When I took up Jug Suraiya's The Great Indian Bores, I did what Khushwant Singh (you can't get the fellow off your back) does: look up the index first. If you figure in it, howsoever casually, then it is worth reading, even if cursorily. Otherwise you may throw it into the nearest waste-paper basket, or should I say trash-can?
Now this is not the way to approach a book. Was it Aristotle or Plato—or may be it was Sophocles or Socrates, who knows, they are all Greek to me—who said, a book (or was it a play?) should have a beginning, a middle and an end. A very sensible thing which only a Greek with a logical mind could think of. Therefore, to begin with the end by looking up the index goes against the verities and is un-Grecian, if not ungracious. But having little Latin and less Greek, I ventured to see the index first. Lo and behold, my name, unlike Abou Ben Adhem's, neither led the rest nor was it there at all!
Was this a cause for rejoicing or dismay? Could it be that not being a great bore, I was not a middle bore (namely those whowrite middles like Raj Chatterjee, Maxwell Pereira or Nargis Delal) nor even a small bore encountered in clubs, pistols and artesian wells? Fortified that I was not classed among intellectuals who are the most crashing bores, I ventured to read Jug Suraiya's book from beginning to end, not omitting the middle.
To say that Jug Suraiya's book is unput downable would be a tergiversation since it puts down a variety of people, institutions, icons, heroes and, if I may unpardonably follow with the cliche, zeroes. I It covers (without covering up) uncouth ays upstarts, pretentious parvenus, affected arrivistes, scurvy skipjacks, in short, boorish bounders.
If you think that Jug Suraiya's pen has apenchant for penetrating pasquinaderie, you'll have to think again. He has that and much more. A turn of phrase and an off-phrase in turn. Words marshal themselves in joke, jest and gag, wheeze, witticism and wisecrack. But no abuse of terms, no quip, quirk and crank.
Caprice, whim and whimsy, lightness,levity and legerity (spelt legerete, if you want to show off your French), frivolity and froth—all skillfully distilled to titillate but only by titivation. The style is the man and Jug Suraiya wields a wicked stylus. Wicked without malice, unlike those who dispense malice towards one and all.
Going through the contents pages you might lick your fingers as at the beginning, middle and end of a Kentucky Fried Chicken at the very prospect of the personae and personalities mentioned therein who will be subjected to Jug Suraiya's sledge-hammer blows or rapier thrusts. You will think he is going to grill, drill and bore through his bores. But you have been warned. Think no such thing. Jug Suraiya is not interested in the birth, life and after-life of his victims, or should I say targets. He is often offbeat but always upbeat. Take Shobha De. But Jug Suraiya only takes, not her sultry days and starry nights, but her khali-pili Bombay English down to its distorted spellings. How funny, but what a waste of waist and bosom. Or take Mani Shankar Aiyar, of whom Advani apocryphally said he let out gas at one end loudly and at the other end loudly without responsibility. Jug Suraiya chooses to ignore this aspect and instead dwells on the thesaurus of names he could have called him—(work out who is he and him) or at worst the ultimate in Bengali abuse—you nonsense!
And so Narasimha Rao, called Peewee (as though he has some urinary problem), Jayalalitha (ai, ai, yo, the world's first cut-out chief minister-cum-empress), T.N. Seshan's oculatory directions to Shabana Azmi (buy your own kleenex to wipe away lipstick left on famous monuments like Nelson Mandela) and many others flit by demolished as though by Flit.
Scams, swindles and scandals, the Emergency, Black Cats, petrodollar NRIs, cricket and breakfast television, as well as other enduring and unendurable bores from a penitent pilgrimage or a precipitant passing parade across Jug Suraiya's Panasonic panorama.
One tocsin must be sounded for those who address themselves to read Jug Suraiya. They must have some familiarity with the Bible (Revised Version), Shakespeare, cricket, British royalty, the stiff upper lip comment, Bombay English, Bong English and the new FM Hinglish. It is a wide spectrum and, like our latest political formation, a rainbow front. But unlike the evanescent rainbow, Jug Suraiya's colour has a deeper and more enduring splash.