Julian Parr on a life lived well and colourfully
There could be only one Julian Parr. He has travelled to 107 countries but asserts “Mera dil hai Hindustani.” His friends describe him as a “Punjabi trapped in a white man’s body”. His ambassador car, a Bollywood poster on wheels, will bring you to a halt and evoke a smile. His visiting card formally says Regional Manager, Oxfam GB, South Asia Regional Centre. But his biography reads like a discreet “Shantaram”.
Having lived intermittently in Delhi for over ten years, he is a self-proclaimed “Dilliwallah”.
At the age of 18, he saw a coffee-table book on the palaces of Jaipur, on a rain soaked platform in U.K. The book spurred him on to come here. He arrived at Mumbai soon after and travelled all the way to Ladakh. Sipping a scalding cup of black tea at the Oxfam office, he says, “India is like marmite, you either love it or loathe it. It is a country of extremes.”
He adds with a glint, “And it attracts extremes,” obliquely referring to his red patterned shirt and striped trousers. ‘Extreme’ is a fair estimation of a man who went to Cuba to make a movie on Fidel Castro and who conceived “Jasoos Vijay” on Doordarshan.
One too many
His work and wanderlust have taken him across the world. Never wanting to get “too comfortable”, he changes jobs with the alacrity of a child changing toys. While he is trained as an economist, he has worked as a journalist, filmmaker and consultant on everything from Corporate Social Responsibility to labour issues. He first moved to Delhi in 1991 with Voluntary Service Overseas, working especially on HIV. He recalls, “Those days I rode a Bullet Enfield. I rode it down the entire coast. The big Deccan is the only area I don’t know.”
He then moved onto labour issues working especially with the glass and brass industry. His nuanced understanding comes to fore when he talks of child labour. “The idea is to get kids out of the most hazardous industry and to get them into packaging and finishing. It’s not about just banning child labour. That just displaces them and might even move them into more hazardous professions.”
His passion for Bollywood can be traced back to his days as a student at School of Oriental and African Studies, London. Tormented by his macro-economic studies, a notice on a Bollywood course caught his attention. His first encounter with Bollywood was on a bumpy bus, when the same movie repeated endlessly with its cycle of blood, violence and wailing women. Having hated that experience, but keen to dispel his ignorance he decided to join the course.
“When the course started with movies of Satyajit Ray I wasn’t all that interested. But then I saw Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa and was sold.” He was so smitten he went to Pune to access the archives. This interest soon found its way on his magnificently insane ambassador, which is adorned with Rekha, Nargis, Raj Kapoor. Done in bright pink interiors and complete with Pakistani truck art, it is both celebration and fun. And Parr clearly is the best at both.