Category Archives: Politics

Book Review: The Competent Authority by Shovon Chowdhury

The current status of our chaotic country seems to be an extremely fitting time for this book to be written. With our country riddled by dishonest, utterly inept politicians, a failing bureaucracy, a police willing to act only at particular instances, a media perpetually high on steroids, shrewd spiritual leaders (better to call them businessmen, no?) and people divided by stupid things like caste and religion, the book ‘The Competent Authority’ by Shovon Chowdhury is a commentary on the prevailing social and political conditions in India.

With 452 pages and a small sized font, at first this book seemed to pose a challenge to me. Lately, things have been hectic and I have found it hard to sustain the energy to write on this blog, after a long day and the commute in the metro. However this book is anything but boring.

The book The Competent Authority is a witty take on life in the year 2050 in a scenario when cities like Delhi and Mumbai do not exist (at least not in the same form we know them today) because of a war with China (they got nuked). Bengal has declared itself to be a Chinese protectorate and India is controlled by a bureaucrat known as the competent authority, with the PM only being a figurehead(Oh well, not that it is quite different in real life too). The competent authority is invisible to the public and is a megalomaniac with a desire to go down in history as the one who successfully spurred economic growth and reconstruction. Not satisfied by the ongoing reconstruction efforts which have managed to do little ‘re-construction’, the competent authority wishes to ‘re’-start the ‘re’-construction process completely. This, he aims to do so, at great cost, even if you disregard the whole madness of his scheme. Essentially, this is a story of how he is stopped from carrying out his mad plans.

There are many interesting characters who join him, especially Ali – an Al Queda member who isn’t much of a terrorist, Banani – a school teacher who is not as helpless as her husband seems to think, Pande – the epitome of the paunchy Indian policeman or Pintoo – a character without whom the book would be incomplete. Actually, the book would be incomplete even if one of the other characters were to be removed.

The writing is funny and simple, neither compromising on the laws of language (or the ‘literary’ quotient, if you may choose to call it so) nor becoming obtuse to the reader. At the start, one may get a little confused when so many characters are introduced at quite the same time. However, the author has listed all the characters in the book at the start, describing them in a short and funny way.The Author has made fun of everybody, whether it be spiritual leaders running a business in the name of faith, bureaucrats, Bengalis, communists, capitalists, dynasty politics, right wing fundamentalism and even Honey Singh (Yey!).

This is a satire but at the same time, the book becomes sensitive at certain places, giving time to the reader to meditate and take it all in, the whole meaning of life, hidden somewhere in between the different layers of sarcasm, speculation and irony. Extremely poignant are two scenes, one in which Gandhi talks about himself and what’s he done, to Chatterjee, who’s been sent into the past to save Gandhi. The other scene has one of the central characters losing his hand. The book also leaves you with a positive message, albeit a little cliched.

About the book: The Competent Authority | Shovon Chowdhury | Aleph Book Company | Fiction | 452 pages | Rs. 495.

Note: A review copy of the book was provided by the publishers, Aleph Book Company.

Debut Author Interview #3: Shovon Chowdhury and The Competent Authority

I had started the Debut Author series so that the readers of the blog could get to know about the authors also, apart from new books. At the same time, it is important to talk to debut authors who are unique just because they bring something new to the table. I have been trying hard to talk to interesting debut authors and I hope you are liking this feature till now.

Today, we learn more about Shovon Chowdhury, new author on the block. Chowdhury does not seem to be one of the new (and typical Indian MBA/Engineer) authors who ‘write’ books to satisfy a particular segment of the population.

Shovon2-credit-Shyon Chowdhury

Image Source

Shovon Chowdhury is at his witty best when he answers some of the questions I pose to him. Do read my review of his latest book ‘The Competent Authority’ before reading this.

1. Tell us something about yourself.

I was born in the UK, and came back to Calcutta when I was 10, because my parents wanted me to be an Indian citizen. So I’m a reverse immigrant – the opposite of Jhumpa Lahiri, or Shilpa Shetty’s husband. I didn’t run away. They made me run back. I had to take a crash course in Bengali. I think I know Hindi as well, but other people don’t always agree.ย 

We’ve lived in Delhi for the last twenty years. I know it has its problems, but I’m very fond of it. When people complain about Delhi, I always think, they should have lived in Calcutta under Jyoti Basu. It was a place were you couldn’t breath without Party permission, and anyone who did any actual work was viewed as an enemy of the people. Also they painted the tip of the Shahid Minar red, lending a whole new meaning to the term ‘erecting a monument.’

