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Updated: September 15, 2012 17:56 IST

The illicit happiness of other people

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The Illicit Happiness of Other People by Manu Joseph; Harper Collins, Rs. 499
Special Arrangement The Illicit Happiness of Other People by Manu Joseph; Harper Collins, Rs. 499

Extracts from Manu Joseph’s latest book.

Not for the first time since he was brought here, he wakes up and accepts that he is in an impressive hospital ward and that he has not slept on a better bed than this. He is probably heavily drugged; everything around him is in a tidy white haze. He enjoys his own physical frailty, which reminds him of a sleepy rainy day, enjoys the fact that he is being cared for by strangers to whom he owes nothing, especially money.

His body is too feeble even to think, he is filled with what has to be deep serenity, and he is worried that he has been transformed into someone better. Is this clarity? Is clarity a single transparent thought or is it the absence of thought? Was Unni right after all – could it be that thoughts are truly the corrupt dominant species of the world that have colonized man, relentlessly mutating into increasingly complex ideas and making him do things so that they can finally intrude into the material world as marvellous objects?

Ousep loves the drug the hospital has given him, but then his palm circles his hairy chest, which means what he needs now is a small nip.

He sits up on the bed and leans his back against the massive pillow. He tries to remember when exactly he had seen the apparition. A few hours ago, days ago? He is not clear what had woken him up at that moment but when he was awake the first thing he saw was Sai Shankaran standing in the doorway of the ward, meek and harmless, his hair wet and immovable as always in the mornings. Even as a sudden apparition, Sai was incapable of giving a fright. When he finally walked in, the room was filled with the smell of Lifebuoy soap.

‘Have you come to kill me, Sai?’

‘No,’ Sai said in a way that turned Ousep’s jest into a reasonable question.

‘Sai.’

‘Yes.’

‘Will you help me urinate?’

Sai looked terrified. So Ousep lied. ‘I was just kidding.’ The boy picked up a stool from the corner of the ward, sat a foot away from Ousep’s bed, and said, ‘I didn’t come here because you blackmailed me.’

‘I did no such thing, Sai. You’re imagining things.’

‘But what did you tell me at the bus stop? You said the cops would come to my home and ask me questions. You said I have to now mention in the US visa form that there is a police complaint against me.’

‘I was only trying to protect you. I was only trying to inform you of the possibilities so that you are on your guard.’

‘I didn’t come here because you blackmailed me, I want you to know that.’

‘I believe you, Sai.’

‘I know what I did to that woman on the road was wrong. I don’t know what happened to me. I am ashamed. I am ashamed because I am an upright person. I am a moral person, I believe that every man should touch only one woman in his entire life. I believe in morality.’

It occurred to Ousep that morality was probably the invention of unattractive men. Whom else does it benefit really?

‘What made you come here, Sai?’

‘I thought, what if you died, what if you died without knowing the real Unni? So I thought I would come here and talk to you. I owe Unni that much. So I don’t want you to think I am here because I am scared.’

Sai gaped without pride or hope but in his large dull eyes there was also unhappy compassion, which was not a good sign. Ousep was expecting fear.

‘I will tell you everything I know,’ Sai said, ‘but in the end what will be clear is that I may have hidden some things from you but I was not lying when I kept saying that there was no deep reason behind Unni’s death. He wanted to die and that is all there is to it. He killed himself for the same reason people always kill themselves. He did not wish to live.’

He fell silent for a while. Then, as if he had remembered something painful, his nostrils vibrated, his lips trembled, his eyes blinked several times. He blew his nose into his ironed handkerchief and licked his lips as he waited to gather his thoughts.

‘Why are you crying, Sai?’

Sai slouched his back and looked all around the ward. ‘What is everything?’ he said. ‘What is all this? What is life, what is space, what is finite, what is infinite?’

Through Sai’s mouth, philosophy was revealed in its true form – as a bunch of dim questions asked too early in the life of science.

The Illicit Happiness of Other People; Manu Joseph; HarperCollins, Rs.499

The Illicit Happiness of Other People; Manu Joseph; HarperCollins, Rs.499

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Amandeep Sandhu, Manjul Bajaj, Manu Joseph and Sonora Jha read from their novels that were shortlisted for The Hindu Prize for Fiction 2013. Ziya Us Salam introduces them and moderates the session. <... »


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