I picked up Naked by Papa CJ when it was put up for free reading by its publishers. I vaguely knew of Papa CJ as a comedian. But had never seen him perform, not even on the web. I only remember him on TV one day saying no one can figure out his real name. That needs some talent in these times of hyper-connectivity. However, I must admit that by the time I finished reading his first chapter I knew what J in his name stood for. A little later I discovered I was right. That’s not my talent but that’s some shared DNA somewhere, not too difficult to identify.
I had never read memoirs of a comic, but I knew their journey could not be very different from mine in the world of blogging. Being a pioneer in the upcoming creative field with no guidance, no visibility but lots of inner drive calls for a certain kind of personality. As I read, I discovered that he studied not too far from where I studied, we both worked in the IT industry and I too had a small stint in the UK not too far from Oxford. So, there were not of intersections I had and more or less the same timeline – growing up in the 80s, a corporate career in the late nineties, and creative pursuits in the new millennium.
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Not knowing Papa CJ was an advantage as I had no impression of him at all.
Papa CJ’s nostalgic description of school days took me back to those days when we were innocent yet naughty. We had no mobile phones but we were better connected with people around us. The small things we did were to fool teachers or to eat someone’s food. I had a Déjà vu reading about his driving lesson in the UK. I had a ditto experience when I was learning to drive there. He wanted to tell the driver to come to Kolkata and drive. I actually told him to try driving at Hosur road in Bangalore, in Hindi though. I remember going on long walks and weekend trips to explore the country as much as I could.
In Delhi, I had a much more professional time than Papa CJ, as I landed in Delhi to work in the company that recruited me from campus. He had a much wilder time in Delhi, as he studied(?) there and started his comedy circle there.
His initial days in the comedy world would give you a peep into the world of any successful person in a creative field. I do not know how good a comedian he is; he must be good as per his own account. However, I can bet that he is a great hustler. To be able to get a spot for you at the right place at the right time, most of the time is the mark of people who are great with other people. I would not be surprised if this book is a part of hustling to promote his show by the same name.
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Papa CJ is a great storyteller. He takes you from one piece of his life to another, carefully choosing the pieces he wants to share. In the process, he ends up giving some pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Like a true comedian, he teases you first, touches your emotions, then opens his heart and leaves you touched. He has an endearing way of telling the story, your empathies are always with him, no matter what. There are places where you want to get up and give him a hug. There are ample pictures with family and friends to give you a visual journey along with the words.
Love for India
As it happens when you grow up in India, spend some time outside in the places perceived better, your love for India multiplies. I may be wrong, but his effort to make Indians feel proud of being Indians comes across. We do need artists who can do that. But I am cautious here because most comedians like to put India down, especially when they are addressing the English-speaking urban audience.
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At the cost of putting spoilers, the word Papa in his name takes different connotations. Towards the end, you wish he hears it soon from the right person in the right manner. And yes, he does reveal his real name in the book. No, I am not telling you.
Read this book if you want to know what it takes to be in a field that has no defined boundaries or pathways. You will know how it is to leave an easy but boring job and be a struggler in an unknown space. Read it to know the level of hustling you need to do.
Overall, Naked by Papa CJ is an entertaining book, I enjoyed reading it.