[Book Excerpt] Yudhisthira The Unfallen Pandava By Mallar Chatterjee


I am honored and happy to present an excerpt from the upcoming mythological fiction based on the Yudhisthira, the idol of truth, Yudhisthira The Unfallen Pandava By Mallar Chatterjee . The other day, in an online  discussion session hosted by Readomania, I saw Mallar talk about why mythological fiction is a hit among Indian readers, and I perfectly agree with him. From what I gathered listening to his views and his ideas, the book would be different than other similar books. I am much intrigued about the story after going over the blurb(presented below).

I have enjoyed many books published by Readomania, a house continuously working to bring out new, quality fiction to the Indian market. In fact, three of my short stories have been published by Readomania, for which maybe I am a bit inclined to Readomania and  the people working behind it. Although my overall views are not biased by that.

 

Yudhisthira FC.jpg
The cover

So, without delaying anymore, here is the blurb,

Though the Kuru family survived on Vyasadeva’s seeds, he never belonged to the house. Moreover, being an ascetic, he was even exempted from obligations of the complicated dynamics of human relationships. This armed him with a ruthless dispassion and he could go on telling his stories with stoical detachment, free from any bias and uncontaminated by quintessential human dilemmas.

But had any of his characters given his own account of the story, would not that have lent a different dimension to the events seducing ordinary mortals like us to identify, if not compare, our private crises with those of our much celebrated heroes?

The Unfallen Pandava is an imaginary autobiography of Yudhisthira, attempting to follow the well-known story of the Mahabharata through his eyes. In the process of narrating the story, he examines his extremely complicated marriage and relationship with brothers turned co-husbands, tries to understand the mysterious personality of his mother in a slightly mother-fixated way, conducts manic and depressive evaluation of his own self and reveals his secret darkness and philosophical confusions with an innate urge to submit to a supreme soul. His own story lacks the material of an epic, rather it becomes like confession of a partisan who, prevailing over other more swashbuckling characters, finally discovers his latent greatness and establishes himself as the symbolic protagonist.

Quite exciting, I’d say.  The sheer volume of Mahabharata intimidates me to take it up, but I enjoy whenever I get to read books adopted and interpreted from the main text. I am sure many new aspects will come out about the eldest pandava after reading this. Here is an excerpt which the author and the publisher have allowed to showcase in my blog for which I am heartily thankful.

The excerpt:

‘Stop, son. Another one is left!’

Kunti was weeping fitfully when she said that to me.

Kurukshetra had become quiet. The fury, the hatred, the greed, the bitterness—all were things of the past. The earth was still wet with blood. The air was too laden with grief to breathe in. It was the time for tears—only tears. The endless expanse that ran into the horizon was filled with pyres—some still burning, some emitting blackish smokes. The war-torn world assumed the look of a busy crematorium.

I had just completed the last rites of all our relatives killed in the war. Completing the rituals, I was about to return when I heard Kunti say so. I was surprised, not because another one was still left, but because of my mother’s sudden breakdown. It appeared little weird to me, for she had all along been an epitome of composure even when she was being made to witness her grandchildren burn to ashes. What caused her this sudden seizure?

‘Who is it, Mother? I am sorry if I have missed anyone. Tell me.’

‘It is. . . he is. . . .’

‘Tell me, Mother, I am waiting.’

‘Karna it is!’

‘Sorry?’ I could not help asking though Kunti had uttered the name quite clearly and audibly, in spite of her snuffles.

‘You heard me, son,’ Mother sounded steely, for once.

‘But why on earth should I do his rites?’ I felt my lips twitch. Astonishment was just beginning to grip me.

‘He was. . .he was my firstborn. He—was—your—elder—brother!’ Mother’s words seemed to have flown in from another universe and hung in the air all around me.

‘Mother, do you realise what you are saying?’ I still don’t know how I managed to frame the question properly. Perhaps it had not yet sunk in fully.

‘He was Lord Surya’s gift to me. . .I was not married then. . .I had to leave him because. . .you can understand. . . .’

‘And you decided to keep it a secret!’ My voice now started faltering.

