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.
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”
“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.