July 06, 2020
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Banal Buffs

A spoof that trips on itself

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Banal Buffs
Scenes From An Executive Life
By Anurag Mathur
Penguin India Rs 200, Pages: 207
Some members of that plush, branded club we could call the Stephanian school of Indo-Anglian writing, seem to have taken upon themselves the burden of depicting the travails which afflict India's ruling elite. Banish all talk of subalterns or the weary millions, we're told; it's the captains of the governing classes in this new, modern India who're choice material for a literature claiming national proportions. So, if a stoned, angst-ridden bureaucrat (English, August) wasn't enough, please welcome Gambhir Kumar-corporate executive and earnest buffoon of post-liberalisation India. But make no mistake, this novel is actually supposed to be a spoof, and it takes its role very, very seriously.

Gambhir's serious problems in life stem from his job in the Y Corporation. If other department heads aren't conspiring to have him transferred to the Tissues and Toothpicks Division, he's being set up using his own considerable lust as bait. At the epicentre of this world of corporate intrigue lies big-boss Prop (the Proprietor)-invisible, yet in complete control of the cloak-and-dagger workings of white-collar India. It's to please him and that capricious being called the company that the rest live, work and scheme against each other. Dumped with the Toothpicks Division, Gambhir plans his great coup, one that shall restore him into favour. The plan-making toothpicks attractive to children-brings in those other truly creative artists of our times: ad men, fashion designers and media fixers. To cut this tedious burlesque short, Gambhir, after much monumental brainwork, succeeds and Prop appoints him Deputy Managing Director. Only to be again ensnared by Kapila, a worker in the Bombay branch, and be ejected. (Never mind that rampant bed habits are almost by-products of this salubrious economy.)

Spoof in mind, corporate India's petty intrigues are compared to kingdoms and courts of yore. But with its pedestrian writing, the novel fails to grip, falling short of its professed pastiche. And much like Gambhir Kumar, it falls prey to its own banality.

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