‘I have sinned son. . . I. . . just could not. . . .’ Kunti once again burst into tears. She was saying something more but that did not enter my ears. I still remember that a completely unfamiliar, beastly sound squeezed out of my throat. The strange sound was getting louder and ghastlier. My knees went numb and started to bend as if unable

to carry my weight any further. I knelt down, then fell prostrate on the ground and tried to clutch the much afflicted surface of the earth. I also remember that I was writhing hysterically before a palpable darkness descended all around me though it was only noontime.

‘You women will never ever be able to keep any secret. . . I curse you all. . . I curse. . .’ that was what I could shoot out before losing consciousness.

That was the second wound Kunti inflicted on me. First, she had pushed me into a wrong marriage. Then, she made us kill our own brother. What more damage could even Duryodhana and Shakuni have done to me?

Mother, why on earth did you have to conceal the real identity of Karna? Why could you not have done anything to prevent this bloodshed? Was it not an intolerable irony that while you could become a genuine mother to your stepsons, you failed to become one to your own firstborn?

But she was to pack another blow. She was readying herself for something beyond our wildest imagination. In the fifteenth year after the war, when Dhritarashtra and Gandhari decided to spend the rest of their lives in the quietness of a forest, Kunti chose to be with them—leaving us behind. Imagine! When her sons were trying overtime to recreate a nest of peace and happiness for her; the old lady, with a bent back and staggering knees, limped out of the world of materiality to accompany the parents of Duryodhana and Duhshasana!

I understood it was your atonement. But how could you have deprived us of your priceless company just when we started to see that much -awaited face of happiness after years of despair?

As destiny would have it, Dhritarashtra, Gandhari and Kunti got killed in a devastating wildfire during their stay in a jungle far from Hastinapura.

My mother was burning to death helplessly while we were spending the day in royal comfort far away, completely unaware of the disaster. We would later identify some charred bones as hers by a silver armlet with Pandu’s name inscribed on it found

under the remains. That happened to be the only ornament she had taken with her to the forest.

She did not even allow me to drape her dead body in royal robes, light her funeral pyre as the surviving eldest son and perform her last rites. For what fault of mine did you punish me so mercilessly, Mother?

I know I shall meet you again on the other side of the great divide, Mother. Please be ready to face my questions.

Mother, you don’t know how deeply I love you. Perhaps that’s why it is so difficult for me to forgive you, Mother. I am still on a mission to reach that day of my life when I will successfully bring myself to pardon you.

I can’t wait to read the full book. You can order it now @ Amazon.

About the Author:

Born in a suburban town in North 24 Parganas in West Bengal, in a family of academicians, Mallar Chatterjee’s childhood flame was mythology, especially the Mahabharat. The Unfallen Pandava is his debut novel. Mallar is a central government employee, presently posted in Delhi.

Yudhisthira – The Unfallen Pandava is available online at Amazon.

 

I congratulate Mallar for writing this book and I hope this book will gain many successes which it fully deserves.

On not being able to love- a review of Nabarun Bhattacharya’s “Auto”


Auto was first published, in Bengali, in the 2003 annual issue of “Aajkal” . Then in 2007, it was published as a book along with another novella called Bhogi.

Auto is a story of an auto-driver who wanted to be a footballer. He liked to play in the striker but at times, whenever required he came up and defended his team. His father died suddenly and he had to look for jobs – football could not feed him. First he did stray jobs like working in a garage, driving rickshaw-van, carrying sand sacks. But later he engaged in driving business; the owner of the auto really loved him. Things were looking up for him but his mother too died untimely. Throughout the novella, the protagonist, that is, Chandan kept talking about his mother, accusing her of leaving him so early in his life to struggle in this cruel world, accusing himself that he should have taken more care of her.

But this is not a novella about nostalgic remembrance of the past, rather the immediate cruelty of the present. In the underbelly of Kolkata, the illegal business of country liquor is rather murky. In this business, we meet people who were always scared because no one knew when someone would be miffed and someone would die. While the writer creates these stereotyped images of the dark side of the city, the central event of the story is quite the opposite. A few robbers had attempted to rob a jewellery shop but couldn’t escape after the robbery. The crowd caught and started beating them up. After one point, they die of the beating and yet they kept beating. One of them, who might be working in some garage and missed all the fun, had just joined. He picked an iron rod and brought it down, full force, in between the legs of one of the…

Chandan witnessed all these and fell down on the street.  After that incident he became impotent in the bed. His wife, whom he loved the most after the death of his mother, left him and eloped with a young boy. While such an incident certainly evokes pity in the reader, the bigger picture evokes fear. The impatience, the rage that people of this time are harbouring can cripple a society. And this general theme always flows inside this obviously one-man story.

