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Saturday, April 08, 2017

Book Review: I Dreamt a Horse Fell Through the Sky by Adil Jussawala

When I was in college (oh! Those mis-spent days!) I had a free supply of magazines through a friend’s dad who worked in G. Claridge & Co., the press that published “Debonair”. Debonair, with a nude centre spread and an almost nude on the cover, was known as the intelligent man’s magazine in those days. In a manner of speaking it was the poor man’s Playboy.

Indeed it was an intelligent Indian man’s magazine and it had articles by a host of intellectuals like Anil Dharkar, Adil Jussawala, Vinod Mehta, Nissim Ezekiel, Vijay Nambisan, to name a few. Imtiaz Dharkar edited the poetry centre spread, which was something I craved to be featured in but never was. All my cajoling to make her feature me failed and I remember the hand-written manuscripts thumping on the floor inside my room in Tilak Nagar, only to be discovered by my sister, who would go on to deliver a lecture on why poetry was not so palatable, but science and arithmetic were. This is in a household where we took pride in one of our great uncles being a “Mahakavi” (Mahakavi Puthencavu Mathan Tharakan), a great poet. There were interesting articles, poems, book reviews, short stories, and humour pieces. The magazine was well edited and did well considering it had all intellectual and lascivious content a man wanted for a month in those days. The writing was balanced, thoughtful and met with Nissim Ezekiel’s sine qua non for good writing: thought, knowledge, and truth. 

The articles I looked forward to most were Aadil Jussawala’s. His were the most interesting observations and his style was like having an intelligent chat with him in person. The present volume is a compilation of poetry and as-yet unpublished writing of those days, as Vivek Narayanan could put together. The engaging foreword is also written by Narayanan.

Within these covers are impish and intimate observations of a writer who has hobnobbed with the celebrities of the literary world. If one drops names, it would be: VS Naipaul, Nadine Gordimer, Angus Wilson, et cetera. There is mischief and an omnipresent twinkle in the eye in the writing. When Naipaul had come to India to write An Area of Darkness Adil took him to Marine Drive and other posh areas and he remarked that India is good and progressive and that Bombay is cleaner than Cairo. One supposes Naipaul would have gone on and written “An Emerging India” or “A Shining India.” But, Adil had to spoil it all by taking him to a filthy area of Bombay which made Naipaul change his mind and write India off as an Area of Darkness. How one wishes Adil had stopped at Nariman Point, Colaba, and Malabar Hill. History’s perspective would have changed a great deal from that point onwards. Wouldn’t it?

There is also an excerpt from his abandoned novel, Strays, though the reason for the abandonment is not mentioned. In an article there is reference to the death of John Keats. Keats was so disappointed by the review of his collection Endymion in the Quarterly Review that he went into depression, and Lord Byron mentioned, Keats “was snuffed out by an article.” Keats never got over it and died two years later in Rome, aged twenty-five. (One wonders here whether adverse reviews are the reason for poets dying young.) 

The last days of poet Nissim Ezekiel, who died of Alzhemier’s is also documented herein. Another hilarious article is about a gathering of philosophers in a garden, presumably the sunk garden in the National Centre for Performing Arts. 

All in all, an adorable and venerable compilation of one of India’s leading literary luminaries, who is so unassuming that one would miss him in a crowd. When I met him for the first time, my star, my object of adoration, he seemed much humbler than some of the lesser luminaries of the Indian poetic sphere. Alas! Alack!

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