19 December 2010

Lost and Found by CP Surendran

Sometimes life can be just so absurd
This is a book that combines literary quality with engrossing plot, an inimitable, wacky and rather
courageous wit, and fluid narrative which hints, as you go along, that the author was probably enjoying himself writing just about as much as you are, reading.
The story takes us right into the “twenty-six-eleven” terror attacks on Bombay and profiles a young terrorist, Salim, his family back home in Pakistan, and a group of people (and a cow) with whom he becomes inextricably involved. If the larger plot is a hilarious spoof of one of Bollywood’s most clichéd themes, every smaller subplot also showcases the farcical inner realities of the complex and alluring city that CP Surendran once lived in.
This, of course, is the real Bombay, not the fictional Bombay Times, of which esteemed publication CP, as editor for many years, once did his bit perpetrating the vanities of. So here all you read has been stripped down to its most ridiculous, even the really holy unmentionables, like rape. And Islam.

The cow is a holy animal for Hindus but for reasons Shinde (the heroic autorickshaw driver who once drove blindfolded through the streets of Bandra) can never figure out, not the goat or the hen, though both come across as equally ancient, useful creatures.
Nirmal is an orphan and has led a rough life. He knows that begging is a kind of blackmail. You just had to make it sound like an appeal so that egos were not hurt.
Aseem is an artist who transforms his clients – very few of whom understand his own professional philosophy “The paint will take you only this far. What will get you ahead is discipline.” Says Aseem to Nirmal: “My love for Chanda is pure. One hundred percent pure – like bottled water.”

And Our Lady of Dolours steps in for a tiny cameo – displayed in her true form: Our Lady of Dollars.
Rajgopal is a minor porn-viewing character – but important in his own way for through him we learn that crucial truth well known to all Indian men – their wives’ friends are mental.

“If I knew where I lost it, I would have found it,” says the sultry newspaper Number Two Mrs. Kulkarni – sharply, but conscious that she was breaking her vow to be gentle and kind to menials.

I asked CP how much his hero, Placid, was him. After all, Placid was also a Bombay journo and one who, like CP, "hailed" from Kerala (that cartoon land of Communism).
He replied, “Quite a lot. Especially the insensitive bits about the man.”

Of course journalists are mad – everyone knows that, and here’s a headline that proves it beyond doubt: HINDU ORPHAN RAPED, MURDERED IN ORISSA: MOB MISTOOK VICTIM FOR CHRISTIAN.
And terror can be crazy too. Don’t be afraid, Salim wants to tell them. All of us were dead before we were born, remember?
Fear freezes Placid’s heart. Just the previous week he had read in the newspapers of a doctor who, tired of her lover’s demands, had chopped him in bits and put them in a suitcase. Placid foresees sharing a similar fate. Rest in Pieces. Wonderful. Very wonderful.

Best of all, this book reminds you several times as you fall into its lyrical passages that CP Surendran is a poet:
Placid clambered into the Kanyakumari Express, packed like sand in a bag with people, hens, mangoes, fish pickle, and the metal smell of urine in the aisle- a damp, yellowing, amoebic pool, collecting here and there on the floor, from which toxic fumes rose and spread in the steady heat of the incredibly high-resolution Indian sun.
And he rode the train like a rodeo for fifty-one hours, a detour in universal chaos: sped by stations limned by lanterns; past the phantasmagoria of stark backlit landscapes; round a barren river bed where an old man put his hand between the legs of a young girl squatting to pee; raced with cratered ravines lowered directly from the loft of Mars; past the mirage of one-horse towns suspended in dust and sunlight; shot by carcasses of cows hanging upside down from windows; past giant, bald trees clutching at the air as the train sped by; through emerald paddy fields kissing the straw feet of crucified scarecrows; skirted mustard fields that flamed as if out of Van Gogh’s brush; trundled past a procession of naked ascetics over a bridge in the gloaming. Visibly aged, Placid got off the time-travelling machine at the massive obduracy in stone, Victoria Terminus, which the British had built with that false sense of permanency so typical of urbane conquerors.
My most dominant feeling reading this book was one of pride – I’ve known and admired CP for about twenty years. And I must admit I was also quite relieved that I liked it so much and there was nothing stopping me from saying what I really felt.

Q: How long did it take you to write this book?
A: One and half years. The rewriting was the tough part.
Q: What was the germ of idea you started with … where did it come from?
A: At a Café Coffee Day in Borivili, Bombay. I saw a single middle aged woman sucking at her coffee like a lifeline and thought about her: Lakshmi.
Q: I mean besides “26-11” of course. But I was wondering how “26-11” affected you – can you tell?

A: 26/11 affected me like a horror movie. It was both real and unreal, and still is. Terrorsim is not politics. It is a personality neurosis of a few individuals. If they are lucky, in time, they are branded as patriots. I have nothing to do with either.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Working on how to survive moronic critics who can't read a book straight.

1 comment: