Sonika Kaushik
RAFFU KI JALEBI by By Sushil Shukla. Illustrations by Prashant Soni Eklavya Supported by Parag Trust, 2023, 24 pp., INR 75.00
November 2023, volume 47, No 11

Jalebis epitomize the ordinariness in this poem and the pleasure of that ordinariness. Eulogizing the ordinary, which Sushil Shukla often does in his poems (Bhains ki Shaan Mein) and at times, making visible the unseen and the unnoticed (Kabhi Batooni Lagti Hain, unpublished), the poem presents a slice of the mundane as an event. Perhaps, the most common sweetmeat after laddu in the plains of north India is the coiled mithai—the syrup loaded jalebi. However, Shukla subtly couples the ordinariness of the jalebi with the exquisiteness and tenderness he brings to Raffu’s craft of making jalebis with the gentle flow of words.
Such is Raffu’s craft that he is farebi (crafty) enough to make people swoon over his jalebis, while he quietly goes about the business. The attention Raffu pays to the jalebis and the leisurely manner in which he makes themis conveyed through the description of every detail of the process. More than a culinary feat, Raffu’s jalebi making is an act of love, carried out with utmost attention and care.
Ek-ek ka haal jaankar
Achche se tale hain

Prashant Soni’s illustrations flesh-out the commonplaceness through vivid images of the common man, woman, child on the street, urbane young man and goons and several such people who make the crowd. Ordinary are the jostling, the mayhem, the wait and the triumph—all for the jalebis. The gymnast mice, the squabbling mynahs, the hopeful dog and even a pampered donkey have come to partake in this madness. Soni has created a world of characters through his illustrations who depict the wait for Raffu’s jalebis.
The humour in the text is subtle and Soni’s illustrations allow the humour to be played out through the images of the people they portray. The text never loses its gentle flow and only indicates in words the mayhem that the illustrations portray. The coupling of the contradictions of the steady rhythm of the text and the building up of madness in the illustrations is intriguing for the reader. Raffu ki Jalebi has a quiet existence and it unleashes a madness of its own kind. Every town or colony can boast of its own Raffu.
The book is an absolute delight and invites several visits for there is much to be enjoyed with each reading.