Mammaries: Milk secreting organs of the female species of any mammal, created by the Almighty with the sole purpose of nourishing the famished offsprings of the same (and offsprings and adults of a superior) species. Any other purported objective is purely imaginary, prejudiced, polluting and perfidious.
Welfare: What beneficial accomplishment you execute unto yourself before being footed out (farewelled) or footed around by your detractors or the ‘system’. In other words, ‘welfare’ is the state of wellbeing inflicted upon oneself either by design or destiny.
State: A federation of self governed territories in majestic disarray.
(All definitions have been bootlegged from the Bullford Dictionary of misnomenclature; Hamster and Footbridge publications Inc.)
Upamanyu Chatterjee: Born in 1959, joined IAS in 1983. His first novel – ‘English, August’ was a hilarious take on the Indian bureaucracy, and became a runaway success after it was published in 1988. ‘Mammaries’, which retains Agastya as the main protagonist, is considered to be a fitting sequel to English August.
My tryst with ‘Mammaries’: I picked up ‘Mammaries’ enticed by its ample size, lusty appearance and the sheer provocative appeal of a she-goat’s oversized udders (plus driven by a surge of funny hormones and in perfect consonance with Darwin’s theories of natural selection). Such awfully big and voluminous! 437 pages of unabashed, unbound and bouncy humour – or so the title titillatingly suggested. Particularly in view of the aroma of ‘English, August’ so fresh in mammaries, Upamanyu Chatterjee’s third comical extravaganza promised to be a groovy getaway from the drab hullabaloo of life. What can be more enticing than an insider’s salacious description of gubernatorial goof ups and scandalous relations between brokers of political power? This was an issue not broached frequently, and coming from an author of impeccable credentials, it seemed a worthy expenditure. So out came 295 bucks and ‘mammaries’, sensuously wrapped in a loose paper bodice, was thrust into my eager hands by the Crossword salesman. And while I was driving home with the voluptuous volume by my side, I just couldn’t wait to lay my hands on what lay behind those alluring covers.
The Book itself: The Mammaries of The Welfare State is about the travails of unmarried Agastya, a civil servant who doesn’t mind smoking pot and submitting to the sexual advances of a 40 something divorced socialite heavily influenced by yoga and veganism, amidst a hilariously confusing background of housing problems, transfers, goons, girls, theatre groups, propaganda, perversions, plague, political grime, social stigmas and a virtual potpourri of bureaucratic filth.
Chatterjee takes the reader on a grotesque tour of the dinghy corridors of Indian bureaucracy, lampooning the giant juggernaut and slaughtering sentiments and sensitivities ruthlessly in 12 chapters that constitutes ‘Mammaries’. The sarcasm is just too gory, strewn and scattered at every step, with the bewildered (and unaccustomed) reader having to wince at the liberal use of slang and the choicest of expletives. However, the author is clever enough to veil most of the profanities in a garb of seemingly innocuous literary jargon, without compromising on their inflammatory flavour!
Chatterjee really leaves no opportunity to ridicule the system. His weird and kinky characters include Daya (no, not the affable ‘light throwing’ veteran of MS, but a 40 something divorcee woman with whom Agastya shares his amorous nights), Rajani Suroor (an influential jack of all trades who gets shot by a caricature of a goon), Lina Natesan Thomas (who refuses to take things lying down), Bhanwar Virbhim (an elderly, lecherous and scheming politician who makes it to the cabinet), his equally lecherous but essentially moronic muscle wielding son Makhmal Bagai (the same goon who shot Suroor and who too ultimately seeks refuge in politics), Bhupen Raghupati (a senior bureaucrat with clout and thoroughly repulsive sexual perversions), Kum Kum Bala Mali (a popular film actress of yesteryears – isn’t it too obvious by the way?), Bhuvan Aflatoon (PM) and a multitude of odd sidekicks. He has even named the departments with uncanny ingenuity – DIPRAVED (Directorate of Information, Public Relations And Visual Education) and BOOBZ (Budget Organisation On Base Zero) among others.
I managed to rummage through ‘Mammaries’ in little more than a weeks time, Mouthshut (and all the thundering typhoons therein) taking up the bigger share of my leisure. Chatterjee could have made this novel a bit sleeker by doing away with some 50 – odd pages of uninspiring bureaucratic tomfoolery, but I assume his overeagerness to strip the system stark naked got the better of him. I enjoyed Agastya’s raunchy escapades, and commiserated with his haplessness as the Collector of the imaginary plague – stricken district of Madhna. I relished Chatterjee’s version of Hinglish (there is ample of that exotic stuff too), just as I recoiled at Raghupati’s horrid pedophilia. No doubt, Agastya endears everyone with his ‘May-The-Welfare-State-Go-And-Fetch-Oil’ (Welfare State gaya tel lene!) attitude. Now, I would love to expose more of ‘Mammaries’ but that would take away your right to enjoy this masterpiece on your own. So I conclude with two excerpts replete with trademark sarcastic punches which makes ‘Mammaries’ a thoroughly enjoyable read.
In any given set up, you will first identify the principal source of power. Once identified, you will push, with single – minded sycophantic intensity, to get close. When within sucking distance, you’ll genuflect. Then, your relationship having stabilized, you will magnanimously share your booty, and your soul, with him.
Caste is a much more reliable factor than merit. Every Tom, Dick and Harry has merit, but how many have the right temperament, the right ethos, genes, lineage, morality, attitude, biases, hang-ups – in short – the right caste for a job?
This review was first published elsewhere.