Many, award winning novels tend to dwell in the melancholic view of emerging India, and Serious Men by Manu Joseph is no exception. But rather than dwelling on it, the novel traverses from one protagonist to another, hence mellowing down the somberness it starts with. Witty brilliance of a Dalit that watches and finally saves a passionately truth seeking genius Brahmin is the platter offered.
The story has the two protagonists, a Dalit (Ayyan Mani) and a Brahmin (Arvind Acharya) set in the world of Institute of Theory and Research. If calling out Dalit and Brahmin seems politically incorrect, then that is something the novel cries out loud about how often truth is buried under the name of political correctness. The characters are clearly etched and maintained through out.
Ayyan’s cynical and gripe view of the Brahmin world, his simple love for his family, imaginative pranks he invents to escape the mundane life sets the scene for the story of serious men to unfold. In these times of wikileaks, how he uses simple telephone-receiver-displacement strategy to get all the leaks are an ironic display of his misused intelligence. Aravind Acharya the towering figure of the institute, the front man of serious men, numbed by familiarity of marital love, gets the right build up of his character, only to fall into old age infatuation. When he feels for the failed aliens search mission ignoring even his lost love, his passion is exposed in its pristine form. Other supportive characters like Oja Mani, Adi, Lavanya, Oparna, Jana are developed and allowed to augment the protagonist in their own way.
The author showcases nuances of simple human behaviors in casually set scenes that show his keen observance and analysis of human psyche. The message of the day Ayyan writes evokes a smile, at the same time hits you with his angst. First few chapters are filled with antagonism against Brahmins. Its overkill after a point because of the reiteration in various forms. Later into the story there is a subtle implication that Brahmin is the word Ayyan chooses to describe the haves as against the Dalit have-nots. Even though title ‘Serious Men’ suggests it would be a story about men in IT&R, for most of the part, it is a story on the game played by Ayyan. In the mid a transition does take place to set the stage in IT&R and pass on the reigns to Acharya, but it ends too quickly only to return back to Ayyan. The conspiracy Ayyan develops starts in a slow pace, intermingles with the conspiracy inside IT&R to a racy avenging climatic battle.
The often repeated description of male characters peeking at woman’s physique, Oparna sighing on all men in her life always paying attention to her femininity, omnipresent cynical view of people and situations by both the protagonist ,politically incorrect raw statements here and there, seems to be a recipe or a prerequisite for an award winning novel. In the midst of Ayyan’s personal war against Brahmins, his own wrong-doings go uncaught and unpunished. Having two protagonists from two extremes of Indian society and having them tide through each other’s misfortunes are refreshing. Might be that is an indication of how to deal with our differences though not obvious.