Authors: Anosh Irani
THE CRIPPLE AND HIS TALISMANS
“A highly imaginative novel, full of humour, poetry, and insights, written in a beautiful, spare style. Throughout the narrative looms a great city, Bombay, crazily reflected in the life of one of its inhabitants who, by means baffling, heinous, desperate, and often very funny, seeks to embrace the divine with both arms.”
—Yann Martel, author of
Life of Pi
“[Irani’s] brilliant debut novel,
The Cripple and His Talismans
, radiates with the energy of Bombay, albeit a dark energy.… Irani commands attention from the first sentence.”
The Globe and Mail
“[The Cripple and His Talismans]
makes demands on the reader, but our effort is triply rewarded — first, by the lush imagery of the writing; second, because of its surprises and, finally, because of its deep moral gravity.… This debut novel marks a step in the evolution of Canadian literature.”
“Irani captures the cadence and inflections of his surreal Bombay perfectly. [He] does an amazing job creating his own universe with its own rules and expectations.… Irani gives us a virulent text and a memorably complex narrator: part psychopath, part disaffected rich kid, part bohemian wanderer through a singularly imagined world.”
“An impressive debut, a beautifully written modern-day fable.”
“Anosh Irani has an eye for the absurdities of human existence and an ear for the comedy inherent in nearly everything we say. This is a marvelous debut.”
—BBC News, The World Books
“A remarkable book. The writing is stylish, and the author’s willingness to take risks, disarming.”
“[Irani] may be a genius. He is absolutely a writer to watch.… Irani’s writing is both simple and startling, his musing on faith and morality especially quirky and strong.…
The Cripple and His Talismans
is downright splendid.”
The Asian Reporter
“A book with a message, but one that is artfully and originally integrated into an entertaining and accessible fable structure. The language is rich, and the dialogue precise and nuanced.”
“The Cripple and His Talismans
is not for those of a tender stomach, but it does show a certain tenderness towards the citizens of a city that seem to defy description at closer range. The novel is clearly not bound by the narrow dictates of realism, and it is through this freedom that a sense of its underlying social reality is so effectively conveyed.”
Times Literary Supplement
ALSO BY ANOSH IRANI
The Song of Kahunsha
Copyright © 2005 Anosh Irani
Anchor Canada edition published 2010
All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication, reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system without the prior written consent of the publisher—or in the case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, license from the Canadian Copyright Licensing agency—is an infringement of the copyright law.
Anchor Canada is a registered trademark.
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Irani, Anosh, 1974-
The cripple and his talismans / Anosh Irani.
PS8617.R36C74 2010 C813′.6 C2010-902583-0
The Cripple and His Talismans
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Published in Canada by Anchor Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited
Visit Random House of Canada Limited’s website:
For my grandparents,
Perin & Burjor Motiwala
In the beginning there was a little boy. He was alone in the universe and everything was dark and quiet.
One day he saw a tree, very far away. Then it vanished and everything was dark again. Being simple and humble by nature, the boy became scared and wished for strength. In his heart he felt warm; the warmth spread all over his being.
“What did my vision mean?” the boy asked. He waited for an answer, but none came.
“I must make the place of the tree like its many limbs,” he decided. “Let them branch out to become the roads of the world. Let none of them ever be cut off.”
He made the place and its tree out of the distance, and waited for a long time. He observed this place during his wait, and was not happy with what he saw. So he flew to it.
There he saw another forked form that he had created. It was like a walking tree, and he called it Man. Man was bent over, entangled in his own embrace.
“You use your limbs wrongly,” said the boy. “They are meant to embrace others, not yourself.”
The boy freed Man of his own clasp. “Now use your limbs well,” he said.
The boy saw another form and named it Woman. He realized that there were many forms gathered there. He named them all: Tiger, Snake, Smoke, Tree, Fire, Soil, Water and Wind. The boy flew above them all because he could.
“This is the place of the tree with its many limbs,” he told the forms. “You must use them well, and let none of them be cut off.”