Image result for auto by nabarun bhattacharya

What was more shocking is the final act of cruelty of the protagonist that not only saved him from continuous humiliation but also pushed him to a life of a bottomless void.

In the introduction of the novel, Bhattacharya said,

“Knowing the trap of death is inevitable in this life, humans come to this living world and survive by enlisting their names in the tragedy of killing and getting killed. This is happening because some wishes never get fulfilled. And it worries me all the time. He knows that he is not getting freedom in any way. But he is reluctant to accept this.”

In an interview, Bhattacharya once said he had become a writer because he couldn’t become a footballer. Somewhere in the frustration of Chandan’s not being able to be a footballer, we see glimpses of him too. This novella is essentially a personal cry to find the voice of the modern time. And it has successfully achieved so.

Of all the novels of Nabarun Bhattacharya, this novella will come third in my list of favourites by him after Herbart and Toy City.   

The story behind Cantilevered Tales (guest post)


I am happy and honored to host this guest post from the widely acclaimed actor, director and writer Jayant Kripalini. So here it goes:


Why did I start writing this set of short stories that became one long story? I don’t really know.

Cantilevered Tales.jpg

I was on way my back from somewhere by train and at Howrah Station a group of taxi drivers tried to extort a higher fare from me.  This was before the time of pre paid taxi booths.  Rather than shell out five times the fare I thought I’d take a bus. It was peak hour in the morning and though I did get a seat since the bus started from there, I hadn’t calculated the length of time I’d be sitting in the bus on the bridge. Forty five minutes of inching along later I heard a voice behind me say, “AitakiHaora Bridge naLaora Bridge?”

I knew exactly what he meant.

I knew then that I had the beginning of a story.

“Where are you getting off?” I turned around and asked.

“High Court,” he replied.

By now we had reached the East end of the bridge. It still looked like we’d be on the bus for another 45 minutes.

“Walk?” I asked him.

“Let’s,” he said.

And that as they say was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

His name was Khokon. He lived in Santragachhi. And because of that immortal first line, I called the protagonist of my story Khokon. In the book though, the line belongs to his colleague Ashutosh.

Some time later, I overheard a group of people talking about saving a water body from some unscrupulous builder.ArunLal the cricket player might have been a part of the group but I’m not sure.  I started keeping tabs on them. Not because I was interested in saving the environment or even that small little lake.

I am not a crusader.

I hate getting involved with issues.

But if you live in Calcutta, even for a short while, trust me, you’ll get involved.

More power to the builder I thought after I first saw the lake if you can call brackish acres of sludge a lake.

What did interest me were the disparate lot of people, and some desperate ones among them, who were determined they were going to save a stagnant water body from becoming an office complex.Frankly in my opinion that lake had outlived its usefulness to be anything at all.

I didn’t give a damn what happened to the lake.

But over a period of time I did start worrying about the people. And of course fell hopelessly in love with them. Their wellbeing and their good health became a matter of great concern to me especially since I saw the array of ‘villains’ lined up against them.

So rather than concentrate on Builder v Helpless Citizen – enough stories had been written about them, I concentrated on their stories and their histories.

This is their story or should I say these are their stories.  Some of the people are real; some of the people who come to their assistance are thinly disguised caricatures of people I admire; some are just people I met on buses and trams in my journeys across the bridge who wormed their way into the book.

And that is how this book got wrote.

Jayant Kripalani

Book Blurb

CANTILEVERED TALES IS A STORY ABOUT PEOPLE, THEIR QUIRKS AND WHY THEY BECOME WHO THEY BECOME. AND LOTS OF LAUGHTER!

I overheard a group of people talking about saving a water body from some unscrupulous builder and started keeping tabs on them. Not because I was interested in saving the environment or even that small little lake. What did interest me were the disparate lot of people, and some desperate ones among them, who were determined that they were going to save a stagnant water body, which in my opinion had outlived its usefulness as anything at all, from becoming an office complex.

