Monday, March 07, 2005

the great indian ripoff

Shashi Tharoor is a UN bureaucrat. He went to one of those posh Delhi colleges. He likes to write, was clearly inspired by Rushdie’s playfulness with the language (who wasn’t), and being a good Hindu (his own words), he is thoroughly versed in Mahabharata. So much so that he wrote a book, the Great Indian Novel, retelling of the great epic, in the modern Indian setting.

Very quickly: Gandhi is Bheeshm, Nehru – Dhritarashtra, Subhas Bose – Pandu. Jinnah is Karna, and Pakistan is Karnistan – the hacked off land. Patel is Vidur, Dronacharya – JP Narayan, Indira – Priya Duryodhoni. Desai is Yudhishtir, Draupadi is the Indian democracy, Bheem is the army, Arjun is the press, Nakul-Sahadev are the bureaucracy. The whole thing is told as an octogenarian freedom fighter older statesman Ved Vyas narrating his biography to a bald South Indian note taker with big nose called Gana Pati (Ganapati is another name for Ganesh – Mahabharata was narrated by Ved Vyas to Ganesh). The story works brilliantly until the 1960s, but falls through as the emergency and Janata rule are depicted as Kurukshetra and its aftermath.

The last quarter notwithstanding, it’s a great read. Tharoor is very Rushdiesque, fine, good Rushdie aping is better than most recent Rushdie original. There are plenty of literary allusions – most effective being the Jallianwallabagh massacre taking place in a garden called Bibigarh, which is where the rape takes place in the Jewel of the Crown, with the British troops being commanded by Col Rudyard Kipling. Kipling’s classic story the Man who would be King provides the title of the chapter on Kashmir’s accession (the man who would not be king). This is actually my favourite part of the book. Vidur/Patel is in the palace trying to persuade Maharaja Vyabhichar Singh (vyabhichar = adultery) while the latter is given oral pleasures by a French girl. Absolutely hilarious.

Anyway, I’m no bureaucrat, nor did I ever attend a fancy dame school. I do like to write though, but I’m much more influenced by soap operas than epics. Kahani ghar ghar ki, and because we’re not unaffected by the West, Dallas, rather than Mahabharata. So while Tharoor comes up with the Great Indian Novel, I conjure the great Indian ripoff - the ultimate Desi soap opera.