The Lily Cafe is thrilled to present a guest post by Manik Bal, author of Brothers Sen Gogh, a fiction novel revolving around two brothers, and Whiskey and Suicide and Other Stories, a slice of life story about Indian middle class families.
Title: Brothers Sen Gogh
Author: Manik Bal
Publisher: Nivant Publishing
Publication date: February 26, 2021
This is what immortality may mean, not a chain of infinite moments, but a moment that is immortalized in time for its permanence.
Soubhik and Sourav have grown up together, but are far apart in terms of their personalities. Soubhik is elder only by his numerical age, Sourav is the one who supports him.
Nethra becomes Sourav’s pillar of strength in the vast metropolis that is Mumbai, sharing his love for indie music. Their love faces a number of obstacles, Soubhik being the first one.
Soubhik is going through his own struggle, his own love story and his own mental health issues.
Will the brothers keep their love for each other alive? Will they make it big in the highly competitive industry of indie music? Will Sourav and Nethra stay together? Will Soubhik find someone who provides him peace? Will the world recognize Soubhik’s talent?
Manik Bal’s ambitious mashup revises the Van Gogh story. It travels through the dirty lanes and the seedy bars of Mumbai and portrays the ambitious upcoming artists and their ceaseless struggle to make it big. It uses the Van Gogh Brothers story as a template to sketch the core issues of human creativity and material success.
The Fascination with the Loser and the Mundane
As I watch “The Disciple” – a painfully pessimistic movie in which the protagonist does not go through the typical character arc recommended by most screenplay experts, a friend’s question rings in my ear, “Who wants to read books about losers?”. The typical character arc of the protagonist is that of the hero, someone who goes through trials and tribulations of life, the highs and the lows, only to emerge as a winner in the end.
Bucking this common trend, there is another category of movies and books where the protagonist is a certified loser, or worse still the protagonist is a very ordinary person who does not go through any of those highs and lows that are recommended in most books about writing. These books are also called as “Slice of life” books. Some people are truly puzzled why anyone would bother to read these books or watch these movies. These people are wondering why “The Disciple” is getting so many awards and why critics are raving about the movie.
The most famous of the lot are the Coen Brothers, who have made many movies about losers that have gone to become big hits. “The Big Lebowski” and “Inside Llewyn Davis” are movies about nobodies who stay nobodies. Richard Linklater is another director who makes movies about people who just keep talking throughout the movies. “Before Sunrise” was such a big hit that it spawned two followups.
Among writers, there are many who are seen as slice of life writers, Raymond Carver, Alice Munroe come to mind. Closer home, R K Narayan and Ruskin Bond can be categorized as slice of life. Even the comedies of P G Wodehouse can be seen as slice of life. Not much happens in them, but the ordinary moment is the moment of humor.
What is it that attracts people to slice of life? After all didn’t Jenny Lewis say “No one wants to pay to see your day to day”? There lies the confusion about the mundane and the ordinary. For the very lucky ones of course, nothing is mundane. For them, life is but a chain of novel moments. But even for the others, the mundane of someone else could be very novel. For someone working in a government role in Washington in a bureaucratic setup, life of a farmer in Coorg would be very novel and out of ordinary. There is nothing that is Slice of Life universally. What may be slice of life for one, would be totally unique and novel for someone else.
The Disciple takes the mundane to another level. We are shown the protagonists life to the level of detail that we wished we had not seen. We have seen musicians in movies like “A Star is Born” who reach the pinnacle of success through their talent, but never stop to wonder what happens to the thousand others who remain on the sidelines. The Disciple talks about precisely these people. People who are driven by a dream to make it big, but do not. The reason may be lack of talent, lack of exposure or plain bad luck. It does not matter. The most important mission of such movies is to depict the reality of the majority of the people taking a certain path. The Disciple if very similar in manner to “Inside Llewyn Davis”.
