Thursday, January 29, 2009

Arzee the Dwarf in Tehelka, and on the low stone wall

There is a little piece on my novel Arzee the Dwarf in this week's issue of Tehelka that I would like to share with you. It is here.

And here, as promised, are some passages from the book. This is from Chapter 2, "Looking Forward". After a game of cards with his friends, Arzee is on his way to work:

Arzee passed the grey building which was his home – he could hear the television all the way up from the second floor, because Mother listened to all her soaps loud – and then the empty school, its blue gate being locked by the watchman. Instead of going on straight, he turned now into a passage between two buildings, so narrow it was almost invisible. It was a kind of wasteland where everyone threw rubbish which no one then cleared. A broken toilet seat was lying here, and a red plastic chair with three legs. The ground was covered with a squelchy slop of plastic bags, vegetable peelings, and eggshells. Long grasses had sprouted up near the walls, carrying bits and pieces of garbage within their limbs like diseased flowers. Little frogs the same colour as the muck were hopping from one spot to another with springy leaps, and becoming invisible once again as soon as they landed. Arzee’s shoes sank into the wet earth, and when he looked back to see if anyone had seen him enter, he could only see his footprints following him all the way in.

He arrived now at a low stone wall, on the other side of which thin whispering sounds could be heard. He hitched up his trousers, hoisted himself up onto the wall using the crevices in it as footholds, and arrived at the top. He stood up, and looked down into the silky waters.

Yes, there was a nasty stench here, but also a lovely still and calm. No one bothered to come out here, and all the pleasures of the place were just for him. As if to mark his arrival, a milky sun had come out over his head, and his reflection in the sewer was backlit, as if there was a halo around him. He studied himself closely, and saw what he already knew: that his forehead was high, his hair wavy and thick, his lips full and pink, his black eyes somewhat crabby and disconsolate. He was good-looking, there was no doubt about that. But what of it? Looks weren’t just about shapes and textures, but also about sizes. Even in his reflection there was something irredeemably odd and stunted about him, like a thought that had come out all wrong in the speaking. The acrid whiff of the sewer was so strong that it felt as if his nostrils were burning. But even so, fish or other forms of life – algae, perhaps, or microbes – seemed to inhabit it, making the surface bubble in little spasms. There was a kind of peace to be had in watching the water go by. Arzee thought of that lost one, that past one, whose current had fallen away from his, and how she’d missed this day in his life. She’d gone, but he’d carried on, and learnt to be strong, and now he was all right, only he thought of her sometimes. He spat into the water, as if expelling the thought.

How strange! It seemed to Arzee that somebody was calling out his name: "Arzee!" “AR-zee!” "AR-ZEE!" In fact, what with all the echoes of this bounded retreat, it seemed as if the voice was coming out at him from the inky deeps beneath. Arzee looked around, disoriented. Perhaps it was a trick of his brain: his brain did sometimes play games with him.

But somebody was calling out his name! And Arzee recognised that voice – he'd been trying to avoid the person whose voice it was!

And here is one more passage, about a minor character, Ranade:
If ever there was an instance of someone so in love with this world that even death could not tear him away from the established routine and unfinished business of living, then it was Ranade the stockbroker, who used to live – still lived – on the floor just below Shinde. Two years ago Ranade, a bachelor, had been hit by a stroke and passed away. But not for long, for it seemed he'd passed right back in. Within a week of what was thought to be his final, irreversible departure he was seen back on his first-floor corridor – and not even furtively in the black of night, but nonchalantly, in the clear light of day. His hand was at his lips and he kept drawing and exhaling as if smoking a cigarette, as he often would when taking a break from work when he was alive. One person, not knowing who he was talking to, had even held a conversation with him for ten minutes, and had come away with advice to hold on to Larsen & Toubro and sell India Cements. Ranade's belongings had all been disposed of, but at night Shinde heard the familiar sounds of a tapping at a keyboard from down below, and the scraping of a spoon as Ranade ate his lonely dinner. As the room was clearly haunted, no one was willing to rent it any more. And so Ranade stayed right where he was, and it was as if he'd never gone. Out of curiosity, Shinde had left a pack of cigarettes at Ranade's door one night, and the next morning it was gone! Ghosts weren't as airy and insubstantial as was commonly thought, but clearly had a need for the goods of this world. Perhaps there were many others like Ranade in the city. Once it was established there was one like him, there was no reason why there couldn't be more, all playing the part of life even as they answered the roll-call of the world after. What a curious thing was life – and death too.
That's too much already! The rest you'll see in May.

And an excerpt from my story "Dnyaneshwar Kulkarni Changes His Name", which came out two and a half years ago, is here.


Ajinkya Deshmukh said...

Wow! Congratulations! I remember you telling me about the book at Manipal Media Students' Convention last year. I've been looking forward to it ever since.

Will lay my hands on the first available copy. Language “that hums with the protagonist’s rage and love”

I must say, there will be high expectations from your novel. All the best!

Anonymous said...

Dear Chandrahas,
I am eagerly awaiting an excerpt from the book. I have very high expectations from your novel - I have been waiting for it ever since I heard/read about it.

Through your reviews and other posts you have given us so much joy, and I am sure your novel will do the same.

