Poets and Pancakes Class 12 English Chapter 6 Summary, Explanation with Video and Question Answers
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CBSE Class 12 English Flamingo Book Chapter 6 Poets and Pancakes Summary, Explanation with Video and Question Answers
Poets and Pancakes - CBSE Class 12 English Flamingo book Chapter 6 Poets and Pancakes Summary and Detailed explanation of the lesson along with the meanings of difficult words. Also, the explanation is followed by a Summary of the lesson. All the exercises and Questions and Answers given at the back of the lesson have been covered. Also, Take Free Online MCQs Test for Class 12
Class 12 English Chapter 6 - Poets and Pancakes
Poets and Pancakes Introduction
The lesson is taken from the book ‘My Years with the boss’ written by Asokamitran. In this excerpt, he talks about all the elements that kept Gemini Studios running. From Pancake make-up to the office boy of the make-up department, from Subbu to the lawyer, every element helped in making Gemini Studios a successful film producing company.
Poets and Pancakes Summary
In this lesson, Asokamitran talks about Gemini Studios and all that helps in keeping it in the spotlight. He starts by making a mention about ‘Pancakes’, the famous make-up brand which Gemini Studios ordered in truckloads. He then talks about the plight of actors and actresses who have to bear too many lights on their face while getting ready in the make-up room. The make-up department, according to him, used heaps of make-up to turn them into ugly-looking creatures. Shockingly, he talks about the office boy of the make-up department whose task is to slap paint onto the faces of players at the time of crowd-shooting. He was a poet and had joined the Studio in the hope of becoming an actor, screenwriter, director or a lyricst. In those days, the author used to work inside a cubicle and had the task of collecting newspaper cuttings which, according to others was insignificant. Thus, office boy would come in time again, to bother him with his complaints. He was well-convinced that the reason behind his misery was Subbu. He thought Subbu had an advantage because he was born a Brahmin. Subbu was a resourceful man whose loyalty made him stand out. He was tailor-made for films and it was difficult to imagine film-making without him. He was very welcoming and was known for his hospitality. Just like many others at the Gemini Studios, he also did poetry. He worked for the story department which also consisted of a lawyer. People generally called him the opposite of a legal practitioner. He was a logical and neutral man amidst a room full of dreamers. Asokamitran then describes how Gemini Studios got a chance to host a group of international performers called Moral Rearmament Army. Though the plots and messages were not complex, their sets and costumes were near to perfection so much so that for many years, Tamil plays displayed sunset and sunrise in a way inherited from ‘Jotham Valley’. Then another guest, Stephen Spender comes to visit Gemini Studios. People had hardly heard of him and they couldn’t even connect with him due to linguistic barriers. It was not until a few years later that Asokamitran saw his name in a book and realised who he actually was.
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Poets and Pancakes Lesson Explanation
Pancake was the brand name of the make-up material that Gemini Studios bought in truck-loads. Greta Garbo must have used it, Miss Gohar must have used it, Vyjayantimala must also have used it but Rati Agnihotri may not have even heard of it. The make-up department of the Gemini Studios was in the upstairs of a building that was believed to have been Robert Clive’s stables. A dozen other buildings in the city are said to have been his residence. For his brief life and an even briefer stay in Madras, Robert Clive seems to have done a lot of moving, besides fighting some impossible battles in remote corners of India and marrying a maiden in St. Mary’s Church in Fort St. George in Madras.
(1. Greta Garbo- A Swedish actress, in 1954 she received an Honorary Oscar for her unforgettable screen performances. The Guinness Book of World Records named her the most beautiful woman who ever lived. She was also voted Best Silent Actress of the country.
2. Vyjayantimala- An Indian actress whose performance was widely appreciated in Bimal Roy’s Devdas. She won three Best Actress awards for her acting. She is now an active politician).
Truck- loads- large amounts that could fill a truck
Stables- a building set apart and adapted for keeping horses
Remote corners- a place that is located away from the populated areas
Maiden- a young woman or an unmarried girl
The word ‘Pancakes’ from the title ‘Poets and Pancakes’ is the name of a make-up brand that Gemini Studios used in large amounts. It is a very popular brand used by famous celebrities like Miss Gohar, Greta Garbo and Vyjayantimala. The writer says that another actress named Rati Agnihotri may not have even heard of the brand of makeup as she entered the industry later and probably, the brand was no longer in use then. The lesson begins with a brief description about the make-up room of Gemini Studios which was situated on a higher level floor of the building. The place was earlier believed to be Robert Clive’s stables.
Robert Clive was the English soldier and statesman who expanded British power in India. Many other buildings in the city are identified as the place of his residence which is evident of the fact that he moved frequently. He is believed to have fought some impossible battles in the remote areas of India. He married a young woman in St. Mary’s Church in Fort St. George in Madras.