All the forms were confused.
“These limbs branch out to become the roads of the world,” the boy explained.
Smoke was still unclear.
“In life, there are three main paths,” the boy explained again. “The first one is crooked. It means that you are simply pretending to come toward me. Only the sly and devious shall take this path.”
Hearing this, Snake slithered away, dragging Soil with it. Tree needed Soil to live, so it followed.
“Next is the straight path. It leads only to me. It is very long and few will complete it. There is nothing to do along the way, except pray.”
In truth, the road that led to the boy was the most wondrous of all roads. But the boy had no wish to present it as such. This was a test. But none of the forms took that road.
“The third path has the possibility of flying, of tigers, of flying tigers,” said the boy. “It means anything can happen.”
It was Woman who first walked on the third path. She needed things to make her happy. So she took Tiger to ride on, Fire to keep warm, Water to wash her hair and Wind to blow through it. Smoke followed because Fire went.
The boy was upset with these choices. By not taking the straight path, the forms had cut off a limb. Only Man was left, so the boy turned to him.
“Go away,” said Man. He motioned the boy away with a flick of the wrists. And once again Man was entangled in his own embrace.
The boy told him, “I can see what is going to happen here. There will be magic, poverty, thievery, music, pollution, dancing, murder, lust and very little prayer.”
“Leave me alone,” said Man. “Promise me that you will never come here again.”
“First tell me what this place is called,” said the boy, “so I remember never to visit it, for it is no longer the place of the tree.”
“Bombay,” said Man. “There is no other like it.”
“Thank God,” said the boy.
It was then that the boy realized who he truly was. He kept his promise never to return.
The man’s look tells me that I have made a mistake. He moves closer to my face, but his eyes focus on the dim light bulb that hangs above me in the centre of his beedi shop. His skin is soot, dark but smooth. Mosquitoes are converging around the bulb. He listens to their murmur.
“Yes, I’m the In-charge,” he whispers.
He looks at the mosquitoes around the bulb. They stick to it and exchange places with each other, a small dance to pass time between transmissions of malaria.
I try to get his attention. “Gura has sent me,” I tell him. “He says you have information about my lost arm.”
He covers my mouth. His palm smells of tobacco and money. There is also the stink of genitals but I try to dismiss that. He releases his hand slowly.
“I will draw a map for you,” he says.
It is dim and dusty, and I am being hit and bitten by insects the size of stones. I realize that he waits for me to respond.
“A map will be helpful,” I say.
His dark hands are beautiful compared to the rest of him. His face is round as an earthen pot and his ears are long. Strands of hair with the dryness of straw stick out of his lobes. But his hands are thin as if crafted from black paper. Mine are lighter, more the colour of soil. I am one hand less now; in fact, a whole left arm less if one insists on staring at me under the mosquito bulb.
He plucks out a short pencil from behind his ear. Apart from Shivaji beedis, he also stocks packs of Marlboro, Gold Flake, Charminar, Dunhill, Four Square and 555 on thin wooden shelves. I look at his small shop and wonder how he stays in this hole all day. I look to the side, at the shop next to his. It is a flower shop, just as constricting. Most of the flowers are dead. White buckets hold the fragrant corpses.
He now has a small piece of paper on top of the glass jar that contains sweets. The paper already has numbers scribbled all over it so I do not know how he will draw a map.
“You are here,” he says, his eye on the paper.
He draws a spiral, keeps circling. In order to make him stop before he puts a hole through the paper, I respond. “I understand, In-charge.”
I use his title in the hope that he will reveal his name.
“You are here,” he repeats. The circling continues. “You must follow a few landmarks. They will direct you to the games. But I cannot tell you what the landmarks are.”
“Games? What games?”
He hands me the chit of paper. One spiral shows me where I am. Two inches from it, a darker spiral shows me where I must go.
Let me have my arm for just a second so I can teach him a lesson. I am not accustomed to being mocked. I am a novice cripple.