AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A MAD NATION is a Novel by Sriram Karri. It was shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize in the year 2008. Intelligently written, this book speaks about the history of India in a sequential manner and the impact it had on the youth born and brought up during that period. The novel has recorded a list of political events from June 25th 1975 when the Emergency was imposed in the country, and moves on towards the Godhra riots of 2002 and ends with Tasleema Nasreen attacked at Hyderabad on August 8, 2007 in a public meeting. These incidents are being observed by the generation and they have an everlasting impact on their ideology. The writer starts with the story with the opening line “I was born in a mentally retarded country” this bold statement draws the attention of the reader and then we start thinking are we really in a retarded nation. Slowly then the story evolves.
The novel starts with a letter written to the President by a murder convict who is sentenced to hanging. The letter is not a plea for mercy but for justice. This letter holds our attention as readers going through it. The author of the letter is Vikrant Vaidya and he writes “within a few years of my birth, I bitterly realized my nation’s biggest secret and truth. It was: Intelligence was not an unrecognized virtue in the Sovereign, Socialist, Democratic, Republican Morondom of India, it was a much hated Vice, My Intelligence and sense of freedom, therefore, made me an outcast. An elite untouchable to be ridiculed punished, and tortured, Every time I would think, say, or do a brilliant thing, it was High Treason against the Idiotic Paradise of the Multiplying Amoeba Colony of Indians.”….. Well did not we as thinking individuals feel the same during our growing days……
And this letter catches the interest of the President and he assigns the job of finding the facts to the retired CBI Chief Vidyasagar. The President has to hand over the office to the next person in 90 days and he wants to retire with a clear conscience. Vidyasagar starts his investigation which leads him to a lot of interesting facts and gets him acquainted with the brilliant, intelligent thinking minds that have evolved in a system, which was filled with stink of selfishness, into challenging individuals with great moral integrity to defend the land they are born against the stink it has been accumulating since years of human villainy.
The most interesting character seems to be Anurag and we go through the growing process of this human from a child to an intellectual. The author brilliantly brings our history in a new perspective. His relation of Indian history with fire was thought provoking. Anurag designs a play which starts with the Agnipariksha of Sita and moves on to Mahabharata where the Lac palace is burned and then moves to Alexandar and Porus and goes on in stages to the Godhra rites. Yes everything associated with this country was seen in flames. We need the Phoenix to be born out of these ashes. The Batch of 1991 from a prestigious school in India comprising of 10 students form a strong union to implement their ideology and put their fire into practice. This becomes the core them e of the novel.
The first murder where Vikrant is charged against the killing of mentally retarded Iqbal leads Vidyasagar to two more killings. A MIM leader Jalaluddin Mohammad Owaisi from Hyderabad, and Amarendra Pratap Singh responsible for Godhra rites referred to as Hindu Hitler were also murdered before. To the average Indian who has a minimum political knowledge, all the characters mentioned in the novel seem to be framed out of people who existed. Mr. President so much resembles our Abdul Kalam. Cricketer Mazhar referred in the novel, reminds us of Azharuddin, Owasi and the MIM are well known identities of Hyderabad, Sri Ravi baba the spiritual guru reminds us of SriSri Ravishankar and a few more names remind us of the prominent journalists during that period. Mixing the fictional story with the facts the novel gives a true political confused scenario which has engulfed the country and then, the plight of the idealistic youth obviously makes us feel responsible too
Vidya sagar finds out that Chirag Dhabai who is convicted for murdering Amarendra Singh is not the actual killer but he has been replaced to protect the real killer by some strong people. He gets a few proofs claiming Chirag’s innocence sent by anonymous people. He then also finds out that the inspector in charge Sushant singh was in conversation with the killer of Owaisi minutes before the MLA was killed. All these incidents have a link and Vidyasagar goes on to investigate them with his friend Raghu Sunkara from the department.
