Sunday, August 2, 2015

Book Review: The Persecution of Madhav Tripathi by Aditya Sudarshan

About fifty pages into Aditya Sudarshan’s The Persecution of Madhav Tripathi, I realized I still hadn't gotten into whatever was going on; that my mind, unable to get involved in the story or plot, had began to drift. And throughout the book The Persecution of Madhav Tripathi just couldn't get me interested and at times (for I am one of those who doesn't like to leave a book incompletely read) I felt that I had taken on a chore that I would be unable to complete.

This was surprising. I had found Aditya Sudarshan's earlier novel, Show Me a Hero, interesting. And even a cursory browse through The Persecution of Madhav Tripathi or reading the book's blurb promises the reader much — a "cryptic thriller and hallucinatory fantasy" and "a novel of ideas" all rolled into one. From its Kafkaesque beginning, the young bureaucrat, Madhav Tripathi, finds strange things happening to him — He loses his way and ends up in an unfamiliar part of the town where a policeman takes him away and Madhav finds himself abducted. Things keep getting weirder and weirder and life threatening for Madhav — a long-lost and forgotten school friend suddenly reenters his life hell-bent on showing him the "reality.” A right wing militant outfit, with unclear motives seems to be behind the complications befalling Madhav, later a former girlfriend who is now living in a slum, too turns up and she has her own axe to grind with him. Within this helter-skelter of a mix Sudarshan throws in a bunch of characters on Madhav's side of the war - Shivani, Madhav's beautiful girlfriend, who is a target too of the persecution for being a liberated woman and Madhav's girlfriend; the formidable Secretary, Madhav’s primary ally who seems superhuman and for whom nothing situation seems impossible; Danesh Khan, a filmmaker; S. Krishnan, a cynical, leftist journalist; and Atul Pradhan, a businessman of questionable ethics. And there is Vinay, seemingly of inexhaustible resources, who lives in a castle ringed by a moat and has a dank stone dungeon, who offers it as a place of refuge to Madhav. Add to all this high society partying, fantastic and improbable hideouts, frequent interludes of what seems to be magical realism and fantasy (invitees at a party begin to fly, probably buoyant on their own self-importance), numerous betrayals and back-stabbing, murders and lynching, a football match to decide life and death all weaved together with Madhav's broodings and Sudarshan’s philosophical musings.

It all is very impressive and an ambitious conceit — combine a cryptic thriller with hallucinatory fantasy to comment on India's educated elite questioning their identity and ideology, whose liberalism makes them "pseudo" but whose westernized lifestyle has alienated them from India's suppressed and oppressed masses. The Persecution of Madhav Tripathi touches upon numerous issues of today right-wing fanaticism, moral policing, imbalanced distribution of wealth and development, farmer suicides, ecological degradation, poverty, corruption, attack on freedoms, the crisis of India's educated and wealthy elite — but somehow for me all of that never came together. Or perhaps, it is likely, that I couldn't handle and comprehend this rich a mix.

As a blurb or an idea Aditya Sudarshan’s The Persecution of Madhav Tripathi teases us with an interesting prospect of an intense and deep story and agenda. But while reading it, there are long stretches of incomprehensibility and bewilderment — to me the book began to feel like an eternity, that I would never be able to manage getting to its last page. There is no doubt about Sudarshan's talent. Even after finishing plodding through the book and wondering what it was trying to do, Sudarshan did enough to plant the idea in my head that perhaps it was me, the reader, who is inadequate and incapable of comprehending what he, the author has attempted with the book (and hence a failed attempt to read it again). The book leaves you with feelings of disquiet. However, the relief of finally reaching the last page of this book which never managed to grip, for me, at least, was greater. Whether that is the reader's inadequacy or the author's fault is a question open to debate.

Note: Thanks to Aditya Sudarshan for a review copy of the The Persecution of Madhav Tripathi. Also my apologies and a special thank you for his immense patience - this post was months in coming.

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