After all the effort that went into planning the evening event of March 4th, I think it makes sense to (at the very least) note, one week later, that it went off very well.
If any of you recall reading the posts leading up to the event, you will perhaps also remember that my offering towards the evening was to get Billy's (i.e., Billy Arjan Singh, of Tiger Haven, tiger specialist extraordinaire and recipient of the 2004 Paul Getty Award for wild-life preservation) book A TIGER'S STORY reprinted in time for the event. It took every minute of two weeks to get the thing done -- but LITERALLY. I had 150 copies ready for delivery at the venue of the party at FOUR O'CLOCK. Nervous? O yes. But whatdya think of that timing -- 2 weeks? For a 300-page book, with colour-pictures?? Not bad, huh.
The event was built around the film THE LEOPARD THAT CHANGED ITS SPOTS that I'd seen earlier in Tiger Haven. It was much nicer, of course, to see it on a bigger screen (rather than on a TV) and also rather wonderful to see how the audience responded to seeing Billy in the film as a young man (well, probably in his forties)(but that's YOUNG, right?) playing with his leopard and tiger, while also being able to see him sitting in the front of the room (the basement of the West End Club), 86 years old, bent with age, but still bright with purpose. Many people were deeply moved and rushed up, to speak to him and to buy the book. And also to eat the very lavish dinner, spend a few minutes with Billy and get him to sign their copies of the book. All praise to Anuj Bahri and his production manager, Ravi Kumar, for getting the book out in record time.
Further to International Women's Day -- despite feeling annoyed, patronized and alienated by the observance -- I agreed to join dancer SHARON LOWEN at a lunch arranged by I'm-not-sure-who, at the NIKKO HOTEL, near GolDakhana post-office. The (to me unknown) hostess had invited a number of well-known women to the lunch, and had told THEM to invite three others of their choice. Hence my invitation -- Sharon's other two guests were Alka Raghuvanshi, journalist and Jane Schukoske Executive Director at USEFI. My only reason for going was that I like Sharon and felt that her company over a free lunch would make up for the irritation of IWD in a public place(and it did).
I've never been to that hotel and (of course) got there early. I never, NEVER remember that there's no point reaching any social event on time, because nobody else does. I was shown up to "CHUTNEY", a restaurant that looked like a pleasing though unlikely marriage of Arabian & Indian Nights and was immediately given a glass of orange juice. Sharon and Jane arrived 10 minutes later but they were still 20 minutes ahead of the rest of the ladies -- and Alka got in a cool 30 minutes after we'd begun to eat, since she had just gone in for a shower when Sharon called her at 1.00. Ah well. International WD or not, the majority of the invitees were certainly running on Indian Standard Time.
We sat in sets of four, at separate tables, which was a real boon as the other women at this event -- most of them hard-core Page Three glamourites -- were so raucous it was hard to believe they had not been penned up in isolation wards for the whole year since their previous IWD. The food was pleasant enough, easy to linger over and not so much as to produce that well-fed-anaconda feeling. The unusual feature of the menu was the number of unusual condiments -- about nine different sorts of chutneys (some of which leaned heavily in the direction of jams) made from such unorthodox materials as, for instance, apple and bamboo. Champagne and wine were flowing, but our table was restrained, since all four of us expected to be working after lunch. The conversation at our table was good too -- we managed to steer clear of Women's Topics and ... ooh ... gotta go! Will return later.
This is later -- I'm leaving in that bit about getting back, because it makes this blog sound up-to-the-minute and spontaneous -- which it IS. I'm writing this on Sunday night, which happens to be the time of week when my sister in Pennsylvania calls me and we have a chat to catch up on the week-that-was.
So yes, the conversation at the IWD lunch was good -- and we even managed not to be freaked by the TV cameras that came over and stared at us in that unbelievably intrusive way. It must be horrible to be a celebrity and to have to endure this bizarre presence, this camera-person lurking like a gigantic butterfly with its proboscis stuck practically down our gullets as we pretend to continue eating and talking, even as we realize that our mandibles might feature on the evening news, churning away like cement-mixers. I make sure I've rarely actually seen myself on TV, so that I don't die of self-consciousness whenever next I'm asked to be on.
Ever since that lunch, I've been working continuously on the illustrations for a book -- my own text -- about three rather odd and (I hope) funny girls. Well I began the illustrations about a month ago -- did around ten -- took a break and now I'm a little over half-done. Ninety pages -- it's a small paperback, and the drawings are ordinary blank/whites, not very detailed -- but every page is embellished. I'm enjoying myself -- it's been a very long while since I illustrated a whole book -- I think the last one was part of the series of six English Language text books I did in 1981, for OUP ... ooooh ... a life-time ago.
The illustrations I've done more recently for my own two MOUSE books hardly count -- they're just little bitty things, chapter-openers, nothing more. The ones I'm doing now are substantial -- some of them fill the pages edge-to- edge (with gaps, of course, for the text) -- to the extent that the book is going to look rather like a picture book with a bit of text to explain what's going on! I've mentioned in an earlier post that I'm doing the drawings FREE -- now that I'm almost through with them, I am more than ever amazed that I've been willing to to do them -- I can hear myself answering angry questions from other illustrators -- telling me that I'm "ruining the market" by working for free but ... I don't care.
I've spent a large chunk of my life now, NOT doing illustrations, because publishers have (a) offered such lousy deals that I wasn't able to afford to accept them (b) offered such lousy manuscripts to illustrate that I didn't want to waste my time and effort on them. However: I'm going to be 52 this year and already I can no longer draw as well as I used to, in my 20s and 30s. I'm still not being offered prices at which I can AFFORD to draw -- but I feel I'm running out of time! I constantly feel that I've got to scrape up whatever minutes and hours left to me, to do such drawings as are still within my reach -- I mean, I can see that the ones I'm doing now are far below the standards I set myself even 10 years ago, but this is all I can manage for free -- anything more and I'd miss my deadline (mid-next-week) as well as feel resentful. By doing these drawings for free, I can at least enjoy the sense of being generous rather than the much more familiar sense of being under-valued.
It's a curious thing: being paid for something coarsens the whole exchange, but if the price is high enough, the coarseness becomes acceptable -- yes, it's like that hackneyed old joke -- I won't even bother telling it -- there's some mystical number beyond which it becomes satisfying to be paid, rather than embarrassing and/or humiliating. For some reason I've never managed to make a living as an illustrator -- and eventually I stopped illustrating altogether because it used to get me seriously depressed to enter into yet another contract that was going to end with me feeling used and my drawings in the possession of someone who had paid too little for them -- and therefore didn't really value them.
I realize that wage-earners won't understand the issue here at all but maybe there are a few of you out there who know what it's like to be doing something that's normally a source of income, for FREE -- it's very odd, almost almost unpleasant -- after all, the reason is still the old one, i.e., it's STILL because publishers will not pay me a good price for my work, hence it's not really by my choice -- and yet, because I could just as easily have chosen not to do ANY drawings, I could have chosen to hold back and be practical, economical, cold-blooded and sensible -- it's good and heady to just fill the book with drawings ANYWAY.