Rahul Gandhi would have to be a close contender for the honour of being the most lampooned public figure in India, if there's such an award. Hardly a day passes on the Internet without a new meme cropping up about him. Someone is always blowing their top over his famous last words. If you want viral content, almost anything featuring RaGa's antics is likely to do the trick for you.
The same logic, unfortunately, cannot be transposed to the world of digital publishing. A short story, unless you're reading a parable by Kafka or a micro-story by Lydia Davis, usually runs for a few thousand words and takes some time to finish reading. If you're reading on an app, nothing less than riveting writing will make you want to go on till the end. Clickbait journalism, harshly as it is condemned, is always going to have a higher success rate than clickbait publishing — because the former's shelf-life is seldom more than a few hours, it is meant to be consumed and forgotten in as much time.
In case of fiction that appears in a digital-only format, the author-reader dynamic tends to be different. The work needs sass or a gripping subject or electric wit to hold the reader. Juggernaut Books, which has been experimenting with short-format fiction on its app, has come up with a new story by Parvati Sharma, one of India's most accomplished young writers, featuring the scion of the Gandhi family as its centre piece.
Brunch describes Rahul Gandhi making plans for world domination — somewhat like an Internet meme — starting with his desire to spend a night with a cow because, you know, the animal is in great currency at the moment and politically relevant. After camping with poor Dalits, where things did not really work out according to plan, he thinks this is his best chance of getting attention from the electorate.
The strategy is as risible and shallow as most of Gandhi's public statements and this, to me, is the flaw of the story. Instead of imagining Gandhi with any degree of depth, it is fixated on making a caricature out of him — the easiest, and the most predictable, path to choose, really.
Rahul has a Man Friday, fondly called 'Share' Khan by him and his sister Priyanka, as they have fought over him since childhood. The loyal chap has to suffer Rahul baba's monologues and political naiveté, which make Donald Trump's remarks sound intelligible. At the heart of the story is a brunch, where the brother and sister eat with their mother, Sonia, who lapses forgetfully into her Italian accent. They all eat baba ganoush, drink lots of cola, bicker among themselves, and talk about cows.
Nothing more of the story can be revealed, even though there's no great danger of giving away a spoiler. The humour, one can sense the struggle to express it in every sentence, escaped me, unfortunately. The writing doesn't have the spark I have enjoyed in Sharma's earlier books, Close to Home (2014) and The Dead Camel and Other Stories of Love (2010). Those who enjoy political fiction, not necessarily ones filled with murder and intrigue, but also quaint stories, told in a lighter vein — think of The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett — will find not much to take away from this story.
It may be more entertaining to watch the young Gandhi's speeches and interviews on TV or on the Internet instead — if you really feel a strong urge to do so.
Brunch by Parvati Sharma is available exclusively on the Juggernaut app.
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