Your honor, accused is of unusual stature.

I was in college at the time of The Bhopal Disaster. The horrors of the 1984 Sikh Massacare in November were still fresh in our minds and it had seemed like  everything was going wrong with the world.

Sometime later two of my friends and I had organised a fashion show for our college festival and our (over) enthusiastic publicity had resulted in unmanageable crowds. Somebody announced that there was a gas leak in the area and the crowds cleared. Bhopal disaster had affected everybody.

The thought that the very air one breathed could be poisoned was terrifying. One could avoid drinking water, one could escape fire, but what does one do if the air was poisoned? We even looked at our own windows and wondered if they were poisoned-air proof.  One heard of bloated bodies – human and cattle which couldn’t be taken out, of burning sensation and bleeding eyes, blindness and dead children and animals. An entire town was dead or dying. It had seemed impossible then that those responsible for something so horrible would go unpunished.

But I guess the stature of the accused is a factor one didn’t consider…

Is it possible to write about a tragedy like that and make the reader smile, empathize and cry at the same time? Indra Sinha’s ‘Animal’s People’ does that. Shortlisted for Man Booker Prize 2007, the book is a hundred times better than Kiran Desai’s ‘The  Inheritence of Loss’ and Aravind Adiga’s ‘White Tiger’. Unlike the other two books, Animal’s People seems to love the people it talks about. It does not justify murders or glorify poverty or victim-hood.  I feel this book is more about India than any other book I have read recently.

There’s humour, affection, and characters you can believe in and the language is the language that the victims use… I don’t think the book would have been half as interesting without the ‘namisbondjamisbond‘ (Names is Bond, James Bond) 😉

A young resident of Khaufpur (Horror-ville), grotesquely deformed ‘Jungli Jaanvar‘ or ‘Animal’ is a victim of the ‘Kampani‘ (Company, Factory). When he describes himself, does the lack of punctuation convey something… ?

‘feet on tip toe
head down below
arse en haut
thus do I go’

So he sleeps in the factory (yes the same factory!) and doesn’t want other children coming there, because (amongst other reasons) he didn’t want to be seen until “Shit was done.

No bird songs. No hoppers in the grass. No bee hum. Insects can’t survive here. Wonderful poisons the Kamapani made, so good it’s impossible to get rid of them, after all these years they are still doing their work…

Animal’s character is based on Sunil.

Sunil’s parents and three of his five siblings were killed on ‘that night’. He woke among corpses en route to a pyre. Aged 12, he worked 18 hour days to provide for his younger brother and sister. He was kind to other children, helped form an organisation of orphans and threw himself into the survivors’ struggle for justice, becoming one of its best-loved characters.

And how does he support himself?

– Case against boy known as Animal, section chaar sau bees.

-Where is the accused?

-Your honor he is here.

– Where? I don’t see him.

– Right here, your honour, in the dock.

-Don’t be silly. I am looking at the dock, there’s no one there.

-Your honor, accused is of unusual stature.

By the the end I wanted to meet the characters …though their language was a concern 😆 Last I remember feeling this way was about Five Find Outers as a kid. Now if an author can bring to life, characters battling with sickness, hunger, injustice, unclean air, water and growing pains and jealousy of a  love sick adolescent and still keep them lovable – the book deserves a read (actually lots more).


Do bans make you curious?

When we stop children from reading something it is because they are not yet adults– but when adults are stopped from reading something, some suspicions are justified.

What don’t some adults want all other adults to find out?

If they have read a book and they have decided others should not read it because the book hurt their sentiments, one might wonder if that is an easy excuse… What if they are biased?

Couldn’t they have selfish motives? … Or they might fear being proven wrong? Could it be just an attempt to show, ‘Yes we can! Impose a ban!’ ?

I have reasons for my doubts.

Lajja was banned. Totally inoffensive.

Da Vinci Code is amongst my favorite books.

Jodha Akbar was entertaining, and Water was brilliant.

The Film Censor Board allowed violence and vulgar rape scenes but covered a simple kiss with doves, umbrellas and flowers.

Question: Do those who ban have better judgment than you and me?

Answer: Errr…

Page 123, line 6…… a TAG again.

Devaki tagged me to write the sixth, seventh and eighth lines of page 123 of the the book closest at hand. The book on my bedside table is called ‘Complete Home Medical Guide‘ (American College of Physicians, DK Publishing,

This book has been our guide for ten years now, helping us through lower back aches, allergies and dental cavities. It once reassured us that every abdominal pain on the lower right side was not appendicitis, and hence saved an unnecessary, midnight trip to the Hospital!

It has also filled me with guilt by insisting that the much avoided regular check ups are the best prevention for most health problems.

When it was new, every time I read any symptoms I was sure someone in the family had them. Once this book had me rushing to get an Stomach Endoscopy done. The book said acidity could lead to Stomach Cancer. LOL… Over a period of time I have learned to use it more bravely 🙂

The book written by a team of doctors is a blessing when most Doctors in India, either because of lack of knowledge or pure indifference do not give you enough information…and you really need to know what’s happening to you. It also provides a list of websites for more information.

Pages 122 and 123 are 17th amongst 70 Symptoms Charts which help you in ‘Assessing your Symptoms’. The 6th, 7th and 8th lines of page 123 makes no sense here, but like Devaki says that’s the fun of tags! So the lines are: ‘If your depression continues longer than 2 weeks after the viral symptoms have gone, make an appointment to see your doctor.’

And now for who should do this tag next! Let’s see, I TAG Priyanka, Manpreet and Thought Room.

Draupadi’s Mahabharata

Phew! Just finished reading the book!! Since both our epics make me very angry with their reinforcement of (or recommendation of?) gender and caste bias, I grab any reading material that discusses them unbiased. This book is simply Mahabharata retold from a thinking woman’s perspective.

What did Draupadi think of her mother in law Kunti who made Arjuna share his wife with his brothers?Her power struggle with Kunti; her relationship with Krishna; her lack of a relationship with the one with ‘ancient eyes’; all this beautifully retold.

Draupadi tells us her side of the story. She tells us what she thought of being married to five men she did not love. She talks of which one of Kunti’s sons made her heart beat faster.Like Scarlet O’Hara of ‘Gone with the wind’, Panchali pines for the one she can never have. She is in love with a man her husbands hate. Some of her most unfortunate decisions spring from this yearning.

Whether or not you are familiar with the Mahabharata, this book makes an interesting read.

Not as good or as strong as Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’, it’s still very much worth reading.

I wish somebody will write Ramayana as told by Urmila, Laxman’s wife and Sita’s sister. Urmila spends fourteen years of Laxman’s exile in learning and argues against Sita’s banishment. Even a child without any learning can tell it was wrong but since people listen to learned talk, powered with vedic commands, such a book would help people take a relook at our patriarchal, archaic texts.

Editing to add this very interesting link by Anuradha, who says, “Here is a fantastic interpretation of the Draupdi as she should be seen in real sense a – rebel and dare i say a feminist instead of a victim.” Do take a look, here.

Edited to add: And read about Modern Draupadies here.

Related Posts:

Draupadi, Sita and Helen of Troy