Manohar Shyam Joshi is a familiar name to those who grew up on a staple diet of Doordarshan in the 1980s. The writer of serials like Hum Log, Buniyaad, Kakaji Kahin and Mungerilal ke haseen sapne, Manohar Shyam Joshi ushered in the era of soap operas on Indian television. But television was just one part of his phenomenal life. Manohar Shyam Joshi was a journalist and novelist and his hold over the masses is what made him a man of television. Those who have grown up consuming TV content after 2000 will find it hard to imagine how Joshiji made an art out of soap opera writing. His penchant for cinematic scenarios can be seen in Kasap as well. Published in 1995, Kasap is an ode to small town romance. And it is one of the best love stories I have read in quite a long time.
In Kumaoni, Kasap roughly translates to “Who knows?” In a way, it summarises our mental response to any tough question posed by life. Kasap’s protagonists Devidutt Tiwari (called DD) and Maitreyi (called Baby) can seem very familiar and yet they surprise you with their quirks. DD is an orphan, brought up by his relatives and is trying to build his life in the Bombay film industry as an assistant director and writer. He meets Baby at a family wedding and like a typical love story, they start-off with discord and end up in romance. DD realises the need to build a life and as he puts it, “be worthy of someone.” And so he tries to be worthy. But Baby fails to see what he sees in her.
There is a strong cinematic element in Kasap. The book abounds with references to film stars and film songs of the 1940s and 50s, which makes the novel ideal for film adaptation as well. But more than that, Kasap is a throwback to love of yore and its rituals that have long vanished. DD’s love letters seem like essays to Baby. She fails to feel the rush of emotions, like her sisters-in-law experience when they receive letters sent by their husbands, taking which they run upstairs to read. But she begins to know that this boy knows far more than she ever could. “I don’t want to be worthy of anyone. If I can be worthy of myself, that will be more than enough. But why do you want to be worthy of someone. Think of it DD, if you can be worthy of yourself, that in itself will make you a great man,” she writes to him. Relationships take quite a serpentine path and one still can’t say if it was worth it after all that journey.
The language of Kasap has a lot of Kumaoni and the meanings are provided in the footnotes. Manohar Shyam Joshi himself came from a Kumaoni family and a lot of his personal observations about the place and its people can be seen in Kasap. He writes with a free flair that comes with having seen life from close quarters and he plays with words and phrases to bring out the comical ironies of life. “Conversations cease to exist in failed marriages. In a successful marriage, conversation becomes unnecessary. Is silence, then, the final point of any marriage?” he wonders. Kasap has the innocence of small town life along with its brashness. There is the purity of early morning mist and the pain of longing. The story continues to echo in your head long after you are done with it and the visuals of Kumaon refuse to fade away.