Reincarnation of Bhau Padhye, The Writer: Manu Joseph

I read ‘Serious Men’. So far I had been reading the excerpts that publishers permitted on different websites and elsewhere. Till then I perceived it to be a novel packed with humour and acute observation.

For example,

“…their proud breasts bounced, soft thighs shuddered at every step”

or

“…and their new jeans were so low that their meagre Indian buttocks peeped out as commas”

However, after I finished reading the complete novel, I knew it’s not confined to only this kind of writing.

Why HarperCollins harped on this single side aspect alone, I didn’t understand. Marketing strategy, perhaps. The publisher of such a height should have exhibited many more angles.

I now know why the title – ‘Serious Men’. Almost all the characters, mainly men, are serious and more than that, the protagonist, manipulative. In my opinion, ‘Manipulative Men’ could have been an apt title.

One good thing that has happened that should happen to any writer having caliber and that he should be rewarded so much that he needn’t care for his lifetime for his survival. The Hindu Fiction Award of Rs. 5,00,000 and a good international fame and circulation would absolve Manu Joseph of all the worries of earning for living when he is so young.

The story of Manu Joseph revolves around a BDD chawl in Worli, Mumbai.

Kiran Nagarkar’s novel ‘Ravan and Eddie’ written in English centres around a CWD chawl in Byculla. It’s equally hilarious and more poignant.

It must be noted many writers in Marathi have a skilled hand on tapping life in Mumbai. The foremost among them is of course Bhau Padhye who was not as fortunate as Manu Joseph.

In his novel, ‘Barrister Aniruddha Dhopeshwarkar’, the hero has to migrate from Mumbai city to Vasai. In ‘Rada’ (The Riot) Bhau Padhye didn’t spare ShivSena in its prime time thereby burning half of the first edition through the hands of sainiks. His ‘Agresar’ (Leading) is a story of packing girls working on meagre wages of two or three rupees a day in Saki Naka. Three collections of short stories based in Mumbai and unique document ‘Kherwadi Ashich Petat Raho’ (Let Kherwadi Keep On Burning) is nothing but a constant religious conflict happening in Bandra East three decades earlier.

But for all his powered writing on riots and strikes to gain supremacy over land in Mumbai, Bhau Padhye was embossed as a writer on sex.

The phrases – “buttocks looking like commas” or “arses like small mangoes” appear in Manu Joseph’s ‘Serious Men’. Bhau Padhye had used such images abundantly in more than two dozen of his books.

One will have to admit that Manu Joseph is from the genre of Bhau Padhye. In his first book Manu Joseph is fortunate to be world famous, already translated in French, German, Dutch and Serbian. Bhau Padhye couldn’t taste even a regional success being limited to Marathi and discarded by the big (!) publishing houses confined to Marathi language and busy promoting selected Brahmin writers till the advent of Granthali.

Irony is that Bhau Padhye was a Brahmin by birth but the boasting Brahmin publishers boycotted him, thinking him to be an untouchable as he brought the road side language loaded with abusive words on the book pages, proving the publishers to be imposters.

Extension to the irony in Bhau Padhye’s case is that Granthali – a book movement born boasting to be the Dalit writers’ saviour, too discarded Bhau Padhye though he was one of the early spokesmen of the language of downtrodden.

The leftists ought to have cared for him. But suffering perennially from abortions in creative birth process they continued with their habit of taking pleasure in avoiding responsibilities of raising original breed.

But Bhau Padhye was loved, loved by many readers without differentiating, unlike the publishers behind Central Cinema house in Girgaon.

He had great friends moving in international circuits like DiPu Chitre, Bhalchandra Nemade and likes. They appreciated him a lot though they didn’t do so with others out of their cluster. None of them made efforts to translate him in English with a little bit of editing.

It’s a mystery till date that though boasting, yes boasting about their connections and mastery on English why didn’t they translate him?

They were never good editors, was obvious. But were they not competitive enough to translate the Mumbai city language into English too? They did a full time job of criticism and part time job of writing whatever they wrote. Count their output in last 34 plus some years and evaluate, if you wish so.

But it’s the whole Marathi tragedy. No publisher is intelligent enough to find out a single good translator from the writings by Marathi writers in English. Or if at all did he find out one, showed full reluctance to pay him. Start-first-and-then-we‘d-see mentality.

Now somebody has started this project of the kind, someone told me. But looking at their plans to translate in all European languages and the status quo situation so far, it seems to be nothing more than an adventure of the kind of hill climbing by a group of school students in the vacation time. However, I wish them success and hope they will be able to attract Marathi copywriters in English though at exorbitant fees.

Consider…

  1. Ramachandra is my elder brother. He can never laughs.
  2. Police raided the chawl. My otherwise covert son, popped out his head exactly at the time when a police stood at the door to grab me for interrogation. The police caught his neck and dragged him to the jeep.
  3. Shoshanna, my wife, lustred ahead, off the stage, gathering women for morcha. Next, Mrinal Gore stood ahead on the stage to lecture and Shoshanna hovered somewhere in the back wings.