This is NOT a Builder v Helpless citizen epic. In fact that is the least important part of the book. This is about a group of inept people who you want to reach out and protect but you discover are more than capable of taking care of not just themselves, but of you too.

Author Bio

Jayant Kripalani is an Indian film, television and stage actor, writer and director. Known for his work in TV series like Khandaan, Mr Ya Mrs and Ji Mantriji, he graduated from Jadavpur University with a degree in English Literature.

Jayant Kripalani

He has played character roles in movies like Heat and Dust, Rockford, Jaane Tu. . .Ya Jaane Na, 3 Idiots and, most recently, Hawaizaade and The Hunger. He has directed and produced a number of films and is actively involved with theatre. He wrote the screenplay for ShyamBenegal’s film Well Done Abba. He is the author of the heartwarming and nostalgic New Market Tales, set in the historic New Market area of Kolkata in the 1960s and 1970s. His recent foray into writing performance poetry has brought him acclaim in poetic circles around the country. When he is not in Calcutta, he is either fishing in Himachal, pfaffing in Bombay or being a beach bum in Goa.

The Dogs Declared War


There is no place for street dogs in a modern city. One must collect them and systematically eliminate them without hurting public sentiments. One may propose methods used in the holocaust, or simple poisoning in the night. But then, what happens when the dogs, utterly desperate, choose to leave the city on their own accord? This short wonder of a novella is far superior and more mature than Nabarun’s more popular works (like Kangal Malsat) in terms of subtlety and depiction of human brutality.

b_1
Cover of the First Edition

It questions the much promoted slogan ‘Safe drive. Save life.’ Whose life to be exact? The crows, the dogs and cats — are they ever a part of the design of the human society? Once the author said in an interview, ‘Like I have the right to live in the city, a mosquito also has a right to bite me.’ From this non-anthropological view, the story forms its basic outline. Some critics compare the dogs with Naxalites whom the state chased and picked up like dogs and killed brutally. But I think, the idea is broader and scarier when applied to the helpless classes of the society.

Lubdhak is the Bengali name of the constellation Canis Major or The Greater Dog. In the novella, it acts as a compass for the helpless dogs. They had to leave the city. Lyka and other famous characters also appear as shadowy ghosts. They talk, they show ways, they predict that an asteroid is en route to destroy the city Kolkata like many such events in the past. That’s why the dogs must leave.

The sarcastic narrative, at times, accompanied by short poems, often goes quite experimental presenting a chapter in form of a bullet points and counterpoints. Sometimes, the narrative shifts from the third person to first person narratives of the animals. The continuously shifting voices give the novella a sense of urgency, a collective cry.

Like Khelna Nagar (Toy City), this one also is a dystopian work and can be termed as one of the major literary achievement in Bengali literature.

How Ungreen Had My Valley Become!


This is the first installment of my newly-thought-up series called “To Talk About Bangla Books.” Given the fact that Bangla has this huge collection of good literary stuff and I thought why not talk about them in my blog and they just might pique interests of readers and more fortunately, translators!

11482328

The Tale of the Hasuli Turn by Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay

This is the first novel by Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay I read. Set in 1941, the novel explores the sub-tale (upokatha in Bengali. Interesting to note that the author chooses to call this a sub-tale and not a tale/story, in tandem with the civilized world’s disinterest with the “other world”). The story starts with the villagers’ or residents’ worry about a strange particularly loud whistling in the forest every night. Some thought it must be the restless spirit of “Babathakur” (Godfather) who died years ago before setting the place for Kahars (those people were ‘classified’ as Kahar) to live. They were really scared and thinking up ways of sacrifices and worships to please him. Their leader Banowari was in support of this. Things got complicated when Karali, the youth with modern outlook discovered that it was a king cobra and killed it. Later all other condemned him of this sinister act because that snake was Babthakur’s ride (bahan). Say it because of superstition or tradition, but from then on there was continuous tussle between the new and the old, between faith and logic, between unquestioned submission to the known process and the finding out new dangerous ways. And this has set the core tumult in the novel.

51djuqdH2XL
Backcover. Source: Amazon.in

A constant politics is being played at every conversation, at every action, and how natural and fundamental they are in the core rural life where a person’s very existence depends on small decisions he takes in his daily life, can be easily felt in the author’s expert observations and insightful depiction of human mind. The relationship equations of friendships and love are more fundamental to human nature in here and above the normal sense applied to the civilized world.