The make-up room had the look of a hair-cutting salon with lights at all angles around half a dozen large mirrors. They were all incandescent lights, so you can imagine the fiery misery of those subjected to make-up. The make-up department was first headed by a Bengali who became too big for a studio and left. He was succeeded by a Maharashtrian who was assisted by a Dharwar Kannadiga, an Andhra, a Madras Indian Christian, an Anglo-Burmese and the usual local Tamils. All this shows that there was a great deal of national integration long before A.I.R. and Doordarshan began broadcasting programmes on national integration.
Incandescent- emitting light as a result of being heated; burning
Fiery- red-hot; scorching
Misery- a state or feeling of great physical or mental distress or discomfort
Madras Indian Christian - a particular caste in Indian Christians of people from Madras who have been converted to Christianity religion
Anglo-Burmese - The Anglo-Burmese people, also known as the Anglo-Burmans, are a community of Eurasians of Burmese and European descent, who emerged as a distinct community through mixed relations between the British and other European settlers and the indigenous peoples of Burma from 1826 until 1948 when Myanmar gained its independence from the United Kingdom.
Broadcasting- the transmission of programmes or information by radio or television
The make-up room looked just like a salon with around 6-7 large mirrors surrounded by large bulbs all around them. The bright lights emitted a lot of heat and were a source of discomfort for those getting their make-up done. At first, a Bengali was the head of the make-up studio but then he outgrew Gemini Studios and left it for better opportunities. After him, it was supervised by a Maharashtrian who was assisted by a Dharwar Kannadiga, an Andhra, a Madras Indian Christian, an Anglo-Burmese and the usual local Tamils. The fact that people from different cultures and religions worked together puts forward the post-independence national integration scenario. It shows that people were united way before All India Radio and Doordarshan raised the concept.
This gang of nationally integrated make-up men could turn any decent-looking person into a hideous crimson hued monster with the help of truck-loads of pancake and a number of other locally made potions and lotions. Those were the days of mainly indoor shooting, and only five per cent of the film was shot outdoors. I suppose the sets and studio lights needed the girls and boys to be made to look ugly in order to look presentable in the movie.
Hideous- extremely ugly
Crimson hue- deep red colour
Potions- a liquid mixture
The author mentions that this team of nationally unified men had the ability to turn any simple-looking individual into an ugly creature using heaps of Pancake products, customised lotions and potions. In those days, near about 5 percent movies were shot outdoors and rest of them were shot indoors. Thus, indoor shooting, set-up and lights required the actors to wear loads of make-up in order to look presentable in front of the camera even if it made them look ugly in real life.
A strict hierarchy was maintained in the make-up department. The chief make-up man made the chief actors and actresses ugly, his senior assistant the ‘second’ hero and heroine, the junior assistant the main comedian, and so forth. The players who played the crowd were the responsibility of the office boy. (Even the make-up department of the Gemini Studio had an ‘office boy’!) On the days when there was a crowdshooting, you could see him mixing his paint in a giant vessel and slapping it on the crowd players. The idea was to close every pore on the surface of the face in the process of applying make-up. He wasn’t exactly a ‘boy’; he was in his early forties, having entered the studios years ago in the hope of becoming a star actor or a top screenwriter, director or lyrics writer. He was a bit of a poet.
Hierarchy- A system in which members of an organization or society are ranked according to relative status or authority
Just like any large organisation, the make-up studio followed a hierarchy where the chief make-up man made the lead actors and actresses ugly, his senior assistant- the ‘second’ hero and heroine, the junior assistant- the main comedian, and the office boy helped in making the remaining crowd look ugly at times of crowd shooting (when the scene was shot on a group or a crowd). Their whole idea was to cover each and every blemish on a face for it to look good on the screen. The fact that the make-up studio had its own office boy is significant enough to highlight the size of Gemini studios. The office boy at Gemini studios was not a boy but a man in his early forties who did poetry and like million others, he joined the studio with the dream of becoming an actor or screen-writer, director or lyricist.
In those days I worked in a cubicle, two whole sides of which were French windows. (I didn’t know at that time they were called French windows.) Seeing me sitting at my desk tearing up newspapers day in and day out, most people thought I was doing next to nothing. It is likely that the Boss thought likewise too. So anyone who felt I should be given some occupation would barge into my cubicle and deliver an extended lecture. The ‘boy’ in the make-up department had decided I should be enlightened on how great literary talent was being allowed to go waste in a department fit only for barbers and perverts. Soon I was praying for crowd-shooting all the time. Nothing short of it could save me from his epics.
