Jojo needs a little time. Review of KALYUG
It is Mrs Pandit, one of the political characters in the book (or should I say, political caricatures) who says, ‘Jojo needs a little time before he takes on more responsibilities. I think by the time the next elections take place, he will be ready for a more… significant leadership role.’ The caricatures don’t end with this one character but go on and try and ape the sort of scenario that most of us have been seeing India step into.
So we have the fact that ‘the controversy over any scam these days revolved not around the core issues but the number of zeros in the figures calculated by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India…’ and the umpteen other instances ranging from political inconsistencies to the fact that ‘the rot in our systems is more than skin-deep – it requires us to clean it inside-out, top-to-bottom,. We have to change the way our blood thinks; no longer should we accept mediocrity, never in others nor within ourselves.’ As one reads further one feels the India that is around us. Frankly, as I read some of these passages and chapters I felt it would have been better for R Sreeram, the author to have stuck to a telling tale of the sort of democracy that India has evolved into. But no, he was bitten by the bug of writing a thriller and so he had to bring in disconcerting diversions like an army revolting, a coup, terrorists, creation of organisations like INSAF or the Indian Securities Agencies’ Federation and all the mess that happens when a writer mixes the volatile nature of a thriller, the sedate meandering of chronicling history, and jocular innuendoes that a reader’s can easily attach to. This mess is almost similar to if a sniper is sighted when a stand-up comedy is going on. People laugh as real bullets fly around, thinking taking them to be rubber bullets and escape because the sniper had a terrible aim anyway!
Kalyug is a book that spent over three hundred and eighty pages to find out what it wants to be and surprisingly remained where it was, unsure and probably a trifle guilty of pushing in this sort of bloody political drama on an unwary India. This isn’t America, and this doesn’t happen in India, to India, is all I can say. And believe me, I half expected the book to conjure up UFOs and a few super heroes too while the author was hell-bent imitating the sort of plots that the western readers love.
Not to say that the reader in me totally disagrees with the writer of Kalyug… I smiled when I read what he writes about our media: ‘When was the last time you read an article in any of the major newspapers or sites without wondering about the political affiliations of the editorial board? When was the last time you saw a channel treat all its guests fairly – at least, in your opinion?’ I almost guffawed at this… and said, ‘Hey! This author can beat anyone if he decides to write the India that he sees around him.’ But well, this author had to go in search of ‘a trigger for everything. Even a coup. Or rather, should I say, especially a coup. There is some incident that captures the public imagination, that fires up the violence in the soul, that is a call to arms and to action.’ And I know, dear Mr Sreeram, that the trigger in your story is the way India is being treated by the political and the administrative classes, the netas and the babus, so to say. I know that you are probably as frustrated by the fact that ‘as long as you have two hundred and seventy-seven members backing you, you can run this country. You can change whatever laws you want. Change the constitution too, and make an officer of the party as unimpeachable as the prime minister or the president.’ But you opted to create characters who believe that ‘absolute powers, Mr Selvam, without any absolute majority’ is the right recipe for a thriller that piggy-backs on politics. The novel does debate the easy logic of detractors and the potential dictators that there are now in India ‘no majority governments – it’s all coalitions. Every ally is a safeguard against the kind of runaway governance you are worrying about. Plus, you’ve got an active judiciary, a powerful – if flawed – fourth estate…’
The novel is all about a wayward cartel called ‘powerhouse’ with all its unheard of bargaining power, already has a hold on the functioning of the nation and just wants to finally raise its head. It was indeed disconcerting to read about what only runs as rumours not just in the corridors of power but also in literate and semi-literate alleyways and on kerbsides. Don’t a lot of us whisper about imaginary cartels that have ‘already bought a lot of influence across the political spectrum. What if they are the ones remotely running the government and dictating its policies?’ Obviously, if you’re the sort who gets excited reading fiction which places all these imaginary thoughts onto the pages and weaves a thriller out of them, you are going to love the book. You’ll love to read how these cartels are so much into snooping of all sorts (and we have the papers talking all about snoopgate these days!) and has ‘scandalous information on family members. Influence with foreign governments. Labour unions. The ability to make or break the lives of you and your descendants…’ Yes, this sort of mixing of what makes the headlines and what tickles imagination is what this book is made up of.
But let me warn you that I did not see any vision or a futuristic verity on the pages of this novel and so all I can say is that this isn’t real fiction! And yet, as I am finishing writing this review, I am re-reading the title I’ve chosen and chuckling: ‘Jojo isn’t ready yet to take command, madam!’
Author: R Sreeram
Publisher: Westland Books
Price: Rs 395/- (in 2015)
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13 April 2015