I may be wrong, but many more people read Manu Joseph novels than they let on. It is difficult to believe books as interesting and original can only be read by a small group of readers.
Why would people want to hide the fact they read Manu Joseph books?
Like most contrarian thinkers, Manu Joseph is viewed with caution from people with vanilla views. However, this piece is not about any political views Joseph holds. Instead, our aim is to understand his work as a novelist.
While reading a Manu Joseph novel, you will feel a little uneasy at times as if he has revealed a deep secret about your thinking. Very rarely do writers today manage to challenge readers and their worldview in any significant way.
Where does Manu succeed where others fail? For one, he has something different to say. We live in a time where everyone is playing for a team. If you know which team a person belongs to, you can accurately guess what they’ll say.
Placing Manu in a team is impossible. This quality is evident in his writing too. All three of his books are political to some degree, and each of them raises uncomfortable questions for people from all political sides.
Manu Joseph – A Brief Bio
Before jumping into Manu’s novels, let’s understand his history a little better.
Manu was a journalist for a long time before becoming a published novelist. The precise nature of his writing and effective use of language can be attributed to his journalistic background.
Over the course of his career, he worked for a number of prominent media houses. He was the editor at Open Magazine at the time it broke the Radia story.
In Joseph’s writing, you will find a serious intellectual attempt to question conventional wisdom. For someone who is spoon-fed a traditional line of thinking from news media and academia, Manu’s views are almost revolting at first.
A closer examination would reveal his views do hold merit. And just like that, people find a way out of the matrix.
Radical Candor and Manu Joseph. Why Honesty is a USP in Literature Today?
Radical candor refers to the practice of being brutally blunt with someone. In other words, radical candor is a fancy word for honesty.
Manu’s books are an example of how radical candor is as a major differentiating factor. In an age where disingenuous complex narratives are wildly popular, the truth is a silent secret nobody wants to speak about. Manu is different because he does speak about the truth.
Whether it’s in his books or weekly columns, we see refreshing honesty not seen in the writings of any other contemporary Indian author. While most intellectuals (who are all usually academics who later become authors) kowtow to an orthodox line of thinking, Manu exposes their hypocrisy without mercy.
Take Serious Men, Manu’s debut novel, as an example. The protagonist Ayyan Mani is a Dalit man. Usually, kind and well-meaning upper class people tend to view Dalits as saintly poor people with little aspirations. However, in Ayyan, Manu presents a man full of rank contempt for the upper class.
This is important because it goes against the things well-meaning upper class people think about Dalit people. In the story, Ayyan often scribbles fraudulent quotes on a blackboard in an attept to mock upper caste people. Take this quote as an example.
Reservation for the low castes in colleges is a very unfair system. To compensate, let us offer the Brahmins the right to be treated as animals for 3000 years and at the end of it let’s give them 15 per cent reservation – Valllumpuri JohnA Quote from Serious Men by Manu Joseph
In this quote, we clearly see Ayyan is not a naïve and saintly man as compassionate intellectuals think he is. Like any normal person, Ayyan holds grudges and is unsparing in his contempt for those he thinks wronged his community. His caste does make him an underdog, but it doesn’t make him any less complex. Manu challenges the collectivist view of lower caste people we normally find in traditional media.
The Illicit Happiness of Other People
In Illicit Happiness, we see the Chacko’s desperately trying to move forward in life after a young boy in the family, Unni Chacko commits suicide.
The plot in itself is very sad and melancholic. Joseph shows all three remaining members of the Chacko family struggling to forget Unni’s role in their lives. The father, Ousep, wakes up every morning determined to learn why his son did what he did. His mother is slowly going insane with grief and the youngest Chacko, Thoma, doesn’t have Unni to show him the way.
There are many parts of the book where Manu takes aim at some form of conventional thinking. However, the most interesting topic in the book is the concept of ideas and delusions. During the story, we learn how all mass leaders are actually madmen who manage to transmit an idea to a vast number of people like a disease.
From a political perspective, the whole world broadly believes in a grand sum of two different ideas. The battle between these two ideas is what we see unfolding on TV and in intellectual debates all the time. Joseph views all men propagating these ideas as madmen who possess the power to transmit a delusion to a vast number of people.
Miss Laila: Armed and Dangerous
Miss Laila is Manu’s most political novel and at times extremely provocative. A full reading of the book will dispel any notion of Joseph being either left or right wing. Like a Samurai warrior, he cuts open myths and ideas believed by self-proclaimed smart people from all sides of the political spectrum.
Perhaps the most direct attack on the intellectual establishment comes when Joseph attacks activist and author Arundhati Roy in the book. He highlights her hypocrisy in calling out billionaire Mukesh Ambani and his expensive home when she herself lives in a posh locality in Delhi where most poor Indians can only dream of living in.
In fact, Manu Joseph creates a special character in the book solely for the purpose of calling out establishment intellectuals.
There are writers in India who have their own different writing styles. Manu builds his niche in calling out conventional wisdom and effectively conveying his own style of thinking. In a world where everyone generally toes the line, Manu cuts his teeth by crossing the line and making a mockery of disingenuous narratives.
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Image Credit – Wikipedia