Manu Joseph's award winning 'Serious Men' and it's follow up ,'The Illicit Happiness Of Other People' were books which I enjoyed a lot. So, I was eagerly looking forward to reading his latest work,'Miss Laila....'. Infact I was very pleased when I could finally get hold of 'Miss Laila' A good couple of hours and a 200 + pages later,I should confess that I have been left with missed feelings.
'Miss Laila,Armed and Dangerous' is the kind of book which is very difficult to review. First and foremost, it's almost impossible to consider this book as a pure work of fiction.May be because of his background as a journalist, Manu Joseph has an opinion about almost everything which has happened in our country in the last decade or so(which in my honest opinion ,is a perfectly fine thing!). But when he tries to pack in too much of his opinions into his latest work and try to pass it off as fiction ,without even bothering to change the 'real-life' names of the personalities involved in a jumbled and often confusing narrative, it results in something like 'Miss Laila'.
The Plot goes something like this- A building has collapsed somewhere in Mumbai and in the midst of the ruins, there is a man who is mumbling something about a potential terror plot. A social media prankster, Miss Aiyer is one of the first persons to reach the spot and with her help , the IB and the officials soon spring into action and commence their 'mission' to nail the potential terrorist. What happens to their 'secret mission' is what the story is all about.
The story line is quite plain and the book is hardly 200 pages long. The language is simple and Manu Joseph's trade mark humour and sarcasm are quite in place which tries to make up for the dullness in the plot , to an extend. Aiyer's 'Pranks' are often quite hilarious. Using Aiyer's character, Joseph has tried to poke fun at almost everyone, be it the media , the so called 'fascists' , 'activists' or the 'neo-liberals'. (Mind you , even the economist Raghuram Ranjan is not spared! The scene involving activist Sathya and his bid for the Nobel Prize is particularly funny! BTW, what was Bill Gates doing in this work?). But the basic problem is , all those funny bits remain as isolated set pieces and they never particularly gel with the story line nor do they add anything to the core plot- they just stick out like isolated, random scenes!
As I mentioned in the beginning, it's very difficult to categorize this book as a pure work of fiction.It's mostly like a string of opinion pieces on some of the important incidents which has happened in our country in the last one and a half decades or so.The author has taken the convenient route of masquerading it as a work of fiction.However, some of his observations and one-lines are quite interesting. Sample this- When the elite of a system become the underclass in another system,they search for a moral cause to restore balance of power. This is popularly known as activism
or this- An erection is the same hydraulic event in political economists as it is in jackasses
or this- It appears that if only passenger trains were equitable systems, many revolutions would not have occured.
Verdict- On the Whole, Miss Laila is an okay read. But a writer who has given us gems like 'Serious Men' and 'The Illicit Happiness....' is defintely capable of much more!