Thursday, 2 February 2017

The Illicit Happiness of Other People - Manu Joseph

Date of Reading: 02/04/2016
Author: Manu Joseph
Publisher: Fourth Estate
Place: New Delhi
Year: 2012
Rating: 3.3/5
From: Prachand Narayan

          This is my second book of Manu Joseph and I was surprised to find how dissimilar they were  -- both in theme and in its expression. In terms of story, I will always prefer 'Serious Men', but this particular one is not without its attractions. Manu's vivid diction has successfully captured the day to day life of a Madras society with the Chacko family occupying the centre point. But the mystery element that weaves the whole story together lacks the necessary pull. . . and is kind of boring . . . (I must confess that I did have a peek at the ending in the beginning itself).
          What makes it memorable and unique are some interesting scenes that many a household may witness; a despaired father coming home drunk pouring abuses on the neighbors, a young Thomas gathering courage to face the world every morning, and Mariamma pouring out her troubles to the silent walls. The all too optimistic Unni Chacko looks aloof and out of this world, but not his family and friends and they make the real story of this work. Now to the story:
          Three years after the suicide of seventeen year old Unni Chacko, his father Ousep receives an unfinished comic of his son by post. It was returned undelivered as a fire in the post box had burned the delivery address. Ousep's restless mind began to hope as this may finally lead to what he always ached to find -- the reason of his son's sudden death who until then had lived a very happy life.
          He starts interviewing Unni's friends again and through their words a picture of Unni emerges for the readers as well as for Ousep. As a cartoonist he showed wisdom far beyond his years, but while his fellow classmates sweated for the IIT-JEE exams, he led a carefree life focusing more on the pursuit of the metaphysical. 
    Ousep himself is a journalist whose unaccomplished writing career has turned him into a drunkard who coming home at night enact dramatic scenes for their neighbors in Balaji Lane. His wife Mariamma secretly wishes for his death and pours down all her complaints loudly to the silent walls. Amidst this drunkard father and half witted mother the youngest son Thomas Chacko leads a life of shame, frightened to meet his neighbors' and friends' gaze. Along with this he cherishes a secret crush towards Mythili, their beautiful neighbor who has gone aloof after Unni's death. But on Mariamma's request, Mythili agrees to take tuition to Thomas and gradually he grows bolder.
            When Ousep gets admitted to hospital on a sudden heart attack, Sai Sankaran, one of Unni's close friends decides to confess the story of the comic. It is about a man named Philippose who had tried to molest Mariamma when she was a little girl. When Unni came to know about this incident, he secretly travelled to his mother's place in Kerala to take revenge. But Philippose was already dead and Unni comes back disappointed.
          As the secret of the comic is solved Ousep reaches a dead end. The only other option is Somen Pillai, the other close friend of Unni, who refuses to meet him. Ousep's enquiries reveal that he is affected by corpse syndrome where the person thinks he is a corpse and leads a completely depressed life. Due to his constant pestering Soman comes out of his secluded room to narrate what happened on Unni's last day. They had spent thirty minutes in a room with a naked woman without touching her in order to test their strength against temptation. Later Unni leaves Soman's house and after a few hours kills himself.
          Meanwhile Mythili learns the story of Philippose from Thomas and her comment startles him -- "Philippose should have killed himself, not Unni." Ousep stitches the facts together and rightly assumes that after leaving Somen's house, in a fit of passion he tried to seduce Mythili. Ashamed of his act he kills himself thinking that everyone will soon come to know of his crime. But Mythili kept everything to herself and Ousep believes that soon she will be ready to mend the broken ties with his family.

Something to ponder:

"A scooter in Madras is a man's promise that he will not return home drunk in the evening." - 4

"But then the fate of shy people is that all their fears usually come true" - 5

"The most foolish description of the young is that they are rebellious. The truth is that they are a fellowship of cowards" - 9

". . . the ultimate goal of comics is the same as the purpose of humanity - to break free from language" - 18


Manu Joseph
". . . the fate of love in Madras is neatly divided into four kinds of suicide. Lovers who know that their parents will never let them marry go to a cheap hotel room, get into wedding clothes, and eat rat poison. If they elope instead, their parents will consume the same rat poison. If it is only the girl's parents who object to the marriage, she is most likely to immolate herself. Men who are spurned by girls almost always hang themselves from a ceiling fan. Men very rarely set fire to themselves for a girl" - 248
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