When Manav Kaul came to Lucknow recently he brought with him all the colourful contradictions that go to make a human being.

The actor who is more good looking than any hero, enjoys a huge fan following for villainous roles that he plays on screen today. He brought along a book to the city as well. At a time when he leads the pack of good cinema like Kai Po Che, City Lights and Wazir he has titled this first book Theek Tumahrey Peechey where he seems to be trying to bridge that bothersome divide between what is and what ought to be.

The opening poem from where the book earns its title talks of a shattered being whose existence from what it was to what it is, enjoys only nervously glued wholesomeness:

bikharney ke baad ka simtha hua sa maiin 'tha' se lekar 'hoon' tak poora se poora jee letha hoon

Throughout his interaction with a houseful of admirers, Manav tried to rise above the reigning attitude of pettiness that refuses to look within and repeatedly runs down the other.

Many in the audience were eager to know his views on Kashmir, Kashmiriyat and films that have used Kashmir as a backdrop. He was asked about the role of Shiva in his life. What does he think of bad Bollywood cinema? If he prefers working for stage or screen and if he is still single?

Manav's answers to all the questions lived up to his wonderful name.

He worships those who think and feel. It is very easy to make good films. Stop watching bad films and no one will make them. Read good literature and it will naturally flood the market place. He remains single because as his mother discovered a long time ago that there is no line of luck on his palm.

His Kashmir, he said is not divided between pandits and separatists. It is not the territory claimed today by both India and Pakistan and it is not the Kashmir shown in Haidar, the Vishal Bhardwaj film either.

“I am an emotional fool when it comes to Kashmir. My Kashmir is an exquisite place with deep blue skies, white clouds, a very special aroma and a home in Baramulla that is now gutted,” smiled Manav, pointing out that nothing ever remains the same. Least of all happiness. The joy of being alive is in trying to figure out how not to be bored or depressed but to turn change around to one's advantage. Human beings don't realise how flexible they are. It is folly to believe that any experience is cast in stone. Everything changes in the world and to accept and to enjoy change is what Manav's life is about.

Born in Baramulla, this family of pandits fled the troubled land of Kashmir in 1990 while Manav was still a teenager, to make a home in Hoshangabad, Madhya Pradesh. Economically the family saw itself tumble down from middle class in Baramulla to lower middle class in self exile. Years later Manav did return to Baramulla to find the home where he spent his early childhood, in crumbles.

Of course he was hurt but he struggled not to blame or hate other human beings for what had happened to him. This attitude adopted by him towards tragedy is the only way he can continue to be creative and to be human. Life is just like that, an ongoing saga of agony and ecstasy and ecstasy and agony.

Manav consciously tries to prevent himself from being bitter about life. He tries to imagine that space between the way life is and the way it ought to be.

“I have talked to different Kashmiris and all of them have a story to tell and there is truth, pain and happiness in each story. Everyone is a hero in his story. Who am I to take sides?” questions Manav who would like to see human beings come together in the name of love, literature and laughter and not allow politics to poison their life and divide them in the name of caste, class and religion.

The problems of the world can only ease if more people were more kind to each other, he said inspiring members of the audience to ask him how is he so honest and so frank.

“I don't know how I am like this. All I know is that I am like this,” Manav charmed one and all. Literature has played a great role in his life to soften him as a person and to make him appreciate life. It is the writing of Franz Kafka, Maxim Gorky and Charles Bukowski that he admires amongst a long list of other thinkers.

Manav loves the work of Hindi author Nirmal Verma who spent a decade in the Czech Republic. When Manav was in Prague, he tried to relive the literature of Verma and also went in search of Kafka, perhaps the greatest writer of the 20th century. For it was in Prague that Kafka gave voice to the angst of citizens of modern, decadent societies, reflecting endlessly on the absurdity of existence in classics like The Metamorphosis, The Trial and The Castle.

Kafka belonged to the minority, and later very wronged Jewish community in Central Europe but the writer's greatness lies in talking about injustices faced by all human beings. Perhaps that is one reason for Manav to be influenced both in his life and in his work by Kafka.

The other great influence in Manav's life is Bukowski, German born American poet and novelist. It may be recalled that Bukowski died in 1994 wondering if it is a surety that everyone will die one day why that alone is not reason enough to make human beings love each other more?

The answer may be explored perhaps in Manav's next performance, poem or play?