Goodreads blurb: “I was born in a mentally retarded nation.” – Thus begins this provocative, stylish, and racy literary rant against India by a twenty-four-year-old awaiting capital punishment.
When Dr M Vidyasagar (‘Sagar’), retired chief of CBI, gets an unusual request from his old friend and the President of India to privately investigate if Vikrant Vaidya—sentenced to death for motivelessly killing his teenage neighbour Iqbal—is innocent or not, little does he know how convoluted a conspiracy he is setting foot in.
With a narrative that springs forth from and weaves its way through the Emergency, anti-Sikh riots post Indira Gandhi’s assassination, Ram Janmabhoomi Rath Yatra, anti-Mandal Commission protests, economic liberalisation, Babri Masjid demolition, and Godhra riots, readers will find themselves in the grips of a chimerical tale, asking and answering the question: Is India truly a mad nation?
Call it providence, coincidence or whatever, but the release of Gabbar is back in theaters and me reading Autobiography of a Mad Nation at around the same time is quite funny, in the sense that both these works deal with pretty much the same theme – vigilante justice. I know, comparing a book to a mostly mindless Bollywood movie is not speaking too much in favor of the book, but honestly, I thought the plot that the book dealt with and how it is treated in the narrative as well is a little ‘jingoistic’, to say the least.
While the blurb and the beginning of the book seem to point towards quite a riveting story with enough intrigue and suspense, very quickly it boils down to an extremely Bollywoodish treatment of the plot itself. What with a bunch of old schoolmates getting together and rallying around the idealistic whims and fancies of one of their batchmates and seeking revenge for what they perceive as society’s wrongs on him and his life. This is the stuff that movies are meant to be made of, catering to the lowest common denominator of the cinema-viewing audience. In my opinion, and this is probably just me, mind you, books are usually written for a more discerning audience, an audience which doesn’t quite take things at face value and doesn’t usually have extraordinarily idealistic and jingoistic view of the events happening around them. Unfortunately, the author seems to have forgotten that he is actually writing a novel and is not penning the script of the next Bollywood blockbuster. And what is worse is that even if he were writing a script for a movie, the fact remains that this particular plot has been rehashed a countless times over in India as well.
All of the above being said, I have to admit that the author does have an easygoing writing style and the pages turn themselves quite well. Despite the fact that there are multiple characters with storylines running in parallel, the proceedings don’t get too muddled and everything makes sense throughout the novel. However, just these don’t make a good novel, do they? And my biggest issue with this book lies with the fact that the blurb and promotional material seem to promise a story spanning generations and decades, which the author simply fails to deliver. The book does have quite an interesting premise, but is let down by the extremely filmy treatment of the subject matter.
Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers in return for a honest and unbiased review.