Senior journalist Manu Joseph's 'Serious Men' takes you right into the heart of Mumbai at the outset – from Marine Drive and the jogging aunties, to groping couples on that wall of love (shame?) to a chawl, and a fancy science institute. He also rams you straight into the class/ caste war, without bothering to pull any punches.
It begins and ends with Ayyan Mani, the main character. His distaste for Brahmins, his hatred for a system of hierarchy that's kept him and his family shackled for generations, goes smoothly with his own burning ambition on his son's behalf, and his knowledge of how to work the system while subverting it from within. You start out only seeing that he's slimy and shady, despite being a devoted father and loving/lusting husband - by the end you realise he's the fulcrum, pivotal to the entire plot, and a reflection of the entire system.
Joseph doesn't shy away from nailing the lie of tokenism when it comes to reservation for Dalits, how so often, upper castes resent and belittle those "beneath" them, how that long-ago-banished hierarchy is still so obviously at play - of course if you live in this country, you can't not know this - but it's another thing altogether to see it manifest so cynically in black and white. Joseph is scathing in tone as he describes the middle class and intellectual elite and all their pretensions. He also understands something of what women have to go through, and pretend not to notice when it comes to lecherous, creepy men they're surrounded by, at times. And he's certainly not overly kind in chronicling the delusions and frailties of old age, or specifically older men.
Senior journalist Manu Joseph\'s \'Serious Men\' takes you right into the heart of Mumbai at the outset.
But there's definitely a reverence for the search for truth, for science, even as he slams the BS that surrounds most talk of either. Here's someone who understands the value of the search for truth, but the way that's made banal every day. Set between a chawl and the renowned institute, The Institute of Theory and Research, it documents the petty politics, the burning quest for proof of extra-terrestrial life, the slow devaluation of an aging astronomer genius...the fall from his pedestal courtesy a broken woman and former seductress...it's all here.
The flesh and blood and spirit comes from Ayyan Mani and his jaundiced take on life. How he works the system, his "secret" pact with his "genius" of a son is a pleasure to read. He's the one who wins...and in such an "Indian" way too, the inheritor of this half-smashed system.
Be warned though, this one's going to leave you with an after-taste and serious thoughts on society...no doe-eyed walk in the woods, this!
(Serious Men is available from HarperCollins India for Rs 499/-)