Till my second year of studying English literature, my experience of reading Indian authors was restricted to Anurag Mathur’s The Inscrutable Americans. I read a lot of Indian authors that year, as part of the syllabus or as additional reading. But the one text that absolutely stood out, head and shoulders, above the rest was Ravan & Eddie. Why? Oh, let me count the reasons. First of all, it was hilarious. As opposed to the gloomy post-Partition tales or gloomier pre-Independence narratives, here was a novel that looked at the humour in the everyday. Its heroes weren’t noble, stoic or stupendously inspirational. Eddie looked up girls’ skirts. Ravan gyrated in the aisles of movie theatres. But god, was it fun reading about them.
Even more fun, were the departures Kiran Nagarkar took from the narrative. His musings on Shammi Kapoor, the English language, bathing, every discussion showed a deep understanding of socio-cultural differences between the Hindu and Catholic communities, which was heavily laced with humour. It was impossible to read the book and not become a fan.
Then one day, years later, I walked into office one morning only to find the man himself sitting placidly in the room. As it turned out, he was a friend of my boss. My boss had actually designed some of the covers of his books. I felt the same way a classic rock fan would feel if she came across Mick Jagger having tea in the kitchen with her mom. Except, that’s a rubbish analogy. Because there was nothing rockstar-like about Kiran Nagarkar. Every time I met him after that, he was dressed in the same way. In roomy, old-fashioned white pajamas and a khadi or cotton kurta. And then, to throw you completely off-balance, he spoke immaculate, beautifully accented Queen’s English.
I had the profound privilege of having tea at his house – a charming old bungalow, demolished since. It was proper tea, served in a porcelain tea service, with ginger biscuits. I was there to beg, plead, grovel if need be, for him to write a blurb for Swear You Won’t Tell? He signed my copies of Cuckold and Ravan & Eddie and very politely refused to write the blurb. I visited him for the relaunch of Seven Sixes Are Forty-Three and again, after my book was published, to give him a copy. We chatted about writing, plots, good editors and great covers. It was all a bit unreal, to tell you the truth. That a writer as accomplished as him would sit and talk shop with me… I was grinning for days.
I’m not grinning now. Mr. Nagarkar has passed. And there are fewer laughs in a world already tragically short of them. Someone once said, ‘If you want your name to be remembered after death, either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing.’ Mr. Nagarkar, with his books and his uncalled for kindness, has managed to do both.