August 09, 2020
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A Self-Portait

An excellent translation of a delightful story in which the author plays pranks on the characters, manipulates them to his liking, talks to them...all the while looking for a story to write

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A Self-Portait
T`TA Professor
By Manohar Shyam Joshi Translated By Ira Pande
Viking/Penguin Pages: 140; Rs. 299
I’ve read three translated books recently, and all have two things in common: the excellent translation, and the author’s appearance in his own story as himself. While Anand (of Govardhan’s Travels) and Sankar (of Chowringhee) make a fleeting, but significant, appearance, Manohar Shyam Joshi presents himself at the very outset of this delightful story, and remains with us throughout. He plays pranks on the characters, manipulates them to his liking, talks to them and they talk back to him, all the while looking for a story to write. But the story eludes him—perhaps because, bursting with laughter, he’s already recounted it to someone, or because, caught outside a woman’s house, he’s accused of lewd, rather than literary, imaginings. Or because T’ta, dubbul MA and proud possessor of the Oxford English Dictionary—until it is chucked into the muck by his arch-enemy—dies before the story is written.

Famed for his serials Hum Log, Buniyaad and Mungeri Lal Ke Haseen Sapne, for his many novels, stories and journalism, Joshi needs little introduction. In this short narrative, he returns to his home in Kumaon, where he encounters Khashtivallab Pant, otherwise known as Professor T’ta, a man in love with the English language. The writer rapidly sets T’ta against a man he hates, and who has superseded him to become principal (not headmaster!) of a school. The hilarity, however, soon turns into a dark, somewhat philosophical reflection, as much on the characters, as on the pretensions of the writer who believes that "the world was peopled either with writers or with lumpens who existed for us to write about".

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