French window - each of a pair of glazed doors in an outside wall, serving as a window and door, typically opening onto a garden or balcony
Cubicle- a small partitioned-off area of a room
Barge in- to walk into a room quickly, without being invited
Enlightened-having or showing a rational, modern and well-informed outlook
Epics- an exceptionally long and arduous task or activity
Perverts- a person whose sexual behaviour is regarded as abnormal and unacceptable.
The duty of Asokamitran in Gemini Studios was to cut out newspaper clippings on a wide variety of subjects and store them in files. Many of these had to be written out by hand. He was given a small area in a room with French windows on two of its sides. Considering the nature of his job, most people thought his job to be insignificant and he suspected that his boss used to think likewise. Therefore, people took it as an incentive to go uninvitedly in his cubicle, to lecture him about doing something real. Even the office boy would barge in to share his views of how poetic talent was getting wasted in the make-up department. Thus, Asokamitran would pray for crowd shooting, which was the only way to keep the office boy busy and save him from his stories.
In all instances of frustration, you will always find the anger directed towards a single person openly or covertly and this man of the make-up department was convinced that all his woes, ignominy and neglect were due to Kothamangalam Subbu. Subbu was the No. 2 at Gemini Studios. He couldn’t have had a more encouraging opening in films than our grown-up make-up boy had. On the contrary he must have had to face more uncertain and difficult times, for when he began his career, there were no firmly established film producing companies or studios. Even in the matter of education, specially formal education, Subbu couldn’t have had an appreciable lead over our boy. But by virtue of being born a Brahmin — a virtue, indeed! — he must have had exposure to more affluent situations and people. He had the ability to look cheerful at all times even after having had a hand in a flop film.
Ignominy- public shame or disgrace
Contrary- opposite in nature, direction or meaning
Virtue- behaviour showing high moral standards; here, good luck
Affluent- having a great deal of money; wealthy
Having a hand in - to be involved with something
The boy from the make-up department was very well-convinced that the main reason for all his misery was Kothamangalam Subbu. Subbu was privileged enough to get a better opening in films than the make-up boy even though he was less educated and entered this line in its initial stages. He was born a Brahmin which was considered to be a virtue, because of which he could associate with well-off people and be in comfortable situations. He was a cheerful man, capable of keeping a happy face even after his film couldn’t do well.
He always had work for somebody — he could never do things on his own — but his sense of loyalty made him identify himself with his principal completely and turn his entire creativity to his principal’s advantage. He was tailor-made for films. Here was a man who could be inspired when commanded. “The rat fights the tigress underwater and kills her but takes pity on the cubs and tends them lovingly — I don’t know how to do the scene,” the producer would say and Subbu would come out with four ways of the rat pouring affection on its victim’s offspring. “Good, but I am not sure it is effective enough,” the producer would say and in a minute Subbu would come out with fourteen more alternatives.
Loyalty- a strong feeling of support for someone
Subbu was a very resourceful man who always had some sort of work for everyone. He was bad at doing things on his own but his immense loyalty made him a man of importance. He was well known for his creativity and everybody thought that he was a perfect fit in the profession of film-making. One had to only tell him a scenario and he would come with many different ways to perform it. For instance, when the director asked him to execute a scene in which a rat kills a tigress underwater but takes care of the cubs out of sympathy, Subbu came with four or rather, fourteen different ways to perform it and he took less than a minute to work it out.
Film-making must have been and was so easy with a man like Subbu around and if ever there was a man who gave direction and definition to Gemini Studios during its golden years, it was Subbu. Subbu had a separate identity as a poet and though he was certainly capable of more complex and higher forms, he deliberately chose to address his poetry to the masses. His success in films overshadowed and dwarfed his literary achievements — or so his critics felt. He composed several truly original ‘story poems’ in folk refrain and diction and also wrote a sprawling novel Thillana Mohanambal with dozens of very deftly etched characters. He quite successfully recreated the mood and manner of the Devadasis of the early 20th century.
Deliberately- on purpose
Overshadowed- was better than
Dwarfed- cause to seem small or insignificant in comparison
Literary - associated with literary works or other formal writing
Critic- a person who judges the merits of literary or artistic works
Refrain- lines that are repeated in poetry
Diction- the style of enunciation in speaking or singing; articulation
Sprawling- spreading over a large area, detailed
Etched- here, defined, described
Devadasis - In South India, a devadasi is a girl "dedicated" to worship and serve a deity or a temple for the rest of her life. The system was outlawed in all of India in 1988.
Since Subbu was an extremely resourceful and creative person, film-making was a lot easier when he was around. He alone, gave gemini Studios a unique identity. Not only this, he was great at poetry. He had the privilege of getting his poetry extraordinary recognition but he still chose to recite it personally to the masses. His critics were of the opinion that his poetic skills were overshadowed by his excellent film-making skills. He composed various folk ‘story poems’ and the infamous novel Thillana Mohanambal with beautifully curated characters. He even recreated the mood and manner of Devadasis who existed in the 20th century.
