Let me tell you a truth about myself. Knowing the man as I am, I am pretty certain I am somewhat of a misfit in a distinguished assembly such as this here. I make a clean confession that I am no academic, I am no researcher in a strictly academic sense, no scholar, and frankly speaking, I have no flair for archival probe. To make a blatant statement about my own self, all my life till this very moment I have lived in the instant present. Coming to my frequent encounters with the past—distant and not so distant, and even when I have visited the museums and have been to the sites of historical relics, my spontaneous reactions have always been not to look at them as museum pieces but as contemporary phenomena.
In this context, to make a beginning, I am tempted to narrate an incident, but I am not quite sure if it will make any sense to you.
Not long ago—that was in a week-long5 programme in Rome, Shabana Azmi, the actor, and I, we, took a day off and went to the monumental centre of ancient Rome. Walking through the imperial ruins we came to the Great Square of the stupendous Colosseum. As you know very well, this was originally a part of the villa of the emperor Nero—the most controversial among the worst Roman emperors. With bits of history on our back—Shabana's and mine, we stood before the Great Square. None of us spoke a word for a few moments. We just could not. Moments passed and it was Shabana who broke the silence. "Fantastic!", she said in whisper, almost to herself. This immediately reminded me of a short sequence of my film Bhuvan Shame when, watching a dilapidated summer resort of a local Raja raising its truncated head at the top of an imposing flight of stairs on the sea beach, Utpal Dutt, my actor, said the same word, same way, almost to himself. Here, standing before the historic Square, Shabana said it and lost no time to pull out a note-book from her wallet and rushed to the nearest tablet to scribble quick notes. I saw her moving from one tablet to another and from one board :o another, taking brisk notes from the writings on tablets and boards displayed at /arious points. As she was doing so, and got lost behind the huge pillars, I kept looking at the sprawling ruins—all opulent
Eminent Film-maker, Calcutta. P.C. Joshi Memorial Lecture, New Delhi.
Social Scientist, Vol. 25, No*. 3-4, March-April 1997