Title: The Revenge of the Non-Vegetarian
Author: Upamanyu Chatterjee
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
Price: Rs 350
Upamanyu Chatterjee is a name that’s synonymous with English, August: An Indian story, which is still described as the definitive urban Indian coming-of-age novel, even, exactly, 30 years after its publication. Chatterjee may have written a few more novels, but the author seems to have been subsumed in real life by his creation -the fictional Agastya Sen, the protagonist of English, August’. And he needed the Agastya’s father-Madhusudan Sen -to break free.
The novella, The Revenge of the Non-Vegetarian, sees Chatterjee bring up some very pertinent issues like intolerance towards the ‘others’. At a time when people are being persecuted by non-state actors for their dietary choices, this novella is
an essential read for most Indians.
The novella is about the murder of a family in a blaze in the small town of Batia, and how and why of it. The quality of great literature is that it is timeless and always relevant. That’s what the novella is. In 128 pages, Chatterjee discusses class and caste equations, cow vigilantism, food politics and exclusionary tactics of society.
The setting is a small town in India. The time: just after independence. Agastya’s father is the newly appointed Sub Divisional Magistrate of Batia. A pucca non-vegetarian, he can’t digest the fact that his official abode is in a no-meat zone, unofficial though it may be, due to its closeness to the town’s deity. He finds a way to get his daily dose of non-veg meal via his mamlatdar Nadeem Dalvi. But soon Nadeem and his entire family is killed in a fire. While the murder investigation throws up the ‘who’ very quickly, the ‘why’ and subsequent incidents will make everyone introspect.
While the murders were committed as an act of revenge, Sen vowing to turn vegetarian until justice has been done; his ensuring justice as he sees fit — the death penalty — is done even if means committing a crime. The different ‘revenges’ or ‘lynchings’ will leave readers in moral turmoil.
Food may be at the center of the novel, but it is just the thread to hold the plot together and expose the issues that the author wants to discuss. Like a perfectly cooked dish, Chatterjee ensures that there is just the right amount of spices and ingredients to make a taut novel. The author is in fine form and his simple style and prose make sure that readers can savor the book at one go despite the difficult questions it raises. This biting commentary on the very unique ills of Indian society is a must read for everyone.