Recently I read two books in the genre of memoirs. One is Ravi Sastri’s ‘Star Gazing’ (The players in my life). The other is ‘Actually… I Met Them’ by Gulzar. The structure of both books is very similar. Both have an episodic feel to them as they focus on the various prominent personalities they came to know in their respective fields. While Ravi Sastri’s narration has an intimate touch Gulzar’s style is more measured. Both of them do not hesitate to discuss the good and bad of the persons concerned but not harshly, never judgmentally.
Ravi Sastri touches upon many cricketers through the book. The cricketers are of various nationalities and also belong to different age groups. For example he begins off with the likes of Allan Border, Malcolm Marshall, Sunil Gavaskar etc. Later he goes on to Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson among others.
There is a lot to enjoy in ‘Star Gazing’ particularly if you are a cricket buff. The book has many anecdotes which are highly interesting. A good example of that is the one on Javed Miandad. On one hand he talks about the street smartness and never say die attitude of Javed Miandad and on the other hand he also reveals the eccentric side of the Pakistani batsman.
One of my favorite chapters in the book though is about Kevin Peterson. He titles it as ‘Great career interrupted’. Kevin Peterson is described as one of the most dangerous batsman ever seen at the batting crease. He was someone who could knock the wind out of any bowling team, spin or fast but his career was cut short because of the unfortunate incidents involving his teammates and also the English Wales board. After that his career was cut short at its peak. Without blaming anyone Ravi Sastri bemoans the loss of an indomitable cricketing talent to the world. He feels all the parties involved could have resolved the situation. There is a comparison to Australia’s Ricky Ponting who was also a bit volatile at the start of his career but later on transformed into a run machine.
The chapters on the likes of Kapil Dev, Jacques Kallis, Ian Botham etc are also engaging but at the same time it is a bit of a mystery why he left out someone like Shaun Pollock since Shaun was also a great all rounder.
Other chapters worth mentioning are the ones on Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara. He lays out the techniques and temperaments of both these batsman which distinguish them from each other. The best thing about these chapters is that he never goes into the zone of clichéd comparisons. Instead he explains the merits and demerits of each and leaves it to the audience’s judgment. ‘Star Gazing’ is worth a read not just for cricket buffs but others will also enjoy it because of Ravi Sastri’s narration.
‘Actually…I Met Them’
Gulzar’s book was a little disappointing in the beginning. I even thought his memories were not as enchanting as his lyrics. That is because his style is not racy, a bit dry I must say. It looked as though he measured every word ten times before putting it on paper. But all that was reserved for his mentors/elders like Bimal Roy, Salil Chowdhury, Satyajit Ray, Utham Kumar etc. His memories of them had more of respect and less of interaction. From Kishore Kumar onwards he warms up. Since Kishore, Pancham (R.D.Burman), Sanjeev Kumar and Basu Bhattacharya are his close friends he could give us a real intimate peep into their personalities.
While talking (by the way these are oral narrations, not written pieces; first published in Bengali and later translated into English) about Kishore Kumar he says “Even in his madness he remained hundred percent aware. For him each love affair was pure while it lasted.”
Gulzar is called ‘Gullu’ by all his friends. When Pancham died he said “A large part of me departed with him; the Gulzar that remains now is but half complete.” He shares many memories of Pancham very fondly.
Sanjeev Kumar is another dear friend close to his heart. He recounts many incidents where Sanjeev was appreciated by senior actors, co actors etc. He ends the essay with ‘What sort of a person was I that I could make films even after he was no more?’ He mourns the death of Basu Bhattacharya similarly with the words – “A hungry silence seemed to descend upon me.”
In total he wrote about 18 people. All of them well known film personalities, mostly from Bengal; maybe because this column was written for a Bengali newspaper. In the context of Ritwik Ghatak his observation is worth quoting. “The artistic landscape is made up of diversity of talents. There will always be those who are nomads, radiant with talent and transient like comets. We must learn to accept such people on their own terms”.