Tailpieces: A Quirky Look at Life

Review by Santosh Bakaya

Author: Ushi Kak
Notion Press , 2023
Price Rs. 395 
Author Image: Diba Mushtaq. Artist
1SBN 979-8- 88815-660-5


 This book [Kak calls it a booklet], is an anthology of short essays, and pieces written over a period of 24 years, some of them being featured as middles on the editorial pages of national newspapers, but still important in the contemporary scene.
Divided into five sections, Digital Tectonics: Tech Wizardry, Daily Ragas: Rhythm of Life, Global Issues: Hot Potatoes, Sheroes: Woman Power, Wordsmiths: Trending Vocab, the book dazzles not only by its rich wordplay, wit and incisive humour, but also impresses by the way in which the author deals with sensitive issues.

Ushi Kak
I found the cover very intriguing. Perched smugly on a pile of books, a bespectacled ginger cat is looking straight at the reader. The expression of the cat, made me grin. Like the Cheshire Cat- who else?

The books on which the cat is sitting has the titles of the five sections of the book. I doffed my hat to the cover designer Shailendra Singh for his creative ingenuity. An architect by day in Florida, and an illustrator by night, his eloquent sketches deftly convey the book's essence.

In his blurb on the cover, Shashi Tharoor calls the book "funny, sad, and often eye-opening, these pieces are an entertaining read."
Radhika Vaz, Comedian, and Author of ‘Unladylike: A Memoir’ says, she is ‘funny, insightful, and above all, thoroughly engaging.”

Santosh Bakaya
Satirist and former Associate Editor of The Times of India, Jug Suraiya, in the back page blurb, says, "Ushi Kak serves up a delightful soufflé combining humour and sensitivity with which to entice."

Wajahat Habibullah, Former Chief Information Commissioner of Government of India, also says on the back page, "Often hilarious, always mischievous, but never malicious, this is an enjoyable read for even the most staid, ...and a repeated heartbeat in this wonderland is the pathos of the human spirit symbolized by the joy and sorrow of what has become of Ushi's homeland, Kashmir. An engaging read. An experience."

I must confess, that in her penchant for puns and a wacky sense of humor, I found a kindred spirit, and caught myself laughing at some of the pieces, the themes of which I had also tackled some time or the other, with my own brand of quirkiness!

The book does not have the traditional Preface, but 'Full Disclosure '. As Kak puts it, 'Preface’ has a ring of gravitas, not apt for a small book like this.’

Kindly allow me to put things straight .This is definitely not a small book- it undoubtedly impresses in a BIG way!

The vignettes intrigue, enchant, put smiles on our lips, and also make one introspect.

‘Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Vanity Mirrored’ P 49, is a hilarious piece, where every visitor, be it Shashi, the sweepress, Arjun, the grocery boy, Mahesh, the presswala, Manjula, the maid, the gas delivery man- is busy contorting himself\ herself into grotesque postures, peering into a round mirror with a wrought iron frame on the wall at the entrance of the author’s house.

The myth of Narcissus is alive and well amidst us”. Exclaims the author.

”In Tech - Challenged: Reboot Oldies or be Logged out, p 18, Kak says,
"Despite Aldous Huxley's warning of A Brave New World, I must confess, at the risk of being branded a Luddite, that with all this tech-wizardry, the Gen- Old is quite gobsmacked! One sees even four-year-old kids tapping the computer keys with the panache of a concert pianist giving a bravura performance."

In her beguiling style, in another hilarious piece: ‘Ring and Bring: Deliverance at the Door’, P58, she talks of the gustatory delights offered by home delivery operators. One curious flyer which ‘could be a copywriter’s inspiration’, listed tariff for its homely thaali meals,-promising ‘to give you a discount if you ordered on a ‘monthali basis’. Superior punning or inferior spellings, it is anybody's guess." 

“One leaflet not. given to poetic flourishes had this terse command in bold, red letters. YOU RING, WE BRING! P 59

In a serious vein, she hits out at regressive mindsets, patriarchy, and misogyny, environmental degradation, survival strategies during the pandemic, unsung craftspeople, verbal jousting in Parliament, and talks wistfully of the paradise her homeland was.
Every time she goes to Kashmir, visiting the revered shrine of Kheer- Bhavani is a must.
he echoes the words of a poem of mine when she writes,
 “An array of clay- diyas, candy pillars, offering of flowers and leaves with a jug of milky water is kept ready in a thali for the devotees. We buy our stuff from lovely Razia. The moment one speaks to her in Kashmiri, her eyes light up. She showers blessings on us and asks us to forget the turmoil of the past two decades and return to the valley to make the ethos of Kashmiriyat whole again. Evidently, she is not merely a saleswoman, but a philosopher to boot!”
[A Prayer for the Valley: Kashmiriyat in the land of Rishis and Pirs.”PP108- 109.]
About the visit to the ancient Mammaleswar stone- temple in Pahalgam, she says,

 "A Kashmiri pujari assists us in pouring water over the lingam. When I ask him his name, it is heart-warming to know that he is Ghulam Mohammad, a local resident.”

In The Generation Disconnect: Boomers vs Zoomers p141-142, she holds a plea for old age, emphasing that ‘the senescent are no longer willing to be mothballed’ and Amitabh Bachchan
 is still ‘cool’ with that unmistakable baritone voice. Rajnikanth, the Tamil superstar, could give Amitabh a run for his money. To add more heft to the old brigade…who can forget the uniquely charismatic and zestful Zohra Sehgal who did not go ‘gentle into that good night’ till her last breath at a defiant 102!
A feisty tagline for the Old could be, the in- your- face titile of AB’ film:
Buddha Hoga Tera Baap.”

In The Wizardry of Words: Casting a Spell, P 210,We need more voices like Iqbal and Gandhi to darn the torn fabric of Hindustan into the rich tapestry that it always has been despite being colonized.” 

In ‘Full Disclosure’, Kak says,
“My aspirations as a writer are best reflected by Ernest Hemingway's comment on writing,

"For a long time now I have tried to simply write the best I can. Sometimes I have good luck and I write better than I can."

Allow me to add my comments to her candid confession, and say that Kak is an amazing wordsmith, whose untethered imagination and wordplay dazzle. Her witticisms and puns tickle the funny bone, but a discerning reader can often glimpse slivers of subtle pain peeping through the comic.
It is a ‘Brilliant anthology! Refreshingly humorous. A must- read.” Says, AS Dulat, Former Chief of Research and Analysis Wing, and Author.

Let me conclude by quoting Seema Mustafa, Author, and Editor- in- Chief, The Citizen.
She lures one with “her quirkiness, enthralls you with her satire and sheer wit, hooks you with her turn of the phrase and leaves you with lingering nostalgia, and the need for more.”
I add my voice to that of Seema Mustafa and, echo, “Ushi we need more!!!”

She has a Master's degree in English from BHU, as well as a degree in English and American Literature from North Eastern University, Massachusetts, USA. She has taught at IP College and Miranda House, Delhi University. In February 2019, she edited the book, Idris and Bilkees Lateef: the Fragrance Lingers on, a Tribute to the iconic Air Force couple. She has a blog on WordPress under the pseudonym, kashpundit, a name chosen to indicate her provenance.

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