The story reel starts to roll from his school days to the time when the narrator is actually living in Bombadrome, which is his name for Mumbai. It is an enclosed city, where air and water are all regulated by the government.
By Bunty Thoidingjam
Varun Thomas Mathew’s is a dystopian novel set in a future Mumbai. It works on multiple levels in tandem with the author’s inner thoughts, presenting a collage of fresh incidents that could set off a series of crucial changes in the country. The allegorical novel takes off from a brilliant idea of hinting at the probable last days of bureaucracy. The narrator, an IAS officer, painstakingly explains the system from the time it was brought into the country to the more recent selection of young officers. The story reel starts to roll from his school days to the time when the narrator is actually living in Bombadrome, which is his name for Mumbai. It is an enclosed city, where air and water are all regulated by the government. The authorities even add chemicals for altering the collective memory of its inhabitants.
The two timelines of his past and present flip as the twin storylines throw up interesting characters: Ankur, Saad and Radha, and the narrator, Convent Godse. CG, as everyone calls him, is the ideal bureaucrat who started honestly and is among the ones who nurtured the Black Dwarves movement or saw it grow right before their eyes. Like all affiliates to political parties, the Black Dwarves start out with good intentions and end up supporting a political outfit that would do anything to win votes: even create chaos in the city. The book is pieced together by a number of tidbits, more like instances and incidents that one comes across in newspapers, journals and works of fiction. The author is at his creative best in conjuring up imagery from real events of utmost ramifications like the 26/11 Mumbai attacks or the attack on the Parliament.
There are real gems in the novel like when an MLA places a weird demand. He asks Radha, worker of the new party, to arrange for a celebrity’s presence at his son’s wedding in the most amusing way: “I will join your party, but only if you can bring Amitabh Bachchan to the reception.” But, like all dystopian novels, the story has a utopian dictator, who strives to bring a change in Bombadrone.
If you don’t like any author moralising, you better avoid this book. But, even the unlikeliest of literary works, whose authors claim not to be on a moral high ground, also have their side of the story. Lastly, I think it’s strange that the protagonist falls in love with a Manipuri woman and he keeps mentioning or calling her by her surname and not by her first name.
Mathew’s debut is a page-turner, where the interest hinges on themes of politics, friendship and love. I can hardly wait for his next.