2. What inspired you to write this book?

The news, mostly.

3. Is the Competent Authority based on a person in real life?

I’m not supposed to talk about that. I could be arrested for sedition, or under Section 66A of the IT Act for ‘causing inconvenience’. But he’s real, alright. Who do you think comes up with all the procedures for spectrum allocation? Who was in charge of disbursing Rs 70,000 crores in Maharashtra for irrigation, leading to a 0.1% increase in irrigated area? Who declared Section 144 for 30 days in the town of Thiruvananthapuram, to prevent Dengue? Who do you think makes sure Durga Shakti Nagpal’s transfer orders are properly drafted? He’s all around us.

4. The ending seems a little abrupt? Will we ever come to know what Banani manages to do? Are you going to write a sequel?

I always wanted to end it that way, from day one. Don’t ask me why. I know it’s very simple, but sometimes, life is simple.

I think that’s it for Banani. But you shouldn’t worry. She looks like a delicate flower, but she can take care of herself.

Regarding the sequel, yes, but it’s more of an equel. It describes events that happen at the same time, in Calcutta. That’s where Sanjeev Verma the mining magnate disappears to. I caught a lot of flak for poor writing and loose ends, because he vanished suddenly. I was hoping people would miss him. Apparently some people did. Next time I’ll add a footnote.

I thought Calcutta under Chinese rule might be a fun place to visit. Both parties are equally horrified. Plus there’s the Kolkata Knight Riders under Chinese management, and the lamentable imitation of a Royal Bengal Tiger.

5. What happened to Ali?

He’s roaming the villages of Bengal, spreading the songs of Bob Marley.

6. Was this book difficult to write?

Not at all. I finished it at least six times.

7. The book has released at quite a fitting time. We have Loksabha elections coming soon and everything seems so wrong with the world. Was this release date deliberate?

I took eleven years to write it. The timing had nothing to do with me. I was still messing about with it, because it needed improvement. David just snatched it away from me and sent it for printing. It’s like an exam. At some point, they take away your answer script.

His answers are much like his debut novel, The Competent Authority- witty, playful and yet say a lot. Order a copy now and read this book!

The author on social media-

Follow on twitter: @shovonc

Blog: www.shovonc.wordpress.com

BC of the Day #6: Sachin’s writing a book !

Sachin Tendulkar takes oath today as Rajya Sabha MP.

I don’t think he will need any help writing this book.

โ€œI don’t believe in Heaven or anything. But I want to be the kind of person that qualifies for entry anyway.โ€ย 

Nick Hornby, How to be Good

What do you think? Leave a comment below ! ๐Ÿ˜€

Original Cover: How to be Good by Nick Hornby

BC of the Day #5: Anna Karo mat na !

So here’s the newest BC !

“”But that’s just the aim of civilization – to make everything a source of enjoyment.”

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenia

So, Anna is going on a fast today, with Ramdev Baba of all people.ย I must say, I find it highly distasteful. I am still undecided if I support the Lokpal in the first place or not. More laws and power into the hands of officials (even if they may be part of the Lokpal) doesn’t exactly suit me. But I am also tired of the constant rigmarole by politicians and never ending corruption. Fast all you want, but please don’t do it with Ramdev!

WHAT DO YOU THINK ?

Original Book Cover: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

BC of the Day #4: Adventures of Shikhandi

So, today’s BC is based on the current controversy of the PM being called “Shikhandi” by Prashant Bhushan. This comes after charges have been levelled against him by Team Anna. You can read about it here and here.

Original Cover: The Adventures of Suppandi from the Tinkle Digest

Extra Remarks: Suppandi ? Or Shikhandi ? Potato, Pateto ! ๐Ÿ˜€

BC of the Day #1 : BJP wears Prada ???

So, I’ve been experimenting with photoshop and learning bit by bit. I have put up those pics here on this blog, trying to relate books and current affairs. Now on wards I will regularly updating a Book Cover (Yes, that’s what I meant by BC !) along with the regular stuff on books.

Here’s Book Cover of the Day !

Coming Soon ! ๐Ÿ˜›

So tell me what you think !!

Also, share it if you like it !!

Original Book cover: The Devil wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger