Unfashionable truths

Fashion Editor of the Khaufpur Gazette Nabanna Mistri, interviews Jaanvar, aka Animal, Khaufpur’s street-kid of the moment



What a year! Paris in July is just la vie en rosé, and the rosé was bubbly when I joined Karl Lagerfeld and Claudia Schiffer for the launch of the Dom Pérignon Oenothèque. I love Indian culture, Karlo confided, as Shilpa Shetty shimmied past in a Tarun Tahiliani harlot dress. Alex Kuruvilla was also there, planning the launch of his all-singing-dancing bollipop of Indian Vogue. “Alex are you trying to filch off my readers?” I teased. But the gallant man admitted that never could Vogue hope to prise away the loyal fashionistas of the Khaufpur Gazette.

In September itself I was entranced in the too chic surrounds of Bice in Milano, sipping la dolce vita with the starry likes of Calvin Klein and Christina Ricci, while watching the bel mondo saunter in the Via Borgospesso. Everyone knows I am from Khaufpur and all were asking about this young man, Animal, and his recent novelised memoir. Well, we of the Gazette fashion pages are in no way blind to the sufferings of those who are unfortunate enough to be poor, so on my return I ventured into the foreign territory of the Nutcracker basti to meet Mr Animal and get his take on life, love and fashion. As you will see he took a keen interest in my new Manolo Blahniks.


Animal, what made you trust this ‘jarnalis’, Indra Sinha, enough to open your life to him? It surely wasn’t just for the multi-pocketed pants

It wasn’t Sinha, but the Kakadu jarnalis who gave the shorts. Kakadu asked me to tape my story but went away. Years later comes Sinha with big sincere eyes, says, Animal I’m not some putain con outsider come to exploit. You know this. Kakadu jarnalis is never coming back. You can trust me. The world should hear your tale, plus I will see you straight for a bit of all right.

My tapes I gave to that saala, I told him many things he did not put them all in the story, if I had my chance again I would do it with some good writer.


Your Kakadu shorts are pretty worn out, yet you refuse to wear anything else. Now that you are a celebrity, will you consider getting a new wardrobe?

If I answer will you explain why you are wearing dead rats strapped to your feet?



You have a cynical sense of humour. So many articles and books have been written on tragedies without having more than a shock impact. What made you feel that your narrative about Khaufpur’s tragedy would make a difference?

Tragedy is a useless word pinned to the arse of what can’t be told or thought or felt. For years I narrated stories of that night, I spoke till my tongue ached and my teeth were ground smooth by the passage of words. Nothing changed. Now I have given up talking of great calamities my story is not about tragedy it is about small people who live their lives in the shadow of giant words.

Will it make a difference? That’s up to the people who read it.


Do you see yourself as a ‘case’ on display, someone whom people like Chunaram exploit for their own gain? Is that what the victims have turned into?

No, Nabanna, I think I am a ‘case on display’ whom people like you exploit for their own gain. Isn’t the Gazette interviewing me just because my story has got some Booker Shooker nomination? What other interest do you have in me, or in us folk from the Nutcracker? You call us victims. I look round, I don’t see victims. I see this person, that person, they have names. They love their children, like you do. If you hurt them they will bleed. What have we turned into? Don’t ask us. Did you speak up when we were gassed, sickened, destituted, poisoned a second time, beaten and kicked for daring to protest? No? I think we are your victims. Congratulations.

You are rather bitter. Your account has made waves in the literary world as
Animal’s People has been shortlisted for the Man Booker 2007. What do you think is the strength of your narration?

Sinha had a friend, a writer name of Mulk Raj, he was a friend to the poor. Mulk Raj said, “I am not a novelist. I am trying to be a man. Burn your so-good poems and short stories. Give me a true picture of our poorest people.”


“Was that the intent behind your taping your life story the garnering of attention to secure justice?

Eighteen years ago, women of Khaufpur went by foot to Delhi to see a kurta pyjama-wearing type called Prime Minister. Prime would not meet the women, but made a shameful deal with the Kampani. Last year we Khaufpuris walked again to Delhi, found that Prime has completely changed his appearance. Gone are kurta pyjamas, charming smile and zapaat nose, nowadays Prime wraps a turban, his face wears a look like he is quietly letting off a stinky one. He is still too grand to talk to us. No wonder Prime disguises himself. He’s preparing again to betray us. He’s about to do another deal with the Amrikan Kampani.


You have spoken straight from the heart. Yet don’t you think your language is a little too strong, at times prurient, for delicate reader tastes? And I quote here: “The world of humans is meant to be viewed from eye level. Believe me, I know which one hasn’t washed his balls. In my mad times I’d shout at people in the street, “Listen, however fucking miserable you are, and no one’s as happy as they’ve a right to be, at least you stand on two feet!”

You don’t like swearing. No f-stuff. No blunt shunt rhymes. My readers would not like such things, you say. Okay readers of Nabanna, I’ll clean my language if you raise your voices to clean Khaufpur. Clean the factory. Clean our water. Clean our blood, clean our mother’s milk. To those who know of our suffering and do not speak up, I say, your silence is a greater obscenity than any word I could utter.


You have an unusual take on the world. What has coloured your vision?

My vision is coloured by the colours of the world. In Edinburgh at the big book tamasha I met a chap called Pablo Ganguli who sees the world through eyes of startling blue. This Pablo takes a shine to me, says, Animal come to Mumbai for a litfest. What is a litfest? I didn’t ask as I didn’t want to look ignorant. ‘Lit’ in français means bed, so hopefully it is some kind of orgy. At this litfest will be a big movie star called Meg Ryan. What should I say to impress her? Nabanna, please ask your clever delicate readers to suggest some good Eve-pleasers.


Actually your view of the world is distorted by your physical condition. And, yet your responses, your desires remain intensely human. Your comment.

You can’t say that my view of the world is distorted just because it is not the same as yours. My condition is completely normal for me, and I don’t claim to be human.


Inspite of your own suffering, you show an ability to look beyond yourself you have protected Ma Franci, got involved with the battle against the corporate culprits, Kampani

Please don’t make me into some kind of hero. There are thousands like me. We are not fucking heroes we are struggling to survive. If you praise us for our spirit while doing nothing to help, then your praise is nothing more than a way to ease your own conscience. I spit in the mother’s milk of such compliments.


Your narration is completely devoid of self pity. How have you managed to distance yourself emotionally from your tragic fate?

When clever people talk thus of “self pity” and “tragic fate” I don’t know what to reply. Let’s talk about something else. Yesterday Sinha says to me Animal let’s play a game it’s called Word Association. Works like this, I say a word and you immediately join another to it. I say “blue” you say “movie”. I say “star” you say “chart”. I say “buster” you say “bloodvessel”. You see, this is an easy game, without even thinking you can join words in pairs. Want to play?


Do you honestly feel your account will go beyond mere literature to make people sit up and care about ‘that night’ and its aftermath?

I do not know what is literature, nor what makes it mere. I have told you the truth. What you do with the truth is up to you.