Is it just me or do most novels written by an Indian follow the same pattern. Do not get me wrong, I love these sort of works but I am sure that there is something called the ‘classic’ Indian novel. Usually this kind of book will either be 1) An Indian living in England and reveling in his own strangeness or 2) Some moment of Indian history – usually partition.
Animal’s People does indeed focus on one part of of history and that’s the 1984 Bhopal (here given a fictionalized name) disaster, where a chemical leak killed and scarred thousands of people. One running thread throughout the novel is about how corrupt politicians try to cover this disaster and not offer any financial aid.
What makes ‘Animal’s People’ different from the glut of political novels is that it is told through one of the most unique characters that inhabit contemporary fiction ; Animal.
Crippled on the night of the leak and under the care of a nun, Animal walks on all fours causing mischief and contemplating on his next sexual contest. He is vulgar and charming in equal measures and his worldview, though not warped, has the dirty innocence (if such a term exists) that one finds in teenage boys. He also has his own dialect of Hindustani, Pidgin English and French, which sort of corresponds with the way he sees life. For example he says ‘Jamesponding’ instead of ‘spying’, making his language a sort of update of the Nadstat dialect found in Anthony Burgess’ ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and it his use of language which gives the book a lot of flair.
Animal’s closest friend is the political activist Zafar, who is campaigning for compensation of his town’s people. Eventually later on in the book this reaches a climax and Aninal learns about himself and the importance of his role in the community. Maybe I did make it out to be a bit airy fairy but to reveal more of the novel will spoil everything.
At turns rude (the Holi scene is one of the best parts here) , philosophical,introspective and incredibly addictive ‘Animal’s People’ is indeed a must read. From my point of view it is a good start for this quest of mine.