Manu Joseph: Les familles : liaisons et déliaisons
Manu Joseph is a journalist and the author of two novels. Le Bonheur illicite des autres follows a family that has lost a child: Unni, a brilliant teen and promising illustrator, jumps from the balcony of the family’s apartment. With biting language, Joseph paints a caustic portrait of his characters, pulling the reader along, a witness to the father’s obsessive quest to understand his son’s act, and revealing the codes of a polarized, suspicious society.
Les éditions Christian Bourgois publieront prochainement un recueil en français des textes écrits à l'occasion des assises du roman.
When I was a child, our home had a sofa that had a big hole in the seat. The sofa was draped in a sheet and only the family knew about the hole. One day, the surly landlord came asking for rent. My mother invited him in on purpose, and made him sit on the sofa. As he sank into the hole, she laughed.
My mother did things people did not understand. She had the habit of hitching up her sari, bunching the hem into her waist, wagging a finger at the wall and speaking to it.
Were the actions of my mother powerful? Interesting? I have asked the question many times when I was working on a novel and had to steal from my memories. I asked even though I knew I’d not know the answer.
We are infatuated with ourselves, with the things that happened to us. When we write about them we lose our power of evaluation. We are at risk of overrating their charms. Novels are littered with banal things about grandmothers because writers didn’t realise that their sweet memories are in reality dull.
Family is not only a literary treasure, but also a trap.
An unsung talent in writers is the ability to make good guesses. This is how writers portray situations they have not been in and the minds of people they are not. This how men write female characters, and women write men. But, sometimes conjecture cannot make up for the lack of experience. And, family is experience.
A bachelor cannot guess marriage.
When I was unmarried and a young journalist I was assigned a story: why were all the top Hindi film actors 40-year-old married men? I interviewed many of them. They spoke about everything, including their children. But they never spoke about their wives. I was confused.
Only after I got married did I understand how tense a marriage is, and nothing enriched me more as a writer than marriage. A man in a marriage often feels like a delinquent in his own home. And there are those silences, deep and ordained, and filled with indecipherable meaning. Love pampers, it cleans your ears with earbuds; but marriage informs you of all your flaws. Only after marriage did I study married couples very closely. Once, I saw a bare chested man and his wife in a sari standing together in their home. A bachelor would see nothing, but I saw their deep navels gape at me as if they are the alert eyes of a long, indestructible tropical marriage. All this, of course, infiltrated my books.
Also, marriage taught me the flaw in a Milan Kundera wisdom that I had once considered a beautiful truth. A character in ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ says, “We live everything as it comes, without warning, like an actor going on cold…the first rehearsal of life is life itself”. But I now realise it is not a true portrayal of life. A marriage, for instance, is filled with ever-repeating scenes, a string of rehearsals during which a couple has the choice to get better at married life. Even their quarrels get better. Quarrels, in general, employ efficient language and those involved in them appear fluent and proficient. That’s because quarrels are repetitions of fights people have had in similar circumstances. They know what to expect, so what to say, and say it better than last time. That’s how I portray marriage – as an equal battle between two professional actors who have rehearsed their parts well.
In a poor country, where the government is inept, family is crucial. So, a successful Indian family is one that can lend an unfair advantage to its children, chiefly through rich food, private education and social contacts. In return, the family exerts a degree of control over the young. This is the meaning of Indian ‘family values’. And that’s what lends the Indian family a great literary potential – it is a cartel.
Pour citer cette ressource :
Manu Joseph, "Manu Joseph: Les familles : liaisons et déliaisons", La Clé des Langues [en ligne], Lyon, ENS de LYON/DGESCO (ISSN 2107-7029), mai 2016. Consulté le 22/09/2023. URL: https://cle.ens-lyon.fr/anglais/litterature/entretiens-et-textes-inedits/manu-joseph-les-familles-liaisons-et-deliaisons