Are some examples (though not aptly translated) from Bhau Padhye’s writings that invoke satirical humour and tickle you.

In Bhau Padhye’s novel, ‘Homesick Brigade’, a university seminar takes place in Delhi of students coming from different states. The ecstatic boys cram useful phrases like “good morning”, “how are you”, “bye bye” etcetera for daily usage. A boy of such kind asks a Marathi boy, how “good morning” is said in Marathi. “Chyutyanandan”, he replies. Next day onwards the boy stands before every room and calls everyone, “Chyutyanandan”.

These are a few examples of Bhau Padhye’s humour (not entirely black, may we say grey?). Manu Joseph sows such bits at possible places to prove that he is from the genre of Bhau Padhye.

‘Serious Men’ is his first novel and we’d have to see how he sustains.

When I read ‘Serious Men’ I remembered at least half a dozen Marathi books written by authors other than Bhau Padhye.
‘Trishanku’, a novel based on frustrations of a lower caste boy working in a hi-fi creative environment of an ad agency written by Arun Sadhu.

The state of mind in ‘Serious Men’ of Ayyan is similar. Of getting crushed under the intolerable weight of Brahmanism.

If I quote ‘Viplava’, the novelist Arun Sadhu may get annoyed as it’s a full science fiction about Extra Terrestrials. And in ‘Serious Men’ the ETs coming to earth is a failed experiment causing dismissal of the director of the institute researching that. But I did remember that.

‘Dangal’, a short story by Arun Sadhu depicts a little skirmish in the corridors of a chawl in Bandra suburb between a boy and a girl of hardly five or six years of age takes a gargantuan shape of local riots to world war while the boy and the girl settle their quarrel and unite. In ‘Serious Men’ the manipulator Ayyan creates the situation to the extent of riots in Mumbai.

Now these references won’t be appreciated by Arun Sadhu, the most versatile novelist in Marathi, I know. But how else can I filter my memory flow?

Next…

‘The Maximum City’ by Suketu Mehta, a novel in English on Mumbai. ‘Asian Age’ supported it with four years of publicity before publishing. The only attractive part of the novel was that a top gangster owes a bullet to the author for anyone he would name. Suketu Mehta was tired while collecting information about gangsters in Mumbai and had to add pages on Hindi film industry (I don’t like the word, Bollywood) to complete the novel.

In fact, it was reportage. He earned fame though and an occasional column (that bored) in an American daily. I forgot the name of the newspaper.

However these are the benefits and profits of writing and getting published in English.

Next…

‘Paral 68’, ‘Dokefoot’ and ‘Girangaon Naka’ by Divakar Kambli in Marathi with a definite base of the then gangster land with cotton mills and now tower land with high rise buildings popping out.

‘Dokefoot’ was slated with Bhau Padhye’s and Kiran Nagarkar’s writings.

‘Paral 68’ was a novel of robust and daredevil characters in the time earlier to ShivSena’s rise. It saw two editions without a single review.

However his latest ‘Girangaon Naka’ has many similarities with ‘Serious Men’ like the life in life in the BIT two room chawls, in Paral and Lalbaug and Mazgaon. The footpath of ITC 7 star hotel in Paral which was called Chor Galli where the mill men slept on the then clean foot path without presence of a single mosquito and now filled with gutter water and hence with attacking gangs of mosquitoes.

There was a Simla Beat Contest like the Woodstock Festival anchored by Kabir Bedi taking him to the pinnacle of fame.

It’s sans humour. And again no reviews for documenting cultural age of seventies in the mill land comprised of experimental theatre miles ahead of any Indian regional theatre and rock music kept alive by Catholic boys.

Manu Joseph has a good poise apart from the initial humour. The brooding love between young scientist Operna and old scientist within the reach of Nobel, Arvind Acharya from the page 140 is elongated in a manner of prolonged orgasm. The young and old would enjoy lengthening alike.

The abuses thrown on the lower class by the Brahmins, spying activities by Ayyan, the stealthy recording, the audacity to go to any extent for the sake of making his son a celebrity and thereby attempting to establish an upper hand on higher class by a lower class clerk Ayyan, the cold war between the directors of the research institute are a good treat to the readers. Not a boring moment though it’s a war on the table fought by using papers as weapons.

Manu Joseph definitely deserves kudos for his hawk’s eye for detail; his critic would have to admit.

Mumbai is an unrelenting source of money, fame, art or anything you quote.

There has been a lot of literature published about Mumbai since generations each time offering a feeling that nothing more is left now. It’s wrong. Manu Joseph has explored a new dimension of the city through his novel that could appeal the international reader. There are many such happenings and characters inviting the attention of the writers for which the readers are waiting.

The gauntlet has to be lifted.

And if at all a film director is thinking of making a film on the novel, the script is ready made, only to be converted into a technical jargon.

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