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Doggone love

Doggone love
What would Gandhi have thought of today’s bottoms? The old man probably had no idea what women of his time looked like beneath the bundles of clothing they put on. But he would have, feels Radhey Radhey Kumar, the unlikely hero of Anurag Mathur’s The Country is Going to the Dogs, strongly disapproved of today’s girls who roam in ‘tight trousers that revealed the perfect shape of their bottoms, round and juicy’. The country, he ruminates, is going to the dogs.

74-year-old Radhey Radhey (RR to friends) leads a retired bureaucrat’s life, sitting at his window, looking out to All Saints Women’s College, watching girls walk in and out and remembering days gone by. He is a widower, his only son stays separately with the wife and granddaughter who RR dotes on but hardly gets to meet as the daughter-in-law has never quite warmed up to him. One room out of his three-room flat has been converted into an office for an accounting practice which is not doing well.

The other two rooms are sparsely furnished. The neighbourhood dhaba sends RR all his meals.

RR’s life is as uneventful as a retired government servant’s life can get. He spends his days complaining about the decline in the way the country is run and the dip in moral values in today’s youth. The only joy for him is when girls from All Saints drop by, mostly out of sympathy.

Things look up when Bollywood starlet Miss Fifoo suddenly disappears. She is an alumnus of All Saints and the college principal Mrs Malhotra wants RR to investigate the case as the police have been unable to find her and the news of the famous former student’s disappearance, if leaked to public, would bring disrepute to the college.

So RR embarks on the most thrilling journey of his life, a journey into Delhi’s seedy underbelly. From wife-swapping clubs to gay bars, from hijra colonies to hideouts of Pakistani gangs operating in India, the ageing RR gets to know his city in ways he never had and comes out alive mouthing the one thing he has come to believe about India: The country is going to the dogs!

Mathur has done four novels before. The most successful being the bestselling The Inscrutable Americans about an Indian exchange student’s experiences at a small American university. Apart from being a study of two societies in stark contrast with each other, The Inscrutable Americans became a big hit for its fast pace and good-hearted humour. The Country is Going to the Dogs retains both qualities.

This is a book you can read up in one sitting. It’s a thriller that makes you smile at every turn of page even as the mystery of the missing Fifoo keeps you engaged. But more importantly, Mathur exposes the Indian middle class man for the hypocrite he is. As RR hunts for the truth, readers are let in on the lies this ageing retiree has built around himself. For all his moral grandstanding, RR has lived a life of lies and deceit, propositioning gullible typists in his office, sleeping with married women, ogling at girls young enough to be his daughter. Even the decision to buy a flat opposite a women’s college was taken with an ulterior motive.

In one of the more poignant moments in the story, RR’s wife tells RR a few nights before she died: ‘Sex obsessed, uncontrollable, hopelessly promiscuous, tiringly unfaithful, I think of you as a normal, average, Indian male.’

That’s Anurag Mathur taking a long, hard look at you, dear reader!
Daipayan Halder

Daipayan Halder

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