He was an amazing actor — he never aspired to the lead roles — but whatever subsidiary role he played in any of the films, he performed better than the supposed main players. He had a genuine love for anyone he came across and his house was a permanent residence for dozens of near and far relations and acquaintances. It seemed against Subbu’s nature to be even conscious that he was feeding and supporting so many of them. Such a charitable and improvident man, and yet he had enemies! Was it because he seemed so close and intimate with The Boss? Or was it his general demeanour that resembled a sycophant’s? Or his readiness to say nice things about everything? In any case, there was this man in the make-up department who would wish the direst things for Subbu
Lead - main
Subsidiary- secondary, supporting
Main players- actors performing the main roles
Improvident- a person who does not plan his expenses and ends up wasting money
Demeanour- manner; attitude
Sycophant- a person who acts obsequiously (excessively obedient) towards someone important in order to gain advantage
Apart from the aforementioned qualities, Subbu was a realistic actor not very fond of playing the protagonist. Whichever role he performed, he had the ability to perform better than the main actors. He treated everyone with sincere respect and affection, so much so that his home was a permanent residence for all his knowns. He wasn’t even aware of the fact that he was so welcoming. The narrator was amazed at the fact that even such a person could have enemies. He was not sure about the reason behind such behaviour towards Subbu. He guessed it to be his closeness with the boss, or because he said nice things about everything and everyone or simply because he praised the boss to gain favours. Regardless, the boy in the make-up department wished terrible things for Subbu.
You saw Subbu always with The Boss but in the attendance rolls, he was grouped under a department called the Story Department comprising a lawyer and an assembly of writers and poets. The lawyer was also officially known as the legal adviser, but everybody referred to him as the opposite. An extremely talented actress, who was also extremely temperamental, once blew over on the sets. While everyone stood stunned, the lawyer quietly switched on the recording equipment. When the actress paused for breath, the lawyer said to her, “One minute, please,” and played back the recording. There was nothing incriminating or unmentionably foul about the actress’s tirade against the producer. But when she heard her voice again through the sound equipment, she was struck dumb. A girl from the countryside, she hadn’t gone through all the stages of worldly experience that generally precede a position of importance and sophistication that she had found herself catapulted into. She never quite recovered from the terror she felt that day. That was the end of a brief and brilliant acting career — the legal adviser, who was also a member of the Story Department, had unwittingly brought about that sad end.
Tempramental - liable to unreasonable changes of mood.
Blew over- to pass by or to end
Incriminating- making someone appear guilty of a crime or wrongdoing.
Foul - bad
Tirade - a long, angry speech of criticism or accusation
Struck dumb - shocked
Countryside: from village
Sophistication - having a good understanding of the way people behave
Catapulted - move suddenly or at great speed
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mn Subbu could always be found with the boss but officially, he worked under the Story department. The department consisted of poets, writers and strangely, a lawyer. He was often referred to as a ‘legal adviser’ but people used to call him the opposite. This was because once, a high-tempered actress starting throwing tantrums on set leaving everyone stunned, while he went and secretly switched on the recording equipment. He played it when the actress paused for breath, leaving her shocked. There was nothing offensive against the producer but her problematic tone, volume and tantrums sent her into a trauma which was hard for her to recover from. It marked the end of her short but brilliant acting career and the legal advisor was responsible for it somehow.
While every other member of the Department wore a kind of uniform — khadi dhoti with a slightly oversized and clumsily tailored white khadi shirt — the legal adviser wore pants and a tie and sometimes a coat that looked like a coat of mail. Often he looked alone and helpless — a man of cold logic in a crowd of dreamers — a neutral man in an assembly of Gandhiites and khadiites. Like so many of those who were close to The Boss, he was allowed to produce a film and though a lot of raw stock and pancake were used on it, not much came of the film. Then one day The Boss closed down the Story Department and this was perhaps the only instance in all human history where a lawyer lost his job because the poets were asked to go home.
Khadi - an Indian homespun cotton cloth
Dhoti - a garment worn by male Hindus, consisting of a piece of material tied around the waist and extending to cover most of the legs
Coat of mail - a protective garment made of linked metal rings (mail) or of overlapping metal plates
Cold logic - logic that fails to consider human factors such as culture, language, social dynamics, personality and emotion
The lawyer wore unique clothes, different from the usual uniform that consisted of a dhoti made of khadi fabric and a slightly oversized khadi shirt. He was generally seen wearing pants, tie and sometimes a coat which was like an armour. He was a neutral man with logic which did not value human feelings and was usually seen helpless in a world full of literary enthusiasts. T
he narrator called him a ‘neutral man in the assembly of Gandhiites and Khadiites’ because he was different from the rest of them. He was very close to the boss and just as the trend goes, he too was allowed to produce his own film which could not do very well. A lot of make-up products and pancake stash were used in the process. Eventually, the boss shut down the Story Department. The narrator expresses it in a sarcastic way, that this was perhaps the only instance in human history where a lawyer lost his job because the poets were asked to go home. As the story department was closed, the poets were rendered workless alongwith the lawyer.
