Vivek Gopal in conversation with Jerry Pinto, Anushka Ravishankar and Sayoni Basu, authors of Phiss Phuss Boom: Stories Our Grandparents Told Us. Vivek is bald, single and farts frequently.
VG to AR: I can’t help but wonder if there’s a Samson and Delilah connection to be made between Lijimol and Appukuttan. Is her hair really the source of her smarts? I’m bald, my sister has long hair and I have a pair of scissors. Does this affect your answer?
AR: Yes, absolutely. I have always suspected that Delilah was a man and Samson a woman. I mean, who can believe that a man’s strength lies in his hair? Whereas, if you watch television ads, you know that women with long, strong hair are powerful goddesses. So obviously Lijimol’s hair is the source of her smarts. D-uh. Your sister and you might be the originals on which my characters are based. Might be. The scissors are a source of great concern however, and as a result my answer changes completely, to this: the whole story is actually a very well-disguised version of the Hansel and Gretel story, but the witch ran out of baking powder.
VG to JP: Attulem and Bittulem discover that there aren’t a lot of words to apologize to one’s friend for farting her father’s eyes out. Is this something that can be addressed through a Hallmark card? If I did, how would I go about phrasing such an apology?
JP: You are obviously too bright a lad to be interviewing authors. You saw a business opportunity immediately. I think you should go to Harvard. I think you should also rule the world.
VG to SB: I’ve never had my belly button fluffed. Is this why I can’t sleep on my tummy?
SB: You clearly do not have Bengali parents. Every winter, Bengali parents douse their children in mustard oil, rub them down with wheatflower and malai, and hang them in the sun to marinate. While they are suspended, the parents clean out all the orifices—including bellybuttons—with orange peel, the best de-fluffer.
It is essential that Bengali men can sleep on their tummies as otherwise they cannot digest their lunchtime hilsa.
VG: Should one trust people who claim they don’t fart?
JP: The larger question is: should one trust people? The dodo did and look where it got the entire species.
AR: They lie.
VG to JP: I’ve never had six cakes in my life, let alone all at once. Is Mosterlem going to be okay? Can we send her a card?
JP: It is not possible for any one author to solve the problems and dilemmas of the world. If you have not eaten six cakes in your life, you must sit down with your parents and work out why this has happened. Dialogue solves everything. Talking counts. Meanwhile, you will be happy to know that Monsterlem is fine. I called the house this morning and could barely hear for she was working her way through five kilos of banana wafers sent to her by Monsterkutti, her cousin from Cochin.
VG: Several critics (none) feel that the stories in this book are farticular re-imaginings of The Hare and the Tortoise, Goldilocks and The Princess and the Pea (no one thinks this). Comment.
JP: Jacques Delahay once remarked, “He who visits a volcano must not complain of chilblains.” I see that the Frenchman was being polemical but I do see that there is a grain of bajri in the remark.
AR: Farticular re-imaginings, they say? I say they are imaginative re-smellings of these stories. They think the pea in the story was a coincidence? Did they miss the subtle wordplay on the Hair and the Tortoise-shell comb? Do they not see the connection between the locks of Goldilocks and the oiled hair of Lijimol?
SB: My grandmother was deeply influenced by Derri-da.
VG to AR: Grandfather sounds like a sage man, or a hot-air balloonist. Should one follow his advice?
AR: What is the difference, I ask? Are you suggesting that a hot-air balloonist cannot be a sage man? Do you want to bring the wrath of the omnipotent AHAB (Association of Hot Air Balloonists) upon your head? Of course you should not follow his advice, but I will never say so. AHAB is watching.
VG to JP: I love the concise language Attulem and Bittulem use amongst themselves. Where did this come from? What are the rules for this? What would I need to say to call my sister ‘A poopy-face’?
JP: The rules are made up as you go along and then they are forgotten when you are a little while away and so you can make new rules. This makes communication exhausting but Attulem and Bittulem say, “Isn’t English just as exhausting?”
As good feminists, they refuse to tell you how you should insult your sister. But be careful when you get home, they are already in touch with her.
VG: Is a burp a fart that wants to soar or is a fart a lazy burp? If I fart upside down, am I in fact, burping? Are there farts in space?
JP: Is a question a question when it has so many question marks?
1. A burp is a burp and a fart is a fart. DNA tests have proven that there are no similarities.
2. If you fart upside down, you should call a television crew.
3. There are farts everywhere. Haven’t you seen comets?
AR: The debate rages on. The Burp-is-a-fart faction is losing ground to the Fart-is-a-burp faction, but it is a small, small margin.
SB: Have you never farped? That is because your bellybutton is not fluffed.
VG to SB: I burp a lot. I’m still unmarried. Explain please?
SB: You burp because your heart is full. You do not need to be married.
VG: I heart, *heart* this book. How did this happen? Did everyone eat too much gobhi during lunch? Why is there such a deficit of flatulatory fiction?
JP: I think the story began with me telling Anushka and Sayoni about my grandmother’s fart story and from there, it just grew like a good fart. I asked them if they had good fart stories and they did and here we are now.
I think people are a little coy about farting because of what happened to Haroun who farted loudly in the marketplace and ran away in shame and spent ten years in another land and then smitten with homesickness returned to the same marketplace. A fountain was now playing in the square. “When was that fountain built?” he asked a passerby. “Two years after Haroun farted,” the passerby replied.
AR: We ate too much gobhi and passed out. When we woke up we found the book had been written and there was a strange smell in the air. We are still investigating this crime, and we will let you know when the culprit/s are caught.
There’s no deficit; in fact, it’s so ubiquitious that it gets mistaken for hot air.
SB: It happened exactly as they said.