Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Iceboys in Bellbottoms - Krishna Shastri Devulapalli

I was at the book launch of this book in the Park a few months ago with Raja and Vinod but we somehow postponed buying a copy of this book for reasons unknown. It was a different kind of a launch with an irreverent and funny trailer at the beginning, that was followed by the novelist being engaged in a discussion and a reading of a few pieces from the book. Krishna displayed his funny bone in ample measure that day, his constant stream of wisecracks flowed effortlessly, a lifetime of practice behind it surely, of not letting go of an opportunity to rip open the slightest of opportunities and in many occasions, as I later discovered, creating humour where none existed. I enjoyed his reading on the bit about Saikumar's entry into their household and his singing talent, a piece that brought much laughter and cheer into the gloom. We need more Krishna's in this world.

When I met him again at the Hyderabad Literary Festival a couple of days ago, I remedied my earlier fault and got myself a copy, which was graciously gifted by Chitra, his wife, who insisted that I do not buy the copy, and signed by him for me. It has a fascinating cover (designed by Krishna himself, who also draws, designs and illustrates apart form writing novels and film scripts) and that sets the tone for the book really, along with the highly intriguing title of 'Iceboys in Bell bottoms'. Bell bottoms set the time frame, the seventies, a time I am familiar with.

'Iceboys..' is the story of the growing up years of Gopi as he survives his dysfunctional family, his unwittingly dangerous friends and their games, the many unknown visitors to their house and Gopi's own imagination and experiences. Gopi's grandfather Meghamala (who becomes CG for the rest of the novel, the family abbreviation for the literal translation of Meghamala in Telugu which goes as Cloud Garland) is a famous Telugu film personality, a poet, lyricist who is a celebrity in his own right, and he takes to encouraging all kinds of talent from Andhra Pradesh that latches on to him to promote them in the film industry. Gopi's own father has been deprived of an education by CG who believed that there could be no better education than hanging out with him and helping him out. So Gopi's father educates himself while hanging out and helping his famous father and collects a large library of American magazines and becomes the resident expert on all things American, especially Hollywood, before branching out into a world of art, business of greeting cards and a love for the horse races. Gopi's mother is a rebel, the lone voice that fights CG and she has a penchant for watching as many noon shows as she can, roll on the floor when she finds anything funny and so on. Gopi's two sisters, Lalli (older) and Kavi (younger) and a grandmother who enjoys eating her food, complete the main characters in the household. There are many characters that flit in and out, Saikumar the  singer being one, Jhansi the aspiring singer who 'brought breasts to their house', Dr. Sarathi the nutcase doctor who experiments on the family with his magic medicine i.e. industrial-strength steroids, Buster their highly sexed dog, the family of Renu aunty, CG's adopted daughter, and her deviant lot of children, Dodo, Sachu and the lot. As Gopi discovers the world of 'Iceboys', the localised version of 'I Spy' and then later on, bell bottoms, his life moves on in a hilarious roller coaster of experiences, of characters like Pistol Rangarao, the detective novel writer, his friends in school Deshbush (Debashish), Ramki and others and somehow survives his first encounters with love, sex, drink and growing up in the Chennai of the seventies.

'Iceboys in Bellbottoms' is hilarious. Krishna's imagination and creation of situations is something that comes naturally to him and the funny situations come quick and fast, line after line. Spend a few minutes with him and you know that he can do this all day. Undoubtedly one of the funniest voices in Indian English fiction, Krishna looks at life perhaps as the illustrator does, the cartoonist does, and has this wonderful ability to make those cartoons up in words, when he writes. His powers of articulation of what he sees in every situation, his use of language, his obviously well-stacked experiences from various fields, will serve him well as he writes more books and explores larger landscapes, funny or unfunny. What interested me was the slowing down on the frenzied life of Gopi as the book drew to a close, the seriousness that grips his life, and the change in mood and emotion from the funny to sombre, as Krishna slowly and expertly pulled on the brakes and ended the book without a lurch. Akin to a silken smooth landing in an airplane.

In my opinion that holds a lot of promise because he is equally comfortable with the slapstick, wisecracking world as he is with a world that explores other emotions of guilt, love, loss. To shift so easily is, I think, a hallmark of a writer with much promise and Krishna, if he sticks to writing novels, busy as he is with many other creative pursuits, can write the whole range, and well. Humour to me is the top of the pile and if one can pull of something like this, he can pull off anything else. Apart from Sidin Vadikut of the 'Dork' series, I find few Indian writers who can write really funny stories and there is much we can laugh about in India, ourselves and our lives, our volume, our diversity, our aspirations. Krishna has a wide and unexplored field ahead of him, more so as he can write confidently about everything - the toilet going habits of Indians to scratching publicly to all the obnoxious things we do - and I do hope that he writes many more funny books, and whatever books he would like to write. I'd definitely buy them.

Well done, Krishna, and take a bow. Here's wishing this wonderful book and its many endearing characters, a great journey into the hearts and minds of many readers. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I suspect, I will read it a few more times. Highly recommended to anyone who is looking for good humour writing in Indian Writing in English. Fabulous debut.

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