Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Auteurs and satire in Forbes Life

In the latest issue of Forbes Life India, now on the stands, are two pieces I wrote: one is a series of short profiles of "auteurs of Indian cinema", from Dadasaheb Phalke onward, and the other is my regular books column, this time on works of satire including Shrilal Shukla's Raag Darbari, Aubrey Menen's The Prevalence of Witches and Mohammed Hanif's A Case of Exploding Mangoes. Look out for the magazine.

Update: here is Peter Griffin's round-up of the issue's contents.

Update 2: and here is a short excerpt from Gillian Wright’s translation of Raag Darbari, one of dozens of samples of the book’s droll humour:
The gear lever kept slipping into neutral every hundred yards, and since the driver had his foot on the accelerator, the shuddering increased as the speed of the truck decreased. Rangnath said, “Driver sahib, your gearbox is exactly like our government.”

The driver accepted this citation of merit with a smile. Rangnath tried to make his statement more intelligible.

“No matter how often you put it into top gear, it slips every few yards and goes back into its old rut.”

The driver laughed. “You’ve said something very deep, sir.”

Next time he went into top gear, he lifted his leg to an angle of about ninety degrees and held the gear pressed under his thigh. Rangnath wanted to say that the same technique was needed to run the country but, thinking that this would be a still deeper statement, he remained silent.
And here’s a short passage that reminded me of Manu Joseph’s observation that a revolution should be enjoyable for best results:
A speech is really enjoyable only when both sides know that the speaker is talking absolute nonsense. But some speakers took their work so seriously that the audience occasionally felt that they actually believed what they were saying. As soon as this suspicion arose, the speech would begin to seem turgid and insipid, and have a very bad effect on the digestion of the audience. 


  1. Raag Darbari is one of the best books I've read...which one did you read Jai? The one in Hindi or English translation...

  2. Pessimist Fool: the translation by Gillian Wright.

  3. I've just updated the post with an excerpt from Raag Darbari, btw.

  4. just read hahahahaha....my most favourite part from the book is when the principal tries talking to Rangnath when Rangnath is avoiding him. The principal mentions Picasso in a sentence and that grips Rangnath's attention and he realises that the principal is not as stupid as he pretends to be. Then the principal tells him why he always behaves like that telling him about a college incident when he had challenged his teacher's logic only to realise he will always to be on the receiving end. That part of the book was funny, it intrigued me, disturbed me. It has some sort of magic to it

  5. The excerpt you give here is enjoyable enough. And going by it, the translation seems pretty decent, if not great. But have to admit, the original version was just so much more funny and the 'theth-pan' of the language is somewhat lost here.

    An example :
    Instead of : 'The driver accepted this citation of merit with a smile' and “You’ve said something very deep, sir.”
    sample this :
    "ड्राइवर ने हंसकर प्रशंसापत्र प्राप्त किया" and
    “ऊँची बात कह दी शिरिमानजी”