Gemini Studios was the favourite haunt of poets like S.D.S.Yogiar, Sangu Subramanyam, Krishna Sastry and Harindranath Chattopadhyaya. It had an excellent mess which supplied good coffee at all times of the day and for most part of the night. Those were the days when Congress rule meant Prohibition and meeting over a cup of coffee was rather satisfying entertainment. Barring the office boys and a couple of clerks, everybody else at the Studios radiated leisure, a pre-requisite for poetry. Most of them wore khadi and worshipped Gandhiji but beyond that they had not the faintest appreciation for political thought of any kind. Naturally, they were all averse to the term ‘Communism’. A Communist was a godless man — he had no filial or conjugal love; he had no compunction about killing his own parents or his children; he was always out to cause and spread unrest and violence among innocent and ignorant people. Such notions which prevailed everywhere else in South India at that time also, naturally, floated about vaguely among the khadi-clad poets of Gemini Studios. Evidence of it was soon forthcoming.
Haunt - frequently visited by
Mess- a building or room providing meals
Prohibition- the act of forbidding something
Leisure- time when one is not working or occupied; free time
Prerequisite- a thing that is required as a prior condition for something else to happen or exist
Averse- having a strong dislike of or opposition to something
Communism- collectivism, socialism
Filial- relating to or due from a son or daughter.
Conjugal- relating to marriage or the relationship between a married couple
Vaguely- in a way that is uncertain
Forthcoming- about to happen or appear
The Gemini studio was frequented by famous poets like S.D.S.Yogiar, Sangu Subramanyam, Krishna Sastry and Harindranath Chattopadhyaya. The mess at the studio was excellent, it prepared a nice coffee which was available all day long. In those days, the Congress rule meant restrictions and a cup of coffee with friends was the only source of entertainment. Only the office boys and some clerks at the studio worked, the others enjyed their free time which was necessary for creating poetry. Most of the poets wore clothes made of khadi fabric and respected Gandhiji for its prevelance but were not politically inclined. They hated terms like communism because they thought that a Communist did not love his family. He would not hestitate in killing them. He was there to create violence among the ignorant and innocent people. Such a thought was prevelant in South India and the poets were no exceptions to it. The proof of their thought would be seen shortly.
When Frank Buchman’s Moral Re-Armament army, some two hundred strong, visited Madras sometime in 1952, they could not have found a warmer host in India than the Gemini Studios. Someone called the group an international circus. They weren’t very good on the trapeze and their acquaintance with animals was only at the dinner table, but they presented two plays in a most professional manner. Their ‘Jotham Valley’ and ‘The Forgotten Factor’ ran several shows in Madras and along with the other citizens of the city, the Gemini family of six hundred saw the plays over and over again.
The message of the plays were usually plain and simple homilies, but the sets and costumes were first-rate. Madras and the Tamil drama community were terribly impressed and for some years almost all
Tamil plays had a scene of sunrise and sunset in the manner of ‘Jotham Valley’ with a bare stage, a white background curtain and a tune played on the flute.
Trapeze- a horizontal bar hanging with two ropes and free to swing, used by acrobats in a circus
Homilies- sermon; lecture
Bare - empty
Gemini Studio displayed extreme hospitality when Frank Buchman’s Moral Re-Armament army consisting of 200 people came to Madras in 1952. They were referred to as the International Circus even though they were not very good with trapeze and the only association they had with animals, was at the dinner table - they ate non vegetarian food and other than that, they did not interact with animals as was done in a circus. Their two plays that were performed with full proficiency and professionalism got a lot of appreciation while they performed it again and again in different parts of Madras. Though the plots and message were not complex, their sets and costumes were near to perfection so much so that for many years, Tamil plays displayed sunset and sunrise in a way inherited from ‘Jotham Valley’.
It was some years later that I learnt that the MRA was a kind of countermovement to international Communism and the big bosses of Madras like Mr. Vasan simply played into their hands. I am not sure however, that this was indeed the case, for the unchangeable aspects of these big bosses and their enterprises remained the same, MRA or no MRA, international Communism or no international Communism.
The staff of Gemini Studios had a nice time hosting two hundred people of all hues and sizes of at least twenty nationalities. It was such a change from the usual collection of crowd players waiting to be slapped with thick layers of make-up by the office-boy in the make-up department.
