOPPLING
TALK BECAME EARNEST.
DISTRICT OFFICERS WERE
CHECKING UP ON CANDIDATES, SO
THE SOONER THE LOCAL ONE HEARD
ABOUT FATHER'S WEALTH AND
HANDOUTS, THE BETTER.
HIS OUTSPOKEN LOYALTY
HADN'T GOTTEN HIM VERY FAR
ALL BY ITSELF.
SHE PRODDED FATHER TO GET
ORGANIZED ABOUT HIS CAMPAIGN
AND START BUILDING A
TEMPLE TO SHIVA, BEFORE THE
COMMISSIONER EXAMINED
THE EVIDENCE.
HE, HIMSELF, THOUGHT ABOUT
PUTTING A GRAIN MARKET AROUND
THE TEMPLE FOR PROFITABLE
MEASURE, AND GAVE AWAY CASH
COWS AND ELEPHANTS THE DAY
THE FOUNDATIONS WERE LAID.
SOON AFTER, HE DECIDED HE
MIGHT AS WELL BUILD AN ANGLO
VERNACULAR FEMALE COLLEGE
FOR DOMESTIC ARTS, BY WAY OF
ANOTHER PUBLIC SERVICE.
AND ORDERED HIS CLUB-WIELDING
TOUGHS TO GO SLOW ABOUT
EXTORTING FODDER FROM THE
TENANTS FOR HIS STABLE
OF ELEPHANTS.
MOTHER, WHO HAD GIVEN FATHER'S
CAMPAIGN A FLYING START,
HATED IT HERSELF.
UNTHINKABLE THIS, IN THE
DAY OF THE TRUE EMPIRE,
SHE WOULD SAY.
THIS RAJ TREATED
EVERYONE LIKE A SERVANT.
SHE LUMPED THE DISTRICT
OFFICERS AND THEIR PRESIDING
COMMISSIONER TOGETHER, AS
MISERABLE SONS OF PIGS.
AND IN A FIT OF ENERGY NO
ONE MISTOOK FOR TEMPER,
SHE ORDERED THE GEESE TO
STOP THEIR SQUAWKING AND
GET OUT OF HER ROOM.

(violin music plays)

Nayantara says I THINK THAT ART AND
POLITICS NOT ONLY
DO
MIX,
THEY MIX ALL THE TIME.
BUT THEY HAVE TO MIX
ON THE TERMS OF ART.
YOU KNOW?
A THING HAS TO
BE A GOOD NOVEL.
IT CAN'T BE A
POLITICAL STATEMENT.
AS A NOVEL, IT HAS
TO BE A GOOD NOVEL.
AND I FEEL THAT, AT LEAST IN
MY SOCIETY, WHICH IS SO MUCH
IN NEED OF FUNDAMENTAL
CHANGE, POLITICS IS A SORT OF
DAY-TO-DAY MATTER, YOU KNOW?
IT'S NOT A QUESTION OF THE
NEWSPAPER HEADLINES OR WHAT
MIGHT BE HAPPENING IN THE
CABINET, OR ANYTHING LIKE
THAT, IT IS HAPPENING
AROUND YOU EVERY DAY.
WHERE HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES
ARE INVOLVED, AND MANY OTHER
POLITICAL ISSUES ARE INVOLVED,
AND THIS AWARENESS, IF IT
DOES NOT CREEP INTO FICTION,
WELL, THEN, FICTION IS EMPTY,
YOU KNOW?
IT IS NOT, IN MY
VIEW, WORTH READING.
IT BECOMES JUST ABOUT MIDDLE
CLASS ADULTERY OR, YOU KNOW --
[laughter]
WHICH, AS FAR AS I'M
CONCERNED, IS EXTREMELY BORING
AND HAS BEEN VERY MUCH OVERDONE
BY MANY WESTERN WRITERS.
[applause]

