I picked it up because of the cover. Cartoonish. Not as stylish and riotous as the late Mario Miranda's drawings. But similar in theme. In the attention to detail. It didn't tell me much about the stories inside though.
The back leaf said the short stories inside were a bit like Malgudi Days. That's the only reason I shoved it into my satchel. Figured I could use some laughter on the dreary metro ride home. I wasn't disappointed.
Umm … you could call it Malgudi Days in modern times. In a slum / village / settlement on the outskirts of some suburb in Mumbai. There's no Swamy - no cute kid who weaves and holds all the stories together. But there is the wry humour, the strange situations and convoluted solutions that seem all too believable. It isn't as good as Malgudi Days - but it's quite good in its own way.
There's Sunrise Apartments - with political battles between the president, secretary and the other citizens. There's a slum nearby, where the help for these apartments come from. There's a hill and an ancient temple a good away behind this complex, an illegal gambling den that operates only at night, a tea stall that's a nerve centre for gossip, a seedy cinema, local bar, laundry shop, an undertakers outfit. And of course a whole medley of colorful characters peppered across all these establishments.
What the book does - while taking us on a laugh riot, is also give a glimpse of the lives of all these people. The troubles and travails of the people in the slum, the strange quirks and stupidities of the people in the apartment, the never say die spirit of the folks who run the gambling den and the tea stall. Life treats them in funny ways. Like it treats all of us. Yet, they take it all in their stride and keep moving on.
In that sense, there's some taste of Nukkad - that ancient serial which we used to watch on Doordarshan when we were all in school. Unlike Nukkad - these folks aren't exactly pals, aren't a community that sticks together. But they live in the same area, they generally know each other and their lives keep intersecting in unpredictable ways.
And the humour isn't over the top - it comes from situations many of us could find ourselves in, or imagine people whom we know get into. It's believable. That's what makes the book - cute. Something you'd want to hold on to, perhaps read again on a rainy day, with hot tea and steaming pakodas.
P.S: Will the author attempt a second book in the same series? He's set the stage, introduced us to a place and its characters. A second round of adventures might just elevate it onto a higher plane. But he's set himself a fairly high benchmark now. It might be a challenge to match and take this a few notches higher.
Book: Tamasha in Bandargaon; Author: Navneet Jagannathan; Publisher: Westland Books