Review: The Goat, The Sofa And Mr Swami

April 16, 2011
Author: R Chandrasekar
Publisher: Hachette India
Year: 2011
ISBN: 9789350090619
Rating: ★★★★☆
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'The goat, the sofa and Mr Swami' weaves together the two most discussed subjects in India – cricket and politics. A comic plot narrates the story of a bumbling Prime Minister who is more interested in his bottle of Red Label and his dirty dance video than in being the leader of a nation. Why is this old man who is barely able to balance himself required to run a country? Simply because he is the acceptable candidate for a vast coalition of parties. A coalition that is completely fixated on grabbing its share of the limelight and power and pays little attention to actual governance.

The rib-tickling capers of a coalition government fighting to survive are just a part of the book. Making things even murkier is the Pakistani government – which is determined to score off India every chance it gets. As part of the political gameplan to humble India, the Pakistani Prime Minister invites himself to the cricket match being played between India and Pakistan in Delhi. What happens before and after the arrival of the Pakistani Prime Minister forms the major part of the story.

In the midst of it all is Mr Swami, the Joint Secretary in the Prime Minister’s office. Mr Swami is technically supposed to implement the orders of the Prime Minister but, in reality, is the man who time and again saves the country from embarrassment. For example, when every member of the Grand National Coalition (GNC) clamors to sit on the same sofa as the Pakistani and Indian Prime Ministers, it is Mr Swami who comes up with the idea of a gigantic sofa that can seat 24 people at a time. As he says,

“I could now accommodate a hundred and eight ministers….provided the match went into the fifth day. By having them exchange positions during each break, a good number could indulge in thigh- rubbing. That left only sixty – five troublemakers. Perhaps I could make sure these got offices somewhere in Delhi. Political crisis resolved.”

Not that Mr Swami suffers from any noble intentions. Every move of his is aimed at furthering his own career and he often uses the current political crisis to settle a few of his own personal scores. And when Mr Swami finds himself in trouble, he is sent off to hospital (to find a cure for fictitious illnesses!) by the Prime Minister who brings Mr Swami back when it suits his purposes.

The complicated and absurd twists and turns of politics and the bureaucratic fondness for obscuring the issue make for a book that is both funny and a sad statement on India today. The story is crowded with characters – there is even the ubiquitous Sadhu on a tiger and a urine drinking politician which were once staple images offered on foreign channels when talking about India. But despite the many characters, it is Sikander, the goat, a present from the Pakistani Prime Minister to the Indian government, who brings about a suitable ending to the book.

R.Chandrasekar’s debut novel leaves us anxiously waiting for his next book!

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