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A poet at the table

Like his simple lyrics, Javed Akhtar comes out as a simple eater

READY FOR A BITE Javed Akhtar smiles as his favourite dishes arrive at Dilli`O'Dilli restaurant at the India Habitat Centre Photo: V. SUDERSHAN

Have you ever heard Javed Akhtar declaring that he is parochial? No? He did it recently at the rooftop restaurant Dilli `O' Dilli at the India Habitat Centre. But what has a restaurant to do with parochialism? Well, only when it is about food!

The celebrated poet and lyricist was in the city to conduct a script-writing workshop organised by Katha that promotes literature, and distribute awards to outstanding writers, editors and translators in eight Indian languages.

Proclaims the poet, "When it comes to food, I am absolutely parochial. In whatever part of the globe I go, I prefer Indian food. And if it is Lucknawi speciality, from where I hail, to kya kahne," a mischievous smile plays on his face as he orders goshtaba, gilaouti kabab, Kakori kabab and plain naan to begin with. Waiting for his share to arrive, Akhtar continues, "It is not that I don't enjoy food from other countries but I eat to my fill only if it is Indian food. When I eat food other than Indian, I think chalo aaj ye bhi khaye. For me, they are stand-byes. Once I went to a small town in Scotland. I didn't like the native food there. So every morning I would hunt for an Indian restaurant. It took me two years to hunt for an Indian restaurant there in my 10 times visit to that country in 10 years. The day I found it, I can't tell you how happy I was. That day, I ate a lot, maine khoob khaya... " smilingly recalls the poet. The smile soon grows wider as he sees his favourite goshtaba reaching his table at this restaurant which he says is his favourite in Delhi as it overlooks the city's monuments and is enveloped in saffron and green colour to give it a patriotic flavour.

Caring little about the people sitting around stealing a glance at the celebrated writer from Salim-Javed duo who gave Amitabh Bachchan the perennial `Angry Man' image with Zanjeer in the early 1970s, he suddenly adds, "And I love that food which is convenient to eat. Eating shouldn't seem like a job. Take for instance, crab! Arre kitni mehnat karni padhti hai use khane main! It is hard, it is cumbersome and it needs those knives and forks and blah blah to cut. By the time you consume it, half of your hunger is gone," he complains secretively like a child not willing to take his glass of milk. "Look at this kakori kabab. How soft! It melts in the mouth. You don't need sharp knives to cut it... " he adds as he gulps them with great fondness.

Akhtar, who "never tried to cook", never leaves a morsel on his plate. "I always remember the times when I came to Mumbai decades ago for a foothold as a writer in the filmdom. It was the time when I could barely manage to eat with my meagre income. Now, whenever I see lots of food on my table, I always recall those tough times and thank Allah for these days."

Desi style

As murgh khurchan, tandoori and steam rice arrive on his table, without any affectation, he keeps his fork and spoon aside and prefers to eat with hand. Chawal khane ka maza hath se hai... " he smiles. Switching over to malpua with rabri for a dessert, Javed who is ready with his lyrics in his forthcoming films Kabhi Alvida Na Kahna and Umrao Jaan, doesn't mind switching over the topic to films as one asks him about the remake spree. His son Farhan is remaking Don.

"There is no blanket rule for not remaking a film. There is a lot of room for improvisation in remakes. See the very first Devdas was made by one (Pramatesh) Baruah. Bimal Roy remade it. Ten Commandments has been remade in almost all popular languages. The first Don was made on a modest budget. This time, not only the budget is big but also, there is a twist in the film," he reveals while admitting in the same breath that vanilla ice cream is his weakness among desserts.

As he finishes this dessert, he concludes with a naughty smile to an amused waiter, Badhiya hai! Wonderful, indeed!


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