Attack of the Brahmin Adjuncts!!
Read this book: No Onions Nor Garlic by Srividya Natarajan. Outrageously Hilarious!
Written in a style that would impress P.G. Wodehouse, the master himself, this book is laugh-out-loud funny. The author populates Chennai with a cast of zany characters that can rival a Blandings or Malgudi (she also prefers to use ‘Chennai’ instead of ‘Madras’, which I favor, so for the purposes of this review I shall stick with Chennai).
Firstly, there’s Sundar, a mild-mannered English literature student at Chennai University who falls madly in love with Jiva, a Dalit girl at the college vying for an adjunct position in the English Department. Standing athwart history yelling stop is the Chair of the English Department, Professor Ram, whose greatest bugbear is the Reservations Policy whereby all kinds of uppity non-Brahmins are seeking entry into his hallowed scholarly world. He stages a (heavily edited) version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which he attempts to bring to light the moral strengths of the traditional Hindu order. How a Shakespearean comedy gets messed up with the traditional Hindu order has to be read to be believed. Professor Ram is tailed everywhere he goes by the diminutive Ph.D candidate Shastri, whose dissertation has been denied publication by Professor Ram for fourteen years, and who finally gets his revenge in a most appropriate manner. Then there’s Chunky, Professor Ram’s son, recently returned from Canada, seeking a bride, and who doesn’t have bowel movements, so much as bowel symphonies. Others include Caroline the Canadian ethnologist interested in the Dalits (pronounced “Day Lights”), Sundar’s mother who consults internet astrologers to find perfect brides and grooms for her children, Sundar’s father who ran away from home in his youth to join the Naxals only to get lost in the jungle, and Mr. Sheshadri the drunken, loutish, extremely rich and supremely dishonest real estate mogul who has built the hellish Chennai our characters inhabit. There are many more such crazy characters, but I’ll stop here and let you discover them yourself.
The title is taken from a line in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in which Bottom implores his actors to do the following:
"And so dear actors, eat no onions nor garlic, for we are to utter sweet breath"
The line can also apply to the eating preferences of orthodox Brahmins, who refuse to eat such impure foods.
Natarajan takes aim at a bunch of sacred cows, including the system of caste and the absurdities of English literary theory. The strength of the book lies in her amazingly funny writing style (she writes like Plum does, sometimes as an all-seeing narrator, sometimes in the first person, addressing the “dear reader”) and the ridiculous situations in which her colorful characters find themselves. Please read this book – I haven’t come across something this funny in ages.