Ti­tled, Can­tilevered Tales, Jayant Kir­palani’s lat­est book sparkles with doses of his inim­itable wit and hu­mour, at times ir­rev­er­ent and at oth­ers with dashes of slap­stick. Kakoli Pod­dar finds out more…

Ti­tled, Can­tilevered Tales, this book sparkles with doses of Jayant Kri­palani’s inim­itable wit and hu­mour, at times ir­rev­er­ent and at oth­ers with dashes of slap­stick. Jayant says, “There is noth­ing lit­er­ary about this fic­tion. It isn’t pulp fic­tion ei­ther. It is a piece of ‘ gulp fic­tion’ to coin a phrase—and it is to be taken with a pinch of salt, though not to be re­gur­gi­tated in any way or form.” The ma­jor part of the book is about the ef­fort of a mot­ley group of peo­ple in sav­ing a wa­ter­body, the Santra­gachhi Jheel, from an un­scrupu­lous builder. Their com­bined ef­forts save the jheel and the greedy and bar­jaat (wicked) builder Bar­jatiya gets his come­up­pance. The tempo grad­u­ally gath­ers mo­men­tum, al­most like a thriller. Most of the char­ac­ters and sit­u­a­tions have been drawn from real life. Among the thinly dis­guised char­ac­ters is one ad­ver­tis­ing big­wig Alec Pad­man­ab­han, chris­tened Oleek Babu by the Chief Min­is­ter, who speaks in a grat­ing nasal voice and sports an un­nat­u­rally dyed goa­tee and hair. He is de­scribed as a ‘leg­end in his life­time’ by ad­mir­ers and called a ‘leg­end in his own mind’ by the jeal­ous ones. Jayant says his book is not a ‘ builder ver­sus help­less cit­i­zen’ epic. “My book is about a group of in­ept peo­ple, who you want to reach out to and pro­tect, but dis­cover they are more than ca­pa­ble of tak­ing care of them­selves.” “I am not a cru­sader. What did in­ter­est me were the dis­parate lot of peo­ple, and some des­per­ate ones among them, who were de­ter­mined they were go­ing to save a stag­nant water body, that in my opin­ion had out­lived its use­ful­ness as any­thing at all, from be­com­ing an of­fice com­plex. More power to the builder, I thought, af­ter I saw the pond, if you can call a slug­gish, brack­ish acre of sludge a pond. Frankly, I didn’t give a damn what hap­pened to the

pond, but over a pe­riod of time, I did start wor­ry­ing about the peo­ple. And of course, fell hope­lessly in love with them,” he says. Can­tilevered Tales is deeply rooted in Ben­gal, and has a gen­er­ous use of Ben­gali slang and col­lo­quial lingo. When asked whether those nu­ances would be lost on those un­fa­mil­iar with Ben­gali lan­guage and cul­ture, Jayant points out, “There is a fairly de­tailed glos­sary at the end of the book. How­ever, some of the nu­ances might be missed. Many of my ‘non Ben­gali’ read­ers, how­ever, seemed to be very com­fort­able with the ‘Ben­ga­li­ness’ of the book. There are oth­ers who are happy with the Oriya com­po­nent. And even more with the Nepali bits. We speak a khichuri of lan­guages. So, I write the way we speak. So far, the only com­plaint the ‘non Ben­galis’ have is that the book fin­ishes too fast.” “My non-he­roes, both in the New Mar­ket Tales and here, I call them that con­sciously, are not anti-he­roes, they are non-he­roes, who do ex­tra­or­di­nary things with, and in their lives. No one is go­ing to write about them—the butcher , the baker, or Chingdi Kaka or Ban­shi Mama.” In­deed, Jayant’s non-he­roes are peo­ple you wouldn’t bother to take in­ter­est in in real life, like an old fam­ily re­tainer, a gar­dener, and a care­taker who come alive in his books. When we point out that the ti­tle Can­tilevered Tales is rem­i­nis­cent of Chaucer’s Can­ter­bury Tales, Jayant is quick to point out that he is not a great fan of Chaucer and that Chaucer has no role in terms of in­spi­ra­tion or the ti­tle. Jayant re­veals that the orig­i­nal ti­tle he had con­tem­plated for his book was its first line in Ben­gali col­lo­quial jar­gon— Ai­taki? Haora Bridge na Laora Bridge? “It took me a year to re­alise that the first line on the cover would be a bit rude and im­po­lite. This is the line I heard spo­ken by a gen­tle­man in a bus while we were stuck in a traf­fic jam on the Howrah Bridge. This is the line that did in­spire the sto­ries in it. His name was Khokon and I have thanked him the only way I know. By mak­ing him the pro­tag­o­nist of the book,” he says. Jayant’s first book New Mar­ket Tales was cen­tred on the life and peo­ple of Kolkata’s iconic New Mar­ket. Jayant says, “About clas­sic land­marks sym­bol­is­ing Cal­cutta, I’d love to do a story on The Bose In­sti­tute. What a won­der­ful in­sti­tu­tion, what a won­der­ful man, Jagdish Chan­dra Bose, and his wife Lady Abala Bose!” It has been over a year now since Jayant fi­nally re­lo­cated to Cal­cutta, the city where he grew up. “The Cal­cutta I left when I moved to Mum­bai was re­laxed. In fact, if it had been more re­laxed, it would have been co­matose. The Kolkata I re­turned to is more up­beat. Things are hap­pen­ing. Things get done. Kolkata gets too much bad press. It’s more sinned against than sin­ning,” opines the author.

