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Movie Stars, Marble, A Sitar Player. India, 1982.

An ongoing and occasional series on a 3-month trip I took to India in 1982. I was 25, and traveled by train across the country alone, writing an article on the then-unknown Indian film industry and combating the anxieties of youth and solo travel. Often includes references to what I wore. You can find the previous posts here.

This story has no pictures. Even at 25, I knew not to take pictures of movie stars in their houses. And this is a story with movie stars.

In Delhi I continued to research the film industry. One day I went to a movie theater. I saw a Bollywood version of “Seven Brides For Seven Brothers.” It was 3 hours of men in overalls, dancing with women in saris. By then I understood that mine was not to laugh. I just watched, and noted.

The next afternoon, I interviewed the actor Shashi Kapoor. His father, Raj, was responsible for establishing the Indian commercial film industry. Shashi was a movie star. Second in fame only, in those days, to Amitabh Bachchan. Mr. Bachchan is the one who arrives by helicopter in Slumdog Millionaire.

We met in the lobby of the Taj Hotel, New Delhi. I was wearing my pale blue, skirted, seersucker suit. We drank tea.

Mr. Kapoor was terribly gracious. He told me all about his family and the meaning of the film industry for his country. He was right, as it turned out, but during that time in India how right he was or was not didn’t matter to me. Whatever I was told, I entertained as possible. Tigers fed nearby on rubies, for all I knew. The Indian film industry would threaten Hollywood’s world dominance, for all I knew.

Then Mr. Kapoor invited me to a party. If we’d been in Hollywood, I’d have recognized the host’s name. But in stories, the famous often play the part of scenery.

I had to go all the way back to my hotel and change. All I had that looked like evening gear was my sky blue rayon salwar kameez printed with gold ink. I wore my pearls, though, in hopes. Left my hair down my back.

Mr. Kapoor and his assistant picked me up in a black Mercedes. Mr. Kapoor in the front, me and his assistant in the back. We drove through the streets of Delhi. I remember walking up the stairs to the second floor of the house, thinking, wait, these floors are marble. Wait, everything is marble. It turns out that marble is quite soft and cold to one’s feet.

There were somewhere between 70 and 120 people at the party. It’s hard to count when your faculties are consumed with making sense of new data. I appeared to be the only person not Indian. I suppose I talked to somebody or other.

Dinner was served. Buffet. No chairs. They didn’t do chairs. Everyone ate more quickly than I would have expected, standing, holding plates, or sitting outside on the marble balcony. Then a couple asked me if I wanted to smoke marijuana with them. I declined. Again, some things one learns early.

After dinner we were called with a bell to sit on bright silk pillows scattered all across the floor. Orange, yellow, fuchsia, gold. That picture remains very clear in my mind. Pillows. The marble floor. A sitar player, again, a name I would have known, were I at home. But I was halfway across the world in a country and civilization that cut the word foreigner down to its bright bones. I remember everyone there had very shiny black hair. Except me.

And so we listened. Until the evening ended.

It was a generous night. I do not know who gave more to whom. Nor how I was glamorous or how I was not. But I felt beautiful. I was 25, when we are all beautiful. Looking back, I also see, I was so out of place. I didn’t realize until years later that my cheap tunic made in a street bazaar, of a gold block print that would wear off sooner rather than later, was inappropriate to the occasion. To my shame. Or that I was probably saying silly things. What I remember is the polished surfaces, what I think is that the movie stars were all quite nice to a foreigner, and made sure I had enough to eat, and a place to sit.

The value of memories isn’t known at the time. Nothing is a memory until it is remembered.

25 Responses

  1. "The value of memories isn't known at the time. Nothing is a memory until it is remembered."

    Ah this is so true and even just two people or can have such disparate memories.

  2. this morning on the train, on yves klein:

    "Then, there were the Immaterials. For these works, a collector paid Klein a set price and was given a receipt for the sum. Klein then spent the money on gold leaf, which he strewed over water–most often, the Seine. At that point, the collector burned the receipt, consigning the work to mere memory."

  3. On the last Ms. Marple( on PBS) one of the characters said: "I look forward to having this memory" and htat is exactly how I feel about this line: " bright silk pillows scattered all across the floor. Orange, yellow, fuchsia, gold. That picture remains very clear in my mind. Pillows. The marble floor. A sitar player." What a gorgeous memory!

  4. Your memories from India are very addictive, a bit frightening too. Were you afraid, being so young and alone and in a totally different culture?

  5. Tabitha – And it's weird having memories that no one I know shares.

    lauren – ah. well then.

    Patsy – Thank you.

    La Belette – Oh I love Ms. Marple. Thank you.

    DocP – Thank you.

  6. Metscan – I was on beyond fear, to sheer perception. The first emotion that always surfaced was missing my friends and family. Fear was far far behind.

    Jan – Oh good. I'm so glad.

    Ms. Givens – Hooray!

  7. I really loved reading this! I'm sure they were as enchanted by you as you were by them.

  8. I know you were beautiful that night no matter the dress. You still are beautiful! xoxo

  9. "The value of memories isn't known at the time. Nothing is a memory until it is remembered."

    What an amazing expression!
    Thank you for taking us with you on a journey to India.

  10. What a wonderful journey and a fabulous evening…love your Indian adventures. I saw some filming recently in Melbourne of a Bollywood Musical – they will probably only use 5 seconds of the hours of so I watched… x

  11. "The value of memories isn't known at the time. Nothing is a memory until it is remembered."

    So true.

  12. When one is youthfully lovely on the road, one can show up in the Indian equivalent of jeans and a t-shirt at a party. Your blonde hair was your flag. An enchanting memoir.

  13. Living well – Thank you.

    Pam – :).

    Carolina – I wonder.

    Preppy101 – Thank you so much.

  14. Russian Chic – You do me a service by coming along.

    Semi – Was that so much fun? To see the filming?

    Buckeroomama – Thank you.

    Duchesse – My flag. Nicely put. Thank you.

  15. We always go back and judge our young selves with the wisdom of our age and experience. Never fair. I'm sure you came across as fresh and lovely and they all enjoyed you so much, even in a less than stellar sari.
    What a great memory!

  16. Maureen – I agree that youth usually trumps bad clothes:).

    Anon – Thank you. I really didn't know any better.

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