“Mothers, Lovers and Other Strangers” takes Bhaichand Patel’s fascination with Bollywood forward in a newer format
It was meant to be a book launch-cum-birthday celebration, but it quickly turned into a game of ribald one-upmanship. The gentlemen involved, Bhaichand Patel and Suhel Seth, were happy to take leave of the expected gravity in the service of humorous pot shots at each other’s age and achievements.
The book in question is Mothers, Lovers and Other Strangers (Pan Macmillan India). It tells the story of the journey from poverty to prosperity of a character named Ravi, whose dreamy childhood ended the morning he watched his mother Radha climb into a truck. Launched harshly into reality and adulthood, Ravi has to fight his circumstances with his disease-stricken father Mahesh in tow. Ravi eventually escapes to Mumbai to find fame and money as a music director, also finding love in Sandhya, a young socialite, in the process. But even after seemingly having travelled so far from his past, it has a mysterious way of catching up with him.
Patel, a Fiji national who has made Delhi his home, has earlier authored three books - Chasing the Good Life, Happy Hours and Bollywood’s Top 20: Superstars of Indian Cinema. Mothers, Lovers and Other Strangers is his first work of fiction.
“It is a very interesting book,” said Seth, whose 50th birthday was also being celebrated. “And I say interesting because I haven’t read it,” he added. Once the audience recovered from the induced laughter, Seth asked the author why he chose to set the book in Mumbai.
“Well I know Mumbai. I’d rather live in Delhi very frankly but Mumbai is a very cosmopolitan city. I worked there for five years as a barrister. My chambers had a lot of these stars, directors and producers as our clients. So I knew Bollywood quite well. So this book is basically on Bollywood,” Patel replied.
Crediting Khushwant Singh for the novel, Patel said, “It’s all due to Khushwant; he has been my mentor for 45 years or more. I look up to him. He detected a novel in me before I did, and really pushed me into writing it, and I am really very grateful to him for that.”
The novel did not come very easily, however. It took him nearly nine years to write it. “My friend Pavan (Varma) told me ‘if you do 300 words a day, you have a book in six months or so’. Well it was not that easy. I wrote 300 words but those weren’t good enough…I am a slow writer. I am not a person who can sit on a typewriter and produce copy in three hours. I take a week to write 800 words. I write, rewrite, change. But at the end I am happy with the 800 words I write,” Patel confessed.
Given his sustained engagement with non-fiction, the novel marks a departure in style. Asked by Seth about the reasons for the same, albeit with a little more provocation (“Why have you chosen to write fiction at an age when you should be concerned with realism?”), Patel said, “The problem with writing non-fiction is there are too many pundits around. Writing a novel for some reason has given me more satisfaction than anything I have written before.”
“I am going to be very frank and tell you that it’s not going to win any prizes,” the author confessed, adding, “I just meant it as a light read with a good story, and I think I have told it well.”
The admission segued naturally into Seth’s next question, who asked Patel about the “worst male author in India.” The author, so far the more reserved of the duo, delivered his parting shot. “He is seated right next to me,” he answered, as the audience convulsed with laughter yet again.