Title: Unreal Aliens; Author: Karthik Laxman; Publisher: Penguin Random House India; Pages: 240; Price: Rs 199
Once upon a time in a galaxy far away, hope for a declining empire when a prophesied deliverer is born to its aging ruler. But the child is kidnapped and eventually ends up on our planet. Tracking him, the aliens land in Narendra Modi’s India, where they are feted until they reveal their objective. Their plea rejected, they decide to take matters into their own hands, and a neighbouring country is always ready to abet mischief.
Mayhem ensues as the aliens easily take over India, which finds itself defenceless with the armed forces deployed on the borders where both difficult neighbours are making trouble, while the most bloodthirsty Indians are more keen to fight each other.
In face of this unprecedented, momentous and existential crisis, India’s indefatigable leader has to strike up desperate and unlikely alliances, including with purveyors of news, to counter the alien invaders.
But can the politicians cooperate with so much bad blood among them, and does their complex but perilous plan, derived from Hollywood, have any chance of success? And where is the missing prince?
Find out what happens in this magnificently subversive, and uproarious satire which spans India from the corridors of high power to cricket stadiums to secret hideouts of politicians, and even a swanky terrorism university in Pakistan, before the climaxing in a standoff on Delhi’s Old ITO Bridge over Yamuna’s “dark and fetid waters”.
Painting a savagely funny but easily recognisable picture of contemporary India in all its complexities and contradictions is “The Unreal Times” website founder and writer Karthik Laxman in his second book (after “Unreal Elections”, 2014 with C.S. Krishna). And he doesn’t spare any punches or ignore any section of Indian newsmakers – politicians, journalists, cricketers (and commentators), political activists and even Bollywood stars, though off screen – as well as politics, media and culture.
Even Pakistan and its “deep state” don’t escape (don’t miss the servile aide in a meeting of top brass and terrorists), nor does India’s most wanted fugitive criminal – in more ways than one, courtesy unpredictably unreliable Chinese technology. Chinese leaders however seem to have a wicked sense of humour – after a think tank in Pakistan called RANDI, proposing a new agency Cooperation in Human and Technical Intelligence for Young Agents with the acronym using two first letters in human (work that out yourself) .
In the best traditions of satirists, Laxman uses all foibles, though ramped up high, of the characters he portrays – especially Modi’s grandiloquence and sartorial splendor and quick change capability, and the habits and predilections of prominent TV journalists, like a high-decibel one who just quit, and much more.
Not to be missed is the formulaic actions we have seen for visiting dignitaries – made funnier when you realise who the visitors are. Though the day when the aliens land is reserved for informal interaction but not always – with the alien commander finding himself participating in “Swacch Bharat”, recording a “Mann Ki Baat” session, and doing yoga.
And the next day, the two sides sign 27 MoUs including “manufacturing alien spaceships and saucers under the Make in India programme, replacing German with alien language Morling as the third language in schools and the corresponding promotion of Gujarati on Planet Mor….”. The aliens are also persuaded to invest in bullet train technology, Swachh Bharat and the Ganga rejuvenation plan.
But like “Unreal Elections” where we find who Modi’s heroes actually are, how Rahul Gandhi has played a stellar role in Indian politics since the 1970s and why Mamata Banerjee cannot abide fast food, Laxman is best when being wickedly inventive – on how Modi prepares for visiting dignitaries, how Kejriwal and Rahul Gandhi act away from public eye, what Arnab Goswami gets up to with his son’s toys, and what he sees in his dreams.
And while the high-stake cricket match between the Indian team and the aliens is superlatively funny, there are other scenes that may first seem humourous – the returning home of the UP girl kidnapped by aliens, the Margdarshak Mandal’s fate, and some ways Indians defeat the aliens – but then evoke concern and disquiet. Likewise the end where all is revealed.
That is the uncompromising aim of satire, which is also universal in its treatment, and Laxman achieves both aims here.
(Vikas Datta can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )