Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Too Serious?

Serious Men, by Manu Joseph
Sometimes what you really need is to laugh.  And there are few ideas funnier than men who take themselves very seriously.  This novel isn’t a fluffy comedy though.  There are many wonderfully humorous passages, but they are set within the grittiness of Mumbai’s Worli chawls, and the serene and spotless tranquility of an Institute of Theory and Research, its picture windows looking out onto acres of private park nestled against Mumbai coast line.
Ayyan Mani, a Dalit clerk, sets himself against Arvind Acharya, the  Brahmin director of the research institute.  The uneducated clerk scrabbles for all crumbs of information the Brahmin scientists drop, carrying them home to share with his son and wife.  The top scientist, on the other hand, has never learned the names of his servants. When his wife has to tell him that his nail clippers have always been kept in a polka dotted bag, he is bewildered by the concept:  polka dots?  He has never heard of them.  In fact, he has always felt privileged to be isolated from the “trivialities of life.”
Although both characters are likable, (if you enjoy characters behaving despicably!)  the reader both hopes that the underdog will win, and that the blissfully arrogant research director won’t be harmed too badly.  This novel is about the new India, where traditions are changing, a place where the Dalit explains to his neighbors “ Our lives, my friend, are over.  For our children, we must move.”  A fiercely practical man, he schemes and lies to make his son’s life better than his has been.  Events work out reasonably well for both men, the writing is delightfully descriptive, and the ridiculousness of their worlds is lampooned so beautifully that this book about serious men should leave you with a smile.

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