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Chandu Shah,Gujarati Poet and Playwright Talks to Lokvani

Nirmala Garimella

Chandu Shah explains, at the outset, as he presents me with his new poetry collection 'Blue Jeans' that it has been a product of his long hours of driving to work. One feels astonishment as well as a kind of anticipation as you glance at his poetry in question. The title of the book,Blue Jeans is provocative, even curiously compelling, printed in recycled denim paper. To be able to pen down poem after poem with the recurrent theme as Blue Jeans interspersed with the everyday lives of individuals, situations, problems and issues justifies its symbolic significance. For poetry written in odd moments, a remarkable fluency and creativity is visible. His poems written in Gujarati have a conversational tone and have been pieces of inspiration from a casual commercial, a motel sign and sometimes even a metaphor of the human gene. Blue Jeans has been subscribed as a textbook for Masters students at SNDT university, Mumbai, India.

Chandu Shah, as he likes to be called is certainly passionate about his artistic endeavors. He wears many hats. He is the President of Gurjar (Gujarati organization), heads a company called S4Inc that deals with defense contracts and information technology, is a poet, playwright, actor, writer, journalist, director and producer. As a national sponsor of Plays by talented movie star Paresh Rawal, he organizes shows all over USA and Canada and tours with the troupe in Northeast. Shah is able to slip into all these roles with the same consummate ease as being a devoted father to his twin children Kushaan and Shailee. Wife Eshani is a talented actress and daughter of the most popular Gujarati humorist Tarak Mehta.

A graduate of Narsee Monjee College (Vile Parla West Mumbai ), his foray into theatre started with the support of Prithvi theatre in Bombay. He and an entire group of artists staged plays to a live packed audience with as many as 36 plays in one year alone – an achievement that Shah admits gave him the opportunity to work and interact with eminent artists in the field like Shafi Imandar, Paresh Rawal, Ace Film Star Aamir Khan and even Lagaan’s writer-director Ashutosh Gowariker.

I ask him about his current projects and Chandu Shah tells me that he has currently three in hand. He would like to revive Khelaiya (1981) a milestone in Gujarati theatre history and modern Gujarati Musical inspired by the longest running American Musical the Fantasticks. Secondly, he would like to create ‘West Side Story" in Gujarati to a modern contemporary theme. In the past the show performed 85 times in a hectic touring schedule. His third project at hand is a novel and innovative concept. He had previously performed a short version of a full length play called Mahatma Gandhi.com at the Lincoln Center, NY. Now he tells me he would like to recreate the actual longer version. The play starts on the premise that Gandhi, a wonderful communicator comes down to earth to apply as a model in a fashion show of the Gandhian line of clothing in New York. In the process Shah says, Gandhi is introduced to the new generation via the Internet. The whole play is staged on the Internet with emails, browser windows that shows the different facets of Gandhi at various stages in his life. A novel experiment indeed and which speaks eloquently on his talent and considerable gift of his imagination.

Shah also hosts a site called Narmad.com that deals with the life of social reformer Narmad in the 1850’s, a multifaceted personality who fought for social and political justice and who pioneered new literary forms. Shah has staged a one man show based on his life and this created a milestone in Gujarati theatre as it was the first play performed in the US and toured India 3 times, twice at the Invitation of the Government of Gujarat to and showcased in 10 major Gujarat cities. The play runs for about 1 hour 45 minutes without intermission and is entirely based on the writings by and about Narmad. Reviewed more than 112 times by newspapers and magazines it has been performed in USA, India, UK and France. The English version of NARMAD premiered on Sept. 7th, in Dayton (Ohio), USA

Shah’s books of poems in Gujarati Ane Thoda Sapna (and some dreams) published by SNDT University (Mumbai) in 1992 was awarded the best collection of New Gujarati poems published in 1992-1993 by Gujarati Sahitya Parishad, a premier Gujarati literary institution, Ahmedabad, India. He is the winner of National Award for the Best Experimental film 1982. A foreign correspondent for a Gujarati weekly news magazine Chitralekha, he is also on the committee of Gujarati Literary Academy of North America, based in NJ. A frequent visitor to India, Chandu Shah tours the country for various poetry recitals at the invitations of various cultural organizations.

As President of Gurjar, Shah coordinates the activities through his connections with artists to culturally enrich the organization while pursuing his own literary pursuits, a dedication to which is evident in his words. Shah’s vision of Gurjar is to make it an organization of, for and by every Gujarati in New England. An acknowledgement to the power of his poetry is when he tells me that he receives a standing ovation each time he recites them at gatherings. This is, evidently talent at work. As a parting shot Shah commends on the good work that Lokvani is doing and we wish him well for all his future literary pursuits.

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Chandu Shah

Shah as Narmad

In Mahatma Gandhi.com

Paresh Rawal reading his favorite poem from Blue Jeans

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