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The Hindu
The Hindu
Amarjot Kaur

Jerry Pinto on Education of Yuri and art as a weapon in social and cultural struggle

Award-winning writer and poet Jerry Pinto started penning his recently launched book, The Education of Yuri, some five years ago. The idea struck him when he was passing by Mumbai’s Elphinstone College where he studied liberal arts for three years from 1981 onwards. “I was afraid that they would be the best days of my life and that was why I closed the door firmly on the college and did not return until 20 years had elapsed,” he says. This is not a novel about him though. It is a work of fiction that traverses a varied spectrum of themes — from love and loss to adolescence and politics, as Jerry describes it.

The novel has earned rave reviews, some of which define it as ‘India’s first, coming-of-age novel on existentialism’. That, however, wasn’t Jerry’s intention when he set out to write it. “I wrote it inward-out, with the hope of understanding the processes of becoming. The idea of the bildungsroman has always been a source of fascination and terror; I guess the only way to exorcise it was to do it. Therefore, I worked with exteriors — he said, he did, they said — and then with thought and then with the internal dialogue with which the self-aware are plagued,” he says.

The novel engages with Bombay of the ‘80s through the eyes of a 15-year-old boy Yuri Fonseca of downmarket Mahim, who is described as ‘sometimes awkward, sometimes lonely’, and how he ‘struggles to write poetry, worries if he will ever get and hold a job, and flirts briefly with Naxalism’.

Does the attempt of capturing the cultural zeitgeist of an era, through the prism of writing, puts the writer in a precarious position of responsibility then? Could the works of art — through which one can connect with public on the subliminal level of thought — be viewed as a potent weapon in the cultural, social or even political struggle of any country? Jerry doesn’t think so, but he hopes so.

We choose to read that which supports our world view and when we read something which does not, we enter into a heated debate with it, he says. “It is very rare of a reader who can put down preconceptions about the writer or the subject and enter into a genuine conversation with the book. If we could all do that then, yes, literature might be a potent weapon in this battle (against the struggle). Most people are preaching to the converted. We have to recognise that we are a hugely polarised nation at this point and time and all writers are bridge builders,” he explains.

The new book by Jerry

Jerry does consider the act of writing as a medium to provoke a reaction. “You certainly want them (readers) to read and to react in a certain way, but if you are going in with that set of expectations, then you’ll be disappointed,” he says, adding that the reader encounters a completely different book from the one that an author writes.

The conversation touches on postmodernism and lands at his Windham–Campbell Literature Prize-winning novel Em and the Big Hoom. “When I wrote it, I thought I wrote about a family that is trying to love each other. It was received as a book on mental health. I am fine with that reception. The reception is always going to be different from the intention. So, if you start with the intention of preaching a message, you’ll find that your preaching may well be subverted by the reception. The reception will decide what the message is. It’s not the messenger. It’s not the message. It’s those two passing through the prism of reception.”

The Education of Yuri has been published by the Speaking Tiger, the editor of which is Ravi Singh. His association with Ravi spans nearly 20 years and Jerry calls him “the perfect editor”. Why? “He is the one editor I know who doesn’t want to write a book, and therefore he is the perfect editor. Jokes apart, there is a relationship of complete trust. I can write into the void and I can jump because Ravi is my safety net.”

For now, Jerry is working on translating playwright Swadesh Deepak’s collection of short stories and plays. “When I had done I have not seen Mandu, I thought it would be lovely if it could also have his plays and his short stories in translation so that there could be a conversation between these three texts. Because in Mandu, you often read references to Maya Bakshi, a character from a long short story, and Suraj Singh from his play Court Martial,” he says. So, is it being published by Speaking Tiger too? “Who else?”, he laughs.

The Education of Yuri is published by Speaking Tiger and is priced at ₹599. Prakriti Foundation is hosting the launch of Jerry’s book, which will be followed by a conversation between the author and Ranvir Shah, at Chennai’s Amdavadi Gujarati Snack House on Friday (October 7) at 6.30pm.  

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