Literary Review

Riding on comedy

How to be a Literary Sensation; Krishna Shastri Devulapalli  

In a country that has more than its fair share of the prickly and the perpetually aggrieved who wallow in short-fused victimhood, creative artists in any field of endeavour end up perforce walking on tiptoes for fear of offending someone or his dog. Humourists and satirists arguably have it the worst. The stomping of a few corny toes is something of a professional hazard in that line of work.

It’s just as true, however, that on occasion, comedians and satirists haven’t exactly made a sterling case for their cause by infusing their output with material of questionable artistic merit. Good, clean fun that induces a chuckle shouldn’t be so hard to come by, but in fact it is admittedly at a premium today, despite the profusion of published literature and performance artistry.

Which is perhaps why it’s easy to warm up to Krishna Shastri Devulapalli’s How to be a Literary Sensation. It’s his first work of non-fiction, following up on his two earlier novels, and it’s framed as a quirky, entirely non-serious self-help guide for aspiring writers. That’s just a vehicle for the author to channel his own comical experiences as, among other things, an illustrator, a cartoonist and, later, a writer struggling to get a foot in at the slamming door of literary acclaim.

In that enterprise, Krishna is well-served by a borderline cuckoo cast of characters in his friends-and-family social circuit, whose idiosyncrasies he milks with dexterity, a vivid imagination and a chatty narrative style that propels this collection of short-short essays along on greased tracks. Like Stephen Katz, the completely unhinged (but eminently lovable) travelling companion of Bill Bryson, the people who populate Krishna’s world are batty in the extreme, with a felicity for landing themselves in sit-com scenarios from which he then proceeds to extract maximum mirthful mileage.

I particularly loved Paddy Padmanabhan, and the halfways-homophobic (but nevertheless hilarious) incident at a five-star watering hole; Gopal, who is given to pounding to pulp anyone — even passing strangers and random motorcyclists at traffic lights — whose appearance doesn’t measure up to his whimsically exacting standards; and Vishwa Sattiraju, the tormented husband of a singularly talentless dancer. And the episode involving a former President’s aged daughter seated with a double-barrel gun in an auto outside the RBI building is pure gold.

Krishna is a rollicking raconteur when he is ‘exploiting’ his family and friends thus, but somewhat less so when he sets his crosshairs on the world of publishers, pompous writers, and snooty lit-fests.

This is a refreshingly rambunctious read that holds universal appeal, not least because Krishna is something of a desi Dave Barry, with a keen eye for detail and a masterly capacity to caricature people and places from a mile off. There’s still a fair bit of bodily fluids sloshing around in there, but even these passages are dealt with such a deft touch that they take nothing away from the certification of the book as ‘good, clean fun’ that will induce chuckles (and guffaws) aplenty.

For anyone who grew up in Madras of the 1980s and 1990s, in particular, there is a delightful topping in the form of some vividly recognisable vignettes of the city and its cultural markers from those times. These aren’t intrusive allusions at all: they float by you like the whiff of aromatic filter coffee — or snatches of a P.B. Sreenivas song — as you pass by a streetside window.

How to be a Literary Sensation: A Quick Guide to Exploiting Friends, Family & Facebook for Artistic Gain; Krishna Shastri Devulapalli, HarperCollins, Rs. 299.

The writer aspired to be a stand-up comedian but was politely told to sit down.


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Printable version | Dec 8, 2021 10:49:28 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/venky-vembu-reviews-how-to-be-a-literary-sensation/article8202850.ece

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