Well known author and journalist Shireesh Kanekar (left) and I standing on our desk in Bombay in 1985 (Photo: Palashranjan Bhaumick)
Shireesh Kanekar, a dear friend and fellow journalist, not to mention a prolific writer in Marathi as well as a highly regarded stand-up satirist, turned 75 yesterday. That in itself is not an achievement but as birthdays go, it is as good as any to write a couple of things about him.
In many ways this photograph sums up Shireesh and I and our friendship. I have written about it and some of it bears repeating.
“Why did we do that? Because we were there and the desk was there. Its intrinsic nonconformity to norms or subtle defiance was incidental. I remember just as we were getting photographed one of the owners of the newspaper whose office it was walked in. He was so aghast that he did not say anything. On our part, Shireesh and I continued as if it was all in a day’s work.
Four years after dear friend and gifted photographer Palashranjan took this picture, I happened to watch Dead Poets Society starring Robin Williams. He plays an English teacher named John Keating who detests orthodox ways of teaching literature and believes that his students should always take a nonconformist view of the world, particularly literature. To illustrate that point he stands on his desk in the classroom and encourages students to do the same. When that scene was playing out on screen I had a smugly satisfied expression that could have read, “Been there, done that.””
Another little nugget that I remember on his birthday is this one:
“While I am on the subject, this charming little quirk is something Shireesh used to engage in as well. I remember once in 1986, while we were working together in Bombay’s Dalal Street area, I saw Shireesh walking down the crowded street. I could see him from the first floor window of our office. I whistled at him and, as if on cue, he suddenly started running like a professional bowler with an imaginary ball in his hand. I should tell you that this is in the middle of one of Bombay’s busiest business districts in the afternoon. A short man with a slight paunch suddenly begins to run in the middle of the street as if he is about to bowl. He had perfected the act enough so that people knew what he was up to, that he was not just running but running up to the crease like a bowler.
Shireesh’s version was quirkier than mine in that he did not actually bowl but created the impression that he was about to do so. Those watching this odd little spectacle, after having overcome their initial surprise, do invest enough in it for him to complete the bowling action. He did not and that was the twist. After running some distance he returned to his normal walking pace and pretended as if nothing had happened; as if what the people on the street saw was something that they had only imagined. Shireesh took care to see that his expression gave nothing away. “Wait, did we just see this man pretend to bowl or did we just hallucinate?” was the kind of unasked question Shireesh’s street performance would prompt at its very best.”