Manjhi’s Mayhem is a noir thriller with the main character Sewaram Manjhi working as a security guard in a posh coffee shop in Mumbai. Though a dalit from Deoria, Uttar Pradesh, his Aadhaar shows his identity as a Jat — Harish Jakhar from Jhajjar, Haryana. He is one of those innumerable migrants moving to a big city in search of a job, getting sucked into its daily grind and losing his identity in the process.
Though Manjhi, displays all the different shades of grey, one can’t help but like this anti-hero. Manjhi is one of those millions of invisible Indians who is always ignored, though his work gives him a prominent position at the main door of the establishment. How many of us give the various security guards or the housing staff a second look?
One day after Manjhi beats a molester, he catches the eye of Santosh, a girl working as a hostess in a restaurant across the street, with whom he has so far been exchanging furtive looks. Santosh approaches Manjhi with a strange request. Manjhi and Santosh hook up, both in bed and otherwise, and Manjhi finds himself all tied up in her personal problems, a tangled web of lies and deceit. Unable to say no to a damsel in distress, Manjhi ends up playing the knight in a security guard’s uniform. All for a bag of money that has been stolen from Santosh’s sister Mithilesh aka Pinky, the mistress of a man named Patil. Manjhi has a big mystery to solve and a series of people to find.
Who is Mehulbhai who had given the bag to man named Godse, who in turn had delivered it to Patil? Why was Patil given the bag? How did Mithilesh get the bag? Who stole it from her?
What unfurls is a conundrum that has many players, all willing to murder or beat up people. Manjhi has enough angst in him, against the powers to be, to fuel a train engine. Taking the help of Uncle — a middle-aged man he meets in the local train — he goes on the trail of the lost money, breaking people’s arms and legs in the process, like a one-man-army.
Solanki’s writing is neat and he ties all the loose ends well, answering the readers’ questions. The story moves at a quick pace, making the readers pant while trying to keep up with all the action going on. I enjoyed the story and Manjhi’s character, often rolling my eyes whenever he played the action hero (which was quite often) by barging into the den of the sharks, bashing them up and emerging unscathed. That was a bit too filmi for my tastes. Manjhi getting a few bruises would have made it more real.
Another character who had me rooting for him was Uncle. The sisters, Mithilesh and Santosh, were cunning foxes who didn’t get my sympathy. Manjhi, though his means was wrong, had his heart in its right place, making it difficult for the readers to dislike him.
The book is a decent read. I get the feeling that Manjhi will figure in more books; that Solanki has more plans for this likeable hero.
By Tanuj Solanki
pp. 216, Rs.399...