A ‘Kahaani’ of Indian bureaucracy, corruption, redemption (IANS Books, With Image)

May 15th, 2012 - 12:21 pm ICT by IANS  

Vidya Balan New Delhi, May 15 (IANS) His surname inspired a key character in the hit Bollywood film “Kahaani”. Now writer Amitabha Bagchi has knit a plot about Indian bureaucracy, corruption and redemption in his new work, “The Householder”.

Bagchi, who earlier penned the bestselling novel “Above Average”, told IANS: “I had started writing the book long before corruption had become public. Halfway through the book, the Niira Radia tapes came about and the 2G scam surfaced.”

Bagchi, who teaches at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi, was inspired by noted Hindi writer Shrilal Shukla’s novels and literary critiques.

“I never had to deal with the bureaucracy and I could not understand how the bureaucratic system works. The figure of a lower bureaucrat became important to me. Shrilal Shukla’s writing and my encounters with lower bureaucrats came together to become the genesis of this book,” Bagchi said.

The book exposes the government underdog - the lowly yet egoistic babu, who takes the beating on behalf of his bosses for reasons beyond his doing. And survives the blows.

“I don’t think what ails the system is the lower bureaucracy. The lower bureaucracy is the symptom. In Shrilal Shukla’s novels, his heroes like Amrit Lal Nagar and Bhagwati Charan Varma talk about societies which are fundamentally corrupt, where people are exploited by whoever has a little bit of leverage over another,” Bagchi said.

He is the man who inspired Advaita Kala, the scriptwriter of “Kahaani”, to name a character in the film with the same surname.

“Advaita told me that she knew Vidya Balan would be playing the lead and Bagchi was the obvious choice.”

“There is a funny story about it which Advaita has not told anyone. When I met her, she told me that Bengali men make the best husbands. The surname was on the top of her head when she was creating Arnab Bagchi, Vidya’s husband,” Bagchi said.

In his new book, “The Householder” (Harper Collins-India), Bagchi’s protagonist is a very familiar Naresh Kumar, personal assistant to R.K. Asthana, an IAS officer.

Naresh is a householder with a wife, son and daughter. He is an indispensable cog in the wheel of bureaucratic corruption because a share of the largesse that flows through Asthana’s door trickles down to Naresh.

Like every “householder” on the babu’s payroll, Naresh is besieged by filial misfortune. His married daughter has trouble conceiving a child and his son’s call centre job is shady. To make matters worse, Pinki Kaur, an attractive widowed mother at work, is a distraction.

He is suspended from his job for a botched deal. But as the householder, Naresh has to fend for his family even when out of job. Redemption arrives at the end of the novel when the inquiry commission clears Naresh - the fall guy - and returns him the job in the ministry.

The writer pointed out that in “The Householder”, his hero was neither a Niira Radia, nor an A. Raja nor a Kanimozhi. “I am not talking about the high-fliers and neither about the wretched of the earth. I am talking about people who are in the middle and hold some power,” Bagchi said.

Bagchi’s father was in the postal service and had “many subordinates”.

“There was a certain kind of relationship between them and my father. The subordinates instinctively know men in power by the body language,” Bagchi said, enumerating Naresh’s character.

Another aspect that Bagchi wanted to probe in the book was “the concept of masculinity”.

“I wanted to see how men are made and what are the pressures they face all over the world when they provide for their families. I think to provide and care for the family is a fundamental emotional requirement of a man,” Bagchi said.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)

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