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I love this book, it had me howling with laughter, and crying my eyes out.
Every now and then you come across a novel so honest that it leaves you gasping for breath like a blow to the solar plexus. The emotion is raw, the story honest and the language simply that of ordinary street people. You know that once you start reading it will break your heart and yet you keep turning the pages because the story has to be told.
Animal’s People is an intimately gripping story told by “Animal”, a young survivor of a chemical “apokalis” [apocalypse] in the Indian city of Khaufpur. Animal isn’t his real name, which he can’t remember. Everybody calls him Animal because he lopes on his feet and hands due to his severely twisted spine – damage caused by the gases of the apokalis.
‘I used to be human once. So I’m told. I don’t remember it myself, but people who knew me when I was small say I walked on two feet just like a human being.’ Aged six he is burned up by a fever that bends his spine permanently and reduces him to a life lived at the level of the crotch.
But don’t dare pity Animal. In torrents of spectacularly bad language he expresses his contempt for those who would label him a victim, mocks the heavy sympathy of visiting western journalists and derides the earnest efforts of his do-gooding activist friends. About as politically incorrect as it is possible to be, Animal cheerfully lies, cheats, peeps at bathing women, thinks unprintable thoughts, dreams wet dreams, verges on betraying the campaign for justice but throughout remains starkly real and immensely lovable.
The people around Animal are fellow survivors, activists, do-gooders, musicians, government officials, lumpens and lust objects. Zafar, an idealistic and charismatic leader, leads the struggle against the “Kampani” that refuses to take responsibility for its actions. He is joined by Nisha, the daughter of a famed local musician, who is also the love of Animal’s life. When an American doctor Elli Barber comes to town she changes the equation leading to intrigue, betrayal and an explosive ending.
Imagine anger, sadness, laughter, bawdiness, absurdity and flights of power-defying imagination in one book – thats Animal’s People.It’s a beautifully written story, in a world that seems dark and terrible, yet which is part of our own, for although Khaufpur is fictional – a place of terror and dread – its real-life counterpart is Bhopal.
Khaufpur can be as close or far from Bhopal as you want it to be but in every page one can recognise the intricacies of wickedness and resistance in a gassed city. Animal is the damage the gas left in its wake. His life is the embodiment of the destruction. The people around him know what happens when despair drags the soul into a dark and bottomless pit. And yet because they are human there is hope and that hope gives strength to the determination to fight the good fight. There is love too, and the laughter of defiance, in the slums of Khaufpur. This is the story of the have-nothings fighting the have-alls and winning.
The heart of the novel is the journey Animal makes from being a creature to a man. The very human-ness of Animal’s nature is what also gives the book its incredible strength. There is sensitivity yet no sentimentality when Sinha writes about a boy of not-yet-20 who is so human that he has to hide behind the guise of an animal.