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Updated: February 20, 2010 17:55 IST

Novel that isn't

SAAZ AGGARWAL
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A politically irreverent narrative that is funny when it works…

This book traces the lives of Karl and Kunal from early childhood to mid-adulthood.

In their early school days they pondered whether the one who invented exams had been heavily intoxicated or clinically insane at the time but their Maths teacher (Mrs. Batliwala) believed them necessary as they empowered the teacher.

Later, in the cast of more than twenty of Godspell (little did they know that this would be twice the number of members in the audience on any given night) Karl excused himself from dance practice (no other animal than the human suffers this indignity in public) taking recourse in his strongest talent — the ability to lie.

In New York as the boys take a course at an “acting studio” we are treated to hilarious stories that are politically irreverent to vegetarians, the hirsute, Rideley's turtles, Italians and other minority groups.

Back in Bombay, they find themselves thrown into the theatrical film world (with prominent roles in Khalid Jani's new blockbuster The Gaonwallah, The Britisher, and The Ugly). Eventually, Karl is taken to bosom by the eminent MP Nilesh Kane and by an inexplicable series of events may one day even land up as Prime Minister.

This book calls itself a novel. However, it's more of a documentary with insights into the film industry, Indian politicians, the south Bombay approach to the universe and some features of life in New York, Paris and Delhi. The characters are not real people and do not change in the course of the book but more like cut-outs that are being pointed at and talked about. However, there's a distinct Woody Allen feel to much of what Cyrus writes — funny, often surrealistic, and drawing richly from a background of privilege and cultural minority.

Pearls of wisdom

Then, this book drips with wisdom. We learn that in the Arthashastra, Kautilya, also known as Chanakya, said there are three phases in a male's life. In the first he craves a canine companion, in the second he craves a female companion (not necessarily canine), and in the third phase he craves for the canine companion to return and bite the female companion.

It also has insights into world history: Medieval Europe was constantly going to war because of the strange French accent. The 100-years War apparently sparked off when the French ambassador said to his English counterpart, “Greetings to your King of Pascal” which due to the fatal accent was heard as “Greetings to your king the rascal”.

As a diehard fan of “The Week That Wasn't” it had me cackling like an unladylike hyena in parts and, during the inevitable lame un-funny bits, waiting for genius to strike again, but frequently disappointed.

Karl, Aaj aur Kal, Cyrus Broacha, Random House India, Rs. 195.

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