Book Review: Yamraj Number 5003: A unique fusion of complex philosophy and simple humour

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REVIEW | Moumita De Roy

Yamraj Number 5003: A unique fusion of complex philosophy and simple humour

Genre: Novel

Original Odia: Mrunal

English Translation: Thirumoy Banerjee

Publisher: Rupa

First Edition February 2018

Price: Rs 199/-

 

The title is a rare fusion of complex philosophy and simple humour. But the end is pensive. ‘Yamraj’ brings sweat buds even on the forehead of the mighty, but what does 5003 mean? Call it a biography or an autobiography of Yamraj, the most awful God, Yamraj 5003 is everything that a reader doesn’t expect at the beginning. Yamraj 5003 is a humorous narrative of Mrityuloka, the abode of the dead, through the character of the protagonist, Yamraj 5003. At a deeper level, it is a panoramic portrayal of the two worlds: the world before death and after death.

The story is woven around Yamraj 5003’s decision to leave the soul of dreamy Sumati in the world at the face of his beloved, Subrata’s, heart-melting love and dedication who had saved her from a suicide attempt. This deviation from the norms and rules of Mrityuloka enrages Chitragupta, the most scrupulously law-abiding audit officer, leading the Trinity, Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwar, to hold a court to try Yamraj 5003’s deed. But who is this Yamraj 5003? Is he not the same Yamraj we all know about? Why Narad, the news and rumor monger, who instigated the Trinity to try Yamraj 5003 is against him? The story is an engaging tale of all these.

 

Though the storyline is ostensibly simple, it raises several questions and riddles related to death, destruction, justice, norms of justice and exceptions and life before and after death. The powerful speech of Yamraj 5003 to justify his act and question the morality of the punitive destruction that the Trinity awards him echoes Shylock’s common universal humanity speech in ‘The Merchant of Venice’ wherein he tries to justify his act of cruel revenge on Antonio. It is here that the common forbidding image of Yamraj, as a harbinger of death, starts dissolving. Yamraj 5003’s speech exhumes the deep-seated fear and fright that man has for him.

 

Yamraj 5003 also questions the Trinity, why man follows Dharma out of fear and not happily? Is Dharma second to emotions? The story reaches the climax when Yamraj 5003 says, “People should have embraced Dharma as a part of their life. How could you attach that with fear, Prabhu? And then Dharma became somehow a synonym of religion. People will follow the path of religion, just out of fear? You did not understand the simple thing that if you wanted to induce religion into the hearts and souls of people, you should have followed the path of love, not fear. Just for your advantage, you sort of ethically handicapped human race.” Yamraj 5003 has made such a profound topic much accessible for the general reader through its easy flowing narrative style.

The character of Yamraj 5003 is that of a rebel who questions the conventional social canon and fabric and thus, seeds the validity of such conventions in the common psyche before breathing his last in the alter of conformed justice. The story also demystifies the notion that Mrityuloka is ruled by absolute perfection and discipline. Like a satire, Yamraj 5003 pokes and ridicules the oddities and incongruities of man’s ways and systems in the mortal world. It also questions social conventions like caste system, and preference of position to performance.

Mrunal achieves this through humour, irony, truism and pithy statements. Like always, the character of Narad has punctuated the story with an element of mischief. Through his character, the writer has hailed the inevitability and criticized the role journalists play in the becoming of an incident.

Humor garnishes the story throughout. An unexpected humorous turn adorns the story when the sceptic Chitragupta awards heaven to a goon-like auto-driver and hell to a priest. The calculations of this rigid audit officer are indeed strange. The author strikes an ironic chord when Chitragupta highlights that a soul should be brought immediately as rampage concretization in the empirical world has gobbled up dark and haunting places suitable for ghosts. By pitying the ghosts which is rather an exaggeration, the writer pities the human condition in the mortal world. Through a witty use of irony, the writer has underlined the strange character of human beings. The betrayed and broken Sumati is not scared to commit suicide but walk the lonely and creepy road to the railways track. The truism and curt statements on the characters and situations have elevated the philosophical vanity of the story. “Money is a strange commodity—tough with it and tougher without.”

 

Man’s detest for death and urge for immortality is as old as man himself. But makes it strange is more than life, man probes death. Death continues to elude man with its mysterious nature even after years and years of man’s thoughtful engagement with it. Though such arduous examination hardly leads to any timeless and tenacious conclusion, man continues to probe it. The twins, karma and dharma, establishes a cause effect relationship between what man does in the life before death with the quality of life after death. This is where, the other inseparable twins, swarg and narak, comes into play.  The destruction of Yamraj 5003 by Trinity raises the most powerful question: Rule or emotion, which should be the dictate of the day? Does it also establish the idea that nothing in absolute is acceptable and humane? Is Dharma a rule-driven or an emotion driven entity? Is Dharma relative?

The reader closes the book with many such deep spiritual questions. But what promises to stay longer with him is the emotional and compassionate character of Yamraj 5003 and a rather amusing image of Mrityuloka. After all, laughter always conquers seriousness.

***

The reviewer, a Masters in English is a journalist turned language teacher turned freelance writer. She is presently based in Bhubaneswar and Bengaluru.

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