Tuesday, May 19, 2009
My Friend Sancho
Once upon a time, I too was (like) Abir Ganguly, the protagonist of Amit Varma’s debut novel, ‘My Friend Sancho’, day dreaming (a sort of contemporary Mungerilal. Now who is he? Those who grew up during 1980s watching Doordarshan know who he is; the day dreamer made eternal by Raghuveer Yadav), eleven times masturbating in a day (no exaggeration here), all twenty three year old and a budding journalist.
‘My Friend Sancho’ is all about the life and times of Abir Ganguly. May be that ‘life and times’ come to us in two weeks’ time; too contemporary, detached from history and attached too much to the flimsiness of now and here, like a newspaper report. There is no wonder why Amit Varma, himself a former journalist spiced up Abir’s story with possible autobiographical imaginations. Varma knows the now-ness now.
Okay, our protagonist Abir Ganguly works for a Mumbai based tabloid, Afternoon Mail. As a beginner he is in crime beat. For those who don’t know about the progression that a journo makes in his career, it is like this: crime reporting, art and culture, developmental stories, features, left over political stories, full fledged political reporters. Abir Ganguly is still a crime reporter, wanting to do more but does not know what to do.
The novel goes like this: One day Abir gets a call from his ‘contact’ Police Inspector Vallabh Thombre. The message says that they are going to burst a gang holed up in a housing complex in Mahalaxmi, Mumbai. Abir, with his photographer reaches the spot with the police team. But things go wrong. The police shoot the wrong person; they shoot one Mohammed Iqbal.
Abir follows the police version and files a small story on the ‘encounter’. However, things were not getting over with that. Iqbal was an accountant with a NGO run by the activist, Meenakshi. She brings Iqbal daughter, Muneeza to the Afternoon Mail office and the editor asks Abir to do a human interest story about Muneeza’s dead father for the soon to be launched feature pull out.
The providential meeting of Abir with Muneeza takes place in a Mall called ‘Eterniti’. They meet several times there and their relationship grows beyond the scope of the intended feature story. She lands up in his pad as Muneeza finds no place to stay. Meanwhile, Abir is forced to do a parallel sketch on Vallabh Thombre, which throws him into a temporary existential zone.
Caught between love, loyalty and profession, Abir finally confesses his ‘deeds’ to Muneeza. She leaves him. The publication of the pull out is temporarily postponed thanks to recession. Abir tries to get out of his emotional turmoil and hopes that he would be alright. As a final effort to reach Muneeza he makes a call to her without much hope. But she picks up the call and says ‘Hello’.
The story ends there. The happy or sad ending is left to the imagination of the reader. Or are we too caring about their reconciliation? Perhaps, that is not the point of this novel. What makes this novel important and readable is its now-ness, its urgency of narration, the feeling of anchorless-ness of Abir Ganguly and the sensitive responses of the girl, Muneeza.
This lucid story, written in lucid language belongs to the genre of contemporary popular novels. The contemporary popular novels use a contemporary narrative, which is akin to the narratives that we create in our imaginary and real realms on a daily basis. Even while we are conclusive and assertive about the situations that we are in, a sense of doubt lingers. This leads us to comical situations and comical thinking, an auto-mechanism that helps us to keep ourselves afloat even in the melancholic situations. We, the people are speaking continuously to ourselves, ironically even when we are tied to the world virtually through internet and online networking communities.
Abir speaks to himself and he needs the feel to be connected to a world, if not really at least virtually (in his case, through reading certain interesting blogs and spending innumerable hours in a bookstalls, browsing. Here we see Amit Varma’s own real time blog ‘India Uncut’ as the chosen blog by Abir, the protagonist. It is almost like embedding commercial products within films so that indirect sponsorship is pre-fixed). His thoughts are always funny, contradicting and negating his imaginary existence, and they function as a safety valve for him.
The word ‘Sancho’ in the title comes from Muneeza’s nickname. But in some way it looks slightly stretched association. Iqbal and Muneeza, together used to read a lot and they particularly liked this book Don Quixote. Muneeza called her father Quixote and he in turn called her ‘Sancho’. What would have happened if the novel had been titled, ‘My Friend Muneeza’? Within the novel there is a situation where Abir’s mother asks for the name of the girl who is in his house. Abir tells she is Sancho. He could have told her the original name, Muneeza. Then what would have happened? This could be a clever ploy by the writer to use the same apprehensive situation to advantage.
Sexual ambiguity and anxiety are the issues that drive the narrative with certain kind of rigor. Abir is not yet a man- he is just twenty three- but he wants to prove his manliness through his sexual power. Muneeza is a surrogate sexual figure for him to vent his carnal energies and thanks to the middle class morality he feels the urgency to curb his sexual identity. Interestingly, there is a lizard in his pad who functions as his alter ego, which constantly warns him of his sexual interest towards Muneeza. This lizard, for me, is too familiar that I have seen the same lizard directing the life of one Christian guy in Paul Zacharia’s Malayalam novel, ‘Oru Nazrani Yuvavum Gouli Sastravum’ (One Christian Youth and Lizard Science).
This is the time of bloggers flowering into full fledged writers. It was Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan who set the trend with the publication of her first novel, ‘You Are Here’, which also mapped the life of a twenty something girl traversing in Delhi’s career landscape. Amit Varma got international acclamation through his blog ‘India Uncut’ and he too has come out with his novel. These novels including Advaita Kala’s ‘Almost Single’ speak of the contemporary life of young people trying to negotiate with their own identity and sexuality. The death of ideological anchor is a serious theme even in the outwardly jovial narratives. Amit Varma has proven his mastery in devising the plot through the same method. And it works well with the readers.