April 04, 2020
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The Doggone Life Of A Godman

In his debut novel Ajith Pillai pitches mordant irony into the theatre of satire.

The Doggone Life Of A Godman
Junkland Journeys
By Ajith Pillai
Authors Upfront/Paranjoy | Pages: 259 | Rs. 325

Adman, nose-digger, pothead, junkie, boozehound, wizard of one-liners such as “Make your armpit your charmpit” and “Ask not what you can do for the country (liquor), ask what the country can do for you”—Hari Menon is all that. And in the eyes of his go-getting biscuit magnate father Capt Jimmy Menon, as well as in his own eyes, he is a complete failure.

With the mainspring of motive wound up so, and so loaded with comicality, Hari goes tripping through a Kerala and a Bombay familiar to those comfortably-off romancers of angst who dropped out of the medical-engineering rat race in the mid-1980s, smoking Idukki grass, wailing the life-blues and hawking advertising or journalistic copy till they woke up politically, if at all, with Mandal, Babri, the post-Babri riots and the Bombay blasts. Recognising himself and those around him as fakes, Hari balances on the tantalising knife-edge that is sanity.

With the finesse with which Hari might have flicked a snotball, debut novelist Ajith Pillai then pitches mordant irony into the theatre of satire. Cleaning up from heroin addiction with his girlfriend in rural Kerala, Hari is mesmerised by Francis Thompson’s poem, The Hound of Heaven, and during an LSD trip, sees God in a dog (a bitch named Devika, actually). A Bow Mata ashram in  Lonavala follows, and fame too. But it all ends abruptly as Bombay burns and bleeds post-Babri and Hari, the not-sufficiently-Hindu guru, has to flee, girlfriend in tow. Hari’s (and perhaps Pillai’s) last self-referential twist of the knife is a commentary on the fiction-versus-reality of the manuscript, which the character has somehow procured from the novelist.

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