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“Our absolute bemusement with the world is a cementing factor”

Updated on: 18 February,2024 07:05 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Meher Marfatia |

The room comes alive with a sparky energy when writer-comedian Anuvab Pal drops in on photographer-archivist Anusha Yadav

“Our absolute bemusement with the world is a cementing factor”

Yadav and Pal with her cat Oscar. Pic/Shadab Khan

Meher MarfatiaAnusha Yadav, 48, photographer, archivist, graphic design consultant 

Anuvab Pal, 47, scriptwriter, stand-up comedian

Declared “India’s most intelligent comedian” by The New York Times and “very brilliant, very funny” by The Guardian, Anuvab Pal is the only comic in the country invited to perform at Harvard University and for the Prime Ministers of India and the UK. His stand-up comedy special, The Nation Wants to Know, has had over 1000 shows, starting in Mumbai and running from Sydney to San Francisco to Singapore, to sold-out houses across 30 cities. His play, Chaos Theory, originally staged in New York City and a finalist for the BBC Radio Playwriting Award 2003, was recently revived by The Roundabout Theatre Company on Broadway as an “overlooked classic”. In India, he has written the cult hits Loins of Punjab Presents and The President is Coming. In the UK, his stand-up show, The Empire, enjoyed a global audience of six million as part of the BBC World Service New Year’s Eve Comedy Special, and has featured at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and on Amazon Prime UK. He has also written a sitcom starring the legendary Stephen Fry for BBC Radio 2. 

Yadav and Pal with their friend Rohit Kulkarni’s debut book for childrenYadav and Pal with their friend Rohit Kulkarni’s debut book for children

Anusha Yadav is an award-winning artist, known for her eclectic creative practice as an interdisciplinary experimental photographer, storytelling archivist and graphic design advisor. Since 1997, she has been at the forefront of designing books, as well as online archives for leading corporations, artists and business families in India, the UK and the USA. In addition, she exhibits her photographic artworks on prestigious artistic platforms. In 2010, she founded the ground-breaking Indian Memory Project, which serves as the subcontinent’s personal history archive, utilising storytelling and family photographs. Considered one of the country’s most valuable cultural assets, the online endeavour is an inspiration to documenting collectives and institutions worldwide.

Anusha Yadav: We met in 2010 at a friend’s party. I’d just seen The Human Centipede. No one was interested in my story of how weird a horror film it was. Except Anuvab who was much amused. We giggled about it in the corner for a long while. 

Anuvab Pal: We immediately hit it off. I was impressed by Anusha’s brilliant Indian Memory Project. Chatting, we discovered friends in common. We’ve formed a close group: the ceramist Rohit Kulkarni, actors Mukul Chadda and Rasika Duggal, and producer Rucha Pathak. Anusha is the one who keeps us updated on the global zeitgeist. I turn to her to know what to watch, what to read. 

AY: It’s the trope of my last name—Yadav. The filter, the security watchdog of the group screening everything for everyone! I think we are all weird, and then with Pal, you can be weird together. With him, it is always wit, humour, the greatest gossip and yarns. Besides a love-hate relationship for the stepmother country, Great Britain. We have both spent stretches of time there and believe we are that aulad that the British left behind, and are okay with it. We all know that the world is shite. With friends like Pal, it is lighter. We usually hang out at our own or our friends’ homes. I prefer my social life in people’s homes. Unless it’s London or New York, when it will have to be in some bar Pal has found. 

AP: Now we’re in Bandra. Earlier we would meet in Andheri where Anusha used to live. We have visited theatres and art galleries together, like Chemould where she had a show. She definitely influences the work I do in the UK—sharing links to a documentary or an exhibition, that will spark an idea in me. She is in tune with shifts in the cultural landscape and I steal from her.

AY: He is strategic in aligning his career to his ambitions. I love a good strategy for anything and wish I was better at it. He is a keen student of human behaviour. He knows his flaws and strengths, how to use them well. That is a self-awareness few have. Pal doesn’t discuss his work before it is done. He works quietly and silently. There are no big declarations about goals, deadlines or performances. I like that a lot. It’s empowering. 

AP: I have never enjoyed attention to myself, only to my work. We discuss not so much the craft itself, but how to survive as an artist, what kind of work which audience might understand, what is good versus bad work. Anusha is more of a purist than fraudulent me. 

AY: We have space for unnecessary information. What we debate can range from the Indus Valley civilisation to Biden’s laptop contents, to Deepika Padukone’s airport look, to living on the International Space Station. The subject doesn’t matter. As long as it is curious, it is all worth noting and maybe useful later. 

AP: We talk almost daily on our group. About politics, society and where India is heading. Anusha is the more hopeful of us. Though my work revolves around joking, I’m actually a typical grumbling Bengali. But deep down, you want the optimist to be right.

AY: Someone has to keep the faith. Our common pursuit of a really good laugh and absolute bemusement with the world is a cementing factor. A giant lens of humour is how Jesus saves. We agree to disagree and leave it be. There’s no pressure to convince the other. 

AP: I’m more cynical and pessimistic than she is. We connect over the hopelessness of audiences when it comes to appreciating documented history like her wonderful Indian Memory Project. We are interested in old things, memories, British quirks. Anusha has a better eye for looking at things, which is why she is such a good photographer. I’m jealous of her eye and taste. 

AY: Bombay has quite a role to play in our relationship. Because only in Bombay do we stab from the front. We have many friends who prefer it that way. 

AP: Oh yes, our friendship does firmly exist because of Bombay.

Author-publisher Meher Marfatia writes monthly on city friendships. You can reach her at

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