ByÂ Â Dhritiman Ray:
When one reads Jugal Mody’s debut novel ‘Toke’, one gets the feeling that it’s actually the protagonist’s personal diary which he wrote intending to publish it one day.
Dedicated to every computer he ever used, his pop-fiction novel successfully blows up almost every rule of English grammar with a marijuana-fueled atomic bomb. From writing entire sentences in capital letters to using smileys right in the middle of the paragraphs, this novel could very well have been written in a chat messenger but the best part of it all is that everything actually works.Â Jugal Mody successfully pulls off this writing style which essentially belongs in the domain of the internet and creates a kind of pop-fiction work which was never seen before in the mainstream Indian literary scene.
The main plot is about Nikhil and his two other marijuana-addict friends, Danny and Aman. They are called upon by Vishnu, who is immensely attractive and always appears with a music similar to the “opening credits of a Bond movie” along with two curvy dancers to save the world from a zombie invasion.
Along the way, these three musketeers are joined by a pair of twin Japanese girls who fall straight out of the sky, perhaps from a Manga comic book floating in heaven.There is also Suparna, Nikhil’s girl of dreams and the heroine of the novel and Alok, Nikhil’s obnoxious and schmoozing colleague.Although the basic plot uses all the cliches of the 21st century pop world but this simple novel has many remarkably creative elements.
Besides the over-theatrical, “B.R. Chopra-Mahabharat costume” clad Vishnu, there is also a cool-dude Shiva and Swami, the giant eagle with the power of teleportation and a burning desire for his half sister.Â There is also a ‘Boys of Vishnu‘ club, consisting of all the people whom Vishnu sends out to save the world, and Billie Joe of the band ‘Green Day‘ is a member.
Then there are the non-mythological elements like a red button on a white box, which makes an 8-bit Tarzan appear and take you to your “happy place” when the button is pressed. There is also a talking crow, who convinces Nikhil that he is a Hollywood celebrity in order to trick him into sharing his “pot” with him.
Marijuana plays a central role in the novel.Â In fact, ‘Toke’ means to take a puff of a marijuana joint.Â In the story, marijuana smoke is used to de-worm food infested with zombie maggots and temporarily curing an already infected person.Â Everyone smokes pot in the novel, from Nikhil, Suparna and the Japanese twins to Vishnu, Tarzan and the crow.
Where the novel falls short is in characterization.Â It’s fairly easy to confuse between Danny and Aman – they might very well be one person with two nicknames.Â It’s the same in regards to their girlfriends – the Japanese twins, Chiaki and Yatsuha.Â Even the character of the protagonist, Nikhil, isn’t very in-depth – all he does in the novel is dream about Suparna, run around paranoid in the fear of failing to save the world, smoke pot and occasionally lust after Vishnu.
But ‘Toke’ is not a novel which is not meant to be taken very seriously.Â Unlike other pop fiction in India, it doesn’t pretend to portray or comment upon the urban youth or Indian mythology.
It’s just pure fun; a book which is meant to be read at the end of a hard day with a cup of coffee (or some marijuana maybe?) by a reader belonging to the Indian urban middle class.Â It is, in my opinion, one of the few pop fiction novels in India which are simple, entertaining and yet playfully creative.
It is definitely worth a read.