Countermovement - a movement or other action made in opposition to another.
played into their hands - to do something that one does not realize will hurt oneself and help someone else
The MRA was opposed to Communism and people like Mr Vasan was suffering at their hands. However, these bosses and their businesses remained unaffected by such issues.
Not only the audience, but also the staff of Gemini studios had a great time hosting two hundred people from over twenty nationalities. It was different from their usual routine of crowd performances where groups of people would wait to get heaps on makeup on their face by the make-up department
A few months later, the telephone lines of the big bosses of Madras buzzed and once again we at Gemini Studios cleared a whole shooting stage to welcome another visitor. All they said was that he was a poet from England. The only poets from England the simple Gemini staff knew or heard of were Wordsworth and Tennyson; the more literate ones knew of Keats, Shelley and Byron; and one or two might have faintly come to know of someone by the name Eliot. Who was the poet visiting the Gemini Studios now?
After a few months, Gemini Studios got yet another chance to welcome a poet from England. People made guesses about who was going to visit this time because most people knew a few poets like Wordsworth or Tennyson, or the enthusiasts knew about Keats, Shelley, Byron or even Eliot. They were curious as to who was the one visiting Gemini Studios.
“He is not a poet. He is an editor. That’s why The Boss is giving him a big reception.” Vasan was also the editor of the popular Tamil weekly Ananda Vikatan. He wasn’t the editor of any of the known names of British publications in Madras, that is, those known at the Gemini Studios. Since the top men of The Hindu were taking the initiative, the surmise was that the poet was the editor of a daily — but not from The Manchester Guardian or the London Times. That was all that even the most wellinformed among us knew.
Surmise- guess; suspect
The person about to visit Gemini Studios was not a poet but an editor of a newspaper daily and thus, the boss was planning on giving him a huge welcome. Even Vasan was the editor of a famous Tamil weekly publication titled Ananda Vikatan. There were many famous publishing houses in Madras that had been set up by the British which everyone at Gemini studios knew about. The highest level of managers at The Hindu were involved which meant that the editor was a prominent personality. The staff at Gemini only knew of 2 newspapers - The Manchester Guardian and The London Times. The man was not the editor of either of the two.
At last, around four in the afternoon, the poet (or the editor) arrived. He was a tall man, very English, very serious and of course very unknown to all of us. Battling with half a dozen pedestal fans on the shooting stage, The Boss read out a long speech. It was obvious that he too knew precious little about the poet (or the editor). The speech was all in the most general terms but here and there it was peppered with words like ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’. Then the poet spoke. He couldn’t have addressed a more dazed and silent audience — no one knew what he was talking about and his accent defeated any attempt to understand what he was saying. The whole thing lasted about an hour; then the poet left and we all dispersed in utter bafflement — what are we doing? What is an English poet doing in a film studio which makes Tamil films for the simplest sort of people? People whose lives least afforded them the possibility of cultivating a taste for English poetry? The poet looked pretty baffled too, for he too must have felt the sheer incongruity of his talk about the thrills and travails of an English poet. His visit remained an unexplained mystery.
Bafflement- confusion, bewilderment
The guest finally arrived at around four in the afternoon. He was tall, and had a serious-looking british face (obviously) which was unknown to almost all of them. Boss welcomed him with a speech and the speech was evident of the fact that he knew about him just as little as they did. The speech was general but they could not help but hear words like ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’. Then it was time for the poet (or editor) to enlighten the audience but unfortunately, no one could understand a word he was saying because of his British accent. Everyone was left bewildered. The visitor was just as confused. People couldn’t understand the reason why a British poet was there at a studio that made Tamil films and in between people who couldn’t afford to develop a taste for English poetry. His visit was indeed a mystery.
The great prose-writers of the world may not admit it, but my conviction grows stronger day after day that prosewriting is not and cannot be the true pursuit of a genius. It is for the patient, persistent, persevering drudge with a heart so shrunken that nothing can break it; rejection slips don’t mean a thing to him; he at once sets about making a fresh copy of the long prose piece and sends it on to another editor enclosing postage for the return of the manuscript. It was for such people that The Hindu had published a tiny announcement in an insignificant corner of an unimportant page — a short story contest organised by a British periodical by the name The Encounter. Of course, The Encounter wasn’t a known commodity among the Gemini literati. I wanted to get an idea of the periodical before I spent a considerable sum in postage sending a manuscript to England. In those days, the British Council Library had an entrance with no long winded signboards and notices to make you feel you were sneaking into a forbidden area. And there were copies of The Encounter lying about in various degrees of freshness, almost untouched by readers. When I read the editor’s name, I heard a bell ringing in my shrunken heart. It was the poet who had visited the Gemini Studios — I felt like I had found a long lost brother and I sang as I sealed the envelope and wrote out his address. I felt that he too would be singing the same song at the same time — long lost brothers of Indian films discover each other by singing the same song in the first reel and in the final reel of the film. Stephen Spender.
