"At thirty five, she is ageing faster than a video game. Are all single women like that…?" All ye single ladies of the world, I was ready to write out this review when I got to that line. But given that it was the first page and only the 12th line, I resisted the temptation.
I wouldn't recommend CP Surendran's Lost and Found for the same reason I wouldn't recommend Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag (it's a very bad remake of Sholay).
I mean, it's been 30 long years since Salman Rushdie wrote Midnight's Children, and since then it has got the Booker and the Booker of Bookers, and what not, and yet clearly it has not been noise enough to register with Surendran.
The other possibility is that… Actually, I cannot think of any other possibility.
Two boys, twins, are born to single mother (of the 12th line) Lakshmi. On a rainy night at a traffic junction in Bombay, she gives one of them away to Fatima who lives in Pakistan, while the other boy grows up in Bombay.
Fast forward two decades. Twin one, Salim is a Ajmal Kasabesque figure, trained by Lashkar-e-Tayyeba leader Maulana Abul Razak. Surendran writes, "Razak saw in the Koran a manual of war and Kashmir on the wrong side of the continent." Twin 2, Nirmal, a struggling actor in Bombay.
Turning point: Salim jumps into a boat and sets sail for — surprise, surprise! — Bombay, to live out his jihad and his guru's cartographic aspirations. A successful shootout at the "hang out of well-muscled B-grade film stars" The Breeze, and a string of coincidences and bizarre twists and turns in the plot later Salim is reunited with his long lost twin, and the two then go on to piece together the story of their genesis — one Hindu mother, rapist journalist father… Surendran even gives the twins India-shaped moles behind their ears to facilitate the denouement.
So between Nirmal feeling the spot behind Salim's ears and declaring, "Can't tell if it's India for sure, because it's smudged", and Salim admitting plaintively, "All right… It's there", and Githa spelling it out "Lakshmi ees tyvar mathar, you knowh? And Placid hear es yuvar faathar," the effect is as flat as last weekend's beer. Surendran is reluctant to let the reader draw his own conclusion. He prefers to underline, and extrapolate, and read between the lines for the reader, thus 'columnising' the novel.
'A surreal narrative of a nation peopled with professional fanatics, etc etc' reads the blurb. Because of obvious similarities, the comparison with Rushdie is inevitable. It is not that Lost and Found just fails as a surrealist narrative, it simply does not take off.
It is not merely a problem of ideas. Surrealism demands a nimble-footed, kick-ass kind of prose that slices down the improbable and lays bare the creative idea in its throbbing, complete beauty. Surendran's narrative is too much commentary, too little humour, and a lot of confusion.
If you must, read the Midnight's Children again, and again…