Satirical Writing – The Indian Story
How can someone be funny and serious at the same time? It is like asking me to see a respected guru in a capering clown. But, then, that is exactly what a satirist aspires to be and do. Satire seeks to make you laugh and make you think.
The point of all satire is to show up the foibles of individuals, leaders, social systems, history or even society at large in a funny – even ridiculous – light and make people think about their flaws. To be sure, not all satires are funny. Dark and serious satires do exist but the commonly understanding of satire is that it is humorous.
Satire can be primarily narrative in nature. In fact, most of Indian satirical writing is only narrative satire. Satire writing in English, I hasten to add, for it would take a brave man, indeed, to make a sweeping statement about the literature in so many languages and I am widely famed for my…err…diplomacy, shall we say?
By narrative satire, I mean that what is being said is not particularly funny, but the way it is being said is what makes it funny. If I am sharing a bed with someone who snores, and I find it difficult to sleep, I could say, “It is difficult to get to sleep when you are sharing a bed with a cement mixer running at top speed.” If it is funny at all, it is because of the metaphor for, otherwise, all I am saying is that “His snoring was so noisy that I found it difficult to sleep.”
Incidentally, that example counts as sarcasm but is not satire. Satire may make fun of individuals but, ideally, there has to be a purpose to it. “He seemed to be sorely lacking in an understanding of anatomy, from the way he always looked for a woman’s face in the vicinity of her chest” is a satirical comment since, someone’s attitude towards women can be legitimate fodder for satire. Thus, narrative satire would use irony and sarcasm to convey the point but the nature of the point would make it satire or mere sarcasm.
Most Indian newspaper columnists and bloggers, who write political or social satire, normally use narrative satire to convey their points. Salman Rushdie uses a lot of satirical narrative in his novels – especially Midnight’s Children – as, indeed, do a lot of Indian authors, even when the overall novel is not satirical. In fact, if one were to seek Indian satirical works in English (or even Indian humor books) almost all of them would be collections of such satirical essays on different topics, rather than satirical novels. Khushwant Singh, Jug Suraiya, Bachi Karkaria, and, maybe, Santosh Desai in recent times have had books of that nature though, to be sure, Khuswant Singh’s writing encompasses much more than just such collections.
Satire can use farce and burlesque to convey it’s message. When a satirist goes in for this mode, an existing flaw, as seen by the satirist, is exaggerated to absurd levels to bring out the problem. As in saying, for example, “It looks like we are ruled by people who rush about saving cows from slaughter, when they are not busy slaughtering unborn girl children.” This would count as dark satire, since the humor is black. Better examples of farce can be found in Unreal Times and Faking News where current political happenings are burlesqued to criticize certain aspects of political behavior. Where, in narrative satire, the way you described the events made for humor, here the events themselves are exaggerated or taken to ridiculous levels.
All these techniques will still not suffice to write a satirical story or novel. One can consider a farce or burlesque as a skit, say, but not as a complete play. Likewise, a short story can be a farce but an entire novel like that would be considered farcical. But, yes, any novel of that sort would certainly use irony, sarcasm, farce and burlesque in portions of the total story.
The most common modes used to write a satirical novels are allegory or parody or even an allegorical parody. In an allegory, the general modus operandi is to fit in current happenings into a well-known old tale. The names of the characters, the parallels drawn between the reality and the tale and the narration all contribute to the humor as well as the criticism of the current reality. Shashi Tharoor’s The Great Indian Novel is a fine example of this, where the politics of the India have been fitted into the Mahabharat, though some opine that it is more of an allegorical parody. George Orwell’s Animal Farm is an example of the other type of allegory, where he uses the farm run by animals, headed by pigs, as an allegory for the communistic Soviet Union. A similar book is Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, which is said to be a satire on colonialism. (In fact, it is difficult to see examples of pure allegories. All of these books may be seen to be allegorical parodies)
A parody, in my opinion, is a more elaborate version of the burlesque. The characters are caricatured – in the sense that the satirist highlights only that aspect of a character which is relevant to the social or political thought that he intends critiquing, and does not pay heed to rounding the character. The events are also exaggerated to highlight the flaws, normally though not necessarily, in a funny manner. The important difference, though, is that the burlesquing can be jumpy but a parody has to read like a coherent whole. I am afraid that I cannot cite any Indian parody.
Ayn Rand’s books, to me, are satires of communism and serious parodies – her society is an exaggerated version of communistic thinking, and her characters, though skimpily rounded out, mainly stand out for the manner in which they relate to the economic system rather than, say, whether they are the sort to help old men cross the road.
Just to round out things, an allegorical parody would be allegorical as well as caricature its characters and exaggerate events. Actually, though, I can cite an attempt at a humorous parody in Indian writing. My own. A Dog Eat Dog-Food World is a parody of marketing management and its impact on Society.
