India of the past and India of the present, both at loggerheads, are on brilliant display in this epic novel, Autobiography of a Mad Nation by Sriram Karri, as the narrative splices the collective conscience of India as two worlds.
The journey from being an embryo that its pregnant British mother wanted to get rid of in a hurry, to a malnourished, angry and argumentative young animal that India has transformed into today—a democracy that’s so constipated with its desire to self-implode that it seems to lack a will—the book, slowly, undresses the idea of India: the persistence with which a wrong can survive, and the non-predictability of the right to be valued etc. And yet, as vividly, like a nation on drugs, the optimism of a bright future can’t be missed in these pages.
Autobiography of a Mad Nation is about India, about us, about the forest of our shared minds that’s a mishmash of intellectual shallowness, gargantuan brilliance & backslapping mediocrity.
That it traces this cosmic scope through the lives of ordinary people with extraordinary power to manipulate & question long held beliefs by attempting to fill gaps in history of our doctored deeds, and challenges a system that refuses to stop oscillating between archaic reasoning of our wise but oppressed ancestors, and present day understated pragmatism, the most striking aspect of the novel is the balance it has achieved.
In the end, the novel reintroduces us to the fundamental flaws that make the idea of India: the caste vs. caste, religion vs. religion, language vs. language, left vs. right, communist vs. democratic, media vs. common man, sanity vs. mythology, art vs. business, south vs. north, fair vs. dark, sex vs. education, mediocrity vs. philosophy etc…. the list is endless.
Freewheeling through a non-linear narrative that’s addictive, comic and dark at the same time, strangely tangible in its sensibility too, Sriram has created characters so real that you can almost hear them chat up and near, laughing, jabbing at one another, altering what they do or think, as students first and professionals later.
The neglect, the divide, and the aloofness that being an Indian brings, this book deserves to be read by everyone who believes India will be the center of the world soon.