By Ekta R. Garg
Rated: Bookmark it!
A man receives a book with the answers to all the problems in the world. The catch? He doesn’t want to have anything to do with the book. He simply wants to lead his life as an anonymous member of society. Society has other ideas, however, and despite his best efforts he keeps finding himself in the middle of conflicts connected to the book. Author C.Y. Gopinath offers readers this insightful examination of just how far a government and the public it rules can fall in his brilliant debut novel, The Book of Answers.
In the year 2015 Patros Patranobis lives in Mumbai with his girlfriend, Rose, and adopted son, Tippy. On a day when he heads for the bus for work, he runs—literally—into a lawyer bearing a package. Patros’ gut tells him that the package can only mean bad news and tries to avoid receiving the delivery by lying about his identity, but his lie doesn’t hold for long. The lawyer, Somnath Berry, manages to find Patros’ home and deliver something called The Book of Answers. The book comes with a letter from his great grandfather, which states that the volume includes answers for all of society’s ills. Patros’ ancestor hopes Patros can use the book for the betterment of mankind.
Despite the promises made in the letter, Patros still wants nothing to do with the Book of Answers. His family doesn’t agree, but Patros decides to get rid of it. Even the argument that the book’s metal cover doesn’t have a key and that without the key the book is, in effect, useless does nothing to convince anyone. Against the advice of Rose and his best friend, Arindam, Patros devises a plan. He sneaks the book out of his home and sells it to a small-time bookstore owner.
Unlike its intended recipient, however, the book refuses to stay anonymous. What begins as a bid to blend in with the crowd becomes the very reason for infamy; no matter how hard he tries, Patros can’t seem to get away from the Book of Answers. Although he sold it in a nondescript place, someone finds out about its contents.
In his quest to stay away from the book and simultaneously keep it out of the wrong hands, Patros repeatedly comes across a crooked politician, a policeman with questionable loyalties, and even the bookstore owner and the lawyer who delivered the Book of Answers. Never mind that without the key no one can read the book. Bit by bit it becomes enough to fuel a sea change in the government.
Author C.Y. Gopinath provides readers a razor sharp view of Indian society. Readers from South Asia in particular will, by turns, appreciate Gopinath’s acumen regarding his native country and possibly feel a small measure of embarrassment about India’s struggles. He doesn’t hesitate to target the government, the education system, and the apathy of a subsection of society itself. Non-resident Indians in particular will identify many of the problems they discuss about the direction India has taken since the digital revolution and the “Westernization” of the country.
Written as a political satire, Gopinath balances all of the elements of the genre perfectly: he entertains and amuses readers while forcing them to consider topics normally reserved for active ignorance. The book’s angle may not sit well with all of its readers—Gopinath doesn’t hold back in pointing out just how many serious issues India faces—but it definitely accomplishes its purpose. Non-Indian readers may not fully appreciate all of the references and digs, but all readers can understand Patros Patranobis’ dilemma and maybe even identify with it. After all, at some level isn’t ignorance really bliss?
This book is a must read for all Indian readers and others who enjoy political satire.