Best wishes!


HRV said...

Congratulations! I have a thing for small books with many wonders and am waiting to buy it :-)

Just wondering, if it's going to be in Hardback or Trade paperback or Mass Market paperback? I ask this, because I'm curious as to whether publishers in India like to go the whole hog.

Anonymous said...


Would you oblige me with a signed copy of the book?


Anonymous said...

The description of the passage is very vivid .. evocative of the so many passages in Indian concrete jungles that one never notices till someone points them out.

Congratulations on the consummation of your first attempt at a 'small book' and wish you and Arzee roaring success!

Chandrahas said...

Venkatesh - It is going to be in hardback. I'm a fan of hardback books myself, and when Arzee, while not a reader, found out there are these two classes of books, he immediately wanted the more expensive one (he likes things to be expensive when he is not paying). So there remained only my publisher to be brought around, and we outvoted him on it.

Karthik - I certainly will, provided you buy it first. Sometimes friendship is more important than business, and sometimes the other way round.

Uncertain - At least you and I agree on something! We must raise a - or given the time of the day at least eat a piece of - toast to this. Thank you for your kind wishes. There is plenty of eating and drinking in Arzee. But I digress.

Anonymous said...

I loved what I read. A comedy says the blurb but the poignancy of detailing caught my attention. I'll wait eagerly to get my hands on the book.

Anonymous said...

These excerpts are very nice.

I will buy the book.

Sanjeev said...

Wow. If the rest of the book is as good and well-written as the excerpt of Arzee at the wall, I'm going to love it!! You made it come alive... "squelchy slop", "his footprints following him all the way in", "spat into the water, as if expelling the thought" ...and much more to delight. And then there is the whole surreal-ish description of him looking at his reflection in the muck and his accompanied thoughts. Pure poetry!

I have followed your blog (and some of your articles) off-and-on from when you first started here... and was a pleasure to briefly meet you earlier in December. Now, looking forward eagerly to May!

Go break a leg, Chandrahas. Best wishes.


Chandrahas said...

Suroopa, Lexington Green, and Sanjeev - Thanks so much for your very kind and encouraging words. I hope that the book will be worth your money (as a precaution I am trying my best to make sure it's not very expensive) and time. It had better be, as any requests for refunds will have to be sent to Arzee directly, and as you'll see, it's very hard to prise even a copper out of him.

Anonymous said...

From the looks of it, this is really going to be worth the wait. Full of the bittersweet humour and astute character sketches that one would expect from you. Only an India release I assume? Will have to figure out ways to get it to the UK. Congrats again Chandrahas!

youprat said...

I think a book - in this case, two excerpts - speak differently to different people. Sanjeev(above) enjoyed the Arzee part, whereas I like the paragraph about Ranade best. I think its amazing the way it contains life's little wisdoms and humour at the same time. Makes one nod and chuckle. Especially, these sentences: "...even death could not tear him away from the established routine and unfinished business of living," and "...all playing the part of life even as they answered the roll-call of the world after." seem profound in their own way, I don't know why!

And, in 'Part Arzee', "Even in his reflection there was something irredeemably odd and stunted about him, like a thought that had come out all wrong in the speaking.". Wow! How simply profound. And, everybody who reads it will relate to that.

Hope your book does well. And you too!

Anonymous said...

I have been reading your blog for a while and like it a fair bit, so I was quite apprehensive about reading the excerpt. Glad to say, I enjoyed them very much; I am hoping the plot stays thick till the end. :)

Well done, good luck!

Chandrahas said...

Rohit - Very pleased to have pleased you, as you are one of the best and most demanding readers of this site. "Bittersweet" is exactly right -- I was thinking of saying "bittersweet comedy" on the back-cover text, and in most of the drafts the work has been to find a way of coming closer towards achieving this tone of mingled registers. I would be very pleased to hear your comments and criticisms when you have read the full book.

You prat -- For someone who spends much of his time marking up or copying out sentences in books, it's very pleasing to have one's own sentences commended. I hope that I have not struck out with only this paragraph, and that there are other bits in the story that you will like as much.

NK -- Just as you were apprehensive about reading the excerpt, I was apprehensive about putting it up! Glad that everything still remains the same.

Anonymous said...

I liked wandering into your little garden of diseased flowers and invisible frogs where Arzee spits into his own halo... Don't know quite how I found myself there but I am glad--the best of luck with this book.

Chandrahas said...

Marly - Very glad you enjoyed walking through Arzee's private garden. If I don't say "Thank you for your kind words", it's only because I've said the same thing so often in a row that readers might begin to dread that Arzee goes walking up the wall not just in Chapter 2, but also similarly in three, four, five, six, and seven. I shall thank you the next time you leave a comment here, ok? Till then, be well.

Anonymous said...

Glorious sentences! Can't wait to buy and read it. I wish you heaps of success with this.

Anonymous said...

I have been trying in all major book stores across Bangalore but I wasnt able to locate a copy of your book anywhere. Could you perhaps let me know when and where I can get your book in bangalore?

Chandrahas said...

Arbitblogs - Full marks for effort! The book's on its way out to the stores right now, and you should be able to get it by next weekend. Hope to see you at the Bangalore reading later this month.