'He was writing his autobiography. I hope we will see that one day'
Author Jerry Pinto reminisces about his long-standing friendship with fellow novelist Kiran Nagarkar
Kiran Nagarkar was visiting a friend when he collapsed. Something in his brain whispered, 'Enough' and a massive haemorrhage ensued. He lay in a coma for two days. About an hour ago, I got a message from my friend Naresh Fernandes, 'Kiran passed on'.
I first met Kiran Nagarkar in Raavan and Eddie, a book that immediately resonated with me. I loved it because it was about the chawls of Bombay, it was about Afghan Snow which I had seen on the dressing tables of so many of my aunties, it was affectionate about Roman Catholics and I had had it up to there with the way Hindi cinema had turned my community into drunkards and sluts. I loved Manjula Padmanabhan's magnificent cover and I loved the sheer unexpected Rabelaisianness of it.
I met him later and we became friends. How could he not like me? I was in love with his book. I told him it was the book I had planned to write and he signed my hardback with a reassuring invitation to the book-writing game; that he was waiting for my book, that it would be a Bombay book too, and that there was room for another.
Later, I learned a little about his early life, the terrible struggle to live, the multiple childhood illnesses, the poverty of his family, the tenacity of his parents in their fight against his death. I learned about his friendship with that other great Bombay sage, Arun Kolatkar. And I read Seven Sixes are Forty-Three (Shubha Slee's translation of his Marathi novel, Saat sakkam trechaalis) with some interest.
He wrote a magnificent novel, his finest work, in Cuckold. No, he was not a believer. No, he didn't even think he should be writing about Meerabai but he conjured up her world so perfectly that I place this one with Mary Renault and Robert Graves. When Maharaja Kumar paints himself blue to win the love of his Green Eyes, you melt with him and for him. When he tries to persuade his allies to retreat so that they might fight another day, you are with him in the thick of battle. This was a writer who could conjure up the fighter and the lover.
While Kiran Nagarkar's Ravan and Eddie immediately resonated with me, his finest work remains Cuckold
He followed those up with two other works in which we met Raavan and Eddie at other stages of their lives and God's Little Soldier where he tried to analyse the motivations of the terrorist who kills in the name of religion. He used the trope of two brothers, Amanat and Zia, one a writer, the other a killer; one who invents worlds, another who snuffs them out. Amanat writes a beautiful retelling of the life of Kabir. I told him that it was the part I had most enjoyed. He swooped down on my prevarication. 'You didn't like the rest of it then?' I smiled and said that the Germans had, hadn't they? Amanat's novel opened out into The Arsonist, his last work.
On a flight somewhere, I teasingly plucked his slim Moleskine notebook, which was filled with jottings towards an autobiography. I hope we will see some of that one day soon.
Jerry Pinto is a writer of poetry, prose and children's fiction, as well as a journalist
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