A newsroom saga

“If nothing else, ever since receiving the summons, at least my mind has been diverted from the question of my unemployment, which is morphing fast into unemployability.”

With such a patently relatable statement, we are drawn into the strange world of Shukrat Ali, ex-news director for the TV channel Khulasa, whose logo of an inverted pyramid proudly declares where it stands among proud Indian news providers.
 Shukr, to his wife Siyahi, he is also Socrates when she is pissed at him which is often. Their bratty daughter Q weathers it all as she weathers questions of whether she is Hindu or Muslim, happy or sad, and why she must take exams at all. The family life is precarious at the best of times. When Shukrat stumbles upon a nexus between his unholy boss and his wife, Siyahi packs her bags and leaves home.

That leaves him to follow some garbled romantic impulse to try and woo the maybe autistic Pixie in the hinterlands of Maharashtra on a news hunting jaunt.

Pixie is the music director for their channel, sometime anchor as also the long suffering younger sister of the Boss, the ponytailed martinet Satya Saachi Sengupta (Shh) who prefers to be called Shhautti and ends up being dead. 

The book is peopled with interesting characters. Babita is Babe, Pixie’s caretaker and Shh’s squeeze who has this nasty potential of being a dampener on Shukr’s romantic dreams. And then there’s this phlegmatic Acharya from the Krishna Consciousness tradition who calls himself Shuruji (the initiator) and teaches him to mutter the Hare Krishna chant at moments of stress, which are many.

Tau Jhanda Lal, of black bandhgalas and neat rows of empty beer bottles during the day is chairman of the channel and Shh’s sleeping partner. 

In the mix are the travails of a bottom-feeder TV channel striving to survive the TRP bombs via acute programming such as the chudail from Almora and now the gold painted ghost of suicide hit farmer who terrorises the good peasantry around Yavatmal in Vidarbha.

One of them when asked mischievously who took away her teeth replies, “I had extra; now they are just enough. Not much to eat in these parts anyway.” 

In a way, the Khulasa channel is kept alive by the patronage of the sinister conglomerate Ramson and Ramson, the number one teen products manufacturer in the world, whose flagship product is Gigamen, a memory-enhancing chutney. The company is also deeply invested in a new form of television ads dubbed “propagandads”, which use compelling subliminal messages to subtly rewire people’s minds and influence their actions. One of the byproducts of Shukrat’s romps in the jungles of interior Vidarbha with the Gonds and in the ghotuls of the tribals, is the discovery that the gold painted ghost was in fact a ruse and a scare tactic to vacate lands that Ramson and Ramson wished to acquire cheaply and lightning fast. 

Shh’s death turns out to be no mystery in the end. Shortly after being caught with a disrobed Siyahi on his lap, he meets the raging end of his favourite putter with a raging Tauji at the other end for Tauji’s ass is also on the firing for the delay of those lethal “ads”. Though at the end, Pixie finds a supersonic device to explode his damaged head in a sense of poetic justice for the dog whistle he’d meted out to her during her growing days. 

There is much that is likeable about this novel. The writer, Arjun Shekhar, does have a way with words. His conceptualisation as well as characterisation is commendable. Particularly enjoyable is the form of the narrative mode here — the vast soliloquies Shukrat engages in, anticipating the imaginary lawyer Mr Glint. There is much media persons and watchers alike will relate to in Shukrat Ali’s travails. If there is a slight drawback to the work, it is in its “density”. 

People, events, thoughts, action and cleverness are crammed in too close to be savoured and would perhaps gain through a varying of the pace and the narrative turns. This book should ideally have great fans among readers of the twisted humorous, quasi-real, thriller genre. And I would like to just make this shout out to Nitesh Mohanty for the really intriguing cover design that adds much to the enigma of the book!

End of story?
Arjun Shekhar
Hachette2013, pp 336

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