Dhandapolis: Stories from Bollywood


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Dhandapolis is a set of three stories set in Bollywood, written between 2009-2012 in Mumbai. These short stories explore various facets of life and relationships through intimate and exasperating encounters in the city of dreams.

Aaja Aaja Bombay encapsulates the outsider experience in the film city:

“The industry first humiliates you. You’re new and you don’t really know how it works. Every trivial task they assign you will come with too much pressure. You’re a headstrong guy. Here everybody will give you enough reasons to f**k off. But you please your god; this set is your shrine. Your director understands; your seniors are experienced. They know how to deal with a newcomer. They also know how to handle a problem child.”

Dhandapolis is a Kafkaesque take on the moral and ethical corruption in the industry:

“Your naked belly is studded with diamonds, stars and gold. You are a mosque and a shrine. You also remind me of the naked woman in the bar, dancing to the clattering of champagne bottles and slippery goblets, silencing the gunshots and shrapnel-plague. The civil war ravaged the countryside and then raided the city. I wanted to make films about the war, and the girl in the dance bar, before I went to the film school. I guess I was people then.”

Love Edit is a love story set in the heart of Bollywood. Renu Sharma is a film editor in Bombay, living an ordinary life with a struggling filmmaker for a husband. The quest for happiness and fulfillment through cinema brings their lives to an eventual freeze—until the man plots a new story about the two of them, a newborn child and the sea. “Love Edit” is a simple short story about love and its thousand shades: some beautiful, some ugly. Excerpt:

“The good day doesn’t last. It’s gone before you take note of it. It’s the seed of good work which remains. She spotted familiar young faces of models and actors in the jogging lot as she walked towards her apartment. What is it that brings them out in the street so early and keeps them working out so late? She doesn’t understand these folks, she thought. I have a husband for a filmmaker; but he doesn’t have to appear in front of the camera. He is happy conjuring up his shots in his dreams while I cut them till four in the morning! There is little to complain though and she knows this is the best arrangement so far. This was the first time she got a break in her two-year marriage. The man takes care of her little girl; the woman takes care of his baby. Which is more difficult, they should ask me: raising a film or raising a baby? She knows the answer. She has raised both.”

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The City Was Missing

“The City Was Missing,” one of my city poems appear in the latest issue of Star*Line, edited by Vince Gotera, and published by SFPA: Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association (America). I just received a contributor’s copy, and the cover illustration is gorgeous, also the poems!

The opening two lines of this poem will be featured in The Mumbai Collaborative Poetry Project (MCPP) — the first ever video poem themed on the city of Mumbai — curated by Vinita Agrawal. Twenty-five poets will be featured in the project, including Nabina Das and Priya Sarukkai Chabria.

Here are my notes for the poem from March 22, 2015:

“Two weeks after The New York Times asked PM Modi to speak about the mounting violence against India’s religious minorities, he broke his dangerous silence. ‘My government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly,’ he assured Christian leaders. The attack on a Navi Mumbai church this Saturday showed that it would take more than rhetoric from the iron man of secular India to protect its minorities. This poem is a warning against the departure of religious tolerance and cosmopolitan spirit from Mumbai, formerly Bombay. (The city’s name was officially changed to Mumbai at the behest of a local Hindu-nationalist party because Bombay sounded so British.) Ultimately, it is about our personal relationships with cities we come to associate ourselves with.”

“The City Was Missing” first appeared in my poetry collection Khas Pidgin (Amazon, Barnes & Noble & iBooks). If you haven’t purchased or read it already and would like to receive a review copy, let me know. Happy reading! 🐘🌸😇

New Book: The Story of India’s Partition

On July 8, 1947, Cyril Radcliffe arrived in India for the first time. He had five weeks and four judges to settle the boundary between the newly independent India and a newborn state of Pakistan. After drawing the “ Radcliffe Line,” the British officer burnt his papers, refused his fee, and left the wounded continent never to set foot on it again. Based on W.H. Auden’s famous poem, “Partition,” this is an illustrated account of the man who oversaw the controversial border settlement which left one million dead and twelve million homeless and permanently displaced.

Available to purchase on Apple iTunes Store & Amazon.com.

Sample Pages:

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Available to purchase on Apple iTunes Store & Amazon.com.

Update: August 19, 2017

Yay! Our debut picture book, “The Story of India’s Partition,” is currently No. 1 New Release in Children’s Biography Comics on Amazon.com right now. Thank you for your love and support!

Un/Cultured: Scenes From A Caveman’s Tale

One day I decided to film one of our guards, Ramesh Ji—the ji here is an honorific—who is from Madhya Pradesh. From outside, the guardroom is a confined place—a voluntary prison. As I stepped inside the room, I expected the monotony of waiting, the slow passing of moments to dull me. But I was wrong. As I listened to the Birha enactment of an oral tale in a dialect of Hindi that was playing on his mobile phone, slowly, the complex and subtle knots of his world revealed themselves to me.

As I breathed and immersed myself in the human dynamics of the oral tale, I realized the world that Ramesh Ji inhabits is an old one, passed down from the times when our ancestors lived in a cave no different than this room, in form of oral tales, oral history, folk songs, in languages that have evolved or disappeared, in a language that is losing its relevance in the global English village.

Now the way I look at Ramesh Ji or his people’s way of storytelling has changed: a man without his people’s stories is poor and deserves pity; the man who knows his people’s origins and history is always rich. I no longer think he lives in a prison—his room is a doorway to a cultured world, just as yours or mine. These stories are our roots, our common heritage on the blue and green dots of a planet. (more…)

Not In My Name

At Jantar Mantar #NotInMyName #Peace #IndianMuslims #JunaidKhan #Delhi #Constitution #HumanRights #India

A post shared by Salik Shah (@salik.shah) on

How to write ‘Junaid’ in 16 Indian languages?

As a writer and filmmaker, I was deeply disturbed by the death of Junaid Khan. “I Am Junaid”, our latest video is an appeal to remember and awaken the secular spirt of this great country.

Please watch and help spread this message of peace and solidarity.

Stop Lynching: Note In My Name – Appeal to PM Modi 

At Not In My Name protest in New Delhi today against lynching of innocent people by criminal and extremist groups across the country, I saw this young gentleman in handcuffs, holding Tiranga—the Indian national flag—and a copy of the Indian constitution for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Please watch and share this video: he had really important things to say for our country…

Postscript:

हिन्दुस्तान के नाम एक नौजवान की पहला और आखिरी खत:
हे राम, तेरे हाथों मेरा नाम हराम हो गया। — भारत