The Tribune - Spectrum

, June 23, 2002

Busybee buzzes on
Chanchal Narang

Busybee, The Best of Thirty-Six Years.
Penguin. Pages V+234. Rs 250.

Busybee, The Best of Thirty-Six YearsIT is very difficult to come to terms with a life with an eloquent void created by the sudden removal of a person who once had an unassuming, non-interfering but habitual presence in our lives. Such a blow struck the readers of Busybee when instead of their favorite column "Round and About" they read, "Busybee will not hum anymore" and "The Buzz stops" in newspapers following the 9th day of April 2001. It was perhaps then that many readers came to know that the name of the person behind the pseudonym "Busybee" was Behram Contractor. The man who shunned media lights and preferred anonymity to enter our lives 36 years ago, baptised as Busybee (by S. Viswam), visualised the column as "barely more sophisticated than a diary item. It would start with something like, ‘Yesterday, I went to an exhibition…’"

Through this book, Behram Contractor has returned to our lives with the same name but different form. I wish that the newspapers of April 15, 2002 (the day of release of this book), had headlines like "Busybee will now hum forever" or "The Buzz starts again." The book is a collection of 234 ‘Round and About’ columns, which Busybee wrote with religious regularity even two days before his death. After reading the book, one has to acknowledge Busybee’s great understanding of the strange ways of Mumbai and the devoted affection he had for the city. Mumbaikar to the core, Busybee not only introduced the city to many readers, but also immortalised its parts through his writing. Even the fictional characters that he interspersed in his narrative (his talking dog Bolshoi the Boxer, his outrageously extravagant friend on the 21st floor, his little sons Darryl and Derek and the wife) also became alive with his writing. Equally appreciable is the range of subjects covered in some 500 odd words devoted to each column. Almost every column has something of perennial interest , but his exclusive contribution lies in the skill with which he infused Indian sentiments and thoughts into foreign language to make it Indian English rich in subcontinent’s own idioms, phrases and other linguistic features.

Every column makes a very easy, fast-paced and smooth reading until near the end, when one experiences a sudden jerk. And it is with this jerk that one starts ruminating all that was said before. Then with a thinking mind and smiling face, he sees the satirist behind the overtly simple and humorist writer, writing with a tongue-in-cheek style. It is as if the conniving writer has said so much in so few words in a matter-of-fact style by being terse, evocative and laconic in words but highly open-ended and suggestive in ideas. Through such a rare genius of content and style, Busybee attained an unprecedented stature in Indian journalism. This book is a must read for those who really want to know what good journalistic writing is. Some of the readers of todaygeneration who could not read Busybee’s regular column in yesteryears can have a good taste of his writing and this will make them crave for more. And those who were habitually addicted to his columns can now retain the book in their libraries to refresh their memories. And most important, the book can prove to be "most essential source material" for "anybody who writes a social history of Bombay in the second half of the 20th century". But to me, this is an ideal tribute Farzana Contractor could have paid to her husband by bringing Busybee back to his readers in his very own style (the cover of the book does not reveal the name of the person behind Busybee).