Stephen — that was his name.
Pursuit - hobby, activity
Genius - an exceptionally intelligent person
Persevering- continuing in a course of action despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.
Drudge - a person made to do hard menial or dull work.
Manuscript- an author's handwritten or typed text that has not yet been published
Literati- well-educated people who are interested in literature.
Sneaking into- doing something in a secretive or stealthy way
Forbidden- not allowed; banned.
Asokamitran feels that writing cannot be performed by the intelligent because it is a task of those who are patient and can do the hard work. A writer should not have any feelings, not be bogged down by rejection and must be able to prepare a lengthy prose, mail it to the editor alongwith a stamped envelope for return of the manuscript. For such writers, The Hindu had advertised that there was a short story contest organised by a British publication titled The Encounter. The writers at Gemini studio had not heard of the name. Asokamitran wanted to know about it before he decided to spend money on mailing his entry and sending it to England. He visited the British Council Library to get information. In those days, the entrance of the library was simple, without signboards and notices and no one felt as if they were entering a restricted area. At the library, he saw many copies of The Encounter. The editor's name rung a bell in Asokamitran's heart. He felt that he had found a long lost brother and was glad when he mailed his entry for the contest. He thought that he too would sing the same song when he would get his mail. The editor’s name was Stephen Spender.
And years later, when I was out of Gemini Studios and I had much time but not much money, anything at a reduced price attracted my attention. On the footpath in front of the Madras Mount Road Post Office, there was a pile of brand new books for fifty paise each. Actually they were copies of the same book, an elegant paperback of American origin. ‘Special low-priced student edition, in connection with the 50th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution’, I paid fifty paise and picked up a copy of the book, The God That Failed. Six eminent men of letters in six separate essays described ‘their journeys into Communism and their disillusioned return’; Andre Gide, Richard Wright, Ignazio Silone, Arthur Koestler, Louis Fischer and Stephen Spender. Stephen Spender! Suddenly the book assumed tremendous significance. Stephen Spender, the poet who had visited Gemini Studios! In a moment I felt a dark chamber of my mind lit up by a hazy illumination. The reaction to Stephen Spender at Gemini Studios was no longer a mystery. The Boss of the Gemini Studios may not have much to do with Spender’s poetry. But not with his god that failed.
Stephen Spender- An English poet essayist who concentrated on themes of social injustice and class struggle.
Andre Gide- A French writer, humanist, moralist, received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1947.
Richard Wright- An American writer, known for his novel Native Son and his autobiography Black Boy.
Ignazio Silone- An Italian writer, who was the founder member of the Italian communist party in 1921, and is known for the book. The God That Failed, authored by him.
Arthur Koestler- A Hungarian born British novelist, known for his novel Darkness at Noon.
Louis Fischer- A well known American journalist and a writer of Mahatma Gandhi’s biography entitled
The Life of Mahatma Gandhi. The Oscar winning film Gandhi is based on this biographical account.
Many years later, when the writer left Gemini studios, he had plenty of free time but not much money. So, discounted goods on sale attracted him. Once he came across books being sold on the footpath outside the post office located on the Madras Mount Road. They were priced at 50 paisa each. They were termed as student edition and thus, were offered at a special low price because they were celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. He paid 50 paisa and took a copy of the book titled The God That Failed. It had six essays by six famous men who wrote about communism. The writers were Andre Gide, Richard Wright, Ignazio Silone, Arthur Koestler, Louis Fischer and Stephen Spender. As the writer read Stephen's name, the book became important for him because he had visited Gemini studios. He was reminded of him and the name sounded familiar. Asokamitran thought that the boss at Gemini studios may not be concerened with Spender's poetry.
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Poets and Pancakes- Question and Answers
1. What does the writer mean by ‘the fiery misery’ of those subjected to make-up’?
A. By ‘the fiery misery’ of those subjected to make-up, the writer is trying to throw light upon the difficulties actors and actresses have to face because of half a dozen mirrors surrounded with large light bulbs. The bulbs generated a lot of heat and were definitely not a pleasure for the eyes.
2. What is the example of national integration that the author refers to?
A. At first, a Bengali was the head of the make-up studio but then he outgrew Gemini Studios and left it for better opportunities. After him, it was supervised by a Maharashtrian who was assisted by a Dharwar Kannadiga, an Andhra, a Madras Indian Christian, an Anglo-Burmese and the usual local Tamils. The fact that people from different cultures worked together puts forward the post-independence national integration scenario. It shows that people were united way before All India Radio and Doordarshan raised the concept.
