Friends Jerry Pinto and Kiran Nagarkar bond over lunch
It is easy to tell that Jerry Pinto and Kiran Nagarkar are friends. They spend the whole lunch at Ankur in Fort, ribbing, and telling stories of each other that are 'off the record'. They sit next to each other, and on being separated (for want of a better picture), joke about the 'bourgeois morality' that is keeping them apart.
This shared camaraderie helps us forget we are in the presence of two of the country's finest writers. Both have won the Sahitya Akademi Award; Pinto for his debut Em and the Big Hoom, and Nagarkar for Cuckold. Nagarkar's Rest in Peace: Ravan & Eddie in 2015 saw the culmination of the epic trilogy of his much-loved Bombay characters. Pinto's latest work is Half-Open Windows, a translation of Ganesh Matkari's Khidkya Ardhya Ughadya.
Jerry Pinto and (bottom) Kiran Nagarkar enjoy a meal at Ankur in Fort. Pics/SAYYED SAMEER ABEDI
Kiran: The two of us together are a disaster.
Jerry: I have noticed one thing: every time I meet him, he is being fed by a woman. This city is obsessed with him.
Kiran: Are you crazy? You can't say such things when people are around… I'm an old man now.
Jerry: The sexiest old man I know.
Joanna: You have been friends for over a decade. Do you meet often?
Jerry: We bump into each other at really bad literary festivals. We met once on a flight out of Goa. He was sitting across the aisle and when he dozed off, I grabbed his notebook. It was a Moleskine, of course, and had his beautiful handwriting. It felt like an autobiography.
Kiran: You did that? I didn't kill you?
Jerry: You wanted to but you were strapped in. Was it your autobiography?
Kiran: No, but I should be working on one; we both should.
Jerry: I am.
Kiran: Oh! Then remember, you have to write without any selling short because I will not tolerate it.
(Fish Thekdy arrives)
Jerry: I love this.
Kiran: Yes, let's order another plate.
Jerry: Filets are wasteful. I grew up in the 1970s where we didn't waste fish or any food; we chewed the heads and they were the best part.
Joanna: What are you working on?
Jerry: My next book, The Three Loves of Yuri.
Jerry: This man is so lazy. He could translate his own works, but he just waits for other people to do it.
Kiran: Why would you read any story in Marathi when you can read it in Jerry Pinto's English?
Jerry: I translate because people who are bi-lingual, naturally, fluently and efficiently don't translate. Which do you enjoy reading more, English or Marathi?
Kiran: I've gone back to Marathi. I don't read translations of my work.
Jerry: Why not?
Kiran: I didn't want to be the kind of author who worries that this shade of meaning hasn't come through. So when I was sent the translation of Saat Sakkam Trechalis, I gave the translator free rein.
Jerry: The thing about writers is they cherish freedom. Cuckold, for instance. After that, you should have done five more historical books because you did such a brilliant one.
Kiran: I didn't want to do it at all; I couldn't stand Mira.
Jerry: Think about it, Kiran is an atheist who writes incessantly about God. Like all atheists, he is obsessed with God.
Kiran: It is true. Are you a believer?
Jerry: I'm a Roman Catholic believer.
Kiran: I am agnostic. I'm as much into Catholicism as I am into Hinduism.
(Kerala Squid, Neer Dosa and Appams arrive)
Kiran: I am eating here after 13 years. The neer dosa is really soft.
Jerry: All the food is good.
Kiran: It is delicious but too spicy.
Jerry: Mop it with the appam, it will take away the burn.
Joanna: What does the city mean to you now?
Kiran: I feel hopeless.
Jerry: For a long time, Bombay was an idea we came to co-share. It was about diversity — everyone was welcome. Now we see the immigrant as a parasite. No city can grow when it becomes hostile to diversity, and to women. That's the problem.
Kiran: It's more than that. Maharashtrians have just lost it. In the latter half of the 19th century and early 20th century, Maharashtra was the hotbed for dynamic new ideas and revolutionary reforms.
Jerry: Maharashtrians were the nation's thought leaders. Suddenly, there is parochialism and it is very dangerous for the city. All over the world, the immigrant brings the willingness to do the work the native will not.
Kiran: Is this interview good? I was thinking it should be obtuse so that we appear as high intellectuals.
Jerry: Well, I tried, and you laughed at me.
A pet peeve about lit fests:
Jerry: How about paying the panelists?
Kiran: Too much focus on panel discussions, and the fact that most have become lit-cum-Bollywood film festivals.
What are you are reading now?
Jerry: Beauty is a Wound (English); Mayapot (Hindi), Jag Badal Ghalun Ghaav (Marathi).
Kiran: I just finished The World in the Evening.
The strangest compliment you've received:
Jerry: You look like a writer.
Kiran: I don't like talking about compliments. The strangest thing I've been told is that Saat Sakkam Trechalis was the worst kind of porn.
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