No mushy candle-light dinners here, as the weekend swooshed between pages of my freshly autographed copy of the book. Commonwealth Prize nominated author and 6-times Pushcart Prize nominee Murzban Shroff launched ‘Waiting for Jonathan Koshy’ (published by Independent Thinkers, INR 295, 186 pages) at a private gathering with the lively Sumeet Shetty, President of Literati, India’s largest corporate book club hosting it at the British Council Library on October 1, 2016.
‘Waiting for Jonathan Koshy’ by the ad-man turned writer is the second book in his trilogy of writings set in Bombay. ‘Breathless in Bombay’- the first in the series, was subjected to court cases on the mistaken context of one of its regional lanuistic terms, and ironically, the book won many prestigious accolades abroad at the same time. Sensing these contradictory facets, Murzban weaves a larger than life personality dwelling in discrepancies in this character-driven piece. Explored through the eyes of his closest friends Anwar, Prashant, Dhruv and Gussy, we experience Jonathan’s audacious, outrageous and yet vulnerable presence.
The narrative brims with Bandra’s heavily contradictory essence, sheltering vastly different faiths and economies as an aggregation that is intensely shocking, witty, idiotic, right and wrong, all at once. There is a lively description of Anwar’s residence in Pali Hill, the default adda for scores of explorations and journeys, where friends create memories out of their own free will. Jonathan jokes,”104 Pali Hill is like Hotel California. You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave.”
Jonathan is in murky waters of his turbulent personal life from a broken family. He manages to help friends, acquaintances, prostitutes, their kids and many who he encounters on the way; everyone except himself. For instance, he convinces the madam of the brothel to allow for a small party for Shabnum, the prostitute who had broken down to him, for a memorable birthday surprise. Trysts with Kavita Desai heading Manshakti, a non-profit organization counseling prostitutes and their children, inspires Jonathan to volunteer for constructive and meaningful work to uplift the boys there. He is conscious of a sense of responsibility dawning on him, devoting his time in teaching them to remain updated with recent happenings from news, sports and history channels on TV, engaging them in debates, imparting basic knowledge on Word, Excel and the internet, and everyone’s favourite – his drama classes.
There are entertaining instances that can leave you smiling baffled, like when Jonathan turns into a fictitious Prem Kotiyal, son of a shipping tycoon from London, a non-resident Indian who was a life member at the club, paving the way to getting himself and his friends live it up by the luxury poolside of “The Palms”, a club patronized by the upper crust of Bandra. Or when he feigns being a journalist working on a tip off to report the drug-ridden rave party that the cops had just bust into, covering up for being part of it in the first place. Add to this his exile from home, his distraught family, an inconsolable actress, two henchmen, from a politician and a multitude of interesting characters and situations.
On varied perception of people, Jonathan says, ‘This country is an original wonderland. It never fails to amaze me.’ For the creatives that he conceptualized using the visual of a snake in their HIV awareness campaign, the sponsors were impressed with it being a universal concept that instilled fear and encouraged people to take action. However, when the symbol was launched, people came up and prayed to it with folded hands and lowered heads, the context being that locals in India worshipped the snake, and had turned it into a symbol of their devotion. There seems to be a parallel to the people he meets, and the community at large itself, as in his words – ‘India is a woman, a puzzling, enigmatic woman. Try as you might, you can never figure her out. You can love her, yes, or feel frustrated by her, but you can never fully understand her.’
Personal demons that constantly catch up with him leave him with sticky decisions that are reflected upon later, like backing off from his otherwise great relationship with Ruchita wondering if he took the right decision leaving her when she had got pregnant. His strong feeling of burdening himself being in a serious commitment lead him to leaving the hapless girl left out quite suddenly. What brings the book together beautifully are the importance of all the minuscule acts of great love and care in our relationships that are otherwise taken for granted, like the stance taken by his mother Karuna Koshy after Priti uses her former husband Thampu Koshy for her professional benefit and then divorces him, leaving him shattered and suicidal. It lets Jonathan reflect on prostitutes he encounters, doing in the role of being mothers so that their kids can leave a better life, and people like Kavita, relentlessly fighting her hatred for a father who abandoned them, in working for the upliftment of the society in all the ways she can.
My takeaway from this reading is the witty and spirited attitude Jonathan rebounds adverse situations with, coupled with his dynamic sense of humour. And the journey, the passing, emphasizing redemption for those who persist till the end. Also on the ideation and effort behind the book itself, every land accommodates mindsets of all kinds of people, and that shouldn’t be a setback for any unbiased creative work, I think to myself as I await the third book.