April 05, 2020
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XXL Don't An Epic Make

The novel lurches fitfully from one episode to the other, reducing tragic history to a two-dimensional farce.

XXL Don't An Epic Make
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553
The Peacock Throne
By Sujit Saraf
Sceptre Pages: 754; Rs: £ 11.99
Sujit Saraf ambitiously sets out to write a sweeping epic about Indian politics. He takes the 1984 riots, the Mandal agitation and the Babri demolition, and places them in a setting he obviously knows well—Chandni Chowk. He then brings in every social and political phenomenon of modern India he can think of: betting in cricket, education of slum children, Bangladeshi immigrants, hawala transactions, corruption in elections, prostitution, terrorism, NGO activism.... Amidst these currents, Chandni Chowkwallahs play out their humdrum lives. The illiterate tea-seller Gopal Pandey is buffeted, at the end of 750 pages, to the office of MP. Around him swarm representatives of thinly disguised political parties, street thugs, fat beat policemen, the whores on G.B. Road terraces, the NGO activist, the pontificating journalist...all with their ambitions, fears, deceptions and secrets. Sufficient material, one would have thought, for a compelling account of modern India.

Yet, the novel lurches fitfully from one episode to the other, reducing tragic history to a two-dimensional farce. Saraf may have done better to reduce the book by half, centring it around one event. But he seemed too intent on producing an epic. Unfortunately, size isn’t an epic’s only requirement.

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