Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Beast of Big Money

"The Story of My Assassins,” by Tarun J Tejpal, 2009

Many times ‘fiction’ or literature tells you more about a country than all the history, sociology or economics books you want to read.  This book is one.  It is centered around the narrative of a self-centered middle class man in Delhi who thinks with his dick and fancies himself a realist.  Instead he’s just another arrogant know-nothing with an education.  This temporary public figure is ostensibly the subject of an assassination attempt by the Pakistani ISI.  At least that is what the Indian police are telling him. 

Sirji is seen sitting around his office at a muckraking political journal never writing, never doing any investigations, and never talking as his friend tries to save the journal.  He ignores the crippled family dog that tries to approach him. He ignores his wife, his mother, his family and only obsesses about having sex against a wall with Sara, a political hot potato he’s fallen in sex with.  The realist periodically visits Guriji, a practical ‘holy’ man who advises him on what to do with his life.  

After this alleged attempted assassination, he’s surrounded by Indian security and over a three year period is drawn into the labyrinth of stories around this event.  The analogies to Kafka’s “The Castle” are not strained.  His girlfriend Sara, a leftist of some sort, believes his assassins – 5 of them – are innocent, and starts helping them.  In between his narrations we get the stories of the 5 men.  Their stories give the reader insight into the real lives of rural Indians – a class oppressed by the higher castes, the police, politicians and businessmen who run India.  Essentially the stories show that crime is a logical response to their abuse.   

‘Assassin’ 1 is Chaaku, a quiet farm kid whose father is in the Indian army and never sees him.  He is bullied for years by the higher castes in the village.  Chaaku meets a kid who shows him how to use a knife, then gives him one, a rampuria.  He keeps it sheathed between his legs for 7 years.  At 16 Chaaku eventually cuts up three higher-caste Sikh bullies and has to run from the village through the cane fields.  The father of the boys kills Chaaku’s family dogs, his men rape his sisters and mother, cut the finger off one boy and light the fields on fire. Ultimately they break every bone in his uncle’s body. Hiding at a relatives business far away, then bailing from there to Delhi, he becomes the homosexual ‘arm’ of a tough crooked businessman, Mr. Healthy.

‘Assassin’ 2 is Kabir, a Muslim boy terminally frightened by the effects of the 1947 Partition, which his father experienced.  After hearing about children from his village butchered by Indian right-wing mobs, and seeing the broken body of one, he teaches his son to be invisible.  Kabir did not want to stitch bangles to wedding dresses and escapes the hutment to work in the safety of a movie theater showing Hindi films – shades of “Cinema Paradisio.”  He eventually becomes a thief, specializing in cars, happiest when locked up in prison.  In the process, his penis is crushed by the police when they discover he is Muslim.  It becomes of no use except for urination.

‘Assassins’ 3 & 4 are Kalliya and Chini, young boys – one, the son of destitute wandering snake charmers, and Chini, dumped on a train as a young boy by a Chinese uncle.  They live like the Artful Dodger and Oliver in a gang living in a Delhi train station.  They sniff what seems like glue, as Tejpal writes, to forget ‘all the noise, all the stink, all the iron, all the piss, all the shit, all the policemen, all the rancid food, all the rags, all the scabs, all the offal, the offal, the offal.”  After 10 years of this, they join a bigger gang in the Peepul tree, a more dangerous gang, using screwdrivers to maim. 

Lastly, assassin 5 – Hathoda Tyagi.  The man with an ‘asshole of iron.’ As a young man, with massive muscles developed while shot-putting, Tyagi killed 3 upper-caste boys with a hammer after they raped his sisters.  He is the ‘brain curry’ man and becomes the most feared killer in his part of India.  Tyagi becomes the right-arm of the biggest gang in Upper Pradesh, mostly made up of low-caste ethnic Gurjar, led by the wraith Donullia Gujjar.  Tyagi has his little finger crushed by Donullia to prove he is loyal.  Like Robin Hood, the gang fights for ‘the people,’ is open to all religions and nationalities and rains terror and death on the ‘enemies of the people.’  They also have alliances with politicians, businessmen and religious orders, and are eventually betrayed by the former.  

This story is based on true events tracked by the author.  You will learn that Indian fakirs are big on hashish.  You will see that the re-occurring rapes of Indian women seem to be part of the woodwork.  You will be exposed to the constant petty violence and crudity of a capitalist society riven by class, caste and religion, where only money and power are important.  Blaming the Pakistani ISI for all bad things is the easiest claim to make in India.  The chutiya Sirji’s arguments with Sara over what really happened are finally settled, as the mystery of this assassination is revealed. 

Other Indian fiction reviewed below:  The White Tiger,” “Between the Assassinations” and “Last Man in Tower.”  “The God of Small Things” is also recommended, though not reviewed.  Use blog search box, upper left.

P.S. - 11/24/2014 - The Guardian does a series on Mumbai - about the "politician-developer' nexus.

Red Frog
October 26, 2014

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