Aditya Sudarshan seems to be versatile in all major genres of literature who wears many hats at one go: short-story writer, playwright, novelist, television script writer besides a trained law graduate from National Law School, Bangalore. His works of fictions were earlier published by Westland Books, 2009 (A Nice Quiet Holiday) and Rupa & Co. (Show Me a Hero) and he has bagged the Hindu Metroplus Playwright Award for 2011 for his play The Green Room. He writes political satire for NDTV’s The Great Indian Tamasha and literary criticism for The Hindu Literary Review as well.
Both his previous fictions are literary thrillers. Though one is titled A Nice Quiet Holiday, the protagonist (Anant)’s holiday remains paradoxically an unquiet and disturbing one throughout. Likewise his other work of fiction Show me a Hero is also a murder mystery, a tragedy, a coming-of-age tale, and a layered story of innocent youth finding the courage to fight.
The latest novel Persecution of Madhav Tripathy is no exception from his earlier novels. Before delving into it critically; it would not be out of place to brood over its theme.
Madhav, a young and suave member of Indian Administrative Service, happens to be the protagonist of the novel, who has climbed up the ladder of social success and caught the attention of all eyes in the power. However his liberal intellect inopportunely becomes a major vulnerability in him and he is eventually targeted by an extreme right-wing group. He is a member of our English-speaking, educated elite. So are most his close friends, girlfriend, allies etc. This is the story of their persecution by something they can’t understand, something missing from their own lives, which openly challenges their world-views. That’s what the novelist conjures up.
The awful happening was waiting for Madhav to be scripted just before a week of his thirtieth birthday which he had designed to celebrate generously. The unknown kidnappers in the guise of policemen (I am at your service) whisks him away to an unknown place from where he escapes miraculously from the clutch of a young man whom he had remembered to have met. But this escape does not allow him to lead his life with easy. Gradually he starts suspecting every one he comes across and perceives them as his assailant. As he fights both to defend himself and to strike back with the resources at his disposal, Madhav also struggles to comprehend the identity of his inexorable persecutors.
Aditya’s latest novel is no departure from the tone and tenor he has already set in his earlier works.
Let me surmise in brief what the mystery, thriller and suspense are all about. Since Madhav Tripathy is aware from the beginning about the imminent danger he is facing, there’s hardly any suspense left for the readers. The protagonist is occupied in tracking down the truth about kidnapping where he is in danger (usually moderate) and becomes a problem only as the detective approaches the truth.
On an intimate post-mortem, Aditya Sudarshan reveals about the novel that “the story is tracking the drama that is playing out in Madhav Tripathi’s sub-conscious. That’s why events happen in a surreal/imaginary way, because he is witnessing his subconscious (as we do in dreams). But such a vision is itself a real experience; it shows him the conflict that is going on inside him.”
Literary Thriller, a term weighted with the pressures literary snobbery, is a new terminology used for the genre since the advent of Umberto Eco’s novel The Name of the Rose (19980), a historical murder mystery set in an Italian monastery in the year 1327, an intellectual mystery combining semiotics in fiction, biblical analysis, medieval studies and literary theory. The systems of telling stories within stories, partial fictionalization, and purposeful linguistic ambiguity are all ostensible. The solution to the central murder mystery hinges on the contents of Aristotle’s book on Comedy, of which no copy survives.
Umberto Eco is a foremost postmodernist theorist and The Name of the Rose is a postmodern novel. The quote in the novel, “books always speak of other books, and every story tells a story that has already been told,” refers to a postmodern idea that all texts perpetually refer to other texts, rather than external reality. In true postmodern style, the novel ends with uncertainty: “very little is discovered and the detective is defeated”.
Sense of uncertainty has been portrayed also here while revealing the inner self of his protagonist, who was constantly under threat, Aditya narrated as to how he dealt with crisis of his life: “He did not cry. It was important to be strong. There would be time for tears later, once justice had been done, once he had had his revenge. And if he never did, if he died here in the pouring rain, at the hands of these bigots and lunatics, then too he would preserve the satisfaction of not having buckled .His own strength half-surprised him , but he felt suddenly invincible, as he screamed and strained at his bonds.”(p.172-73)
The very bureaucratic character, which operates in higher echelon, was revealed “Let me remind you that I am a bureaucrat, and pretty good one, if I say myself. I deal with conflicts and disagreements all the time.” His portrayal of characters and situations are vivid, poetic, poignant and surreal.
As much cryptic thriller and hallucinatory fantasy as it is a novel of ideas, The Persecution of Madhav Tripathi is a journey into one man’s mind and a masterful excavation of the spiritual crisis of our educated elite.
Aditya’s endeavor is, undoubtedly, another welcome addition in the genre of literary thrillers in India.
Manu Dash joined Anam in 1974 that gave a new face to Odia poetry. He writes in both English and in Odia. He has two collections of poems and short stories, four collections of essays and six works of translations. Wings over the Mahanadi is his latest anthology by Poetrywalla (Mumbai). He is currently editing The Dhauli Review, a triquarterly of Indian writing which could be reached at http://www.dhaulireview.com.