you would have
I love postcards and photographs, they’re my earliest memories of dad, and his very existence. I can vividly recollect myself as a toddler crawling all around home repeatedly in search of him, peeking behind doors and through windows, lingering around the room and balconies, hoping to spot him somewhere around. And the sudden trembles of anxiety that consumed me completely from the sight of an aeroplane flying past the blue sky above, Amma had said that an aeroplane would bring him back here, although it only seemed to be lost gliding into suffocating clouds every time. And she teaching me numbers, while I attempted counting the number of days he would take to be back from a feeble wall calendar hanging beside the sewing machine. Between these were those joyous days of receiving picture postcards and letters from Gottingën, the quaint distant land that became his second home, and these were all I knew of him then. He took delight in shooting on film too, and frozen moments of life in the countryside, seasonal blossoms, adorable dogs and cats and whimsical streetsides joined the blaze of postcards on my living room wall in a quiet struggle of holding themselves glued as layers of pictures continued to get added, with most including a little drawing of birds or trees he made for me along with a ‘See you soon!’ written at the bottom. How soon – was my forever question. The kids in my neighbourhood old enough to go to school cheerily waved to us while amma carried me around our balcony to feed tiny little sparrows she fed religiously every morning, and all these kids seemed to have a dad who emerged right from their homes to drop them off in the often grudgingly working Bajaj Chetaks or TVS Lunas. I missed him. The shaky ‘trings’ accompanying the rattling cycle of the postman at intervals were my most awaited divine interventions, arriving on the lucky days with these pieces of parchment that were timely assurances of my dad being around somewhere and remembering us between his busy overworked days. And that meant the world to me.
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.
Would you either be an osteologist, a physical anthropologist, or a zooarcheologist (spellings and meanings checked, yes) or the like, if encountering skulls and bones are your everyday? Or you’re probably dead, in which case, it is some small comfort if you stop reading this right here.
But what initially seems an extraordinary obsession with the dark side in ‘Man and the Skull’, a series of narrative illustrations by Clyde D’ Mello and curated by Ravi Cavale, will leave you bewildered with its turbulent tints of emotions ranging from the routine to the repressed. And perhaps, you progress with viewing each of the pieces only to be hurtled back into a kaleidoscope of timelines known within a life cycle, spurred by Clyde’s illustrations in pen and ink and the occasional daub of colours, and writing; very raw and personalized in its fluidity and echoing the experiential journey of exploring the roots of coffin making by his grandfather.
Also, it seems fascinating that skeletal structures can be remnants for hundreds of years, long after the dead are buried, decayed and gone, remnants with no life of their own, and yet present as physical tangible entities, proof of the living. Can it be a representational dialogue between the states of life and death? And perhaps, what lies in between? Do they let you confront and shake off certain fears? And in the entire process, does it immortalize the very idea and question of the cycle of life and death itself?
Waking up to the horror of your own reality, and the realization of the dark truth of itself buried somewhere within is probably what will leave you shocked.
Or will it?
‘All are parallels, and yet there is nothing similar.’
Delving into personal experiences, interpreting religious scriptures and analysing historical anecdotes, Christopher Hitchens hurls radical questions on the very concept of God-a man made consolation. But can science and reason, entirely on their own, present answers to many constantly hovering questions? Isn’t it overly judgemental to discard a faith altogether, if a part of its followers are damagingly fanatic? Something to ponder over. #throwbackthursday