TIME FOR SOME GULP FICTION
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.”