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Updated: November 15, 2013 16:34 IST

Dark, droll and jumpy

SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY
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Author Manjula Padmanabhan. PHOTO: M. LAKSHMAN
Author Manjula Padmanabhan. PHOTO: M. LAKSHMAN

Known for wry humour in her writings, Manjula Padmanabhan, back with "Three Virgins", says that being funny is just a variation of being angry

Rakesh leapt onto the bus feeling like a red, hot chilli. The bus was a tongue in the mouth of the world and by placing his foot upon it, he scorched it with his power.

His power resides in the fork of his pants. Most of the time it slept. But when it was awake, such as when he boarded the bus he took to college, it was vibrant….

Those who have read her will vouch that only she can begin a yarn on an eve-teaser like this! Only Manjula Padmanabhan, applying her wry and dry humour, her tongue-in-cheek language, can make her character’s “power (that) resides in the fork of his pants” also a character of the narrative that turns “radiant”, generate “heat, light and truth.”

Not just in Teaser — one of the ten shorts that make up the author-artist’s latest roll-out Three Virgins (Zubaan) which follows the mind and body of young eve teaser Rakesh on the lookout for possible victims in a bus with college goers, but her other works — of fiction, non-fiction and also the comic strip Suki — reek of this sardonic style of creative expression, but with a deep sense of anger and indignation as a foil. In Teaser too, like in A Government of India Undertaking, in fact in almost all the stories of Three Virgins — five of which have been published earlier, there is strong, deep-seated outrage swathed with a sheen of hilarity.

“Humour is very often used (in my work) to channel anger. It’s a coping mechanism. Being funny is just a variation of being angry and laughing is a kind of screaming — except that it has a more positive result,” says U.S.-based Padmanabhan in an email interview.

By weaving both into her style of expression, she has achieved a chic. Padmanabhan steps back to “the days right after leaving college” to recall the influences, the inspiration behind it, “I worked for a small magazine called Parsiana, in Bombay. The editor, Jehangir Patel, was an excellent instructor for would-be writers. I learnt a lot about being a journalist and writer from working under him. Being a cartoonist also had a powerful influence on my writing style.” Most people think of cartoons as a visual medium but her strip involved a lot of dialogue. “It was a crucial training ground for me,” she notes.

The ardour for writing and sketching has been in her since childhood. That to get published is not easy dawn on her in her early 20s. “I think this is true of many people, children in particular. It isn’t clear that publishing is a business, and that writers are not the ones who decide that their books will get published. As a child, I expected to grow up to be a writer and an artist. And that’s what I am. But it wasn’t easy and it is still, always a long hard struggle to complete a book or to publish illustrations or to have an exhibition of paintings,” she says.

Cartoonist, writer, playwright…she is in various creative compartments at the same time. Is it difficult sometimes? Padmanabhan is matter of fact, “It is like asking someone if it’s hard to switch between different types of software on their computer. It’s NOT hard, but of course it does require both types of software. The same is true of most people. They juggle different activities within their lives, including driving to and from work, net-working with a team, running an office, a home, cooking and bringing up children. By contrast, I really only do two things — I write and I draw. Everything I do fit into one or the other of those two bins.”

In the Introduction to Three Virgins, she gives the reader a glimpse of how she works if a story idea strikes her. “I scribble a brief description of it on a post-it. If I manage not to lose the post-it, the idea gets entered into a folder on my computer’s desk-top.” She calls her drawings — some of which are a part of the collection including on the book cover — telephone doodles. “Like many people, I scribble aimlessly while talking on the phone. A couple of years ago, I began keeping drawing pads and sketch-pens handy, with the result that a few of the drawings took on recognisable shapes and forms.”

On Padmanabhan’s desk-top, for the last three years, is a new novel. “It’s been a long struggle, but I finally completed it this July and Hachette India is hoping to publish it in 2014,” she says.

And yes, Suki is also on revival — as Suki Online, an occasional comic strip that appears at her blog (http://marginalien.blogspot.com)

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