Book Review: Jug Suraiya is oh so ah-some!
There are few writers in India, perhaps even the world, who can write humour the way Jug Suraiya does. Mixing simplicity with allegory and dishing out authentic Indian sentences is an art that he masters.
His memoir JS and the Times of My Life carries on that legacy and I assure you, it is bound to make you smile (if not laugh out loud) with almost every chapter you read. The book traces his journey from the time he never wanted to become a journalist to the time he never became one. Atleast, not in the complete sense of the word.
The banter begins with the title of the book itself — does JS stand for Jug Suraiya or Junior Statesman? Take your pick. Open the book and you are welcomed with a ‘statutory warning’ instead of a ‘preface’ or ‘foreword’, where Suraiya sufficiently warns you when and how to read the book. No scandalous revelations about the media or its working. Just a fun, light read meant to be read as a collection of tales of a wanderer.
Now the book does stand by its warning, but thankfully, it dwells deeper. Suraiya generously explores his relationship with the editors of all the publications he worked for, along with different ideologies of the newspapers that guided their editorial content. And that presents a fairly good picture of how journalism in particular and the media in general progressed over the years. It’s interesting to know how a man with a unique style of writing found space and flourished in such diverse places. Well, less than ‘flourished’ at times, but that’s just life.
Suraiya’s old column on his pet dog Brindle had revealed little about the writer’s personal life. But Suraiya tells us more about the ubiquitous Bunny Suraiya (his wife), his childhood friends and some other interesting anecdotes from his life in this one. Famous names like Bachi Karkaria and M.J. Akbar find fleeting mention.
Some of the funniest chapters in the book are of his experiences in Delhi and the U.S. He has a sharp ear that notices unusual pronunciations used by people around him. And so you encounter — “ah-some” in America, “Hahng Kahng” in Hong Kong and “Grater K-lash cloney” in Delhi.
What makes the book all the more special is Suraiya’s humility when talking of things he did right in his career and his ability to laugh at the things he did wrong. He has a very genuine and grounded style of writing. And being such a terrific, experienced writer, I expected him to be perfect with every piece he wrote. But there were times when he doled out not-so-perfect articles and that is reassuring for aspiring writers, like me. It’s okay to deliver good pieces sometimes, you don’t always have to aim for perfection!
His story is inspiring when he recounts the many years spent doing nothing but editing ‘letters to the editor’ or freelancing for peanuts. All good writers have had their days of struggle. So if you’re struggling now, there’s hope for you in the future.
As Suraiya’s eventful life unfolds in the book, his tone undergoes a change too. From a carefree expression of an adventurous lad, he becomes a tad more serious round the end of the book, reflecting his more mature, thinking self.
A self-acknowledging liberal, he touches upon several issues that have been in discussion lately — censorship, globalisation, the caste system and secularism. But he only glides through these as part and parcel of newspaper writing. Never preaching, he presents an issue and his point of view, without trying to force his opinion on the reader or even convincing him to be on his side. You are free to agree or disagree with him.
Even though he’s a satirist, his language never becomes acidic or cynical about the world, which is a welcome change. The mood is always light and easy-going, characteristic of Suraiya himself, I believe (I have never really met the author). It’s rare to come across a ‘journalist’ who’s spent so much time (forty-three-odd years) in the field but not turned sardonic still.
In all, the book is quite entertaining from the beginning till the end, except a long-winded account of his trip to Tibet and a few digressions here and there. That trip bit definitely needed an edit :D But just as a photographer makes ordinary things look beautiful with his lens, Jug Suraiya makes mundane things seem hilarious with his pen. He’s a writer for the aam aadmi who relies on everyday people and activities for his stories.
I would gladly recommend this book to anyone, even if for just a few laughs. Humour writing is one of the toughest kinds of writing and more often than not, it seems forced. But Suraiya is an expert who manages it effortlessly, bringing in multiple flavours of India. A Gujarati born in Orissa, lived a large part of his life in Kolkata, fell in love and married a Punjabi and finally settled in Delhi/Gurgaon.
Four reading glasses for this book! Read it if you’re a Jug Suraiya fan :)