The November rains prickled the humid air. The aroma of sand, recently kissed by a downpour, wafted through Rita Saldanha’s delicately decorated apartment. “My son Ajit is flying in from Singapore,” beamed Mrs. Saldanha. Indeed a fourth place setting graced the dinner table. Not too long after we sat down to eat lunch, the door bell clanged.
Ajit and I met almost 20 years ago. When he walked in partially soaked and furiously wiping his brow with a handkerchief, I had to admit to myself that I couldn’t recognize him at all. My last memory of him, I offered, was when Arun, his younger brother, invited me and a gaggle of pre-teens to their Kilpauk Garden Colony home for a party. Ajit rode away on a motobike and was the subject of much speculation.
The drizzle outside continued unabated. As a plate of macaroons made its way around the table, Ajit loudly lamented the inefficiencies at the airport. “Shit, I can’t believe how difficult they make it for international passengers to transfer to the domestic terminal.” But when he actually saw humor in it, and we had all had a good laugh the ice was broken.
I was intrigued by what he had been up to all these years. What I had missed was Ajit’s penchant for writing. Not as a novelist or a journalist, but as a columnist for Mid Day, a newspaper out of Mumbai.
“Whether you like it or not, when you are saddled with the tag of a humour writer, then you can’t deviate from it by an iota.”
Out now is a collection of these columns in a book called Hung By My Family Tree. Clutching an advance copy of the book in one hand and a cigarette in the other, Ajit, with some justified pride announced the book would be published by the end of the year. I convinced him to send me a couple of copies. I have been reading it and I promise you, your belly will ache from laughter. While Mangloreans, or Mangies, bear the special brunt of his pen (he is one himself), in reality no one is spared. His book readings have garnered him a loyal following and the reviews have been glowing.
Aakar Patel, the editor of Mid Day says this about Ajit:
Ajit Saldanha is Henry Mencken without the politics and the crime. His prose is aimed unerringly at the maudlin and the ridiculous, which he picks up and inspects with the gravity of a social scientist. He derives much joy from his experiences and has the rare ability to telegraph that joy to his audience.
Underlying the jokes and the irreverent approach to his subjects, it’s Ajit’s social commentary that makes this book such a pleasure to read. Curious how Indian culture has evolved over the last twenty years? Read the book. Written entirely in jest, at the very crux of his writing is this hope – that we all learn to laugh at ourselves. Priced modestly at Rs. 395, this book is published by IndTeleSoft and is only available in India.
And so, if I were to change one thing, it would be to make the book available through Amazon.com, or some other international distribution outlet. I know you would want to get your hands on a copy.
HUNG BY MY FAMILY TREE by Ajit Saldanha
The Asian Age
10 Jan 2004
There’s trying-but-still-far-from-it funny, there’s almost funny, and then there’s Ajit Saldanha’s Hung by My Family Tree. Recently launched at the Intercontinental Grand by Salman Khursheed, Saldanha’s debut collection of
short stories guarantees a laugh. Consistently cocky, perpetually prurient and witty without exception, Hung by My Family Tree offers its slant on topics as dissimilar (or alike) as ‘Catching Crabs’ and ‘Penis Dialogues’.
Almost as an apology, Saldanha says, “Initially, I told myself that I wouldn’t write about men trying to cook or sexist stuff and painful pieces about my dog or my kid. But I suppose sometimes I have broken my own rules!”
And how does he manage to get new things to write about? “During the week, I sometimes try out the spine of the column on some people and then, if it provokes a response, I go with it. Whether you like it or not, when you are saddled with the tag of a humour writer, then you can’t deviate from it by an iota,” he adds.
As an extensive elaboration of his columns that have previously appeared in The Midday , the one hundred and twenty short stories written by Saldanha span over almost 650 sprightly pages. And with Indian satire generally
restricted to the comic pages, Hung by My Family Tree promises to be a hit amongst Non-Resident Indians (or as Saldanha cocks his snook – Newly Returned Indians). However, the author’s needle sharp observations and
penetrating insights into the antics of the ‘jet-set lot’, and uncannily accurate phonetic imitations of Italian, Thai, and ‘southi’ accents (“prevalent to those with a flavour of coconut oil and rolled bowel movements”) alike, can make quite a disconcerting read, for before one realises it, one may just come across their own reflection in Saldanha’s intricate mirror.
When asked if writing such lampooning stories had inevitably antagonised anybody, Saldanha says, “I’d like to think of myself as an equal opportunity offender! Experiences, especially in a semi-anecdotal column, can never be considered sacrosanct. If a novelist is allowed free reign to experience life, to internalise and fictionalise it, and then later reproduce it for print, by the same yardstick, even columnists should be allowed to do so.
More so, if one writes a nostalgia slash (sic) whimsy column – everything becomes fair game. I myself have no problem myself if people say “oh you Mangies are like this…” That said, Saldanha is however quick to
acknowledge the hesitation of editors who believe that Indians, while “having many sacred cows and way too many fundoos” just haven’t learnt to laugh at themselves yet.
As to the raison d’être for the book: “Well, it was in response to multiple requests from readers asking if there was a central source where they could find all my columns,” Saldanha says. “In fact the book has already become so popular”, he adds,” that its often read out as a party piece.” The novel apart, Saldanha has also done the rounds of films and theatre, the last being Popcorn (he is a food critic of mixed repute, travel writer, and an
actor rolled into one). Starting off initially with a granite business, (the experiences of which are incidentally narrated in great mirth by his Italian friend ‘Valerio’ in the book), Saldanha considers himself lucky to have
converted his passion into a profession. Now he does things he enjoys: event management and writing. And if the appreciation expressed by the discerning cognoscenti at the launch is any guage of Saldanha’s talent, Hung by My Family Tree is bound to be a success for its laughs galore.