Naked is full of ‘dear diary’ moments by way of exposing the comedian’s vulnerability
When one of one of India’s first notable comedians to have made it big overseas pens his memoir, taking inspiration from his four-year-old show with the same name, you expect a lot of banter. What you don’t expect, however, is humour with a shade of sentiments, eruption of emotions, and even vulnerability that far outweigh the tiny doze of laughter — spread through the book. It is, in this respect, that Papa CJ’s Naked strikes a chord with readers, just the way he does with a live audience.
A master of all trades, Papa CJ didn’t discover comedy like most artists would claim to — like finding a true calling after a series of misfortunes, or harbouring a passion so intense that he didn’t know what else to do but perform. He had no such grit to make it big in the world of comedy. A nagging feeling of being a misfit in every other space he had ventured into (a lot, actually), and finally finding a sense of belonging on the stage, cracking jokes tinted with sexual innuendos and about being a privileged “middle-class” Indian in the UK, among other things, are what led him to pursue comedy in all seriousness. And once it was clear, CJ worked relentlessly hard to not just pursue stand-up, but also set a precedent for Indians, who had barely even heard of the art in the early 2000s.
Some portions in the 12-odd chapters of CJ’s (Chirag Jain’s) book read like a comedy of errors. For instance, he lays a lot of emphasis on being a strictly “middle-class” born and bred Indian. Given that he went to a boarding school in the 1980s, the alumni of which include the likes of Omar Abdullah, Ness Wadia, and Saif Ali Khan and took part in all kinds of overseas exchange programmes, besides extra-curricular activities — a nuanced understanding of privilege seems to be lacking here. However, that does not undermine the fact that he made the most of every opportunity that came his way, and worked harder than most privileged people do, even if it did not align with his idea of success.
Chirag Jain’s life details — an unfortunate tryst with love, series of job and career switches, experiences in the streets of Kolkata, Sanawar, Delhi, London — are discussed at such great lengths that it left me wanting to read more on CJ’s journey as an artiste. Readers can be disappointed in this regard, as it would read more like a continuation of his 2016 show. However, the book does have its tug-at-the-heartstrings moments — it celebrates the close-knit bond that an Indian prodigy (CJ) shares with his family, remaining firmly rooted, even after living away from family almost all his life. Overall, with all significant and a lot more insignificant instances strewn together, Naked is less of a narrative and more of light-hearted, comical confession of a friend with a life well-lived.