Sunday, September 15, 2013

How I Met Your Country


BOOK REVIEW: The Redeemers

Published by Daily Times (Pakistan) / 15 Sep 2013

Author: Suresh Taneja

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

Thank you Suresh T. for the review copy

‘The Redeemers’ can easily be in the fantasy / fiction aisle because of its ludicrous premise. It begins with India at the top of the superpower pyramid for starters’ and its citizens seen breezing through U.S. immigration sans visa. It then goes on to cast four conscientious youngsters responsible for its remarkable transition as narrators who step in to the ring and relive the heady years leading up to the year 2030. The glittering future demands an enormous suspension of disbelief, present day India however with all the spectacular excesses will make the South Asian community feel right at home. Suresh Taneja’s blue print for a new domestic world order can ostensibly be mapped on both sides of the border and not just because of unavoidable similarities in terrain.

The author is a Chartered Accountant with a conscience and a vision to alter the contours of (potentially) failed state syndromes. He will then propose a radical line up of ideas to prop up its shiny new architecture. Recruiting a motivated band of young ‘uns to lead the charge will be the next step - their grievances will be revealing, their optimism - blinding. Leaders out to ‘enrich themselves’ at the cost of national interest enter on cue; papers that carry only ‘morbid news’, a sensationalism driven media uninterested in ‘events of substance’, its sole purpose to meet commercial targets. The corrupt infrastructure depicted here is eerily similar – its tentacles spreading from politicians and bureaucracy to the smallest grunt laid out for the world to see prompting a flurry of soul searching on a nation-wide scale.

Readers already know where the plot is headed. How it gets there keeps them tuned in to the simplistic conversation between the band of protagonists / best friends referred throughout as G4, as they work on the dream and their well meaning parents (G3) brought in to cheer from the sidelines.

The ambitious premise attempts to reset the moral compass. Suresh ploughs through the objections and brings in the cavalry. But the only place where making children the gatekeepers of morality can work so well is inside a fictional realm. The storyline takes several detours to give readers a good sense of the treacherous waters the heroic G4 must navigate. ‘Who bothers about elections,’ they complain at one point, ‘...does it make a difference whether party A or B comes in power? I feel stupid casting my vote.’ The path to redemption will not be easy. That change does not come overnight and requires an ‘all hand on deck approach’ adds a layer of believability to the scenario; tapping into ‘Reality TV’ to get the stakeholders attention plays well in this environment.

The writer raises an entire empire from these outlandish outlines, and gives them a respectable sheen. His assertion that the books underlying appeal lay in its familiar structure however, has merit, and the portrayal of the endemic corruption that apparently plagues both sides of the divide does strike a chord. While Pakistan’s negative are amplified for global consumption, India’s problematic side is less evident due to excellent PR perhaps. It is an illuminating journey, filled with twists and turns, exposing the cracks in a seemingly perfect facade.

The odds will be stacked against these friendly neighbourhood crusaders. Suresh is not oblivious to the rigged nature of the system or the agenda driven policies that layer its foundation. The book chastises and condemns their chosen lot, bemoaning the stark contrast between an Indians behaviour abroad (law abiding) and home (not so much) punctuated with exposition. ‘We all need to be blamed too. We don’t want to pay taxes; we ask for out of the way favours; we don’t have patience to wait and thus offer bribes to speed things up. This has become the norm in our country.’

There are the usual ‘haves’ who find the system ‘convenient’; offenders who do not get their comeuppance and authorities blithely off somewhere making money. ‘....It is a win-win situation for these people;’ they realize, ‘......what suffers in the process are the moral values which should actually be non-negotiable for the character of a nation.’

The book will have a strange effect on readers – the exuberance is exhilarating – the language is a turn off, and the earnest tone is endearing. In many ways this is a bold manoeuvre, for it dissipates the ‘shining’ myth and in its stead places a more sombre, less sure-footed model on display. ‘The Redeemers’ also serves as dry run (of sorts) intent on changing their status from a cautionary tale ‘where doctors are medical businessmen chasing targets to a progressive state.

It also makes it easy to imagine the future should Pakistan go on a similar cleanse. Bin Laden might have been arrested for one long before those SEALS descended upon his lair, since the Abbottabad Commission Report claims he was stopped for speeding once but his henchmen settled the matter with the law. In ‘The Redeemers’ universe no one bribes a cop and gets away with it.

G4/G3 helps a morally upright nation with its priorities in order fast track to the top but not before brutally ripping apart the illusion as it approaches its fairy tale happy ending. While it can have the potential to spark the imagination, should it ever come to the silver screen, the most glaring flaw would be the execution and presentation. The editing and language both need to go through several revisions before they can be formally accepted.

Enterprising youngsters hoping to emulate G4 might face the same kind of reality check that Pakistanis confronted recently where the theme of changing the political culture captured the popular imagination and the subsequent elections brought them back to the corruption infested earth. The kind of change they expected was perhaps unrealistic but it did not deter the tidal wave of hope. This lot however, forges ahead in this unorthodox concoction of realism / fantasy that serves to inspire and entertain, and they cheerfully carry out their ambush hoping to right decades of wrong.


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