While I was engrossed reading Rahul Bhattacharya’s The Sly Company of People who Care, my mind kept straying back to the likeness of this novel to V.S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr Biswas, in which he wrote about the Indian community in Trinidad and the kind of English they spoke. He went on to write about Muslims of different countries (his wife, Nadira, is Pakistani Muslim) and gave a prophetic account of Naxalism in India. At the time he wrote on it, the Naxalite movement was a minor irritant. Since then, it has gathered strength and has become a major threat to the security of India. Naipaul went on to win the Nobel Prize for literature.
Bhattacharya’s novel is based in Guyana and has different communities that have made it their home. Like the Trinidadian Indians, they have evolved a brand of English of their own which is at once lucid and catchy. I give one example:
“A little provocation is a dangerous, dangerous thing, bai. Learn that. Learn that. Learn it over. You ain’t hear Sparrow sing provocation is against the law? You a yootman. Vibert’s cousin, Odetta you hear she story? She just a harmless chile but always like to be seen as a bad girl, always carryin a knife pon she. One time she uncle tell she dance like a goat. She flick out she knife for joke, but in ketch the man straight in the jugular. Kachack. The man dead. And I blame him. Yes! I blame that man for he own death. Because why? Because he make the provocation. The same thing going to happen to you one day. Y’unstand? Kachack.”
Hitherto Bhattacharya was writing on cricket; this is his first novel. And it is first rate. Watch out for this man.
I advise the author to change the title of his novel and make it simpler. I speak from personal experience. When my first novel won the Evergreen Award for the best work of fiction from India, its title was Mano Majra. In spite of the award, its sales were sluggish. I changed the title to Train to Pakistan. Its sales picked up rapidly, it went into many editions and was translated into several foreign and Indian languages.
An apostle of goodness, in the
service of the human race,
A picture of grandeur, glory
It is being said, Osama is
And the rumour is being
That Pakistan is in the face,
Whereas a father-figure of
Osama was only a mass murderer —
An idea personified, not meant
And Pakistan has its commitment
against terror shown
And in the estimation of the world,
By perfecting the art of
With a straight face and footwork
May the truth for ever shine on the
And long live Osama the Great.
Some days back, I, along with my father, was going for an evening walk. We found a man standing near the house he was constructing. My father said to that man, “Sat Sri Akal, I am Colonel Partap Singh, and he is my son, Gurinder,” To our utter surprise, the man replied, “Oh! I am Major Pratap Singh, he is my son, Gurinder,” he said, pointing towards his son. I asked his son, “Tusee kee kardey ho?” To my utter surprise, he replied, “I am a teacher, “I am also a teacher,” I said.
Don’t you find this coincidence quite amusing? The two sets of father and son share their names and professions. We are almost neighbours.
Santa orders a pizza.
Waiter: ‘Sir, should I cut it into four pieces or into eight pieces?
Santa: Four hi kar de yaar, eight mere sey khaaye nahi jayenga.”