I don’t know if it was true, but I was told many years ago that the famous Urdu poet Bashir Badr had to answer questions based on his own poetry when he was doing MA in Urdu literature. Even if this information was not correct, I wanted it to be so. The idea that a living person is given to analyse his own poetry is absolutely fascinating. I wondered if he would have been able to do justice to that analysis given that remaining objective would have been well-nigh impossible. Proximity clouds judgement when it comes to people.
I fell more or less the same as I begin to analyse the creative produce of an author because I also happen to know him and his failings. The thought re-emerged, this time dressed as a fear – Will proximity cloud my judgment!!
Yet I want to do it – because I believe there is a story in the story – and that for me is sufficient.
First the Facts – he has written four books so far, and since all of them are both in English and Hindi , it can be said that there are 8 of them – ‘What a loser/Loser Kahin ka’ in 2013, ‘Ishqiyapa’ in 2015, ‘Love Curry’ in 2017 and now ‘Trending in Love’ in 2020. All of them by Penguin, all of them bestsellers and some of them now being converted into Web Series/movies. I have had some explosive feedback sessions with him on all of them, some parts in awe and many parts in absolutely disagreement. I would often end up exasperated by saying – ‘your book – your right’!
My intention is to evaluate if there is more than just four books in them by someone who is I feel leaving a significant imprint in the literary landscape of South Asia at the moment.
‘What a Loser’ was about the conflict identity of a small towner trying to get accepted in a metropolis structure. It’s a story of a Bihari student who like hundreds of his brethren arrive at DU with the dream of becoming an IAS, raw and uncouth, but with almost an unmatched hunger to succeed. The novel in a lot of sense made the ‘cow belt’ mainstream in the popular English literature. I know of many other books that followed by many authors. May be I am stretching it far, but I almost felt that the plot and his book did to the cow belt what movies like ‘Hasil’ and ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ did – made the cow belt ‘sexy’. Small town, abrasive, uncouth, unpolished, awkward India was also supremely comfortable in its skin and attractive in many ways.
‘Ishqiapa’ continued with the authors love for the mofussil cow belt. A story that has characters called Lallan Jha, who comes from a family of motor training driving school and Sweety Pandey who is a don’s daughter, and which has a crazy business idea of a kidnapping insurance business had to be a mad cap plot. Ishqiyapa no wonder was followed by the byline ‘to hell with love’. The book told us about the small towns fascination with glamour and power almost as the twin engines of aspiration; those who did not have anything sought power and those who did have power sought glamour. The story also underlines the changing nature of dreams in the teens who grew up in India post liberalisation in 1991.
‘Love Curry’ was set in London with roommates from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh – fighting together but still living together. It was not difficult to guess the romanticism of the three being talked in the same breath, their essential fault lines being so obvious and yet when all of them laughed at same jokes, enjoyed same food and eventually fall in love with the same girl, the fundamental ‘sameness’ was well brought out. It was a bit filmy but then I cannot expect better from this author – he has had a penchant for such dramatics since he was a young boy. The most significant statement Pankaj Dubey made with the help of these south Asian characters was of a possible reunification of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The latest book ‘Trending in Love’ has a huge subplot of the love across caste and religious lines, with the power of social media thrown in for a zaayka for the modern and post-modern times. The plot is based in the IAS academy so clearly the point being made is that in the times of mindless fanaticism no one is above and beyond the fault lines of our society.
As I connect dots a few things about the four books become quite clear, and by extension equally about the author, become obvious.
The books are about characters who are aspirational – who want to grow beyond the humble circumstances they have been born in. There is a deep desire to move up the social ladder despite the muck around them. They come from unsophisticated, uneducated and unexposed backgrounds but are second to none in grit, creativity and hunger. The characters are not black and white – but all shades of grey – A lot like the author.
Second, there is always a subplot in the books which is the gist of the times. There is a slice of the latest drama unfolding around us. It could be the cow belt crime and politics in one, India-Pakistan in another and deepening religious polarization in the third. All these plots are weaved in delicately so that it does not sound pedantic and on your face but make no mistake, they are right there.
A third and in my mind the most important part of the books are that the characters and the plot are unapologetic. They are what they are. They do not pretend to be someone else almost daring the reader not to like them, however deeply confident that the reader will not be able to resist loving them.
The last point – I love when I see him write even when I may not like what he has written. Pankaj Dubey is an inspiration to three kinds of people – first people who come from the small towns and villages of India, second people who think and feel in the vernacular languages and finally third, those who have been tormented by Mathematics during their school life. Pankaj, the author whom I am talking about is a source of hope for all these kinds.
I have known the author Pankaj Dubey since school and so it is quite likely that I see his charms and literary histrionics with lens that would do the disservice of amplifying them both, depriving me the eye of objectivity when I sit to analyse his writings. It would have been a lot easier had I not known him – but I guess it is too late for that.
The is an avid blogger and the author of Kabeer in Korporates , Corporate Lessons From A Great Mystic.