“The Cripple and his Talismans” by Anosh Irani is a unique book. Of course I have read of books that have magic realism as the central theme and all of that, yet somehow this book seemed interesting and different from what I had read in the past. There was this urgency in the book that made me want to know what happens next and at the same time, a sense of stability that allowed me close the book after a couple of chapters and mull over what I had just read. It is almost confusingly therapeutic and disturbing when a book does that to you.
I had first heard of Anosh Irani when I encountered him in one of his sessions at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2013. Before that I am surprised that I hadn’t heard much about him. Maybe I was too busy exploring other writers. However, once I got to know about The Cripple and his Talismans, I had to read it. It seemed too intriguing and inviting. At the same time, it was first published in 2004 and only published in India now, in 2013 by Harper Collins. So that is in brief about what dragged me to reading this book.
“The Cripple and his Talismans” is like the title suggests, about a cripple. A man in search of his lost arm. He wakes up one day and his arm is missing. Along the way on his so-called conquest to find his arm, he meets a variety of people – a woman who sells rainbows to a coffin maker to a giant, to a homeless boy riding the trains, which all lead him to one person – an underworld don at that, and the only one who can tell him about the clues along the way and explain the dilemma he is in.
All the action takes place in Bombay and that to me was the crux of the story. The city, its smells, the places make for the crux of the tale. To a very large extent, while reading the book, I was wondering about how Anosh now lives in Canada and all his books are set in the city he was born and grew up. To me that says a lot about the writer. More so, this being Anosh’s first book, it is quite experimental and adventurous for a first book and the same time, it is very-well written.
The journey of the man in search of his missing arm is often hilarious, sad, and at the same time human and absurd. Anosh mentioned about this book that it came to him in a dream, almost a vision, where he saw a basement, and arms hanging from the ceiling and he knew that he had to write this book and he did.
“The Cripple and his Talismans” is not an easy read. It demands a lot from the reader. The writing is simple and yet the situations aren’t. The characters jump off from every page and take the reader unaware. The writing radiates, teeming with the city’s boisterousness and energy and its laziness sometimes on a Sunday afternoon. To read something like “The Cripple and his Talismans” and not get affected by it, by its sheer magnitude, insanity, and almost a shock-like quality is not a possible feat.