What is it like to have a bad father? Especially to a girl child? An Obedient Father by Akhil Sharma is not what you think; rather it is a tale of an unimpressive father or man who doesn’t realize the difference between the passivity of a crime and fulfilling his unbridled carnal desires.
Akhil Sharma’s debut novel – An Obedient Father – takes us to the squalid streets of Delhi and to the time when the country was about to see a major upheaval in its political structure. The main character of the novel is Ram Karan, a lackluster human being. He works in the educational department of government in Delhi. Though he is a government employee but his main illegitimate job is to work as a moneyman for his boss Mr. Roshan Gupta. The duo set the political tension as the story advances from dimly-lit gloomy rooms to political arena.
He lives in a small flat with his widowed daughter Anita and granddaughter Asha. His wife Radha died some years ago and all his brothers live in a village named Beri, not so far from Delhi. Other than his job, he has nothing else to boast of. Is he aloof or rendered lonely by his own people? Also, there looks queer gloominess attached with Anita and her daughter. It seems that they both are frightened and sulk for no reasons. Is the family cursed? May be!
The time in which this novel is set is early 1990s and elections are approaching fast. Rajiv Gandhi is the current prime minister of India. Mr. Gupta is a Congressman; his job also involves collecting money for the upcoming election. The offence of collecting money from schools in the form of bribe falls on the shoulders of Ram Karan.
In the novel two stories run parallel – one is of Ram Karan’s house and family history, and the second one is of Mr. Gupta’s tryst with politics.
Most of the story has been narrated through Ram Karan’s point of view. But he is brutally honest with his sinful accounts. The author has used flashpoint technique to sway the story between two timelines: present and past. Going into the past reveals that Ram Karan was a man of criminal affinity. He was so much obsessed with sex that he repeatedly raped his daughter Anita when she was just 12. He raped her thinking that sex with a child was not a crime because children hardly opposed such crimes. He was right – when he did first time, Anita didn’t oppose. She was made to sound afraid. Well, one night his wife Radha catches him red-handed. She beats him with slippers but due to social stigma she could not breach the issue.
The power of guilt is very much alive in Ram Karan. He doesn’t touch his daughter Anita anymore – last he touched was twenty years ago. Anita is sullen and silent – she is aware of the crime her father did upon her – but being a widow she has nowhere to go. Ironically, she is dependent on a man whom she wants to see dead. She is extremely silent and this silence keeps Ram Karan in contrition.
One night Ram Karan, being high in alcohol after a party, rubs himself against his granddaughter Asha. Anita catches him live. Thereafter, the encounter between two becomes fierce and a time comes when Anita begins blaming him aloud for all his sins. She prays for his death. Silence between them is unspeakable. However, Ram Karan tries to redeem for his sins but the intensity of his sins looks beyond mercy. The best of the best criminal is free from compunction and contrition. Well, he deserves punishment. One crime and the whole family becomes aeschylean.
The political turmoil takes place when Rajiv Gandhi dies in a bomb attack. His death brings the Congress campaign to an untoward end. Sonia Gandhi, Rajiv’s wife refuses to replace him. And at the same time BJP is rising among the population for its stance on Hindutatva. At that time Congress was the only powerful party and going against it was unthinkable. Following the death of Rajiv Gandhi, BJP speculates that Delhi’s MP seat will not be in Congress’s favour. Mr. Gupta is told to fight for the Delhi seat from BJP against the film star Rajesh Khanna. This news made Ram Karan sad and from here onwards his fight starts to save himself as well as Anita and Asha’s lives. Being a moneyman, he knows how to do that. He knows that if Congress wins then Mr. Gupta and he will be murdered. And if BJP wins, then they will be booked for the corruption charges.
Two prominent themes of the novel are betrayel and redemption. It is Anita who wants him to be dead but during the election chaos she helps her father to come out of the danger. On the other hand, having committed unpardonable sin against her daughter, he tries to re-ignite her life by giving her monetary freedom and power. It is obvious that readers will gather tremendous sympathy for Anita whose life is torn between her past pains and the future of her daughter. It becomes mandatory for Anita to save her daughter being molested by her father. Though Ram Karan tries to be a good man but his weakness lies in lecherous mood swings. There is no domestic violence but their misery is psychological exertion. He tries to be a good simple man – but after reading his story you may say that it takes efforts even to be a simple, wise, and good man.
All in all, the book makes a riveting read. The story of Anita and her pain is terrifically incorporated in the plot which actually makes look Ram Karan and other characters suspicious of ambiguous morality. It is interesting to know that time in India taking bribe was considered deplorable. That’s why Ram Karan felt ashamed on himself many a time. The novel is everything but average. It’s not about good guys and bad guys, rather tethers together meek victims and passive felony of ordinary men. You will be amazed to know that it is common greed and lust that actuate a man to go for sins.