Serious Men

by Manu Joseph

Read time: about 4 minutes

I heard Manu Joseph on the stage during the Bangalore Literature Festival of 2017. He’d appeared on a talk about crime in fiction. During the talk, one of the writers read a short passage from her novel—the passage was about sloppy sex between what seemed like a female serial killer and her victim. It was so boring I did not listen. Joseph took a direct dig at her mentioning how he’d once read such a sex scene from one of Salman Rushdie’s novels and didn’t feel like having sex for some days (or something like that). And then, there he was in a talk about Nationalism, Populism and the Threat to the Global Liberal Order. I thought we needed more journalists like him!

His debut novel, Serious Men is no different. It’s got the same crude honesty, the same satirical tone—I could almost hear him narrate the whole thing.

Cover: Serious Men

Cover page

So the Kindle edition I bought has this comic-like cover that has elephants with a red eye, which is some great story to read in the book; hot air balloons, which is also a significant part of the story, phones (oh yes, you guessed it!) and the skyline of a metropolis—this story is based in Mumbai, so… All I can say is that the cover contains little bits from the story.

Content

In short, this is about a few men, who are fighting battles with the world and each other. This book can be classified as satire. It takes a dig on everybody, from scientists, to politicians, to clerks and the press. From to-be-brides to housewives (the poor and the “elite”) to slum-dwellers to everybody who’s part of the story. Even animals, in a way.

Most of the story revolves around members of The Institute of Theory and Research. Ayyan Mani is the secretary to the Director of the Institute; Mani has had a tough life. He’s fought his battles from childhood living in the BDD Chawl, outgrowing all his friends and becoming a “family man” with a son whom he wants to introduce to the world as a genius boy.

The scientists in the Institute are all Brahmins according to him—in fact, he sees the world as being full of Brahmins and Dalits: the fair-skinned, well-to-do people being the Brahmins and the others being the Dalits. To him, everything around revolves around castes.

The story is a satirical take on what happens in India today. Office politics, politics outside of office, caste-based differences, caste-based fundamentalism, love, betrayal, and many that happens around you.

The content is an absolute pleasure to read.

Language

To be honest, I don’t know how to pick books. I’m very bad at that. I only get to know if a book is good or bad after I’m at least fifty pages into it. Of late, I the books I read were so bad in terms of language that I did not want to review them. I ended up picking technical books—language is not a major issue in them.

This book came like a breath of fresh air. The language is simple, civilised, and the flow is simply great; once I picked up pace at about 20%, I did not even realise how I reached 93%.

Good points

The language is the first point. The content is great. The author has depicted the simplest of things about human nature in interesting ways.

‘Of all human deformities,’ he said softly, ‘genius is the most useful.’

Bad points

I cannot think of anything that was a deal-breaker.

Overall

An excellent book. It’s got quality content, great sense of humour, solid observations, and a smooth flow.

Whom do I recommend this to

To fans of satire. All types of intellectuals, in fact.

Quotable Quotes

If you stare long enough at serious people they will begin to appear comical.

Love was insignificant—a devious evolutionary device.

… despite the misfortunes of poverty, would somehow have to find a way to get into an engineering college. And then ensure that he did not spend a single day of his life as an engineer. Because everyone would tell him then that the real money was in MBA.

The fate of every love story, he knew very well, is in the rot of togetherness, or in the misery of separation.

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Ram Iyer

Writer, PowerShell addict, typographer, self-acclaimed rationalist.

Bangalore, KA ramiyer.me