The novel on the other side deals with the concept of friendship too. Among the chaos personal relationships and strong bonds between friends help them to protect themselves from bouts of insanity and keep their ideals alive. We find the school batch of 1991 that first come together with their childhood questions searching for answers in their own way and then they join Anurag who is the play writer and his ideas to understand things with a different perspective help them to have their own individuality. In an education system where students are trained to behave like sheep in a flock, these individual minds suffer but they stick on together and survive with their strong friend ship. Anurag witnesses the killing of his Sikh friend during the anti Sikh riots in 1994. Then as high school students they witness the Anti Mandal commission processions in late 80 s and Advani’s Ram Janmabhoomi Rath Yatra. Samir, a friend of them is killed in the riots where he happened to be just a mute spectator of the procession.
Karthik enters the Army and during the Kargil war he witnesses his friend Harsh vardhan loosing his life defending the Indian pride. An old batch mate Iqbal is seen fighting on the opposite side. Harsh was killed by Iqbal and though Karthik captures Iqbal, he is not able to kill him. He finds the war meaningless and after the pain of one brother killing another, his concept of war changes. Anurag becomes a play writer and during the turmoil of Godhra he dutifully conducts street plays and tries to educate people on communal harmony. The mission begins when he is brutally killed by Amarendra Pratap Singh.
Vidyasagar is the only man who finds the truth behind this mystery and he is shocked with the strong bond of friendship he witnesses between this batch. They do not seek personal revenge but an ideological answer to the injustice they come across, and this gives him a ray of hope that the country still has the toughest youth who are getting up from the burnt ashes of history, Where they are now evolving into a force and through them the future of India still may find hope.
Vidyasagar an old CBI man with lots of experience leaves the scene with this ray of hope. Yes, lot of things happened in this country. Tasleema Nasreen, Salman Rushdie were attacked, and these attacks were not just by religious fanatics but by political minds where religion, culture, human sentiments all are controlled for power by those who know the weak minds of the common men. It is this weakness which has been targeted. The batch understands these politics, and therefore from it, evolves a writer called Anurag who does a play of Rushdie and his Satanic verses. He is then mobbed by the Muslims. Later he is murdered by a Hindu fanatic for questioning the Ghodra riots. He passes on his lineage to Vikrant the budding writer of the next generation and Vikrant takes this torch in his hold and gives his best to keep it burning.
Sriram Karri, gives his most interesting version of thought when he says “I think all misfortune in history is only because the best men of their time did not stand up, did not own their country as completely as they should have; and those who saw the future turned their backs and closed their eyes. When the blind lead the blind, be assured that the blind followers have eyes but consciously opt to close them… like Gandhari, Duryodhana’s mother. ALL HUMAN TRAGEDY IS THE STORY OF THE FIRST MAN NOT STANDING UP… And all glory is His who does”…… And so, this is the concept of the novel which demands the generation to stand up when the need arises…. whatever it may lead to.
Anurag is the brain behind the batch and his concept of his existence is explained thus when he says to his other friends “It is not the judgment of not being great that troubles me-I will take that, if it comes, humbly, objectively, and fairly – but to be judged as mediocre without being given a chance to contest, isn’t that frightening…. Kudos, to the author who chose to be the voice, of the frustrated intelligentsia of this vast land. Comparing to the History of India and the present day, Anurag says again “It is sad and ironical that as a country when we had some sense of aesthetics, we did not have money. Today, when we are getting the money, slowly we are fast losing all sense of aesthetic. I hope this shallowness will wither away; it has to. And till that day, we can only dream to be truly free.”
This is definitely a thought provoking, well written novel. Sriram Karri’s style of storytelling and constructing the plot for this novel which is a combination of the pathos this country is going through, and the true comradeship among the young generation who are ready to take their ideology beyond this sad state of affairs, explain his immense positivity in comradeship and the ideological wisdom of the young. It’s just time and a matter of chance when they get an opportunity to plunge in and make their voices heard. The provocative narration leaves us spell bound. This 383 page novel will be remembered as an interesting read which definitely casts its impact on the intellect of the reader.