I picked the neon-green-and-red book a couple of weeks ago at Landmark before I’d heard or read anything about it. Its colouring and comic book-type cover caught my eye at first, but I ended up buying it for a very simple reason — I love good ol’ Cyrus and his oddball sense of humour. Always have. (In the interest of full disclosure, it also didn’t hurt that the book cost about what you’d pay for coffee and a muffin (yum) at Barista. Still more expensive than Chetan Bhagat, of course, but then again, no painfully obvious typos and glaring grammatical boo-boos either).
Having finished the book, I can tell you that my reasoning was sound i.e. if you’re a fan of the Cyrus Broacha brand of free-wheeling goofiness, you’ll enjoy ‘Karl, aaj aur kal’. This isn’t really a work of fiction in the traditional sense. I mean, there is a loose narrative structure about two friends Karl and Kunal (quite obviously based on Kunal Vijayakar) and how they met at school in Mumbai and went to college together, and so on. But if you’re looking for story, plot, etc., this isn’t the book for you. This is, quite simply, like having Cyrus stand before you and hold forth for a few hours on Parsi families and opera-loving fathers, St. Xavier’s College and the Mumbai theatre scene, Bollywood, politics and marriage. You can literally hear him stop to take a breath between the lines (he even informs you occasionally that he’s bored and moving on to something new).
Which means, like any other Cyrus monologue, you have absolutely brilliant moments that make you burst out laughing, like I did while reading it in the middle of a crowded coffee shop recently, and then there are the over-the-top jokes that make you go ‘meh’ or the excessively rambly bits that you can thankfully skim over in book form. What makes it worth a read overall is that Cyrus’ voice comes across so clearly at all times — down-to-earth, authentic and real. No pretentiousness, no play-acting. There are a lot of Indian writers out there trying to be like someone else in their humour writing — Helen Fielding or God forbid, P.G. Wodehouse, and in the midst of it all Cyrus and ‘Karl, aaj aur kal’ is a breath of fresh air.
The best best bits of the book come towards the halfway point, when Karl and Kunal go to St. Xavier’s, join Pearl Padamsee’s theatre troupe and then go to NYU for a few weeks to study method acting (your impression of method acting as something serious and pseudo will forever be changed, I assure you). These portions work so well because there is a strong autobiographical element to them; you can hear Cyrus’ own experiences and involvement shine through in the midst of all the nuttiness . That makes them the most easy to relate to bits and therefore the funniest. The early part about their school days tends to sound a tad generic (porn and first kisses and such) though there are some priceless moments — like how the entire class goes around talking in fake Chinese accents after watching a Hong Kong flick in Karate class. The latter half, which can be loosely described as the Bollywood and the politics bit, gets increasingly silly and over-the-top (Karl becomes part of the ‘Pyjama Party’ and they were purple pyjamas with white nadas that indicate their strength and integrity or something) until it loses touch with reality altogether. The ending is annoyingly abrupt, like his publisher said, ‘bas, your time’s up’ and he stopped talking/writing (but the epilogue makes up for it somewhat.)
If you love Cyrus and you’re up for a good laugh, this is Rs. 195/- well spent. (Random House, Pg. 230)