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Drama, Doves, and the Big Man’s Fall!​

Step into a world of unexpected turns in After Messiah by renowned journalist and author Aakar Patel. Explore an ill-fated inauguration, where even the best-laid plans couldn’t prevent the catastrophe that lurked over the Big Man. From polished facades to chaotic twists, read this exclusive excerpt to know more about the event that captured the nation’s attention for all the wrong reasons.

 

After Messiah
After Messiah || Aakar Patel

***

He strode directly to the podium, where an announcer was already concluding her brief introduction hailing him. The chief minister attempted to walk with the Big Man but was taken by the arm by one of the escorts and led away into the audience. The announcer fled, and the Big Man now stood alone, facing his people, with flags framed to either side of him. He looked to his left at the battery of cameras and scowled. The senior-most bureaucrat present scampered up to find out what the problem was. The sun was in the wrong place, behind the Big Man. His image would not be lit but appear in silhouette.

The cameramen, a couple of them grumbling, were asked to dismantle their equipment and shift it all across to the other side. This took a few minutes, and the crowd waited. The media crew held off live coverage as instructed. The Big Man glanced at the new position taken by the cameras and, now satisfied, began to speak.

 

He spoke of the misery of the past, the great advances of the present and the glory that was coming soon if it was not already here. It was his standard theme. This hospital would serve the community as it had never been served before. It would help the locals achieve their dreams and those of their children. It was an institution whose founding was the start of an era, and it was only one of many coming up. Times had changed, and this phase in time was a new one, like no other.

 

The Big Man’s content sounded, to some, banal, but his delivery was energetic and often emotional. Certainly, he appeared to be moved by his own words. The audience was not silent and joined in to scream when he led it through the slogans, and it shouted ‘yes!’ and ‘no!’ to the rhetorical questions he posed.

 

Yes, this was a historic occasion. Yes, their lives were better under the Big Man. No, they had never been hopeful in the past. No, the ones who had come before him were not honest. And so on.

 

After he was done, he picked up the remote control on the lectern and raised it to give it a click. From behind the building, a large flock of doves was released and flew up in a disorderly fashion. Some of them had been painted in different colours, to display the colours of the national flag as they rose. But the thing could not possibly have been rehearsed, since the birds flew off once released, and the effect on the whole was chaotic rather than impressive. The Big Man did not communicate his displeasure, but the senior-most bureaucrat grimaced and made a note of who would be held to account.

 

The click had also unveiled a large plaque set around a little concrete circle. It bore some text in the ancient language along with a religious symbol that resembled the Rod of Asclepius but had been altered to make it seem indigenous. The Big Man touched it reverentially and bowed to it.

 

He then stood, appeared to look at the ground and fell on his face, going straight down like a tree. The head bounced once off the paved surface, but the body was still and the hands perfectly aligned to either side, almost as if the going down had been deliberate.

 

It may have been some undetected condition, or perhaps it was something else. The Big Man had died on his feet, in an instant and without warning.

 

The crowd waited for him to rise again. The cameras continued to broadcast the scene, capturing the Big Man’s elegant soles and still hands. The senior-most bureaucrat was unsure what to do, and his concern mounted rapidly. It was out of the question that he would muster the courage to disturb what appeared to be some unrehearsed ritual. (Was the Big Man praying to the hospital?) The armed escorts had been looking into the crowd and to their sides, unaware that behind them the life they were protecting had departed. Their supervisor, a man who had served in the military, first noticed what had happened. Familiar with the relaxed slump of dead bodies, he
sprinted to the corpse with a shout and sounded the alarm. The senior-most bureaucrat, now in full-blown panic, also hobbled quickly over with his juniors. The crowd became restive, and the large police presence between it and the building slowly melted as the chaos grew.

 

The Big Man’s body was picked up and taken to the hospital by the armed escorts, who now assumed charge. Inside they discovered that there was no treatment available in the building—it was not an operational hospital.

 

They took the body back to the helicopters, buckled the Big Man into his seat, his head now to one side, the sunglasses askew, his mouth slightly open and his eyes expressionless. The escorts shouted instructions at each other over the thump of the rotor blades, reached an agreement, signalled through raised thumbs and flew off. The chief minister tried to get into his ride but was pushed away. He did not resist and went off to figure out his way home, and what he would have to tell the party and the media. The senior-most bureaucrat called the Big Man’s office, and told them what he had seen and what was headed their way.

***

Get your copy of After Messiah by Aakar Patel wherever books are sold

Moni Mohsin on Ruby, politics, and choices

Moni Mohsin sat with us for an absolutely delightful chat, and we just can’t get enough of her (and her book The Impeccable Integrity of Ruby R of course!)