At the reading, she continues MOTHER'S ENERGY WAS FAMOUS.
HER FACE WAS TENSE AS A BOW
STRING WHEN SHE SAT AT HER
DRESSING TABLE HUNTING
RUTHLESSLY FOR A CREASE IN HER
FLAWLESS SKIN, OR GREY IN THE
SHINING PURPLE BLACK THAT A
RINSE OF BOILED HIBISCUS
FLOWERS GAVE HER HAIR.
HER WRIST PIVOTED HER SILVER
HAIR BRUSH LIKE A JAVELIN.
BITAN'S ADVICE TO IGNORE
FATHER'S ABSENCES, AFTER ALL,
SHE WOULD SAY, A MAN GOES FROM
FLOWER TO FLOWER, TRIGGERED A
FABULOUS DISPLAY WHEN MOTHER
TORE THE TAPESTRY OF A
PRANCING HANUMAN FROM THE
WALL, AND SENT HER WATER
PITCHER CRASHING.
HER GEESE MOVED AWAY
TO GIVE HER ROOM.
THEIR COMBINED GAZE
SWEPT AFTER THE DAMAGE.
IF MOTHER THREW HERSELF ON HER
BED, WITH THE PASSION THAT
HAD TAKEN HER OVER MOUNTAINS
AND RIVERS WHEN SHE WAS
PETITIONING THE PANTHEON FOR
A SON, THEY MATCHED HER MOOD
WITH EYE MOVEMENTS AND
GESTURES SETTLED LONG AGO
FOR THE OCCASION.
BUT SHE HAD A CAREFUL SIDE.
SHE PERSONALLY INSTRUCTED THE
GOLDSMITH ON THE OTHER SIDE
OF THE CURTAIN WHAT TO DO
WITH THE GOLD CHUNKS THAT HIS
ASSISTANT HAD WEIGHED IN
JEWELLER SCALES, HOW MUCH OF
IT TO MELT DOWN FOR A
NEW AMULET OR PENDANT.
SHE GAVE HER ORNAMENTS
THE MINUTE ATTENTION TO
MICROSCOPIC DETAIL THAT GREAT
MASTER'S APPRENTICES DEVOTE
TO CORNERS OF
CROWDED CANVASES.
JEWELLERY WAS CONSTANTLY
BEING MADE AND UNMADE,
CLEANED AND POLISHED.
SHE COULD BE SURE
OF JEWELLERY.
NATURALLY, SHE SYMPATHIZED
WITH THAT OTHER GREAT JEWEL
FANCIER, THE TSARINA, WHO
MADE UP FOR BEING BRITISH BY
RULING A COUNTRY AS REMOTE
FROM ENGLAND IN EVERY
POSSIBLE WAY AS VIJAYGARH.
FOR A PERSON WHOSE KNOWLEDGE
OF THE WORLD DEPENDED ON THE
SLIT BETWEEN HER CARRIAGE
CURTAINS, MOTHER WAS
REMARKABLY WELL INFORMED.
SHE HAD ONCE KNOWN HER
ALPHABET AND WRITTEN A ROUND
BABY HAND.
BUT SHE HAD LEFT THESE
SKILLS BEHIND WITH HER TOYS,
WHEN SHE CAME AS A
BRIDE TO VIJAYGARH.
AS SOON AS I LEARNED TO READ,
I BECAME HER INFORMANT.
WE WENT FROM NURSERY TALES
TO HISTORY LESSONS TOGETHER.
SUPPLEMENTED BY BOOKS I FOUND
IN A MOULDERING LIBRARY,
COLLECTED BY A FOREBEAR,
WHO AFTER A DISGRACEFUL DEFEAT
IN BATTLE, HAD FALLEN UPON
BOOKS INSTEAD OF HIS SWORD
AND WAS NOT MENTIONED
IN FAMILY CHRONICLES.
[laughter]
TRAVELS AND ADVENTURE
FASCINATED MOTHER, AND WE READ
SEVERAL MOTH-EATING ACCOUNTS.
BUT HER CONTEMPORARY
FAVOURITE WAS THE TSARINA.
SHE LOVED THE
TSARINA'S SIMPLICITY.
AN EXAMPLE TO US ALL, SHE
WOULD TELL THE GEESE.
THE RUSSIAN ROYAL FAMILY DID
NOT LIVE IN CATHERINE THE
GREAT'S SUMPTUOUS
PALACE AT TSARSKOYE SELO.
IT WAS TOO SHOWY FOR THEM,
WITH ITS MARBLE FLOORS INLAID
WITH LAPIS LAZULI
AND MOTHER OF PEARL.
ITS CHINESE AND
