Book Review: Mr. Iyer Goes to War by Ryan Lobo

Book Title: Mr. Iyer Goes to War

Author: Ryan Lobo

Pages: 215

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Rating: 3.5/5

Story in a nutshell: Beginning in an old age home located near River Ganges in the city of Varanasi, the novel follows the adventures of Mr. Iyer, an  English-speaking Tamil Brahmin. He reads Hindu scriptures and epics, attempting to discover hidden meanings and truths. His objective in life is to experience spiritual transcendence. He secretly wants to win the heart of the beautiful widow Damayanti. After suffering a concussion, he remembers his past life and believes that he is the reincarnation of Bhima who has been sent to earth to destroy Bakasura.

Mr. Iyer travels to different cities in India along with his faithful companion Bencho. In his search for the ultimate truth and mission to enforce justice according to principles of Hindu mythology, Iyer and Bencho encounter commoners facing troubles, Iyer’s family in Tamil Nadu, and corrupt politicians.

Iyer’s attempts at re-establishing order in the modern world devoid of spirituality are courageous, humorous and heart-breaking.

Book Review: The novel focuses on universal themes of adventure, courage, friendship, and love. The story is fast-paced from the beginning to the end. However, there is no coherence between the sequence of events which take place. The shifting of places and introduction of characters is random and episodic. The plot shares discernible similarities with Don Quixote. First, Iyer and Bencho encounter the truck driver Aurangzeb who beats a young boy for stealing petrol from him. Then, they encounter Ranjana who flirts with Iyer and creates misunderstanding between him and her bodyguard The Lover. The constantly changing scenes interrupt the flow of narration. They also meet Iyer’s family in Tamil Nadu where Iyer is insulted by his nephew Abhishek for mistakes he committed in the past followed by a scene of repentance and forgiveness. Iyer confronts a circus tiger. Chased by The Lover and Aurangzeb in a truck, Khanolkar, Krishna, Iyer, Bencho, Mala, and Damayanti escape in a tempo which is thrown on and off the road. The scenes in the novel resemble the improbable scenes of dramatic Indian movies. In the climax, Iyer miraculously survives and the villains are arrested by the police. Bencho’s response to Iyer in the end of the novel ironically summarizes the plot: “You told me someone would write about us one day? What story will he have? That we got beaten up all the time? That is no story, sir. That is no plot.”

The characters are distinctively categorized as good or evil. Iyer imagines himself as Bhima and the villains he encounters on his journey as the mythical demon Bakasura in disguise. Iyer is an idealistic modern-day warrior who fights for justice. Bencho is a realistic man who wants to become a politician to create social change. The friendship between Iyer, a Tamil Brahmin, and Bencho, a lower-caste Dom whose work involves the disposal of dead bodies at cremation ghats, is heart-warming. The novel highlights and challenges caste-based hierarchy prevalent in contemporary India.

The dialogue employed in the story is in English and the readers do not have to translate from Hindi and Tamil in order for them to make sense. The narrative is interspersed with Iyer’s recitation of lines from the Mahabharata and the Gita, adding philosophical and spiritual aspects to the story.

Given that Ryan Lobo is photographer, he paints vivid images in the novel through picturesque descriptions. The author has used Indian landscapes to represent the destruction of spirituality caused by the progress of civilization. River Ganges symbolizes spirituality and purity whereas machinery and factories in developed cities symbolize pollution and corruption. Iyer’s interpretations of the epics offer readers interesting insights into concepts of Hindu mythology.

Overall, Mr. Iyer Goes to war is philosophically insightful, hilarious, and dramatic. It offers readers a realistic portrait of contemporary India.

This review was written by Sai Prasanna. She is a bibliophile still waiting to receive her Hogwarts letter, discover Narnia, wander around Wonderland, and go on an adventure with Gandalf. Cambridge graduate with a specialization in Children’s Literature. Children’s story writer and poet. Presently working as Content Associate writing stories to empower children at Going to School in Delhi.


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