‘Serious Men’ By Manu Joseph – Book review by Farah Shroff

W. W. Norton & Company, New York 2010

If you are like me and root for the underdog then you may find this book appealing. The main character of this book is Ayyan Mani, a Dalit father, spouse and clerk at a physics institute in Mumbai. Despite the ‘serious’ in the title the book is actually quite comedic. One of the ways in which Mani wanted to “strike back” at India’s ruling Brahmins was to donate sperm— hoping that Brahmins would purchase his seed and sprout little Dalit babies! Much of the book revolves around his desire to make his one and only son famous for being a genius. His little Adi has been born into a very modest home and has few prospects for ever climbing higher than his father, despite the fact that Mani is a member of MENSA and has a very high IQ.

The physics’ institute’s characters and their professional and personal lives take up another chunk of the story. We meet arrogant, brilliant men who think about extra terrestrials and fight about sending balloons into space to see if life drops down from outer space. When the first woman joins the research team, this hitherto all-male bastion changes in unpredictable ways.

All in all this is a great read albeit slow and rather dull in a few places. Joseph is generally a talented story teller. While his male characters are well developed the women in his book lack believability in some ways and in other ways they are stereotyped as not very interesting people.

The front cover, with a friendly and colourful image of Lord Shiva and his son Ganesha, caught my eye. I’m glad I picked it up and took it home. For part of the time, our 12 year old Zubin and me read the book aloud and enjoyed the fun together. Joseph takes on the heavy theme of caste discrimination and weaves a tale that is light yet provocative.


Farah Shroff


Punjabi Film makes it to International Film Festival

Congratulations to Film Director Gurvinder Singh and all members of the team who created ‘Anney Gorhey da Daan’!

Anney Gorhey da Daan ਅੰਨ੍ੇ ਘੋੜੇ ਦਾ ਦਾਨ (Alms of the Blind Horse) a film in Punjabi directed by Gurvinder Singh and based on the novel of the same title on the so-called Dalit theme by Gurdial Singh has been selected for the 68th Mostra Internazionale d’Arte Cinematografica – Venice International Film Festival – to be held from 31st August 2011 to 10th September 2011. This is the first Punjabi film to make it to an international Film Festival of great repute and that too in the Competition section. This is indeed a proud day for Punjab.

The film produced by the Indian National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) was shot in Bathinda earlier this year. It has all non-professional local Punjabi cast except the one main role played by Samuel John of Patiala.

Samuel John who plays the main role of Melu

Anhey Ghorhey Da Daan / Alms of the Blind Horse
On a foggy winter morning, a family in a village in Punjab wakes up to the news of the demolition of a house on the outskirts of the village. Father, a silent sympathiser, joins the community in demand for justice. The same day, his son Melu, a rickshaw puller in the city, is participating in a strike by his union. Injured and alienated, Melu spends the day quietly resting and hesitantly drinks with friends in the night as they debate the meaning of their existence. Cycling through the city streets, Melu feels lost and wonders where to go and what to do. Back in the village, his mother feels humiliated at the treatment meted out by the landlords in whose fields she works. Gunshots are heard in the night and the village is tense. It’s the night of the lunar eclipse. A man wanders asking for the traditional alms while Father decides to visit the city with a friend, even as his daughter Dayalo walks through the village streets in the night.

Director’s Comment
The human face is a landscape. The lived reality of the face reflects time: endured, lived and suffered. Cinema unravels time through the movement in space. The visible evokes the invisible through relationships, contexts, gestures, conflicts. There is the immediate invisible, off screen: the image confronting sound, space confronting space, time confronting time. Then there is the larger cosmic invisible, devoid of cause and effect paradigm, layered through centuries.
Anhey Ghorhey Da Daan tries to evoke the effect of years of subordination of the struggling classes reflected in the macrocosm of events spinning beyond their control. It’s about silent witnesses devoid of power to change or influence the course of destiny, about the invisible violence of power equation and simmering discontent reflected on their faces.

Photos by Sunaina Singh

View Gurvinder’s profile on Uddari Art

‘City Spirit – Shehr Atma’: A set of Gurvinder’s black&white still photography