Evading existential crisis with a cup of Chai!

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Title of the book: Jeeva KodalE? Chaha KudiyalE? 
Writer: Damodar Mauzo
Translator: Kishu Barkoor
Translated to: Kannada
Original Language: Konkani
Publisher: Bahuvachana
Pages: 280
Cost: Rs 400

Damodar Mauzo’s novel in Kannada translation, “Jeeva KodalE? Chaha KudiyalE?” is one novel I can’t respond to without revealing my personal life. I’ve read “Catcher in the Rye”, “Kafka on the Shore” and the likes, and I’ve had my connection with Holden Caulfield and Kafka Tamura, but I’ve never seen myself in them as much as I did in Vipin Parob.

One of our physics lecturers was a Goan. She used to tell us umpteen stories about the train journeys in the Ghats, incessant rains and amazing food. Thanks to her, for me, Goa was never about beaches and booze. It was about people and their stories, and I thought this book would tell me more. As I kept reading, I didn’t realize when Goa became Hyderabad, when Vipin turned into me.

On the face of it, you could call this a story of a boy in his late teens/early twenties, who grew up as a lonely guy because of bad/toxic/inadequate parenting, now trying to find support systems outside the family and coming to terms with his own life while nursing his terminally-ill parents. However, it is as much a story about Indian women. There’s a female pedophile, a teenager sexually abused, another one finding and accepting her queerness, a young widow being preyed upon by haunting eyes and a lover-turned-nun after her guy meets untimely death.

It is also the story of contemporary India. There’s everything in it, from growing religion based divisive politics to pervasive corruption, from supply of drugs in colleges to student suicides, and what not!

References of literary works and quotable quotes are not rare in novels, especially if the protagonist is an avid reader. So, from Sartre to Chetan Bhagat(!), from Ghalib to Gulzar, I was gleefully waving to all the known and unknown names. All of a sudden, Prof. Anil Gupta of Grassroot innovations appears in the story and I’ve to pinch myself to ensure I’m still reading a novel. Not a mere mention, but an elaborate note on the workings of Honeybee network and how it is influencing youth to participate in innovations. I’ve attended a couple of Prof Gupta’s lectures at IIM-B and have read “Grassroots Innovation: Minds On The Margin Are Not Marginal Minds” with all curiosity. I never ever imagined reading about these in literary fiction. (That’s why I said, this is a novel of contemporary India.)

Damodar Mauzo does many things at one go in this novel which warrants a separate full length write-up. (Also, on how he crafted the novel, especially making Chai an integral part to the story. Reminded of Jyothi Dogra’s play, “Notes on Chai”.) One of the many curious things though is his repeated emphasis (that’s my reading) to bridge the gap between arts vs science debate. It isn’t a binary as we think it to be.

When I started learning to read Kannada, I was hoping to read at least a fraction of their incredibly rich literature. While I’m doing that at a snail’s pace, I’m thrilled to be reading translated works in Kannada. If English is my visa to totter around global literature, Kannada is soon becoming a local transit pass. I’m grateful for that. The book-makers could have included any of the numerous philosophical, existential ramblings in the work to put on the back cover, but they choose the one that talks about the dysfunctionality of the great Indian family system. They also included a lengthy interview with the writer at the end.

When I was buying the copy, I didn’t know, with INR 400 I was bringing myself home. It is not always about “To be or not to be.” It is about having another cup of chai while deliberating on to-be-or-not-to-be!

For everyone involved in this project and especially to the translator, saaviraaru dhanyavaadagaLu!

#Bahuvachana #bookreview #gnanapith #konkaniliterature #kannada #DamodarMauzo #translation #indianliterature

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