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Three-time Governor General’s Literary Award–shortlisted author and playwright Anosh Irani’s critically acclaimed one-man show Buffoon is a masterclass of tragicomic theatre.
Born to circus folk who prefer trapezing over parenting, Felix quickly learns to turn life’s misfortunes into jokes. His longing for family and home is piqued at the tender age of seven when he falls hopelessly in love with an older woman, the beguiling Aja, who is eight. In the process, a clown is born, and we watch him grow into a middle-aged buffoon. Over time, Felix stops waiting for someone else to love him; his journey becomes one of loving himself. A story of love, loss, and the fate that binds us, Buffoon is a gut-wrenching one-man show that expertly walks the tightrope between heartbreak and hilarity.
The Parcel's astonishing heart, soul and unforgettable voice is Madhu--born a boy, but a eunuch by choice--who has spent most of her life in a close-knit clan of transgender sex workers in Kamathipura, the notorious red-light district of Bombay. Madhu identifies herself as a "hijra"--a person belonging to the third sex, neither here nor there, man nor woman. Now, at 40, she has moved away from prostitution, her trade since her teens, and is forced to beg to support the charismatic head of the hijra clan, Gurumai. One day Madhu receives a call from Padma Madam, the most feared brothel owner in the district: a "parcel" has arrived--a young girl from the provinces, betrayed and trafficked by her aunt--and Madhu must prepare it for its fate. Despite Madhu's reluctance, she is forced to take the job by Gurumai. As Madhu's emotions spiral out of control, her past comes back to haunt her, threatening to unravel a lifetime's work and identity. This is a dark, devastating but ultimately redemptive novel that promises to be one of the most talked-about publications of the year.
It is 1993 and Bombay is on the verge of being torn apart by racial violence. Ten-year-old Chamdi has rarely ventured outside his orphanage, and entertains an idyllic fantasy of what the city is like beyond its garden walls – a paradise he calls Kahunsha, “the city of no sadness.” But when he runs away to search for his long-lost father, he finds himself thrust into the chaos of the streets, alone, possessing only the blood-stained cloth he was left in as a baby. There Chamdi meets Sumdi and Guddi, brother and sister who beg in order to provide for their sick mother, and the three become fast friends.
Fueled only by a desire to find his father and the dream that Bombay will someday become Kahunsha, Chamdi struggles for survival on its brutal streets. But when he is caught up in the beginnings of the savage violence that will soon engulf the city, his dreams confront reality.
Moving, poignant, and wonderfully rich in the sights and sounds of Bombay, The Song of Kahunsha is a compelling story of hopes and dreams, and of the fragility of childhood innocence.
“The only statement of revolt the poor could make was to put an end to their own misery. It happened all the time—men lay themselves on train tracks, hanged themselves from trees, consumed rat poison, and women set their kerosene-soaked bodies alight in front of their husbands. These were blazing ends to insignificant journeys. But in all this, there was always one man who, in that final gush of blood, in that final breaking of neck and bone, set things in motion.”
Zairos Irani, a young man of inherited leisure, is meandering through his family’s lush chickoo orchards near Mumbai when he comes across a distressing sight: Hanging from one of the fruit trees is the lifeless body of Ganpat, a worker from the indigenous Warli tribe. Ganpat’s ancestors once owned the land, before his father’s alcohol debts caused the deed to be transferred to Zairos’s grandfather Shapur. The two family destinies have been entwined ever since, ancient grudges once again awoken by Ganpat’s final desperate act.
Zairos feels obliged to notify Ganpat’s family before the authorities come to ask needless questions and extract bribes. A tractor bearing Ganpat’s sister and anguished daughter Kusum soon trundles into the orchard, and when Kusum alights, Zairos’s curiosity is piqued. As a landowner, he knows that he is well above her station, and yet her dignity and beauty lead him to cast aside taboos and risk the wagging tongues of neighbourhood gossips. Though wary at first, the grieving Kusum comes to return his affection, asking only that he assist her in achieving what her dead father could not- by putting an end to the violence she has endured at the hands of a drunken husband.
Zairos cannot get advice from his father Aspi, whose clownishness masks thinly-veiled nihilism. Nor can he confide in his beloved grandfather Shapur, whose massive hands planted the chickoo trees that he adores as much as his own sons. Shapur built the family empire from a desperate start as an orphaned refugee, and any act that might threaten the delicate legacy spawned by his sacrifices would only provoke rage in the old man, who increasingly dwells in memories. So Zairos whiles away his time at Anna’s, the local haunt for the male leisure class, dreaming of a future with Kusum. There, with the support of some equally underemployed sidekicks, Zairos hatches a scheme to scare Kusum’s husband into releasing her, while keeping his own moral integrity intact. But alas, Zairos’s scheme will not unfold as planned, and along the way he will unwittingly expose family secrets that may well be better left buried…
With brilliant gusto, Irani has built his Dahanu Road upon the pathways forged by authors of tragicomic romance spanning centuries and continents, from the Persian classic Layla and Majnun, to Romeo and Juliet or Wuthering Heights. Dahanu Road is a suspense-filled family saga, a sprawling romantic epic in which the delineations between the oppressor and the oppressed, or between love and hate, are demonstrated to be maddeningly deceptive.
Funny and wise, violent and tender, The Cripple and His Talismans is an impressive debut for lovers of Samuel Beckett, Lewis Carroll, and Salman Rushdie.