Channeling Hari Kunzru

Yesterday I was sent to a film premiere (which finally I didn't see because the thugs at the movie hall said that they had given away all the passes from the director's quota; this the director vehemently denied on account of not being in Delhi to do so. I think my shoes didn't cost enough to merit moving fat men out of seats.) I walked from Rivoli to Plaza in Connaught Place planning to buy a couple of books and go home. At Rivoli, the woman who frisked me told me, " I like touching women all day." When I half-giggled, half-goggled... she said, " You are here for just a few seconds, shouldn't I be able to say something that makes you laugh?"

Outside Plaza, there was a furore because people could smell stars. They had lined up on both sides of the red carpet. One middle-aged man (who I suspect was one of the Martians who walk amongst us) asked everyone in sight, "What's going on? Who's coming?" The Naga girl standing next to me informed him, "Aamir Khan". This was completely wrong but as I found out, it didn't matter. The man said, "Aamir Khan?" (This whole conversation was in Hindi) " Aamir Khan? Is he a big star?" Yes, said the Naga girl. The Martian then asked," Is he from America?" Half the crowd turned to stare at this ignorant apparition. Then we all turned away to stare at Soha Ali Khan who wafted out of a car and into the theatre on a carpet of smiles and flashbulbs. She was clearly a very pretty girl, but also something more since we were all there, standing in row to stare at a very pretty girl. She left and the crowd dissipated into thin air.

I walked across to the second hand bookshop, my favourite place in Connaught Place, and was looking at the stacks when I got a series of phone calls. The bookshop man thrust books at me. I nodded and refused, nodded and refused still talking on the phone, and he fine-tuned his understanding of what I wanted. Once he decided, I was given The Witches of Eastwick, a fabulous book that I didn't own a copy of. A second later, he handed me Hari Kunzru's Transmission. I flipped to the third page and read, "Around him Connaught Place seethed with life. Office workers, foreign backpackers, messengers and lunching ladies all elbowed past the beggars, dodging traffic and running in and out of Palika Bazaar like contestants in a demented game." I bought both books. In the train home I read of Arjun Mehta, his obsession with Bollywood, his love for Leela Zahir, a young movie star, his desire to be in 'Amrika'... the illuminated complexion of his NRI placement agent, the American girl who is outed to Arjun when outside the movie theatre her occasional girlfriend affectionately pinches her nipple .... Transmission is not the greatest book I ever read but the timing of its arrival made it one of the most surreal reading experiences I have had.

The book has a wealth of observation about techies, technology, the world of new media, and the old flavour of the bullshit that surrounds new media. It's ironic and funny. He describes the stewardesses' makeup and the lighting of airplanes as reminiscient of soft-porn. I laughed and laughed because all evening at the aborted premier I had wondered what the expression of the girls at the movie hall reminded me of.

What Kunzru gets wrong is dialogue in the Third World... which is strange because he gets accents and affectations of speech. But his Mehtas and Abdullahs and Aamirs all sound like silly caricatures. Worse they have silly names...altogether out of place in a smart book by a smart writer. The plot certainly required Arjun to be a sexual novice but I wished he hadnt been the naive, incompetent of a million crossover movies.

I haven't finished the book yet but can't wait to read the rest.

UPDATE: Very good, I say!


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