The Wordsmiths
Harmony - Celebrate Age|February 2017

The Suraiyas emanate a sassy charm laced with saucy chemistry, finds Natasha Rego.

Natasha Rego

Bunny and Jug… no, they do have formal names but neither answers to them—that would be almost sacrilegious. Can you imagine one of India’s most celebrated satirists signing off as ‘Jagdish Chatrabhuj Suraiya’? Jagdish, Chatra…who? Yeah, we told you!

It’s 3 pm on a Monday afternoon when we speak to the Suraiyas over the phone. They are at their row house in Gurgaon, where they have been living for 20 years. The walls, we hear, are filled with exquisite art from their many travels, which is all Bunny’s doing, while the floors in every room are adorned with a carpet. The carpet culprit, Bunny says, is Jug! “If I spot a carpet shop, I have to quickly guide him past it, or he will end up spending hours examining the carpets and speaking to the carpet seller.”

The Suraiyas are just finishing their daily ritual of solving the cryptic crossword of The Times (London). Bunny downloads and prints two copies from The Telegraph for each of them every day; working the computer and printer is her forte, for Jug is a sworn paper-and-pen kind of fellow. She has just one clue gnawing at her, which she eventually nails. “Jug has a few more left,” she chuckles.

Words, words and more words have come to define the Suraiyas. Jug, as many Indians know, is never at a loss for them. He has long been satirist-in-chief at The Times of India, an author many times over and, with his acerbic wit, made a career of getting on everyone’s nerves—from Amitabh Bachchan and Shobhaa De, to the late Jayalalithaa and his new muse, the Modi sarkar.

While delighting in picking on the rich and powerful, it helps to have a partner in crime in level-headed Bunny. She has often made an appearance in his columns, alongside Brindle and Mili, the stray pets who adopted Bunny Lady and Jug Fellow.

Bunny, too, is quite the word smith. She is also the voice of reason to Jug’s hysterical discourse. But when we seek to confirm the accuracy of his characterisation of her, she is quick to point out that the Bunny of his columns is merely a literary phantom. What is true and what is not is left to the discretion of readers.

Bunny had a successful career in advertising before she quit and took up professional writing and editing. She has written for all the major publications in India and a few abroad, on travel, books and social mores. Her debut novel, Calcutta Exile, as the name suggests, is based in the Calcutta of yore, a city after her own heart. And his.

In fact, it’s been almost 50 years since their boy-meets-girl moment at that Park Circus party. Jug was 18 and Bunny Sood was in her first year of college. He had come to her rescue (and it wouldn’t be the last time) when he threatened to break the neck of her dance partner who was acting funny. And, then, holding her at arm’s length, he danced the box step with her.

There on, everything happened quickly. In just three months, they decided to marry “after we’d both finished college, and I got a job, and turned 21, of course,” writes Jug in his autobiography JS and The Times of My Life. And then there was the matter of convincing her Punjabi family of this Kutchi boy. As the story goes (see next page), it was literally a matter of life and death. “It’s a good thing we met then,” Bunny reminisces. “I’m not sure we’d like each other so much if we were to meet for the first time now!”

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