23484620
Original Bangla Edition

The language is diversely rich with regional variations of Bangla, and most of the times, the narrative is closely linked with the dialogues and thoughts of the characters. It has been repeatedly emphasized in the novel that the war and hunger of outside world will never affect the reclusive bank of Kopai river (shaped like a scythe, hasuli in Bangla. Pretty much reminded me of Marquez’s Macondo). When at the end, during WW2, the sinister military planes flew over their sky and devoured all the trees in which they slowly had constructed their interdependent habitat, when all his (Banowari’s) people betrayed him by leaving their farmlands and joining the factory, one can see how the outside can affect (or ruin) an almost hidden patch of the forest-land in rural Bengal. The influence of the outsider (Karali, slowly became an outsider to the people) is one of the themes in the book. Coetzee’s works e.g. ‘Age of Iron’, ‘Disgrace’ explicitly deal with this theme. The comparision is far-fetched but worth mentioning.

I can safely conclude that this is a hugely original work and it takes some time to get over the dark, mysterious, mesmerizing world of the bend of Kopai river.

This has a translation available, published by Columbia University Press and can be found here .

Author Interview: Deepti Menon on Satire, Stories and War


Deepti Menon is a well-known name among writers’ circles in India. Writing runs in her blood, as does teaching. She has lived in the Army as a child, and then as a wife, and travelled around the country to places, both beautiful and challenging. In 2002, Arms and the Women, her light-hearted book on life, as seen through the eyes of an Army wife, was published by Rupa Publishers, Delhi.
Many of her short stories have seen the light of day in anthologies as
varied as 21 Tales to Tell, Upper Cut, Chronicles of Urban Nomads, Mango
Chutney, Crossed and Knotted, Rudraksha, Love—an Anthology, The Second Life
and A Little Chorus of Love.

Today, Deepti Menon has agreed to give me an interview for my blog. We’ll talk about many a things, though our focus will be on satire as Mock, Stalk and Quarell, Readomania’s recent offering on satire in form of an anthology has been published and is available in online and offline stores all over India.

AN: How are you doing? Are you ready?

DM: Hi, Anirban! I am like that famed battery… Eveready!

556355_10151422527116575_159157499_n

AN: Ha ha! Good. Our focus of this interview will be on mainly satire. Satire, as we know, is difficult to master. It is a fine art. Can you tell us what inspired you to write a satirical tale? What makes writing satire so difficult?

DM: Writing satire is like tightrope walking. You can either walk on it, perfectly balanced, like a professional artiste, or you can make a perfect clown of yourself as you tumble over in a heap. Satire is a fine-tuned instrument, the kind of writing that needs to hit the target that it is aimed at. If you miss it, you end up sounding ludicrous or hyperbolic.

AN: We have seen recently the bold steps taken by the government, and we are also witnessing the social and political changes India is going through. Many have different opinions about these issues and events. What do you think of the role of satire in expressing one’s opinion in present time?

DM: 2016 will certainly go down as a red-letter year for many reasons – money matters, (pun intended), the Trump card and of course, the end of the Amma era in Tamil Nadu. Is it a coincidence that Cho Ramaswamy, noted humorist and political satirist, also passed away soon after?

Right from ancient times, satire was always seen as a weapon to hold up the ills of society. It is no different today as well. If two pieces are written on the same subject, one in prosaic language and the other veiled in satire, it is always the second one that will evoke more curiosity, and drive the point home, in my opinion.

12063727_10153674931326575_9004688589844287840_n

AN: In the current Indian literary scene, we see a significant lack of satirical work. What is your response to such a situation?

DM: Very true, Anirban! The reason lies within ourselves. We, the homo sapiens, have turned into a dour, humourless society, unable to take a joke in the right spirit, be it in the case of cartoons, books, movies, newspaper articles or even WhatsApp messages. The powers above scream, like the proverbial Queen of Hearts in ‘Alice in Wonderland’, “Off with their heads!” And out pop the bans, which ironically, work well for those banned as they bring up the curiosity quotient.

Isaac Hayes couldn’t have put it more aptly when he said, “There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs of others begins.”