JAPANESE DECORATIONS.
THEY LIVED IN A
SIMPLE LITTLE PALACE.
THE BEDROOM HAD PINK FLOWERED
WALLPAPER AND CURTAINS.
THE BEDS HAD PLAIN
BRASS RAILS AND KNOBS.
THE ROYAL BEDROOM WAS FULL
OF PHOTOGRAPHS AND ICONS.
VERY LIKELY, EVERY EVENING,
INCENSE AND OIL LAMPS WERE LIT
BEFORE THE TSARINA'S MAIN
ICONS, AS THEY WERE HERE,
MAKING MINIATURE PYRAMIDS OF
FLAMES IN THE RUSSIAN, AS IN
THE VIJAYGARH DUSK.
AND WHAT WONDERS THE SADUR
RASPUTIN HAD PERFORMED
FOR HER SON.
WHY SHOULDN'T SHE RECEIVE
RASPUTIN IN HER ROOM?
WHAT DID HIS LOW BIRTH MATTER?
THE FAMOUS TANTRICS
WERE ALL LOW BORN.
LEATHER WORKERS, WOOD
CUTTERS, STABLE CLEANERS.
MEAT, DRINK, AND CAROUSING
WERE ALL IN THE TRADITION.
WHO COULD DOUBT THAT THE HUGE
STRAPPING PEASANT WITH THE
HYPNOTIC EYES HAD THE
AUTHENTIC HEALING POWER?
ANY MOTHER WOULD HAVE BEEN OUT
OF HER MIND WITH ANXIETY FOR
HER ONLY BELOVED SON.
BITAN, BORED TO DEATH WITH THE
RUSSIAN MAHARANI, AND ALERT
TO THE DREAMY
RASPUTIN-INDUCED LOOK IN
MOTHER'S EYES, STEERED THE
TALK NEARER HOME, WITH
ANOTHER OF THE DOZEN
STORIES IN THE PACK.
MOTHER'S DREAMY LOOK FADED.
SHE STROKED THE SOLID, NOBLE
GOLD BANGLE ON HER WRIST
AND RALLIED.
THE TSAR SHOULD HAVE LISTENED
TO THE HOLY MEN, SHE SAID.
ABOVE ALL, TO THE DEAF AND
DUMB PEASANT, WHO HAD WRITTEN
WARNING HIM AGAINST THE
ATHEISTS AROUND HIS THRONE.
EITHER HE HADN'T GOT THAT
LETTER, OR HE HADN'T BELIEVED
THE PROPHESY IT CONTAINED,
THAT THE ROMANOVS WERE GOING
TO BE BLOWN TO BITS, AND THEIR
THRONE SMASHED FOREVER.
WHERE THE TSARINA WOULD HAVE
CROSSED HERSELF, MOTHER
BREATHED HARI OM.
PLEASE CARRY ON, PROMPTS
COMRADE PILLAI, WHILE THE OTHER
COMRADES SIT MESMERIZED.
WHAT DID YOUR MOTHER
SAY WHEN IT HAPPENED?
I COULDN'T REMEMBER.
THE YEAR THE TSAR WAS
DETHRONED HAD HAD OTHER
CONCERNS FOR ME.
BUT HER GRIEF HAD
CERTAINLY BEEN DISASTROUS.
A LANDMARK IN HER LIFE.
SHE WAS NEVER HERSELF AGAIN.
TELL ME, SAYS COMRADE YUSEF,
ARE YOU TEMPTED TO BELIEVE IN
THOSE EXPLOITS YOU
WERE TALKING ABOUT?
IT DEPENDS, I SAY.
THE TAILOR DID
FIND LOST THINGS.
I CAN VOUCH FOR THE
PENIS, I SAW IT MYSELF.
A SATHU WHO HELD HIS BREATH
FOR 108 MINUTES WAS ACTUALLY
TIMED WITH A STOPWATCH.
AND THERE ARE PLENTY OF MEN
WITH STRANGE ASSORTED GIFTS
ROAMING THE BAZAAR.
BUT, OF COURSE, ONE DOESN'T
BELIEVE EVERYTHING ONE SEES.
COMRADE YUSEF
THOUGHTFULLY AGREES.
She concludes THANK YOU.

[applause]

(classical music plays)

The end credits roll.

Produced and Directed by Tracey Fisher.

Executive Producer, Michael Vaughan.

A Production of TV Ontario.

Copyright The Ontario Educational Communications Authority 1988.

Watch: Nayantara Sahgal