26 June 2019

The Revenge of the Non-vegetarian by Upamanyu Chatterjee

Absurd comedy and grand horrors

I wanted something light and fulfilling to read on a journey, and picked The Revenge of the Non-vegetarian by Upamanyu Chatterjee from a teetering pile (a very patient teetering pile) on my bedside. It turned out to be the perfect choice because I thoroughly enjoyed every one of its well-chosen words. At the end, the jacket blurb included this sentence in the author description: “He spent over thirty calm and undistinguished years in the Indian Administrative Service; during that time, he wrote six novels – when no one was looking.”
That was inspiring – I got online looking for the other five. I remembered reading English, August when it was new and enjoying it thoroughly as a work of literature but being revolted by quite a bit of the story.
The description of The Assassination of Indira Gandhi said that “In the twelve long stories that comprise this volume, he investigates, as only he can, the absurd comedy and the grand horrors of the human condition.”
‘Absurd comedy’ and ‘grand horrors’ are indeed the fabric of what I’ve read of Upamanyu Chatterjee. Perhaps not entirely of the human condition, but certainly of a westernized IAS officer reigning supreme in rural India.
The Revenge of the Non-vegetarian is one of those books that evokes vivid images and transports the reader deep into its plot using tightly-packed and crisp prose. At one level it’s a grotesque story of vicious murder followed by a ludicrous implementation of justice. At another, it holds a mirror up to us as a people who exploit those weaker than ourselves, make the wretched even more wretched, and then accuse and incarcerate them of wretchedness. It is a brilliant parody of the truth that comprises India and its administration.

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