 
AN: In your story in Mock, Stalk and Quarrel titled, The Little Princess, we see a girl in search of true love, defying the social norms. Though, on closer look, it seems more like a parody. Through a mere matter of groom-matching, you have brought out the political situations of the country in a subtly humorous way. Tell us how you have come up with the idea of this story.

DM: Frankly, Anirban, this was a harmless little story that I had written a decade ago, because I wanted to come out with something light-hearted. It did not have any political allusions at all. When the idea of an anthology on satire came about, I stuck to the same story, but added on the rest, so that my story would fit the bill.

AN: Apart from situational comedy, we find many funny Wodehousian dialogues like:

“So what do you think? Isn’t he handsome?” Her eyes twinkled as she smiled at her daughter.

“Hardly, Mamma! He can get lost in a crowd of two!” The girl’s answer ruffled her mother’s feathers.

I have also read an article on Wodehouse by you. How has Wodehouse influenced you in your writing?

DM: I adore Wodehouse, and so, I love this question. I think his books are the epitome of good humour wrapped around in a writing style that is unique. I would often sit and chuckle over certain portions, even when I was travelling, and earned many strange looks in the process! I also feel that humour is one of the most difficult genres to master, and he is a master, indeed. I have friends who disagree with me on this point, but each to their own.

AN: At the end, the man with whom the girl falls in love identifies himself as ‘the Common Man’. In context of love and politics, its significance is something interesting to note down. Do you think that both a lover and a leader can be found amid the Common Man?

DM: “I think comedy and satire are a very important part of democracy, and it’s important we are able to laugh at the idiosyncrasies or the follies or vanities of people in power.” So said Rory Bremner.
I think in an ideal democracy, it should be the Common Man who rules. After all, it he who votes and brings people to power. So, a lover and a leader can be found in the Common Man. Please note that I am not alluding to the present Common Man, high on cough syrup, who sports a scarf.

AN: Recently, you have published your new novel Shadow in the Mirror under Readomania. Many congratulations to you for this success. What difference did you find between writing a short-story and a full-fledged novel? Of course, apart from short stories are short. Ha ha!

DM: Ha ha, indeed! J Thank you so much, Anirban. I feel that short stories need more skill, and that’s purely my opinion, because an entire story with a beginning, a middle and an end, needs to be encapsulated within a given word limit. Hence, the writing needs to be brief, and yet, sparkle enough to catch the imagination of the reader. A novel is a longer read, and the author has time to meander through the theme and make it work at a more leisurely pace.

AN: I have read your stories in Defiant Dreams, Urban Nomads and When They Spoke. A recurring theme of women empowerment can be noticed in your stories. This is also true for the story in Mock, Stalk and Quarrel too. There has not been a better time when the topic of women empowerment is of such importance. What do you think, as a writer, of the role of women in modern creative writing in India?

DM: My stories write themselves. I have never deliberately written a story on women’s empowerment. However, the issue is, perhaps, so strongly engrained in my psyche, that it comes out as a subconscious narrative. I think that all writers, men and women, should try and bring in a renaissance of gender equality and the empowerment of women and children.

AN: Does your new novel touch on similar issues?

DM: ‘Shadow in the Mirror’ is a work of fiction that has autobiographical elements in it. Thus, one of my main characters, who is a journalist, does fight against various issues that impact women negatively.

13900477_10154619148776575_1468391637_n

AN: What do you think of the current Indian literary scene? Also about the publishing trends?

DM: The current Indian literary scene is bursting at its seams with new writers being born and published every day. Today, everyone can write, and does, sometimes well, and at other times, with disastrous results. But I do think that it is a very positive trend which will throw up “full many a gem of purest ray serene” that would otherwise remain hidden “in the dark unfathomed caves of (the) ocean”.

Publishers have also mushroomed over the years. Today you have traditional publishers, vanity publishers and self-publishing, as well. Hence, it is easier to get your manuscript published than it was in the past, like back in 2002, when my first book, ‘Arms and the Woman’ (Rupa Publishers, Delhi) got published.

AN: Name a few of your favourite authors.

