Review: The Harappa Files

April 23, 2011
Author: Sarnath Banerjee
Publisher: Haprer Collins India
Year: 2011
ISBN: 9789350290316
Rating: ★★★★½
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‘The Harappa Files’, author Banerjee informs us in the opening pages of this hilarious book, are the result of the decade-long labours of the Greater Harappa Rehabilitation, Reclamation and Redevelopment Commission (GHRRR), a secret think tank that “..operates from the nether regions of the government’s subconscious”, and intends to survey the “..ethnography and urban mythologies of a country on the brink of great hormonal changes.” What follows is a series of short, unconnected narratives, marked by Banerjee’s trademark wit and eye for detail. Combined with his characteristic artwork, at once vibrant and grotesque, the Files are a tongue in cheek look back in time, at a nation teetering on the threshold of that phenomenon so fondly called ‘Shining’.

With its fleeting glimpses of the quaint in the quotidian, the Files read like a sort of literary rear view window, lampooning the absurd relics of our recent past – Boroline, the Complan jingle, Lifeboy soap, the national obsession with entrance exams and trivia. ‘Cracks’, the first of the files, is a gloomy portent of things to come, with its metaphor of a humble wooden trawler thrown into deep waters by an upstart engine. ‘City of Gates’ picks apart the paranoia of the Indian gated community, as it barricades itself against real and imagined threats, and the many ‘sub citizens’ that live on the pavements around its gates. ‘Hydra’ is a cheeky expose of the intrusive land lady; ‘Nano’, narrated by ‘..the last pedestrian of Delhi..’ highlights the perils – and potential victories – that await the humble walker in that traffic choked city, poised to welcome the Nano. And ‘Extra curricular’, which includes the graphic gracing the cover of this tome, sneers at the twin obsessions of every Indian student and his mother – ‘hobbies’ and the IIT entrance exam.

Banerjee’s acerbic eye misses nothing and spares no one –ghoulish bureaucrats and their hapless victims, shrewish house owners, greedy builders, Che, Ratan Tata. He even turns his sardonic eye on himself, casting a certain under employed ‘small time publisher’ called Sarnath Banerjee as the official scribe of the Files. With its shrewdly observed stories, each rich in subtext , this is the kind of book you will feel compelled to leaf through repeatedly in the quest for something new.

Check out some Excerpts from the book

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