Adil Jussawalla’s sixth book of poems, The Tattooed Teetotaler and other wonders is a charming volume filled with charming characters.
In some thirty pages, 27 short and very short poems are described as “absurd verses for the young at heart / and a few words for the heartless”. Only three of the 27 poems manage to reach a second page. Of the rest, many struggle to get past the top half of their pages.
One of the important and influential poets of post-independence India, Jussawalla (who turned 80 last year) published his first collection of poems, Land’s End, in 1962, when he was only 22 years old. It was followed by Missing Person, which was released in 1976. Decades later, three anthologies have emerged: Trying to Say Goodbye (2011); The Right Kind of Dog (2013); and Shores (2020). Trying to Say Goodbye received the Sahitya Akademi Award for 2014. There are many reasons why Jussawalla’s latest work, The Tattooed Teetotaler and other marvels, should not be missed. In this slender anthology, we come face to face with several colorful and inquisitive characters busy hatching devious plans, when they aren’t relieving/causing pain or pleasure or both.
Like the anonymous friend who is outside the Tower of London trying to figure out how to steal the Kohinoor. Ghalib, of course, is busy rubbing Tiger Balm on his neck in a circular motion; while (Sir Isaac) Newton thinks that to pick a really good apple you have to use a ladder.
My favorites, however, belong to the animal kingdom. Unforgettable rats who are, like dictators, strict in their rules; the “brindle cat” doing something strange on a yoga mat; baby gecko found in kitchen drawer; and those mosquitoes singing in the ear: a donor always one! The poet from Bombay saves the best for last: “Three poets, in the beautiful town of Bomabompum, a little high bhang, have no one to stop them from tickling the tattooed abstainer’s breasts!
Jussawalla’s entertaining book has something for everyone. A quick read. Light on the handbag. Easy crossing…until a bolt blew us away.