DM: George Eliot, Alexander Dumas for their classics, Somerset Maugham, O Henry, Guy de Maupassant and Jeffrey Archer for their short stories, and Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle for their mysteries, are among my favourites. I also enjoy Indian writers like RK Narayan, Ruskin Bond, Shashi Tharoor, Chitra Divakaruni Banerjee and Jaisree Mishra. I have also enjoyed all the books I have read from the Readomania collection.

AN: As an experienced writer, your advice to young writers?

DM: Love books, read and savour them, and identify the genre with which you want to be associated. Most importantly, enjoy what you write, for if you don’t like your own writing, no one else will either.

AN: Thank you for this interview. It’s been a pleasure.

 

DM: Thank you so much, Anirban, for the interesting questions. All the best with all your writing, and God bless!

AN: Thank you very much. Same to you.

 

A pocket-masterpiece: review of A Dog Eat Dog-Food World


A Dog Eat Dog-Food World by C.Suresh was silently published a year ago. A slim book. Only some 90 pages long. But so good that I couldn’t ignore reviewing it.

I had read it when it was published and then read again a few months back. And I realized that when your view about a book changes drastically upon multiple readings, it must be too layered to be understood in the first read. Hence, though I did write a short review on Goodreads a year ago, I think, it deserves a more elaborate treatment.

capture

The book starts with a declaration that it is a pseudo-history, i.e. what would have happened if the things that would happen in the book were true. In other words, an alternate history. To give a sense of the period in which the book is set, the narrator says,

Incidentally, difficult though it must be to believe, the world was not always run by computers and a cell-phone was not something that could only be removed from the body by surgery.

This is a story of an entrepreneur, about how too much money and boredom caused him to start a business, where he hoped he’d be able to spend all his money. Here, the author doesn’t forget to mildly poke fun at the wealth distribution in the world:

People with no money knew what to do with the money, which they did not possess, but people with money seemed merely to be burdened by it. Something was seriously wrong with the disbursal system in Heaven.

Anyway, to find the right business Spike Fortune (yes, what a name!) recruited his nephew Jerry. And thus the concept of boss and subordinate came.

“You are not paid to think, Jerry! Just do as you are told.” Spike did not realize that he had just set the conversational trend for all employers for some time to come.

And what was the business? Yes, as the title suggests, the dog-food! And here, the author brings out some excellent descriptions which are humorous, vivid and full of allusions.

Thus brooding, Jerry moodily kicked at the ground – as human beings are wont to do when they are unable to kick the reason for their worry. Only, the ground seemed a bit squashy and, before Jerry could even take that message in, his entire horizon was full of teeth and fur and a deafening growl.

[…]

When the barking turned suddenly into a duet, he looked around to find a stout middle-aged man also barking at him. It was then that he realized that a chain connected the dog and the man, which meant that one of them was the other’s pet. But for that chain, Jerry would have been minus a nose by now.

[…]

Jerry froze. Had he been a character in a comic, a bright light would have lit up above his head. Then, he jumped up yelling unoriginally, “Eureka”, tripped over the hot water tub and fell down full length. Unlike Archimedes, who got his idea in his bath, Jerry had a bath on getting his idea, with the contents of the hot water tub inundating him.

You get the idea.

There are more on employer-employee relations and office politics. Like appearance of effort is more important than the effort itself.

He was happy that Jerry had done enough work to write a big report but it was too much to expect that he should have to do the work of reading it.

“What is this?”

“The project report for the business, Uncle”, said Jerry.

“Throw that crap down the chute. What does it say? What is the business?”

“D.. D.. Dog foods”, said Jerry, thereby creating the world’s first executive summary.

First thing that happened after the introduction of the cat food, apart from huge sell of the product, was the division of class based on having dog-food.

Also, of course, dog-lovers had now become stratified into the upper class of those who fed dog foods to their dogs and the lower class of those who did not.

And as often happens, when one business flourishes, other similar businesses open up and become rivals. Cat-food Inc was born. The rival was Tom, Spike’s childhood friend. To keep score against your rival, what you do? You come up with market research. And thus, scientific market research came into being. They surveyed the customers and they found that the dog-owners’ responses to their dog-foods were based on how the owners’ days had gone, not whether the dogs liked it. Subtly, the author hints at the real face of market-research; it is more about how the customer feels than how the actual consumer feels.

