Sunday, October 3, 2010

[ZESTCaste] Satire to savour


Satire to savour


Humorous, subtle, wicked… a combination that makes the book a good read.

Serious Men; Manu Joseph; Fourth Estate; Rs.499

After Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger we have yet another novel on
Indian satire, Manu Joseph's debut 'Serious Men'. With its provocative
wit, realistic portrayal of characters and humour , the book is a sure
winner. Manu Joseph's novel hammers in the hopelessness, boredom and
desperate ambitions of suburban Dalit community in Bombay, and he
weaves an interesting and funny satire on the academia of science,
love and revenge. Relationships form an important part of the novel
and Manu provides a stark insight into the workings of the human mind.
He strings together the powerful, comic and pungency of eccentric
people who are blind instruments of a dominant passion for quick
money, fame and social aggrandizement.


The devious Ayyan Mani is stuck in a boring job as personal assistant
to the head astronomer named Arvind Acharya, at the Institute of
Theory and Research, Bombay. Acharya is powerful , conceited and
intelligent but too engrossed in his own scientific world. Although
Mani belongs to the Dalit community, he is not subdued but one who
stands out in a world moved by self interest and political design.
Wanting to associate himself with the heightened sense of life and
fulfillment he draws up a concoction of events and surreptitiously
achieves his goals. Mani spins an outrageous fiction around his
partially deaf, ten- year- old son Adi, forcing him to say things
like, "Prime numbers are unpredictable, D-e-c-i-m-a-l s-y-s-t-e-m and
Fee bon a chi" Into this kind of plot, however another dubious
character Oparna , the attractive young astrobiologer is introduced.
Acharya is enamoured by her and soon his fiefdom and Mani's politics
begin to surface. Acharya's career is shattered by an office scandal
and he is accused of forging scientific data. It is here that the
suspense builds up and one marvels at the author's treatment and
superb flexibility in the psychological development of the dramatic

There are indeed many moments where Joseph exposes the hypocrisy of
his characters by dropping in similes and witty remarks alike. As when
Manu aptly describes Mani, "Ayyan Mani's thick black hair was combed
sideways and parted by a careless broken line, like the borders the
British used to draw between two hostile neighbours ". Equally
noteworthy is when Ayyan Mani blurts out, "Wives of an age are like
evicted hawkers. They return in time". Quite apparent that people like
Mani who are down on the social scale,get along only by their wits.
Again the hilarious aspect is put in true prospective as we observe
Manu's description of Acharya: "Acharya did not realize that he had
been holding a half-eaten banana near his mouth for over five


Serious Men is otherwise a remarkable and brilliant novel and if you
can dip into it , and it's dip worthy, you will definitely find
several moments to savour. The author's powerful mix of all the
ingredients of satire as also tactful juxtaposition makes his debut
novel a powerful and unique work. Joseph does this by making his
criticisms apparent in an entertaining format so that readers are
compelled to engage with the story and hopefully are taking away
something in the end to make them understand societal issues better.

In Adiga's novel the idea of a resentful , oppressed protagonist
Balram Halwai murdering his employer and getting away with it in
pursuit of his ideal of social mobility was not much of a novelty. I
found Balram, the main character unlikable, he seemed unable to feel
any sort of remorse for the terrible things he did. But in Joseph's
novel , the protagonist, Ayyan Mani , also a conman overshadowed by
his boss , is intelligent and appealing and someone we can empathise

The book has one shortcoming. Descriptions of women - a bit of a let
down. However, it is a good read if one can let all that pass. As a
satirist, he has done a remarkable job, truly a book you should not
miss.The author was listed among the top new novelists of 2010 by the
British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph.


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