Short story stirs up social media storm among Mumbai's journalists
Following the story's publication, Joseph's Facebook page saw a slew of comments by former employees who claim to recognize the workplace and characters in the story
Award-winning author Manu Joseph, former editor of Open magazine, is like the protagonist of his latest piece of writing, armed and dangerous. In a short story commissioned by Architectural Digest, with the condition that it be inspired by a physical space, Joseph has written a quirky tale of a 'boy' arriving in Mumbai to take up a journalism job in a magazine called Elite, published by the Star Group. This has created a buzz among ex-employees of a real publishing firm where Joseph used to work.
The story, called 'A Twist in the End', is a tragicomic reading about a 21 year-old boy, whose official accommodation turns out to be a chawl behind the magazine's office in Prabhadevi.
One day, the boy bumps into the proprietor, Mr Hirani in the lift. It is after Mr Hirani's entry that the story begins to bite, hiss and fizz. Hirani, the handsome old man, calls the boy to his office for chats, and one day invites him to his palatial penthouse for breakfast where the boy thinks Hirani looks "strange" in white pants and T-shirt.
Later in the story, Mr Hirani offers his 10,000-square-feet Breach Candy home for the boy to stay for a couple of months, while he travels to Europe in the summer. The boy, who earns Rs 60, then, goes to work, walks the city and lives in some of the most expensive real estate in the world, alone in a home where the owner has 'cancelled the newspapers and milk'.
The story then ends with the following line: "The young man then begins to probe the reasons why this has happened and unearths some astonishing secrets about the old man. Then there is a twist in the end."
What makes the story interesting, according to former journalists, is the fact that Manu worked at the well-known publishing stable Magna, which also had its office in Prabhadevi. There, too, a chawl behind the office building served as the official accommodation. Magna, owned by media baron Nari Hira, published a slew of glossies, from Stardust to Savvy to Society. Joseph worked in Society magazine.
Following the story's publication, Joseph's Facebook page saw a slew of comments by former employees who claim to recognize the workplace and characters in the story. "I must go and check if you ever worked for Nari Hira," said one. "MANU!! Bloody hell… hahahahahhahahahahahahahah. Death," said another.
"Enjoyed the twisted tale," said yet another. Joseph, however, insisted it is all fiction. "There is nothing more I can say," the writer told mid-day over the phone, before signing off. "It is a short story. It is fiction." An assistant to Hira claimed Hira was overseas and did not wish to comment.
A third character, however, was willing to speak. Consider the following passage from the story:
'Ms Alva, editor of The Elite, who had interviewed him in Chennai and given him the job, was a stout woman whose face was proud of all her sorrows. She called a meeting of her writers. Every time Ms Alva was impressed with an idea or a comment, she said, "It's better than sex." There was a very obvious literary flaw in her perception of life. He told her, "But for a 50-year- old woman, anything would be better than sex." Silence fell. A housefly sat on a plate of sliced apples and rubbed its arms. But then Ms Alva laughed, though not very happily. "I am 48," she said. He did not see how that changed anything.'
Ingrid Albuquerque, who now lives in Bangalore, was with Magna from 1971 to 1997 and was the editor of Savvy magazine and Editorial Director of all the magazines there.
Asked if she saw any resemblance between Ms Alva and herself, she said, "Yes, he could be talking about me, since I was the one who employed him at Chennai, and I was stout, yes. But 50 or 48? No. Forty-two was more like it. The rest is fiction, which in any case it is purported to be.
"I was a good Catholic, and like Jews don't use the word G-D, Catholics don't use s--; in fact, they hardly do it since many of them believe s-- is only for procreation. The whole story is brilliant, as is Manu — have always enjoyed his writing, bless his naughty and wicked soul! I have warned him, when he dies, there will be no detours, he will go straight to hell," finished the feisty Albuquerque.
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