This January, Manu Joseph impressed me at the Jaipur Literature Festival. He was simple, honest and effortlessly hilarious. The kind of man you’d want at all your dinner parties only so you can animatedly discuss how much you hate dinner parties. I had never read any of his work so I decided he’d be the new Indian author I’d try this season. So imagine my surprise when I saw that the title of his first book was ‘Serious Men’.
A humourous man’s Serious men, I thought. And picked it up immediately.
‘Serious men’ is a wonderful story of two men, from two equally real, yet equally unreal worlds.
Ayyan Mani – proud dalit, chawl-dweller, husband to soap-opera-obsessed wife, father to a supposed deaf genius, ‘Thought for the day’ enthusiast, Donna-like* Secretary to the Director at the Institute of Theory and Research.
Arvind Acharya – Director at the Institute of Theory and Research, Pope-whisperer, believer in collection of alien particles in hot-air balloons, unlikely philanderer to password protected wife, legendary astrophysicist, Pavarotti fan.
Acharya lives in a world of the extremely intelligent. Men- serious men. Men in suits and coats and boots walking corridors, sitting at desks, meeting together, lost in thoughts, extremely important and difficult thoughts, life altering, space altering thoughts. He watches as the world of science becomes more and more glamourous and exciting thanks to Alien life forms and all the possibilities of being able to talk to them, or even invite them to high tea if their hostility is manageable. This is his world, a world where it’s a real job to collect seemingly alien particles in hot air balloons in jars and stare at them for days on end.
Mani lives in a world where his wife says things like, “The end of an ox is beef, the end of a lie is grief.” He lives in a world where being sober and having a 9 to 5 job makes one a hero. He lives in a world where he imagines having a conversation with God who is an Albert Einstein look-alike. He lives in a world which has branded him into oblivion the minute he entered it, screaming.
He lives in one world and works in another. He looks upon the men and women of this ‘other world’ and says to his wife Oja, “If you stare long enough at serious people they will begin to appear comical.”
He sees them as they are, completely hilarious, completely ordinary, and completely human. The wry humuor used throughout the book is so poignant and yet hilarious. A brilliantly crafted out story indeed.
It makes me wonder about my world. The seriousness of it, the complete hilarity of it all. It makes me wonder about the many worlds around my own, and the hilarity of them too.
Maybe we’re all just part of some large cosmic joke. Who knows? I had my own serious man to think about right now and funnily, I saw the complete hilarity of him too.