 

South Asian literature has historically been seen as heavy and weighted, so do you feel a little more liberated working with a freer style like satire?

MM: It’s not that satire is lighter per se because you can go to really dark places with satire too. I choose to write social commentary that allows me to portray my society as accurately and as truthfully as I can while also exploring its more comedic side.

 

If you had to pick five desert island reads, they would be:

MM: Ah! This is a difficult one not least because my essential reading keeps changing, but if I have to give you top five today they would be:

George Eliot’s Middlemarch because it is so wise, profound and capacious.

Digging to America by Anne Tyler for its wryness, humour and subtlety.

The Complete Works of Shakespeare because God knows when I’ll be rescued.

Some David Sedaris to lift my spirits.

Nuskha-e-Wafa by Faiz Ahmed Faiz so I can keep myself busy by learning all of his greatest  ghazals and nazams by heart and stunning everyone with my brilliance when I finally get rescued.

 

How have you been spending your days indoors?

MM: Editing, writing, recording my podcast ‘Browned Off’ and watching tons of Netflix. And eating chocolate!

 

If you didn’t pick satire, what would be another narrative style that you might consider?

MM: I’d write funny romances and whodunnits.

 

Do you think social media can have a positive impact in a field like politics, or is that too positivist? In theory of course yes, it is possible, like anything else, but do you think the system and political structures create politicians and workers on ground level who could actually wield it as a constructive tool?

MM: Of course social media can have a positive impact. Many activists use it for just such a purpose: they speak truth to power and set the record straight. As with everything else, in using social media too there is a choice involved.

 

What would Ruby do if she were embroiled in today’s South Asian politics? Do you think she would play the system like a fiddle or is the current situation maybe a bit too much even for her?

MM: She would do exactly what she does in the novel: she’d start off believing she is doing good. But very soon, in order to prove her loyalty to her party, she’d find herself peddling misinformation and abusing anyone who disagreed with the party line. And she’d still believe she was doing good.

 

There is a general despondency that seems to have settled in amongst people, with the pandemic and the general world-politics vortex where something goes wrong every day. We find ourselves once again in an age of anxiety. Do you think satire has the potential to push society towards introspection at such a time? Or is it consumed more like page 3 entertainment because people are too tired?

front cover The Impeccable Integrity of Ruby R
The Impeccable Integrity of Ruby R||Moni Mohsin

MM: I don’t really know. I think for satire to act as a catalyst for reform, there has to be some consensus on morality – on what we deem to be right and what we believe to be wrong. But in today’s deeply divided world I’m not sure we have that agreement any longer, if we ever did. My own ambitions as a writer are more modest. I am pleased if I can make someone smile when they read my work or recognize something I’ve written as being truthful.

 

Power and age very easily sway younger, more impressionable people. It happens with Ruby as well, who listens to one speech by Saif Haq and completely discards her reservations about a figure like him. Was the affair between Saif and Ruby a conscious narrative choice from the very beginning, considering it echoes the #metoo movement very closely, or was it something that born later out of the sequence of narrative events?

MM:  It is not just the young who fall prey to the false promises of the powerful and the privileged. The affair between Ruby and Saif, while it is an actual thing in the book, is also meant to function as a metaphor for how we the public, who should know better, allow ourselves to be seduced by celebrity and by the intoxicating but divisive rhetoric of populist leaders.

 

Saif is said to have been modelled on Imran Khan, although he is an echo of several public figures we have seen. Did you have any specific figure in mind when you wrote him or is he more of an amalgamation?

MM: In creating Saif Khan I channelled the arrogance, entitlement and charisma of several populist leaders who are prominent in the world today.

 

The heightened focus on integrity in a field that obviously seems to have none is a very striking anomaly through the novel. In India for example politics seems to have given up on pretences and external polish. Do you think perhaps that morally bankrupt politicians are more effective when they work with the façade of integrity, parading the importance of being earnest? Or is the scene changing in that regard?

MM: I don’t think that Indian leaders have dispensed with their soaring rhetoric about purifying their country and returning to some mythical golden age while simultaneously stepping into a glittering future. Populist leaders never tell their adoring public the truth: that they have no quick fixes and that meaningful change comes only through hard work and sacrifice. The best they can do when their hypocrisy or incompetence comes to light is to either blame others (the opposition, or minorities, or bad neighbours or hostile super powers or the ‘lying’ media or whatever) or else, conveniently ignoring the truth.

~

The Impeccable Integrity of Ruby R is an exciting satire on the life and times of our current politics.

 

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