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What do you say of a book whose protagonist you absolutely dislike? And find that there is no redemption for him in the book, or in your heart?
‘An Obedient Father’ is such a book and that is where the brilliance of the narrative lies. From the days of the partition of India, the 1984 riots to the mucky world of Indian politics, gangs and movie stars, Ram Karan’s story matches the unrelenting pace of India and her progress.
Ram Karan is a corrupt official, the kind you would find in any government office in India. Crass, in-your-face, money, food and gift demanding , lowly government official who stops at nothing to get money out of the target. At the beginning of the book, Ram Karan evokes some sympathy – he has recently lost his wife, and his young widowed daughter Anita and the grand-daughter, come to stay with him.He tries to provide for them, is friendly with his grand-daughter, and also mourns the loss of his mother, the one person he loved the most in the world.
In a drunken state one night, he rubs himself against his innocent grand-daughter, and a terrible secret is revealed. He tries to redeem himself – he protects a Sikh family during the 1984 riots and tries to make peace with Anita and his grand-daughter. He betrays the person he works for when he sees the winds of change in politics.
Yet, he does not evoke sympathy again.
Is Ram Karan evil or merely weak? It does not matter because there is no explanation for his act of betraying his daughter. He is insightful though. Ram Karan understands why his deceased wife’s family will not support his daughter Anita. He knows the repercussions of her revelations.
Yet nothing he does can make him atone for his sin.
Akhil Sharma keeps deft control over most of the story but I found the end a little contrived and unsatisfactory.
For all its little imperfections, An Obedient Father, is an impressive book.