excerpts from the novel . . . .

Our hero, Gopi Narayan, starts a magazine with a class-mate using his share of the family wealth. The following excerpt shows how the bitter-sweet experience soon loses all the sweetness it promised.

"You may wonder about the role of yet another magazine,"  Gopi wrote.  "Enthusiasm  rouses  life. And it will  be  our  humble endeavour to provide that enthusiasm--"
They finalised arrangements with Welldone Press, a highly antiquated letter-press which endeared itself  by agreeing to give them a fortnight's credit. The  inaugural  issue had a run of 3000 copies.  With  great difficulty  they managed to sell 350 to friends, relatives and tired local train commuters.  The rest of the copies were bundled  up  and thrown  out of sight so that no one could claim the  first  issue wasn't a success. But failure became incentive.  The more sales fell the  more  inspired  they grew.  They had general bodies every day. Chacko was the ideas  man  and he had no dearth of  them.  "Enthusiasm!"  he'd remind Gopi during his brief moments of gloom. They would review  previous  issues and Chacko drew up new and daring  ideas  for the next. It  soon got to a point  when  the format of each issue was different.
"We need a Dear Uncle column," Chacko said one day. "You know, readers write in their problems and a professional replies. Real money-spinner nowadays. Our circulation will simply shoot up."
"We're really not in a position to pay professionals."  This was  during the latter part of that fateful year. Gopi  was finally becoming careful about expenses.
Chacko  produced an impatient sound. "You don't have  to have  a  psychiatrist! In fact, that spoils the whole thing. Uncle must be someone who's educated just enough. What he needs is experience in these matters."
"Where do we get such a person?"
"We already have him."
"Who?" Gopi asked, slow to learn.
By year-end Chacko was writing  ninety percent  of the magazine. As "Uncle", he invented  letters  and answered them. The first three were classics:
"Dear  Uncle, I'm a girl of 16 with a  sheltered  upbringing. There's a boy in my class who sits next to me and shows  me bad pictures and all. The other day I took courage and threatened  to report him to the teacher, but he lifted up  his shorts and showed me his underwear. Please tell me what to do. I don't know what else he will show me.  Yours sincerely, Sheltered Girl."
"Dear Uncle, I'm a married businessman. My old father  stays with  us. The problem is whenever my wife and I start making love,  he  gets up in his sleep and wanders into  our  room. The doctor  has  warned us not to lock our room in case  he  has  a stroke at night and cannot reach us. I'm going mad with worry, torn between my old father and the children  we'll never have at this rate. Yours worriedly,  Out-of-business Man."
"Dearest  Uncle, I have no one else to ask my ques-tion. I'm working as a secretary in a big firm. The other day a dear colleague opened his pants and showed  me his  kidney.  When I told my mother she became very upset and told me never to talk to him again. I don't know what all  this fuss  is  about. Tell me, is it wrong to show a friend your kidney? Yours sincerely, Puzzled Girl."
"I  can't  print these!" Gopi protested. "No one writes letters like this."
"How do you know?"
"They're repetitive and-- you're obsessed  with exhibitionism and voyeurism!"
Chacko asked patiently, "What experience do you have  of these things? I know for a fact there are people like this. In the  little  schools,  in the far-flung corners  of  life."  He shut his eyes as he did during such moods.
"But this is ridiculous. Kidney, for God's sake!"
"To you it may seem unreal. But not everyone's educated. Real people are out there with real  problems. A word of comfort from Uncle would help."
Uncle's  replies were equally colourful.
"Dear  Sheltered  Girl, All  this  is part of school and growing up, so please don't waste your time worrying.  I don't know what exactly you mean by bad  pictures. Anyway you did right in discouraging him. Showing one's underwear is well within  legal rights. But if he tries to show anything further, please tell me what it is. I'll be happy to advise you."
"Dear Out-of-business Man, yours is a strange but misunderstood plight. It  is  significant that your father walks into that room  at that time. Your doctor is perfectly right. At this rate your father runs the risk of a stroke-- so please lock his door from the outside. The rest is up to you!  Don't forget to give Uncle the Good News."
"Dear Puzzled Girl, I'm moved by your innocence. Your mother is justifiably upset. The kidney is certainly not for public consumption. I suggest you go through a book called Gray's Anatomy. There are kidneys and kidneys."
It  didn't  matter what Gopi  thought.  Chacko  had shouldered this burden along with all the rest. Before long, he was  Starman  predicting the future, Runner Up, an expert on sports,  Captain Glamour churning out film gossip and  inter-viewing stars, and Legal Eye providing free legal advice. He wrote an occasional poem or short story,  speaking in different styles and moods. Gopi had started the magazine as an outlet  for  his  own creativity, but was rendered barren, like a lavish host nursing his hunger and gazing wistfully at his gorging guests. He found himself worrying about money instead.  Everyone  wanted money; and they wanted it immediately.

more excerpts
published by penguin india
C 2000 shreekumar varma