A Boy in a Man’s World

Review of Mr. J Has Left Us; Sanjiv Bhatla; Crabwise Press 2012; Rs 300; pp 283

– Shana Susan Ninan

From the author of A Sinner Says and Injustice, comes another dramatically-woven novel – Mr. J Has Left Us. For those of us who’ve read Injustice, J is the protagonist: happy for a while with his vagabondish lifestyle, a typical 9-5 salesman who has his “fun” in the wee hours of the night. Well, in Mr. J… he’s gone up a step; rather, come down a step, as the author would prepare you to believe it. J resigns his salesman job, and tries to start taking home tuitions and coaching classes.

Coming to the big city of Mumbai, from the small town of Etah, J. Gossain ill-adjusts to the ways of the city, to put it mildly. In his bid to “fit in”, he falls into the many metaphorical ditches that he doesn’t quite climb out of. For one, as the author describes J’s demeanour three years after he’s reached Mumbai this: “from a good-mannered athletic boy eager for a laugh, chit-chat and warmth, to a quiet man given to aloofness, walking at a dignified pace with his head bent low.” That he had a domineering mother and spent most of his time in silence than in forwardly opening up to people does not help him in any way; as a grown-up, he still retains those traits strongly.

Folded within the linear plot of the novel are several layers of J’s childhood and past. I’ve always argued with Sanjiv that his books’ narration bit severely exceeds the dialogue part, but the narration in Mr. J is very much a necessary and relevant tool in this novel. It brings to fore many characteristics, peculiarities and attributes of J’s life to the fore. The reader gets his dose of information from the mouth of the narrator, whose name in this case is revealed well into the first 5o pages of the book. The fact that the narrator plays a huge role in the plot, sometimes even higher than that of J’s, is interesting to note. It is the narrator who explains J’s not-so-inconsequential mood swings, his dealings with himself and people around him affected by his enforced humility and his inability to accept the drastic changes in his lifestyle and status.

The narrator’s role in fingering J up the wall can sometimes be quite on the face, but as you near the end of the book, the well-delivered “surprise” lends sufficient reason to it. And it’s not just J he describes in great detail; the narrator is quick to notice the quirks in people in his surroundings. A keen observant of goings-on around him, the narrator mirrors many of J’s own conclusions of people and situations.

Sanjiv’s portrayal of God and injustice are quite a take-off from his earlier novels. But its presence is quite strong in the latter parts of the novel – just before the surprise comes up. As a poet himself, Sanjiv’s words and prose ring well in the readers’ ears. His use of satire and exaggeration are particularly noteworthy when J’s mannerisms are detailed. J, according to the narrator, is “as in football, not a striker but a submissive goalie”, very unlike the aggressive go-getters that big cities churn out.

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Rating: 7.7/10 (11 votes cast)
A Boy in a Man’s World, 7.7 out of 10 based on 11 ratings

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 27th, 2012 at 11:43 am and is filed under Fiction, Realism, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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