Penguin: New Delhi, 2008
After a lot of deliberation, I decided to pen this review in first person, and in the manner I could, freely, express. What was initially planned to be written in a formal tone turned out to be a confusing affair; it would seem that lack of surprise, dismay of the lowest level at the banality of the tale and that Delhi urge to be cool killed my excitement of a new book. I now write this as a blog entry which will not only review the book, but take into consideration various accounts of the same, and, of course, display my devilish grin as I rip apart few things in my genuinely insulting tone.
I was eagerly waiting for Viva Santiago! My excitement was displayed in my congratulatory mail to Colin which I had sent as a token of appreciation for a former colleague who had taken the brave step of coming out with a book in such a short span of time. I am glad it was all short lived; not because of any personal differences (there is no place for that here), but it saved me the embarrassment of anything positive that I might have said earlier. For all the popcorn relish it offers, Viva Santiago is abysmally low in its attempt to be "that" thing (read that cool thing) in contemporary Indian literature. I share this sentiment with Sharanya who makes a good point -- a jovial, light-hearted read that doesn’t take itself too seriously. I saw the cover and felt let down. It is not Colin's fault at all; these publishers, who definitely lack the brains to do anything in publishing, tend to do this all the time. They did this with Chetan Bhagat's One Night at a Call Centre, Tushar Raheja's Anything for you Ma'am and Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss. These are all laboured works that definitely do not lack ambition but are highly anaemic, given their insincerity towards writing. Lest we forget, they were never serious. Someone like Jabberwock might like them. He is equally confused, except that he knows he is and others do not. Desai's justified award still finds a hater in me. This piece is about Colin's work however.
See, this is one of the problems I am facing. Despite reading it sincerely, I can not dissociate the author from his book. My Derridian ideas stopped me from doing so, initially; in the later stages, it was as if I am reading Colin's blog or any of his contemporaries' (including mine). Anyhow... The story is about Alonso Gonzalez, a typical Delhi University lad who embarks on an impromptu and treasure to his hometown in Goa (Ah, will the ever surprises end!). He is aided by Yvette, a Canadian, (will the western conformism ever stop? and please do not wonder why is she from the white Northern Americas) who claims to know his grandfather. You see, the ol' man is the dude here: He mouthed the most over-abused cliche, that I personally dislike, of life being a roller coaster and mojito in one hand, and some jane in another, and there is a woo-hoo. Ok, my bad, I know the line like the back of my hand and it is not the coolest thing. It is like "I live my life a quarter mile at a time" or you know, "Life is a box of chocolates, you never know which one might melt". Oh again, my bad. You see, that is the problem with these cool lines - they can always be modified, just as Colin does, and cheaply, in his book. The original line has been read in numerous mails and those profiles that are either pretentious or just for "frandsip". Those guys can use it, not you dude. Oh, the grandpa! You see, the womaniser or the women-loving man lives in a purple haze, is addicted to Dylan (or so it is portrayed; you see, more coolness is spelt with things like these) and indulges in religious banter ((un)surprisingly, he is quite blasphemous at times).
Something is amiss here. He has left a treasure for Alonso. There is a gold chess pawn, a map and Yvette who discovers him in a Paharganj (Am I smiling at all the deliberations or what?!?), and, yes, there is lots of pot and umpteen references that make it so uncool from something that could really have been cool.
Everything is so Da Vinci here that one does not believe it to be real. Secondly, this unrealistic ability stems from the convenience with which the book has been drafted. After all, Viva Santiago ends with the line that it was written in three weeks. I remember going through Colin's blog at that time and reading the 2-sentence entry before the book and the one that followed. I was interested in his book since then. I just did not know that he is hell bent on disappointing his readers to that extent. Everything is picture perfect: friends, family, hippies and a woman on an Enfield attends Grampa's funeral. The transition from student-life in Delhi to rolling joints in Goa happen with such an ease that you wonder whether there exists an understanding of intertwining and parallal narratives. Narrative, it seems is a paralysed entity here. A premature birth results in long scars till the end of the book.
Everything is touched on; it is as if the Penguins asked Colin to write a travelogue of his home state, heavily intoxicated and put in every modern cool film in it. So there are pig-killing rituals, Grampa exhibits traits of Col Kurtz, Paul Newman and, very annoyingly, Bruce Dern and Walter Mathau packed in one. And all of them are smoking pot. You can imagine Lee Strasberg would have killed Elia Kazan and then hung himself upside down.
In Hindi, there is a proverb that goes, kahin ka roda, kahin kee eent. It means pebble from somewhere and the brick from somewhere else. That is the recipe of this book that uses random photographs (and anecdotes, many of which are doctored heavily) to suggest something - that everyone is on a trip. Hence, I wonder, whether in an annoying manner, Colin brilliantly weaves a tale that probably exists in his stoned world and could be real in some parallel universe. But then, sadly, Mr Fernandes, your readers are well aware of such fables... Or the existence of their thought for that matter. So yes, dude, it is a brilliant story if it were narrated to me on a corner in one of the old towns of Goa or Rajasthan and we were two strangers whom pot brought together. In that sense, I smile. But I know, this drug-induced bliss is momentary. Unfortunately, your book does not even provide that. Probably in some other universe, some other time.
