This is what the First City blog had to say about Animal’s People, one of the six books shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. The Prize was announced last evening in London. The winner is… well, inconsequential to this post.
I had commented in defense of the book in their comments section to the piece, but I deleted it for several reasons.
One is that I think it merits an entire post [long overdue now], and isn’t meant as a defense as much as it’s about my [selective] views on the book in the context of these remarks. So here goes…
On befriending Jaanwar [Animal]
“I used to be human once” is how he starts, hinting with his first words, that a genuine friendship between you and him is, if not impossible, a questionable proposition.
Jaanwar walks on all fours. His arse is higher than his head and he can smell out people who haven’t washed their crotches, in a crowd.
Jaanwar will have you know at the outset that he doesn’t value your opinion much. He’ll deliberately mislead you. He’ll pretend to trust you. He’ll have you buy into the ostensible innocence of his most outrageous deeds. He’s manipulative and he thinks it’s all well within his right to be so unreliable, because, after all, he isn’t human.
Jaanwar’s words are clever because he is clever. Chaalu. Street smart. You [Eyes] are meant to get beyond this cleverness. He’s very clear he doesn’t want your middle class friendship. It’s nothing but a burden to him unless of course it can either a.) help him walk straight b.) get him laid. At least that’s what he’ll have you know.
He’s telling you this story because it must be told. Because he has a duty. Because he has been infected, by the end, by your [Zafar’s] middle class notion of fairly won justice. So he thinks you will appreciate this story, because inexplicable as it is, that’s how, according to him, your world works.
The New York magazine had it spot on when they called it “scabrously funny”. Jaanwar is a wily mischief maker, and he’ll offer no apology for it. He, who shares an unspoken bond of mutual respect with scorpions, doesn’t care whether you think he's adopted an appalling trick of glorifying misery – his scabrousness as much as his disdain towards you and the many people who’ve expressed sympathy over ‘that night’ – or whether you feel pity. He is unmoved. Show him a miracle, not your sympathy or your hand in meaningless friendship.
He clearly wants to goad you [Eyes] over your assumption [which may well be a clichéd perception on his part] that all villains are bastards, and those that they perpetrate their villainy upon are allowed a meek dignity that comes with acceptance or then the haloed righteousness that must burn through nothing less than a raging rebellion. But it is possible, isn’t it, for someone to be both [in this case – a bit of] a bastard and the survivor of another’s bastardry.
Bhopal in a poor guise as Khaufpur
The metaphor was meant to be ‘ill’-disguised. Given that Bhopal does exist, that IS has spent 14 years writing and editing for the Bhopal Medical Appeal, and that Khaufpur is Bhopal, it would be unfair to suggest that setting it here is merely a gimmick designed to milk the most of Indian exotica. That said, the cover is a seriously unforgivable disaster, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for feeling this disgust, purely for its lack of visual appeal.
The Booker Prize
I’m not surprised that Animal hasn’t won the Booker. It is not ‘expansive’ enough in that it does not speak of generic things that are of interest or relevance to an ‘international audience’ [the definition of which is at best truly confounding] like American paranoia, sexual angst or dysfunctional social constructs; it doesn’t creep around sturdy, time tested pearls from English literature – either Biblical or non… and I’m sorry I cannot draw up any pithy observation about the fifth book.
And really, it doesn’t matter. The Booker forum has already brought it as far as it could in aid of what it [the book] set out to do – [get you past the cloying 1980s development sector imagery of the cover, and] be heard in what it tells you about the deep, alive and spreading roots of poison that Dow has sown in Bhopal, in the words of someone who continues to live with the repercussions each waking moment long before and well after we’re done dispensing our opinion on the literary merits of his voice.