Satire of chaos in family life

Satire of chaos in family life

The politician’s 16-year-old first-born, Arjun, is in the throes of adolescent angst and wants to impress a girl by starting a rock band; the rest of his brood of 13 clamour for attention in their own distinctive ways; his wife Sangita — when she’s not breeding — is watching television 24/7. His house “was the riots of 1947, the children massacring one another with a calm disrespect for personal boundaries... a pack of wolves with no Mowgli to raise, a team of Jihadis so bored they’d declared holy war on one another.” That makes the personal backdrop of the novel.
 
On the political front, Ahuja belongs to the KJSZP (H2O2) party that is in power and he, as Urban Development Minister, is obsessed with building flyovers to ease Delhi’s congested traffic situation. When he isn’t planning flyovers, he’s resigning. He has sent in his resignation to the Super Prime Minister 62 times for reasons such as snide remarks on family planning directed at him by his colleagues, over their remarks on his flyover project, over not being offered a share of a corrupt deal, over being offered a share of a corrupt deal etc. 

Ahuja has secrets he wants his son, Arjun, to know — that Sangita who dotes on him is not his mother; that his real mother, Rashmi, died in an accident when the boy was a toddler; that the numerous siblings Arjun dutifully babysits and takes care of are his half-brothers and half-sisters; that Rashmi was as beautiful and sophisticated as Sangita is rustic and simple; that he, Rakesh Ahuja, in a complicated twist of fate was cheated into marrying Sangita soon after Rashmi’s death. So what does he do? He resigns a 63rd time so that he can take the day off to speak to Arjun.

Although the Ahuja family itself is a ludicrous caricature that can get the readers to laugh, there is an undercurrent of poignancy that runs through their lives. Ahuja’s, Sangita’s and Arjun’s lives are sad in their own ways. Mahajan’s best lampooning, however, is reserved for the burlesque that is Indian politics.

For example, writing on Ahuja’s party’s symbol, he says, “The original party image was a bar of soap with an inverted, spiky bottle-cap pressed under it. The image was one of cleanliness, improvisation, urban thrift. Unfortunately, most people simply thought the contraption was an overturned, defeated battle-tank... volunteers for the party over the years had been taught to stick posters upside down, keeping the tank erect.”

In another instance, Ahuja’s party colleagues resign enmass because their wives are unhappy that a popular TV star died in the latest episode of a prime-time soap. Protests and marches are held to reinstate the dead star. The Super Prime Minister of course has the upper hand. She cleverly manoeuvres things in such a way that she saves the party as well as thwarts the strike the nation has threatened.

An attention grabbing debut written at a furious pace, the action in the 400-odd pages take place within the span of a few days. As a satirical look at family and politics in India, it is at once absurd and moving.

Family planning
Karan Mahajan
Rupa, 2009,
pp 218, Rs 395

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