Jayant’s next book is based in Mum­bai, which had been his home for over three decades. “I guess, I need to be away from the city of cur­rent in­flu­ence to write about it. And, when you read that, you’ll be call­ing me a western ‘ghat’ as op­posed to a quin­tes­sen­tial Kolkatan,” he jokes. Jayant Kri­palani has shone in his many avatars— as an ac­tor in the big and small screens, be­sides theatre. He has been a di­rec­tor and a pro­ducer and a suc­cess­ful ad­man as well. He is among the first pop­u­lar ac­tors in In­dian tele­vi­sion com­edy. Who can for­get the tele­vi­sion se­ries Khan­daan, Mr Ya Mrs and Ji Mantriji? He has played char­ac­ter roles in In­dian and for­eign films like Heat and Dust, Rock­ford, Jaane Tu...Ya Jaane Na, 3 Id­iots, and more re­cently, Hawaiza­ade and The Hunger. He has been a screen­play writer and has writ­ten a num­ber of tele­vi­sion se­ri­als and was a co-writer in Shyam Bene­gal’s film, Well Done Abba. Jayant, rues, “What I miss the most now is laugh­ter. We have be­come a coun­try of very grim and bor­ing peo­ple. You can’t ex­press an opin­ion with­out be­ing afraid that it will be mis­con­strued. Jokes have van­ished—you never know who is lis­ten­ing, and para­noia is the new nor­mal. ‘Com­edy’ is just not funny any­more. Es­pe­cially when you com­pare it to what’s hap­pen­ing in the ‘real’ world. I can’t com­pete with Arnab Goswami…? Can any­body?” As to why he quit act­ing, he says, “I just found the whole busi­ness of learn­ing lines a bit te­dious. And, the less said of some of the lines the bet­ter. I used to fall asleep try­ing to learn them. And this so called pas­sion I had went to sleep too. So I quit.” Jayant adds pen­sively, “Ek za­mana shayad tha jab pas­sion hov­ered around some­where over my right shoul­der. When I looked for it the last time a few years ago, I dis­cov­ered it had dis­ap­peared. So, I now dab­ble in act­ing. I dab­ble in writ­ing. I am dab­bling with some verse now. There are two plays in the pipe­line that I am try­ing to write—again dab­bling. The one thing I am re­ally good at and pas­sion­ate about is beach­comb­ing. When I am not in Kolkata, I am ei­ther bum­ming around in Goa, fish­ing in Hi­machal, faffing in Bom­bay or just do­ing noth­ing.”

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