A very famous example of someone who was never popular throughout his life was the painter “Vincent Van Gogh”. If you looked at any point in time in Vincent’s life, he would be seen as a loser. Someone who does not have any sale, someone who lived off his brother. When I started writing “Brothers Sen Gogh”, this is the nature of fame and talent that I wanted to bring forward. Soubhik Sengupta is one of the millions of hopefuls in the city of Mumbai. Does it matter if he becomes a success? Isn’t his life interesting just for his passion, his practice, his ideas? All these things are represented in his day to day, his slice of life. Wouldn’t the slice of life of Soubhik be as interesting if not more than his eventual success or failure?
Telling stories of the losers, telling stories of the slice of life is challenging not only for the lack of commercial attraction of the venture, but also from a perspective of building an interesting narrative. The Disciple and most Coen Brothers movies, can easily get tiring if they do not build a day to day suspense in the narrative. One of the challenges I face while writing “Whiskey and Suicide” and “Brothers Sen Gogh” was to build a mundane suspense through the narrative. As Nalini, the protagonist of one of my stories, “Two Friends”, finds out:
> With that conversation, Nalini felt like she was unraveling some mystery. There were times where mysteries did not have killers and detectives. They crept in narratives that contained psychological drama and hidden structures of everyday stories. Just like the reader of the detective story was enamored by apparent suspicion the author creates, these narratives enamored you.
The motive of movies like The Disciple, movies by the Coen Brothers, or the books by Raymond Carver is the same. It is to prove that the ordinary is as interesting as the heroic. Both of my books are written in the same vein. It is to show the readers that people who we think are ordinary – or even losers, are actually heroes when you look at them closely. Their lives may not be filled with melodrama or may even be not something that can be newsworthy, but they are as interesting, if not more, than big stars or heroes. It is the same motive that drives me to tell the stories of seemingly ordinary people in seemingly ordinary settings. It requires a degree of sensitivity that the reader needs to possess, to understand the beauty of the mundane. The same audience that appreciated The Disciple, or the Coen Brothers movies, or books by Carver, Munro and R K Narayan, that is the audience I am trying to please, if I am trying to please any audience at all.
About Manik Bal:
Manik Bal is an author who resides in the beautiful city of Bangalore, known for its contribution to the information technology revolution in India and also known for having the worst traffic among all cities in India. His first book, “Whiskey and Suicide”, was a bestseller in Short Stories category. His second book, “Brothers Sen Gogh” was well received by critics and reviewers and was a bestseller in several categories.
Manik writes poetry, short stories and novels exploring the Indian middle class, its aspiration and its dilemmas. His characters explore life in situations that are not heroic or exceptional but are mundane and ordinary. They show their uniqueness by facing life as it is.
Once a pensioner’s paradise, Bangalore retains its phenomenal weather that attracted Manik to make it his home. Manik lives with his wife and two kids in a buzzing neighborhood in the city allowing him to observe the young and the old chasing the Indian dream. Yes, it exists and is both similar and different than the American dream. It retains the career ambition, a desire for affluent life and the upward mobility that the American dream symbolizes but adds a unique flavor of family ties, emotional relationships with friends and love for melodrama just like the Bollywood movies.
Connect with Manik Bal
Purchase Brothers Sen Gogh
Also Check Out Whiskey and Suicide and Other Stories
Whiskey and Suicide paints a kaleidoscope of myriad emotions of the Indian middle class families. In a very informal storytelling style, it narrates the dilemmas of the urban families in dealing with the conflicting emotions arising due to contradictory desires. It is the bonds of family and friendship that allow the protagonists to deal with these crises which are depicted by Manik Bal in a detached but empathetic narrative style reminiscent of the great “slice of life” storytellers of the east and the west.
Thank you so much, Manik!
The author of this post, Manik Bal, retains all rights to the guest post published above, which may not be copied, reproduced, modified, sold, or distributed without the author’s express permission. To contact Manik Bal to request permission to utilize the above guest post, please send your inquiry to Kat via the Contact page.