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Jerry Pinto on the reason to write a book

DEFYING STEREOTYPES: Jerry Pinto. Photo: S. James

DEFYING STEREOTYPES: Jerry Pinto. Photo: S. James   | Photo Credit: S_James

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For Jerry Pinto, the only reason to write a book is because he wants to write it

Jerry Pinto's second novel " Murder in Mahim" is three months away from launch. “Anxious?”, I ask him. He breaks into a smile, “When you write a book you always take a risk. And this is one of my fun books…a complete change in the material I have written so far. Three categories of people will surely read it, the ones who love my writings, those who love murder mysteries and of course those who live in Mahim!”



And so till November Jerry is taking a break from writing. Be it the first draft of any article or the final manuscript of a book, a getaway is always on his agenda after each phase of writing. “It is me-time when I travel, meet friends, watch television, give talks and read and read,” he says.

Such interludes help him to return energised to his scripts. When you read it again, you read it differently and feel the joy of discovering something new, he says. “Writers want to be creators but actually they are discoverers.”

Murder mysteries always thrilled him. And he also always wanted to write for Mumbai Noir. So when Altaf Tyrewalla, who was editing the anthology, asked him for a story, Jerry happily wove a story around a retired journalist Peter D'Souza, who on seeing a picture of his son at a gay rights parade suddenly realises that he doesn't know everything about his boy. When another young boy's body is found in a public toilet, Peter’s childhood buddy, Inspector Shiva Jende with the Mumbai Police becomes tight- lipped while his son remains unreachable on phone. A vital clue -- the last call from the dead boy's phone to his son's mobile – makes for a murky murder story.

Jerry describes this story as “old-fashioned and not very stylish.” But then known as one of the most articulate voices of Mumbai, Jerry does throw in something deep into the story in his inimitable style – Section 377 to present a compelling mystery. The novella slated for November release is published by Speaking Tiger.

Those who are familiar with Jerry Pinto’s writings – his first and best known novel, Em and the Big Hoom earned him the Hindu Literary Prize 2012 – know very well that you cannot just read Jerry’s work and not think about it; that you cannot just keep it aside and not re-read it. For, just when the reader sort of settles in the pages, he introduces intricate layers of issues, emotions and voices.

But Jerry refuses to be type caste as a writer of any particular genre. “It requires the same thing to be any kind of writer…hard work and less money. I chose to be a writer. I chose to be poor,” says the man of words and wit, who has done everything from teaching mathematics to being a librarian and a journalist.

He has written television scripts, prose, poems, children’s fiction, edited a travel dotcom, translated works from other languages and chronicled the life and work of Bollywood’s dancing legend Helen to bag the national award for the best book on cinema titled The Life and Times of an H-Bomb.

In Madurai for the first time for SCILET’s (Study Centre for Indian Literature in English and Translation) “Meet the Author” programme at The American College, Jerry Pinto spoke at length on his career and shared tips with the audience on what makes a wonderful reading experience.

Of the opinion that there is no such thing as ‘the good book’ or ‘a bad book’ and that target audience is a marketing myth, Jerry says there is room for everyone today to be read. “Books are low investment…look at people’s personal libraries, they are very eclectic. And inside a book shop, a reader can find any book he or she is searching for, he says.

Jerry describes himself as a liberal writer who loves to give space to more and new writers because he believes every book karmically finds readers destined for it. Pocket books were treated as horrors but even those thrived, he reminds. “If all writers stopped writing today there still would be enough books in the world to read until we all die, he says and shares how in his Mahim flat, books have to earn a space for themselves. He and his sister share a personal collection of over 7,000 books and as a rule they do not keep a book if they feel they are not going to read it again.

The way he advocates re-reading, writing too requires the drive to rewrite. He shares how he wrote nine novels before he turned 20 and was appalled by his own writing. “I always marvel at people who write the sixth novel without getting their first five published.”

The prize winning Em took him 20 years and 27 drafts before he compressed 7,50,000 words to 30,000 and put his name to the thinly-veiled autobiographical story of a four-member family coping with the mother’s manic depressive condition. “Initially I found the volume to be bilge and I cried,” says Jerry. “The willingness to rewrite what you have already written defines you through every story you tell, the pictures you make and each word you write.”

Alive to every detail, Jerry Pinto speaks in a voice that carries irony and melancholy, conviction and persuasion. His latest publication is a translation from Marathi to English, of Daya Pawar’s Baluta, written in 1978 as one of the first ever autobiographies of a Dalit. The book is scathing in its honesty, he says but regrets the fact that translators start by knowing they will fail. “Translations build bridges but we cannot force readers to walk on those bridges.”

For Jerry, the only reason to write a book is because he wants to write it. No writer, he says, will tell you how he or she plays by the fear of being forgotten. “Stakes are high not in terms of how many copies of your book will sell tomorrow but whether you will be remembered 150 years later,” he adds.

Jerry’s works:

Known for juggling projects with ease Jerry Pinto has also authored: Surviving Women published by Penguin India in 2000, Asylum and Other Poems by Allied Publishers in 2003 and A Bear for Felicia by Puffin in 2008. Em and The Big Hoom was published by Aleph 2012 and The Life and Times of an H-Bomb by Penguin in 2006. He has also co-authored several books on cinema.

Currently, he is also associated with MelJol, an NGO that works in the sphere of child rights.

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Printable version | Jul 23, 2018 1:02:34 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/jerry-pinto-on-the-reason-to-write-a-book/article7507590.ece