‘I was born in a mentally retarded country’
Thus begins the autobiography of a mad nation, the nation where ‘…intelligence was not an unrecognized virtue in the Sovereign, Socialist, Democratic, Republican Morondom of India, it was a much hated vice.’
Written in seething anger, Autobiography of a Mad Nation is a part chronicle of the nation’s momentous events post independence, a part conspiracy, a part murder mystery and a part literary rant of sorts.
Beginning with a bewildering letter written to the People’s President by the ‘…supposedly highly intelligent and neurotic…’ killer awaiting capital punishment, claiming innocence and taking the form of a murder mystery, the author begins his explosive rant filled with sadness, vehemence, despondency against the nation that has degenerated rapidly from ‘sheer lunacy’ to ‘rabid madness’ to being ‘brain-dead’. Commencing as a whodunit, the narrative alternates between the investigation and chronicling of the nation’s history in the first part and moves on to record the hostility with which the country stifles its artists and the voices of reason and substitutes it with religious fanaticism and hysteria, self-righteousness and belligerence in the second part and finally moves on to document the hollowness and cultural apathy of the nation mirrored by ‘…a mind-vacuum in the film industry, or lack of talent elsewhere, or failure of the media…’ in the third part. Yet the novel does not end with hopelessness; in spite of all the wrongs, there are some who are fighting to save it and so, there is a hope for redemption ‘…This country, right or wrong, in moments, it lives and dies…We will do our bit not because it is right or wrong, but because it is ours.’
Combining explosive rage with irony and acerbity, Autobiography of a Mad Nation is written with a dark humor.
Covering the vast canvas of history, the author paints with ferocity and leaves broad angry strokes similar to the scars left on the nation’s psyche by the short-sighted politicians, corrupt media, religious zealots and mindless masses.
Tracing the plight of the mad nation, the author begins with ‘The dark midnight hour of Emergency, no longer the dawn of Freedom, of Independence or of Rushdie’s children’ and fast forwards to 1984 when the death of Indira Gandhi unleashed another dark chapter in the history, ‘We kill all Sikhs across the country, no matter what they do or who they are, so they all learn a lesson.’ The country awaits the arrival of the 21st century with ‘…the right excesses of religious fervor – fanned, sponsored, and subsidized by the government, of course. It is the government of, for, and by fanatic religious people.’
However, before the arrival of the promising 21st century, the mad nation goes through another phase of hysteria in 1990s brought upon by the saffron wave and the policy of reservations. The convergence of these Siamese twins sets free ‘…a phantasmagorical, indistinguishable monster with twin heads.’ Penning down his anger, the author writes, ‘Why should India be judged any differently? A country which starts killing large sections of itself, disowning and disintegrating on political whim and communal mood-swing, is to me irrational. Totally mad.’ In the times, where intolerance against writers and artists is gaining momentum, the author’s questioning of art as blasphemy becomes all the more relevant, “’A play asking an important question: can art be blasphemous, without the idea of blasphemy being itself one, against a moral entity larger than God – Man?’
Exasperated, the narrator takes a dig at everyone, from powerful godman who ‘…had established his spiritual empire in over sixty countries, with the rich and the famous…’ to the nation ‘…that turned the sport into a war or religion as it found convenient…’ to the ‘…most un-intellectual industry on earth, Bollywood…’ to corruption contributed by the media. Starting with the Emergency and ending with Godhra when the country plunged into the Dark Ages. Covering a vast spectrum of events, the author narrates with a sense of fury combined with helplessness, ‘That Freedom died, too, murdered peacefully, like when Macbeth kills, and only the cursed darkness of midnight reigned.’ Despite the diatribe that the author spews out, the book doesn’t end on a note of futility and hopelessness but with a renewed vigor and optimism, ‘…I am beginning to see a new lot of youth in my country. I missed them for so long; thought such a tribe would never return, brave great people and their sense of heroic. I must be wrong; it is all here, again. Back’
Longlisted for the MAN Asian Literary Prize, Autobiography of a Mad Nation is an angry attempt on the part of the author to understand the madness that engulfs his nation.
In the novel, the author has effortlessly finished the herculean task of chronicling the autobiography of a mad nation with flair.
Commencing as a murder mystery, the book soon transfers into a history of contemporary India and although it gives voice to the author’s frustration and infuriation, it never melts into an outright harangue which is also one of the biggest achievements of the book.
Despite the loose structure of the second part of the book, the overall plot is tightly knit and the word play employed by the author makes the book all the more enjoyable.
Title: Autobiography of a Mad Nation
Author: Sriram Karri
Publisher: Fingerprint Publishing
Pages: 381 pages
Genre: Indian Fiction
About the Author:
When asked, Sriram Karri is never quite sure if the nation he was born in and loves so much, was and is really mad or if merely he is Either way, he has witnessed his country grow fondly, sadly, joyfully, regretfully and above all, hopefully. He began his career as a journalist and worked in Deccan Chronicle and Indian Express and has worked as a corporate brander with TCS, Infosys, Satyam, the Indian School of Business and also co-founded a tech start-up. He writes for The New York Times and has contributed to The Guardian, The Hindu and The New Indian Express. His first published work, The Spiritual Supermarket, was longlisted for the Vodafone Crossword Book Award in the non-fiction category in 2008. An accomplished orator, Sriram is an invited speaker and panellist at several fora and discussions. He lives in Hyderabad with his wife and son.