15 January 2012

The Wednesday Soul by Sorabh Pant

I'm dead - but nothing seems to have changed!
Sorabh Pant and I were neighbours, lying placid and box-like next to each other, on the pages of Sunday Mid-day for some years – an adhering subliminal kinship. Sorabh is a stand-up comedian too and the first time I saw him was when he performed in Pune and my unladylike guffaws earned me an Oscar from him. I was looking forward to this book, though a bit worried that I might have to ignore it in favour of saying rude things. Luckily, it turned out to be well written and with a solid plot, racy, spiced with romance and violence, and I really, really wanted to know what was going to happen at the end. But it wasn’t just that. As a book about the ‘afterlife’ this one has its share of deep philosophy (with Sorabh’s inimitable twist). As a book written by a voracious reader, it had quite a few references I didn’t get. And as a book by a really funny guy, it had a range of ha-ha moments – from ‘nooooo!’ groans with eyebrows raised, to any number of mild tummy tickles, and a few times I laughed like anything. I loved the reassuringly familiar overtones of Sorabh’s hereafter – in particular its bumbling bureaucracy, its hyperventilating junior executives, the crazy superimposition of Indian scriptures with Indian Penal Code, its free employment of fictional and historical characters, and even a movie (“Chaplin directed by Hitchcock”). I enjoyed the way he suddenly tossed in phrases that looked like they had been dragged in from another book and dressed up a bit:

Moments later she wished she hadn’t opened her eyes.
Unhurt, but shaken.
I also found the caricatures in this book hilarious – especially the language in which lack of idiom gets a special Sorabh spin. Says the policeman:
Money accomplishes wonders. Madam, do you even know the bribery costs for undergoing the wonders of my “investigation”? They is huge.
Now, instead of spoiling all the surprises by describing the book and its people in 200 words as us books guys are supposed to do, I thought I should give Sorabh a chance to let him reveal only as much as he wants:

How would you react if someone said that your book was what would happen if Douglas Adams and Arthur Koestler decided to have a baby?

I would first want to know how they actually met and who initiated the courting, and also the tougher question of the biological creation. Then, I would smile - because, I love Douglas, even though, my limited literary pursuits have not yet led me toward Koestler, though they shall now. I want to know who wrote the words of my father (or mother).
I enjoyed the innovative names your characters had … Chitr, Kutsa, Harithi, Air-Awat, Bàri … but was a bit mystified … could you help?
I actually did some insane research for all these characters. For me, the character's name has got to resonate with their actions and their personality. Chitr is short for Chitragupta, the accountant of the Hindu afterlife. It seemed funny to give a burly, ass kicking dude a woman's name.
Kutsa was Indra's right hand man, who apparently betrayed him and went out there and did the monkey (sex) with Indra's wife, Sachi. It would have been a cliché to name the villain, Ravana, Arjun or Rampal or whatever. So, I dug deeper for someone who would be an utter immoral bastard.
Harithi is my continuing fascination with North East women - they're gorgeous and fascinating. They never felt the same about me. I did lots of research but I think it either means, 'protector of children', or 'eye seeing'. I've forgotten, but, once you read the book - you'll know why both those names fit.
Air-Awat is of course based on Ayrawata, the legendary flying elephant in Hindu mythology. The story goes that he has eight Eledactyls (elephants that evolved from pterodactyls and can hence, fly - oh, it's complex :)) who work with him in the afterlife. So, his airline is Air-Awat (like Air India but, with less cancelled flights) and Ayrawata is his name (Sanskrit pronunciation).
Bàri is a detective in the afterlife who used to be a Swiss rescue dog, a St. Bernard. He is based on Barry, who was an actual St. Bernard who rescued roughly 50+ people in the 1950s. I changed his name to Bàri, because it sounded vaguely Swiss, even though, it's not!
There's also Khangard - a depraved bird of the afterlife who is based on Garuda. Khangard is the Indonesian version of Garuda.
When you were writing the book, what exactly were you ‘on’ and where can we get some?
Mainly my own story!! I was obsessed with this world for five years - it's the ultimate drug. And, also a mixture of pineapple juice, wine and just a small kilo of cocaine.

1 comment:

  1. Saaz,

    Mainly my own story!! I was obsessed with this world for five years - it's the ultimate drug. And, also a mixture of pineapple juice, wine and just a small kilo of cocaine.