The missed call was from an unknown number. I called back. “I’m from (a national) magazine. I’m doing a story on sex. Can you say something about this,” said a sweet, wheedling voice. Several responses raced through my head. My gentle father would have approved of the winner.
Illustration/ Satish Acharya
“About what exactly?” “Like, sex and single women and like, how society is moralistic. Or it’s changing.”
“If you’d ask me a specific question, maybe I could try and answer.” “Like, what do you think? Is it a beautiful thing?” Quick decode. “You want me to talk about my sex life?”
“Haha, yes.” My friends’ voices echoed in my head. Please, Vijay, aka Angry Young Amitabh. Remember, honesty is not in the manual of best practices for a media age! “Why don’t you email me the questions and I promise to answer them.” I felt pleased. I hadn’t been honest and actually said she should earn her pay.
“But ma’am my deadline is tonight.”
“Well then” someone said in my voice. “You should’ve called earlier. Sorry, but I can’t just perform a sound byte whenever na?” Vijay?! I thought you’d been suspended! I thought in despair. A giggle. “Ok, ma’am I’ll send the questions.”
Which never came. I don’t think it’s because she got off the phone, rolled her eyes and said, “God, what a witch.” Maybe she was trying to figure out what this esoteric practice called “question” was.
A message from an unknown number asked to interview me about my new film. He had questions, even if they sounded like commands. “Tell me in short about yourself.” “Tell me in short about your film.” “Documentary making is useless. Why don’t you graduate to making features?”
I tried saying, it’s not useless, I don’t see a hierarchy between docs and features etc. But it seemed rude to interrupt his questions while he was interrupting my putative answers. Luckily Inspector Vijay was out on a raid. So I just gave my website address. Soon I was in print, sounding like a horrible show-off, and also, like several reviewers whose words the journalist clearly thought, were available on the web for putting in my mouth.
An unknow number calls. “Ma’am, your story in this new anthology — can you tell me what it’s about?”
“Why not read it?” “Ya, I will.” “Shall we talk after?”
Suddenly Vijay pushed me aside and said, “Don’t you see how you devalue artists when you treat their work so callously?” Eventually I managed to suppress him and offered to email my story. When the piece appeared neither I, nor Vijay found a mention. I refuse to believe it was the “God, what a witch” factor. Come on, she called me ma’am, yaar.
At a seminar, an unknown finger taps my shoulder. “I missed your talk, but can I interview you”. “Do you think it’s right to ban The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo?” “Huh?” “What about Jashn-e-Azaadi’s screening being stopped?” “I. Well, I’m against censorship..so..” “Do you think Film X should be released.” I was still reeling when Vijay spoke up: “What does this have to do with my work? Is this a job interview?”
Shushing Vijay, I proffered an invitation to watch my film that evening and then talk. The wounded journalist-nayika nodded sulkily but was mysteriously absent from the screening. I do not believe you when you say she was thinking “God what a witch.” I’m sure she understood what had provoked me, I mean, Vijay.
And this was just February.Oh Vijay, it’s going to be a long year, trying to hold your tongue.