3. What work did the ‘office boy’ do in the Gemini Studios? Why did he join the studios? Why was he disappointed?
A. The ‘office boy’ had the duty of slapping paints on the faces of players at the time of crowd-shooting. He joined Gemini Studios with a dream of becoming a first-rate actor, screen-writer or producer.
4. Why did the author appear to be doing nothing at the studios?
A. The author’s job was to cut and collect newspaper clippings or sometimes even writing them by hand. This was easier and lesser in comparison to what others were doing at the Studio.
5. Why was the office boy frustrated? Who did he show his anger on?
A. The office boy was frustrated because he thought his literary talent was going wasted in a room full of barbers and make-up artists. He somehow managed to deviate his anger on Subbu.
6. Who was Subbu’s principal?
A. The Boss, SS Vasan, who was also the founder of Gemini Studios, was Subbu's principal
7. Subbu is described as a many-sided genius. List four of his special abilities.
A. Subbu, as a man of many qualities, had the ability to look cheerful at all times, was an excellent actor who could portray his roles in several ways, was an accomplished poet, and loved anyone he met.
8. Why was the legal adviser referred to as the opposite by others?
A. The legal adviser was referred to as the opposite by others because he once resorted to blackmailing an actress by recording her while she was throwing tantrums on the set. This is not considered to be legal, thus he was usually called the opposite.
9. What made the lawyer stand out from the others at Gemini Studios?
A. Gemini Studios was filled with dreamers and creative personnel. A lawyer in between them was the only man with logic. The writer calls him a ‘neutral’ man.
10. Did the people at Gemini Studios have any particular political affiliations?
A. No, although they dressed up in Khadi, they did not have the slightest political affiliations.
11. Why was the Moral Rearmament Army welcomed at the Studios?
A. Frank Buchman's Moral Re-Armament army was welcomed at the studio mainly because of their political association. The MRA came as a welcome change to their monotonous days at the studio.
12. Name one example to show that Gemini studios was influenced by the plays staged by MRA.
A. Frank Buchman's Moral Rearmament Army staged two plays“Jotham Valley” and The Forgotten Factor” in a most professional manner. TheGemini family of 600 and the people of Madras city watched them times and again.
13. Who was The Boss of Gemini Studios?
A. SS Vasan was The Boss of Gemini Studios.
14. What caused the lack of communication between the Englishman and the people at Gemini Studios?
A. The British accent of the Englishman caused lack of communication between him and the people at Gemini Studios.
15. Why is the Englishman’s visit referred to as unexplained mystery?
A. The Englishman's visit to the Gemini Studios is referred to as anunexplained mystery because no one could decipher his identity, whether he was a poet or an editor. Besides, when he spoke, no one at the studio understood what he intended to say as his accent was beyond their comprehension.
16. Who was the English visitor to the studios?
A. Stephen Spender
17. How did the author discover who the English visitor to the studios was?
A. Before investing money in participating in a short story contest organized by an English periodical- The Encounter, the author did a research on the magazine. He went to the British Council Library where, while going through an issue of that periodical, he discovered that its editor was Stephen Spender, the poet that had once visited the studio.
18. What does The God that Failed refer to?
A. The God that Failed refers to a collection of essays by six authors who wrote about their journey into Communism, one of them being Stephen Spender.
19. The author has used gentle humour to point out human foibles. Pick out instances of this to show how this serves to make the piece interesting.
A. The author portrays the make-up artists and the usage of the pancakes in an interesting way. Even the caricature of Subbu is hilarious. The way he tries to help his principal is quite amusing. The episode of the legal adviser that inadvertently causes the end of an actress’s career is yet another example. The frustration of the office boy, the superficial praising of Gandhi, hatred of Communism and the ‘mystery’ surrounding Stephen Spender are some of the instances where the author has incorporated gentle humour.
20. Why was Kothamangalam Subbu considered No. 2 in Gemini Studios?
A. Kothamangalam Subbu was succesful in securing the place closest to The Boss by means of flattery. He was not brilliant but a rather cheerful person and loyal to The Boss. He offered solutions whenever The Boss was in a fix. Thus, the staff considered him No.2 in Gemini Studios.
21. How does the author describe the incongruity of an English poet addressing the audience at Gemini Studios?
A. The English poet was addressing the Tamil audience at Gemini Studios in English with a typical provincial accent. He was talking about the thrills and travails of an English poet to a dazed and silent audience. This was the incongruity because his audience could not understand him at all.
22. What do you understand about the author’s literary inclinations from the account?
A. The writer was a prose-writer. He wanted to send a short story for the short story contest organised by a British periodical by the name 'The Encounter'.
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