“My Rosie… she is so cute… when I give her the food, she licks it… so daintily you know… then rolls her eyes like she is in Heaven… then… she is so clever… she gets her tongue around one morsel and.. crunch… she just loves that sound…” and so on and so forth. From which, the young men came to the conclusion, quite rightly, that the entire process of Rosie’s meal was the highlight of her owner’s day. Though it said nothing much about Rosie’s preferences or about what the dog enjoyed the most.

As expected, slowly but inadvertently, the concept of advertising came next. Not only it shows the rise of advertising in every corner of our life, trying to get our attention as much as possible, it also shows how it affects our thinking.

Within a couple of months, not a citizen in the country could walk the streets safe from a soulful dog looking down on him from a hoarding and saying, ‘Won’t you get me DogFood Inc’s dog food, please!”

[…]

Nor were the scrap-feeders spared the ignominy of having their nefarious activities exposed. The pick of the hoardings was of a sweet dog gazing longingly at DogFood Inc’s dog food, while a brutal man tugged at its leash. The speech balloon above the dog said,” Please! I want DogFood Inc’s dog food.” The speech balloon above the man’s head was, “You dumb brute! Don’t think I am going to pamper you.”

[…]

Every time they fed their dogs leftovers, they felt like that brutal man who denied his poor dog the chance to eat good food. Every time they looked at their dogs, it seemed as though they were looking accusingly at them and complaining of ill-treatment. They had to give in.

Similarly, the corporate jargon emerged, to show an utterly simple matter in a complicated language. “Incomprehensibility is wisdom” – seemed the mantra. No wonder management degrees have such high demand.

Later, they went on to advertise the idea of dog as a protector or cat as a mice-eater. Glorifying dogs would glorify its keepers i.e. the owners. In other words, whatever is good for the dog was good for the owner. On closer inspection, you see, such things are shown everywhere – be it a smartphone company or a deodorant manufacturer. Having a smartphone means you’re smart, applying a particular deodorant makes you a real man.

The dog-show, like a tech-fest, did just that.

To win prizes in dog shows bestowed an aura on the winners that almost rivalled Royalty. The erstwhile door-to-door salesmen worked to such good effect that the entire country did all the other trivial jobs associated with living in Society – like agriculture – in the brief intervals between dog shows.

It doesn’t end here. This concept is further broadened later – to spread the goodness of feeding your dog the proper food throughout the world – and voila, we have the concept of colonization.

The crowning glory would come when it started determining what you ought to wish for and thrust it on you.

The concept of a product can be rooted so deep that it can give rise to racism. The companies decided to label a particular pet for a particular class, and thereby, a particular type of food for that pet. This is another name of – you know it very well – market segmentation. Persian cat was for high class society, the alley cat for utilitarian. Strangely, due to presence some rare nutrients in Persian cat-food, it was priced three times more. Division of such classes led to:

Lady 1: “Oh! Alvin is here! What a perfect Pekinese man! And his wife Dora is such a happy person, as who would not be when married to Alvin”

Lady 2: “Do you know what he has gone and done? Bought an Alsatian!”

Lady 1: “No, really? The fellow has hidden predatory instincts, then? Wouldn’t be surprised if he beats his wife. I always thought that Dora must be hiding her unhappiness. She smiles too brightly.”

Lady 2: “You never can trust appearances these days”

Or,

“Ellen never did know how to bring up children. Heard what her eldest has done? Married a Balinese owner.”

“Oh! Thrown over Peter, has she? Such a perfect boy – good Persian owner stock. What are these young girls coming to?”

“I blame Ellen. If she does not get a hold on her children, her second daughter may end up marrying a dog-owner.”

Both ladies would then look at each other with horrified pleasure.

The corporate became so powerful that they started affecting the government and had it amend laws that would help them. This is a hint to capitalism which later at the final sentence is alluded by, “The invisible hand has writ and, having writ, moved on. Now, we are all left staring aghast at the writing on the wall!”

So we see that though on surface it seems a mere fun story of how two rivals of pet-food compete, many darker, more complicated issues are subtly hidden underneath. And only upon carefully studying these lines, one would be able to truly appreciate how layered this deceptively simple looking novella is.

After a long time, I have read a work of satire that is so good that it can stand proudly with other great satirical works. I am quite amazed about this little masterpiece and I hope that a work like this would be widely read and appreciated.