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The Maltese Mistry

A noxious book like Trunk Call for ganapati being out there is far worse than such a long journey, writes Indrajit Hazra.

columns Updated: May 21, 2011 16:41 IST
Indrajit Hazra

What happens when a book has ‘objectionable language’ and contains ‘content’ perceived to be against a community, species or genotype? Why, it gets yanked out of existence, of course. Like an octogenarian German raising his hand to scratch his armpit in a Tel Aviv bar, such a book is marked as haraam to be taken out by special forces.

Which is why I simply can’t understand how the novel, Trunk Call For Ganapati, by India-born Malta-settled writer Roshan Navare, has been spared the flame-thrower even after 16 years of its publication in 1994. The slim book — doubly dangerous because its slimness makes it easy for readers to finish it in one sitting and lend it to others quickly — tells the story of a Marathi boy who grows disillusioned of the people around him. He finds Bombay to be a city of bigots brimming with urban superstitions and mental decay. A character grovels at the feet of a Bihari boss after the latter tells him, “I won’t have you folks treating me like a Bihari.” But the book’s real pungent bits amount to one scathing attack after another against Marathi culture. If an anonymous St Xavier’s, Mumbai, Arts student quoted last week thought that reading the “offending passage” in Rohinton Mistry’s Such A Long Journey was “enough to give goosebumps”, he should read Navare’s book; he’s sure to get scrofula.

One thing I noticed — and admire — about those instrumental in taking Mistry’s book off the University of Mumbai BA English Literature syllabus is that they’ve actually read the book. I can’t say the same about those who usually force books off the shelves. But while I commend Arya-grandputra Aditya Thackeray of the nascent Yuva Sena for taking the first step in making Mistry’s blasphemous novel vanish, I can’t help thinking he’s missed the wood for the table. I know Navare’s book isn’t on any syllabus. But surely, such a noxious book being out there — and there is, I’m told, an Oriya edition of Trunk Call For Ganapati — is far worse than the relatively innocuous Such A Long Journey.

I sense young Aditya being too soft. It just seems (unfairly, I hope) that he’s concerned only about building his CV before the 2012 Bombay municipal polls. But it’s heartening that the Shiv Sena isn’t alone in its war against bigotry. It’s the government under Congress Chief Minister Ashok Chavan that actually flipped the switch and fully supported the book’s withdrawal.

“His feud with his son-in-law, the thorn in his political side, was well known,” Mistry makes a Parsi character think aloud about Nehru in the book. “Nehru never forgave Feroze Gandhi for exposing scandals in the government... His one overwhelming passion now was, how to ensure that his darling daughter Indira, the only one, he claimed, who loved him truly, who had even abandoned her worthless husband in order to be with her father — how to ensure that she would become Prime Minister after him.” Here Mistry isn’t only insulting Feroze Gandhi, a fellow Parsi and grandfather of Priyanka, Rahul and Varun, but he’s also insinuating that Parsis are a Nehru-despising lot. Imagine!

Mistry doesn’t even spare Feroze’s daughter-in-law, Maneka. In a scene, a chicken is brought home to be slaughtered after feeding it for two days. The difference in taste — “juicy and fresh and sweet, and so much more than the stingy scraps which clad the bones of the scrawny, market-fed birds” — is told by Mistry via a character with maniacal animal-murdering glee. How could Chavan, a secular Congressman, have tolerated such lines after they were brought to his notice by Aditya?

The young Thackeray (is it ok to call him ‘Thacks’?) has the skills worthy of Chhattrapati Shivaji’s son Raje Sambhaji and Gemini Ganesan’s daughter Rekha rolled in one. Now hoping he ensures that the humiliating Trunk Call For Ganapati by Roshan Navare, who’s rumoured to be honoured early next year with the coveted Maltese Falcon (not to be confused with Japan’s Falcon Award for crime fiction), is taken off the face of the Earth. Boys and girls, do I hear ‘Facebook campaign’?