Seasoned author Ranjit Lal tells Nupur Sharma about his new book “Black Limericks” and the value of minor talents

It is not surprising he says his books are “for everyone from age 10 to 100”. If breadth of vision is a key marker in judging an artiste then Ranjit Lal more than passes muster. As an independent writer and columnist he has written over a thousand articles and authored several books on themes as varied as natural history, automobiles and child psychology. His short stories and photo features have appeared in over 50 newspapers and magazines in India and abroad.

His latest novel “Black Limericks” (Roli Books) sees him return to the world of young adults who grapple with notions of self worth and redemption. It's the story of 17-year-old Maya who has always regarded herself as a ‘background person', overwhelmed as she is by the genius of her younger brother. Her only gift, it seems, is an ability to produce instant limericks. However, a significant truth held back at a vital juncture changes her life forever. Maya finds herself catapulted to the ‘centre of the universe' and the world looks at her with ‘awe and respect'. Until one night when the spring tide runs strong and she is faced by her greatest fear yet again and must redeem or condemn herself forever.

“I've dwelt on the merit of young minds being encouraged to value their strengths, such as they may be. Everyone doesn't have to be a supernova,” says Lal.

A closer look at his books reveals not only the sweep of his artistic oeuvre but also the refined sensibility he brings to his work. “Simians of the South Block” is marked by a sense of fun while also delving into deeper themes like the loss of nature parks.

“The Life and Times of Altu Faltu” uses the metaphor of monkeys to create a satirical take on Delhi and its class-conscious ways. “‘The Birds of Delhi” is a chronicle of birds that presents a wealth of information in a manner accessible to the layman.

“In ‘The Battle for Number 19' I ditched my animals! It was a story inspired by a photo of intrepid school girls who had helped build a road from their school to the village where they lived. From there on the characters took on a magical life of their own,” he says.

Asked about the segment his latest intriguing novel is pitched at he says, “I never consciously write for a specific group. Besides, kids are pretty savvy these days. For those who find the odd ‘difficult' word there's always the dictionary!”

Shaped by cities

A distinctive aspect of Lal's own back story is how definitively he has been shaped by India's four major metropolitan cities. Born in Kolkata in 1955, he spent his childhood in Chennai. This was followed by higher education in Mumbai and an eventual settling down in Delhi. The exposure has clearly shaped Lal's palette as a humorist. His satire has a holistic perspective and retains its bite without being vitriolic or malicious. “My humour is not particularly self-conscious. It stems from a constant effort to step out of myself. We live in a world of absurdities and laughter is a way to retain sanity,” he says.

He is currently working on a collection of short stories that feature “the same characters in varying times and settings”. Given Lal's body of work thus far, readers can be assured of another consistency — a vivid spirit of discovery.

More In: Metroplus | Features | Arts | Books