A humorous satirist attempts to make you laugh and make you think. It is not necessary that he makes you agree with his own thinking. Above all else, a satirist is someone who wants you to question things around you. If he expected you to agree with him wholesale, he would be setting up a religion of his own, which would indeed be an irony.
Satire, in India, is still largely restricted to targeting people and their actions. It is time that Indian satire writing started taking on the fault-lines in the various systems by which we run our society.
What is A Dog Eat Dog-Food World
A hilarious pseudo-history of marketing management, which explicitly denies resemblance to any actual history, and which will be horrified if some semblance be found. The story of a man who discovered that the path of life is strewn with treadmills and, if you get on one by mistake, you could keep running all your life to stay in the same place. The story of how a businessman may just be minding his…err…business and the ‘Invisible Hand’ can cause unexpected consequences to arise out of his innocent actions. There is no point blaming the tale for being exaggerated because that is precisely what it seeks to be – an ‘exaggeratio ad absurdum’ of some facets of the world. Anything you learn from the book – be it the basics of marketing management or a satirical view of Society – you do at your own risk.
The tale only dogs the doings of:
Spike Fortune who only sought to feed dogs and, later, sought more dogs to feed.
Jerry Fortune who, being fortuneless, gets dragged helter-skelter behind his uncle Spike in the latter’s careening pursuit of commercial success and gets sandwiched between Spike and
Tyke who was Spike’s resident genius on enticing dogs with their wares. He also has to help Spike in his rivalry with
Tom Rich, who is unwillingly dragged into upstaging Spike and tries to do it by teasing the palates of cats, helped by the bumbling efforts of
Jasper Rich who would rather be partying than chasing cats with cat-foods.
Spike Fortune, who, being unable to justify his existence by making money, is obsessed with justifying his existence by spending all his inherited wealth. Lead into the paths of commerce, he discovers that, while it may seem attractive to set out to lose money, the natural consequence of having people consider him a loser was indigestible. Having set out to feed dogs, Spike becomes obsessed with feeding more dogs and, later, having more dogs to feed.
Jerry Fortune, who discovers that there are perils to having your livelihood depend on a benevolent uncle. Tied to his uncle’s coat-tails by a need for sustenance, he is dragged helter-skelter behind Spike in the latter’s careening progress in pursuit of commercial success. Having first been a mere interpreter between his uncle, Spike, and the resident marketing guru, Tyke, he later finds that being in the middle can get very uncomfortable, indeed.
Tom Rich, who had never realized that the easy contempt he had for his schoolboy acquaintance could prove so dangerous. Spike’s meteoric rise in the world of Commerce puts him in a position of either having to prove himself better or have all that contempt come back with usurious interest. He drags his nephew, Jasper, along in pursuit of teasing the palates of cats.
All that Spike and Tom had wanted was to be a winner in their respective businesses and, more importantly, in their own private game of one-upmanship. They had no idea that their humble quest would redraw the contours of Society and set in place principles that both businessmen and Society would live by.
Article contributed by: Suresh Chandrasekaran (C. Suresh)
Fiction has been an addiction but the need to make a living took Suresh through Chemical Engineering and a PGDM at IIM-Bangalore and, from thence, to a long 16 year stint in the area of finance with specific expertise in fertilizer subsidies at IFFCO and a further two years as consulting expert in the same area. That, in his words, about sums up the boring part of his life, except for the people he was privileged to meet.
Born on 27 September 1963 in Chennai, Suresh can be a dithering Libran most of the times. A company town upbringing at Neyveli and Engineering at Annamali University, Chidambaram was leavened by management education at IIM-Bangalore and, later, working life at IFFCO, New Delhi. Having decided very early in life to write full-time after securing a financial future – which also incidentally meant that he remained single in order to make it as early as possible – he quit employment at the age of 41 and his consultancy at 43, and returned to Bangalore.
Otherwise, he can be described as a mess of contradictions – a bookworm but avid trekker; alone but never lonely; enjoys solitude but loves company; lazy but a perfectionist, the litany is endless. Trekking, which side-tracked him from the writing for which he quit his job, is a major passion and he does, at least, one trek in the Himalayas every year in addition to numerous local treks.
He reignited his passion for writing with a fairly popular blog www.jambudweepam.blogspot.in. The blog has been rated among the Top 5 humour blogs in India, twice in succession – in 2014 and 2015 – by BlogAdda, and has also been listed third among the Top Humour Blogs by Baggout.
He also has a short story published in a collection Uff Ye Emotions and has edited and written a novelette in an ebook anthology Sirens spell danger. On Facebook, where he is more active, he can be accessed at /suresh.chandrasekaran.75. He does have a twitter handle – @CSuresh16 – but he has no handle on using it regularly.