In an interview with G20, author of Happimess, Biswajit Banerji talks about his book, and explains how the stories offer an insightful peek into inner-most individual thoughts while constantly satirising and poking fun at social peculiarities.
Q. The title of your book is indeed quirky. Tell us more about it.
A. Yes, it is a catchy title that relies on pun. The fictitious coinage very well captures the funny nature of the book. HAPPIMESS is actually the grudging happiness and the relief one experiences after going through a messy situation. Since the stories in the book talk about how people get funnily entangled in everyday mess, the title is a symbolic representation of what the book stands for.
Q. Please throw some light on your literary journey and how the book happened.
A. I have an engineering background with a job in a senior position in a steel manufacturing PSU. But I have always carried a literary streak deep within which prompted me to acquire a diploma in creative writing in English from IGNOU. I started off with writing poetry, with several of my pieces published in established literary journals and e-magazines. Subsequently I developed a taste for humour, writing both in English as well as Hindi. My humour pieces have got published in popular Hindi magazines like Kadambini, Sarita and Navneet as well. One of my english pieces got published in a selected short-humour anthology brought out by a popular UK website. That inspired me to go for a book-length collection.
I am really happy that with the active support of ‘The Book Bakers’, the dynamic literary agency and the fast-growing Locksley Hall publishing, HAPPIMESS has come out very well, getting really encouraging response from the reading community.
Q. Could you elaborate on the contents of your book ?
A. HAPPIMESS is a collection of humorous stories that present the ordinary everyday happenings in an extraordinary light. Narrated mostly in the first person, the stories center around everyday situations that get oddly tangled up. Once frantic efforts are made to wriggle out, things only get more messy. Flippant and irreverent, the net of satire is cast wide, spanning faulty home-appliances, outlandish diseases, cunning office colleagues, nosy insurance agents, diehard hagglers, irritating neighbours, a botched farewell speech and the like. The stories go beyond the conventional framework, constantly exploring and exposing the mentality of people around us through humour, irony and sarcasm. The narration is mostly dead-pan, subtle yet hard-hitting.
The book operates at two distinct levels. At the basic level it offers very generous doses of giggles, chuckles and laugh-out-loud moments. On a higher level, the stories also offer insightful peeks into inner-most individual thoughts while constantly satirizing and poking fun at social peculiarities.
Q. HAPPIMESS is a collection of funny stories with a unique flavour. What is the basic idea behind writing the book?
A. The main idea is to cast a critical eye on the way people behave in any given everyday situation and catch the fun and the comic components that lie within. Here the element of self-distancing comes into play because if one is not able to step back from an experience and examine things objectively, the humour may pass by unnoticed. So It’s more like opting for a long-range telescope to scrutinize situations rather than moving closer and using a magnifying-glass. This is what Charlie Chaplin probably meant when he said “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot”.
Q. What makes your book unique in the humour and satire genre?
A. I feel there are several aspects that stand out. Firstly, many day-to-day situations or practices may have spawned a whole lot of jokes, but stringing up everyday happenings into standalone stories that extract the fun, the incongruities and the absurdities in a sustained manner is uncommon. HAPPIMESS is an honest attempt to do that.
Secondly, the book is a bold initiative to promote clean and subtle humour that is not crude and does not offend or hurt. Shallow humour is the order of the day and it is about time that readers are offered healthier and more stimulating alternatives. The feed-back from the readers suggest that the stories in my book can be read out loud among family and friends to enjoy and laugh together without inhibitions.
Lastly, even though HAPPIMESS is a short book, it employs a whole range of literary devices to create humour. Apart from observational humour and wit, the book also has scatological and hyperbolic images, pure slapstick humour and very stimulating word-play to sustain the interest of the readers. The language is conversational and free-flowing, as if being narrated over a cup of tea and yet sharp enough to deliver satirical punches all over.
Q. Tell us about writers who inspire you.
A. There are many but I would like to especially mention a few masters of humour and satire like Aldous Huxley, Jerome K Jerome, P G Wodehouse, George Orwell, Mark Twain, Hemingway and William Golding. I also greatly admire hindi satirists like Harishankar Parsai and Sharad Joshi for their scathing and witty observations on individual and social issues.
Q. What will be your advice to budding writers?
A. Aspiring authors need to have patience and faith in their craft. Good Writing resembles slow cooking, more time and attention is required for the best taste and best writing results. Read more because reading affords a way to converse with another author’s mind that may open up new perspectives for your own writing. It is easy to give up on an idea but don’t do that. Allow it to mature and wait till the point when the ideas and the supporting language merge and start flowing more naturally. If you ever feel disheartened, always remember that you are not the first writer to feel so and most authors have passed through the phase where you find yourself today.
Q. How do you balance writing with your professional demand ?
A. Yes, that’s a definite challenge, more so because the subject of humour and satire is seemingly far removed from the professional demands of the steel industry where I am employed. I keep a scrap book handy to jot down random ideas and plots that strike me during the course of the day. I look at those again in the quietude of night when most of the jottings seem unworthy to pursue but a few hold promise for further exploration. Early mornings and late nights afford the best possible opportunities for writing – generally people tend to be a bit less stupid at these times and can conjure up meaningful thoughts.
Q. What is your take on contemporary humour writing ?
A. Though humour and satire have been around for a very long time, I somehow feel that the genre has not been able to claim its rightful place in indian english literature. Keeping apart some brilliant bursts of satirical writing, what generally ails the humour scene is the emphasis on topicality that has a low shelf-life. In this era of stand-up comedy with instant gratification and the constant barrage of jokes and memes in the social media platforms, it is difficult to write something of more abiding nature. That is why I have leant on everyday humour that does not easily get rusted over time. I am really thankful to my literary agency ‘The Book Bakers’ and Locksley Hall Publishing for keeping faith in my writing and their courage and readiness to experiment with less explored genres.