‘Selection Day’ is Booker Prize winner Aravind Adiga’s third novel. Published by Fourth Estate, the book is set in Mumbai with cricket as its backdrop.
Like his first novel, ‘The White Tiger’, Adiga successfully delves into the underbelly of a city— this time, Mumbai. Mohan Kumar is a not-so-successful chutney seller, who has big dreams of climbing up the social ladder. And his entire dream castle is based on his investment in his ‘two drops of semen’— his two sons. Using every ingenious trick, Mohan focuses his mind on training his two sons— Radha Krishna (‘Radha’) and Manju Nath (‘Manju’) into becoming the ‘best and the second-best batsmen in the country’. He ensures that the young talents catch the eye of the selectors.
The novel traces the upward social climb of the chutney seller and his boys from the slums of Dahisar to the more acceptable apartments of Chembur. There are several interesting characters enroute— a mother who vanishes with a nitric acid scar; a spotty-necked girlfriend; a handsome Muslim cricketer who looks like Tiger Pataudi, has homosexual leanings and writes romantic ditties; a talent scout and coach who wants to find the next Bradman and Sachin for the country; Lord Subramanya himself with his ‘vel‘; the founder of an educational empire; and a crafty sponsor who is waiting to fleece the boys once they are successful. And several riveting scenes in the cricket maidans of Mumbai.
Teased for having girlish names, Radha and Manju, first collude to plot and plan when they have to handle their abominable father who is a control freak. He monitors everything — from whether they go to college or practice or even shave. But everything changes when Manju decides that he is not satisfied being the ‘second-best’ batsman, and goes ahead to do better than Radha. Handsome Javed Ansari (J.A.) enters the equation and brainwashes Manju.
Aravind Adiga’s book doesn’t romanticize cricket like most other cricketing novels do. Instead he uses the game to showcase the lower middle class’ ambition to rise up the social echelons. The real India is where corruption and ‘phixing’ tango with superstition and gruelling hard work. Adiga’s ability to flesh out his characters is admirable. Like little Manju, you can almost read what each character is thinking and you know why.
Do any of the two brothers end up being selected on Selection Day? Read the book to find out.
(Selection Day, by Aravind Adiga, Published by Fourth Estate, 2016)