Through Waiting For Jonathan Koshy, Murzban F. Shroff presents a fascinating tale of characters who exist at the margins of a cosmopolitan city like Mumbai, a city undergoing changes from changing its name (Bombay to Mumbai) to landscapes because of construction. The city is a center of migration for people from all parts of India. Jonathan, the titular character, himself is from the state of Kerala and is exiled to a place like Mumbai. Other characters take various jobs in order to be assimilated into the culture of the big city. Prashant is a writer who writes scripts for other people while Jonathan does all sorts of jobs.
Murzban F. Shroff presents Jonathan as Jonathan Livingston Seagull, the bird, who comes with a promise on earth and teaches other gulls to fly. The other hesitant gulls have no choice but to follow him. These flight lessons are not exclusive to the characters in the novel but also to the readers who are brought into the world of writers, music maestros, social workers, cops, druggies, and film producers. Unlike the bird, Jonathan teaches flight through stories and experiences that make sleep impossible. He is described as the one who exercises his imagination “to its fullest,” giving memories that are “lively and spirited, refusing to fade with age.” Once he is done teaching the flight, he “takes flight himself into another space, another orbit.”
At times the world in the novel is hard to digest, like life in the underbelly of the city. However, that hard world is juxtaposed with the 104 Hill House, where the “film fraternity is attracted like ants to honey.” The place is owned by Mustafa Khan and Ammi Khan, who hail from Bhopal, a reference to Nasir Hussain, a Bollywood director who also came from Bhopal and was known for his multi-star extravaganzas in the 60s and 70s. In the words of Jonathan, “104 Pali House is like Hotel California. You can check in any time, but you can never leave.” All the characters stay here, make memories, and look back on the place to cherish those memories. At one point, the 104 Pali House is threatened by a mob that suggests the fragility of this world.
Shroff’s earlier works, Breathless in Bombay and Third Eye Rising, also explore similar themes of marginality and diversity. In Waiting for Jonathan Koshy, through a self-referential lens, Shroff presents an extravaganza of everyday life like the works of its film director, Mustafa Khan. Like Mustafa Khan’s music that defines “the music of subsequent ages,” Shroff’s prose serves a similar function of defining the prose for the years to come through its larger-than-life story of Jonathan.
Waiting for Jonathan Koshy
by Murzban F. Shroff
Astrophil Press; 132 p.
Aqeel Ahmad is completing his Masters at the University of South Dakota. He is a writer and likes to explore themes of marginality in small towns in Pakistan. After his master’s, he will start his Ph.D. in Creative Fiction at Ohio University.