A bittersweet read set in a humorous chaos: The Competent Authority

May 21, 2014
Author: Shovon Chowdhury
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
Year: 2013
ISBN: 9789382277606
Rating: ★★★☆☆
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Set in an imaginatively futuristic India, The Competent Authority is a delectable political satire of the current national political scenario.

The Plot
India in the 2030s is not anything like it is now. The capital of the country is New New Delhi. Bengal is now a protectorate of China. Haryana’s sex ratio has descended to a pathetic 400. After being nuked by China, the country is now secretly governed by a person at the very top known as Competent Authority (CA). The radiation has had strange effects on people, one of them being Pintoo, a 12-year old boy who discovers his power of bending space-time continuum after he gets mutilated by the Bank of Bodies. He decides to use his power for the greater good and sends three people: an Al-Qaeda operative, a CBI clerk and a corrupt cop to alter three major events in Indian history.

The Good

Written in simple and palatable English without too many obtuse words, the book’s central theme is satire which tends to make fun of everybody, be it certain ethnicities, faiths, politics or society. Though the book seems to skim through a thick layer of swish humour, there is a hidden layer of profound philosophy lying beneath, questioning the possibility of the constructed future being somewhat similar to the yet unknown one. All the characters are written in response to the situation constructed. Some of them are absolutely hilarious, and a few leave you with a smile. The plot too is interestingly structured. Pintoo’s mission to fix the past with the help of a few adults forms the core plot, with the obsessively strange dystopic India providing the backdrop.

The Bad

With 452 pages and a small size font, the book is too lengthy for a satire and a seemingly discouraging read. Though the characters are juggled in a funny milieu, their interactions seem to be a bit too unrealistic. The central character of CA doesn’t live up to its authoritative designation, being heavily beleaguered by a clichéd mindset and undiscerning fool-like decisions. There are quite a few brilliant novels that handle satire and humour in a mature way, The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson to name one. But here, the author uses it in an explosively excessive amount, in every page and paragraph of the book. Perhaps the old saying – ‘too much of anything isn’t good’- is true.

On a last note, The Competent Authority can be read if you have a lot of time to spare and no other novel to read. As you flip the pages, you will surely get involved with the story, but the threshold is placed too high. Fans of satire and dark humour, though, are sure to like it.

Kanishk Singh

Writer at IndiaBookStore
A bibliophile and cinephile. Deeply interested in the literature and process of writing. Penning down my first novel.

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