I presume Ridhi Kamal Parekh of DNA needs to get her head examined and same goes for the retard called Amarinder Sandhu. I wonder if they are Colin's friends because that is how things in Delhi and Mumbai are moving these days - because of these cool chuts. Last I heard, Complusive Confessor is already on her way to become India's Carrie Bradshaw.
Ridhi is from DNA and her review is horrible. Same goes for SAndhu. Both these writers present an extended version of the jacket, which I must admit is so not cool. It destroys the reading by raising the reader to a pedestal with drums beating and hearts pounding and it is as if Girls in the US are awaiting the arrival of Beatles for the first time... And then, Poof! The first lines tell you that this is a hurried affair by a good writer who has hardly put in any effort apart from watching a couple of DVDs and indulging in useless banter with his accomplices. Ridhi's review is titled 'Da Vinci Code for those who love Goa' and the Tribune reporter calls it 'Dylan code deciphered'. Hmm. I wonder if they even deserve my insults. I think they should be fired immediately. For instance, Ridhi writes, 'Fernandes peppers the story with interesting (some might say useless) anecdotes about the family'. What is this diplomatic (read two-faced) line? Sandhu goes a step ahead by using phrases like 'joyous wit', 'whacky humour', 'vivid story', but the funniest bit is this - The reader is taken on a roller coaster ride while reading. The book is fast paced and easy to read. The writer has caught the sights, sounds and smells of Goa.
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! No offence Colin, but are these your friends? Did you pay them anything? Because if you did not, then I suggest, make them pay you immediately for writing such reviews.
Most importantly, the only thing kaleidoscopic in the novel is its cover artwork, which I do not see as creative. It draws heavily on LSD-induced scribbles that still line some of the ol' shops in Camden or Goa for that matter. Because if the twists are hailed as kaleidoscopic, then I have to say something - the mystery is known to everyone except the reader who has his own mystery as to why he chose this book. It is not bad. It is readable but it is purely bad fiction as Sharanya observes. There is nothing worse in the world than bad comedy and bad mystery. And you can not be forgiven Colin because mystery and innocence are not akin; hence you can not escape with the argument that this is your first book.
Now, the insults begin. You see, people like Colin in modern, urban India are led to believe that they are the first ones here to be cool. The protocol increases with terms like - smoke loads of pot, act cool even if you are not, listen to Dylan and Cobain at the same time, act cool even if you are not, talk about everything that has a cult following and lest we forget, act cool even if you are not! Hence, when he got the book deal, I was just wondering whether he deserved one. It is not him who generates kind hate in me, it is his form, that specie which generates so much of love inside my heart for these bucketheads. These are the people who call themselves hippies, yet work with rigid conformity to Americanised ideas. They might be reading Kerouac and Ginsberg and treating themselves (thanks to their proximity to local bands trying to create 'music') as the Gen Next for these tough globalised (?) times but are hardly anything global or modern in their outlook. They hail themselves as kids born in wrong time and they rightfully deserved to be in the flower power era and all that jazz; their lifestyles and thought processes speak something else. And in these times, it is absolutely essential that they are told that they are wrong and their supposedly cool ideas have been here even before they were just eggs. Unfortunately that does not happen and they end up doing this.
I have faith in Colin's writing but look what conformity to the thought that he must pen a book that can sell, did to him. I am not insulting him because I hate his luck, but because it is a sad state of affairs in contemporary creative India where "how cool" is something that determines the creative quotient of any product or idea. I do not think MTV Roadies is good Reality Show programming or Get Gorgeous and its BitchDiaries is anything interesting to watch. Mouthing "fuck" and "gaandu" do not show that your programme is not laboured or it is downright real; Bani had to become a VJ and it was obvious by the 4th episode to everyone in Roadies 4. So do not insult the intelligence of the audience, whosoever they might be. Again, over there you have cool people like Nikhil Chinnappa, who let me tell you is one of the most obnoxious and phoney people you will ever meet. Seriously!
This cheating of audience is not healthy, nor is it new. I just wonder if Colin takes a serious clue from here because the one good thing about his book is - it can easily be made into a cool film. (I do not use the term movie as it is a slang.) Yes, I assure you that anyone with an interpretative method can create a nice silver screen adventure. But, the operating word being interpretative, which would mean that Viva Santiago will have to undergo a lot of changes and get rid of its phoney and deliberate character. Probably I will, when I have the money because some of the stuff in this book is just so cool Colin!
Wednesday, 29 October 2008