15 March 2012

And all is said by Zareer Masani

Black and white
I would normally not be attracted to a book with an archaic title, and which claims to reveal intimate information about people I’m not much interested in. But my friend Manjula Sen, whose opinion I value, said it was a good book – and I’m glad I bought and read it.
And All Is Said is a memoir, with the focus on the author’s parents’ troubled relationship. Minoo and Shakuntala Masani were exceptional individuals, at one time important characters in Indian political and economic life. The book intersperses their son Zareer’s memories and insights into past events with actual letters and diary entries written by his parents, both of whom write beautifully too – though much of what is published here was never meant for anyone else to read, and that vaguely troubled me.
What I did enjoy were the real-life glimpses into recent Indian history: Minoo Masani’s violin lessons from Count Odone Savini who also taught Mehli Mehta, father-to-be of the conductor Zubin ... the life and contributions of Sir JP Srivastava, Shakuntala’s father ... Minoo’s father’s refusal to allow his son to be given a grant (the Law examinership at Bombay University) when he was in the chair:
This is a country full of nepotism. Everyone is helping his own sons and nephews. Somebody has got to set an example. That’s what I’ve done, and I’m sorry you’re at the receiving end.
... and many more.

I liked the endorsement of the now dissipated knowledge that Independence was won for India by Indians who had been educated in England.
Father often used to say that the British Raj ‘played cricket’ in the way it dealt with nationalist agitators like himself. These Indian nationalists, after all, were the children of British education and liberal values, steeped in the literature of Western humanism and radicalism. Except in their treatment of avowed ‘terrorists’, the authorities used to torture or gratuitous violence and treated political prisoners with the respect they deserved, even during times of greatest crisis like the Quit India agitation during World War II. “Had the British authorities not behaved like honourable officers and gentlemen,” Father always maintained, “Gandhi’s non-violent campaigns would never have been possible.”
Much else has changed in the world around us. The Masani family lived as tenants of an aristocratic half-French Muslim called Barodawalla du Randé in a home with beautiful mosaic floors which were scrubbed with soap and water every week, high ceilings, a multitude of windows with elaborate wooden shutters and long verandas with elaborately carved, latticed, wooden railings looking out to the Arabian Sea, which lapped at the foot of Cumballa Hill. This is architecture a contemporary Mumbai-dweller would recognize – but these homes have long lost their glory to laundry hanging in those balconies alongside money plants in tinpots.
Zareer Masani was deeply attached to his mother but not to his father – and what touched me most about this book is his painstaking honesty in presenting his father’s point of view fairly and without judgement, while describing just as honestly, but in a judgemental way, his mother’s behaviour and how it affected him.
You can read more about this book in Manjula Sen’s interview with Zareer Masani HERE

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