Book: Cow and Company
Author: Parashar Kulkarni
Publishing: Penguin Viking
Pages: 174 pages
Price: Rs 399
‘Go Mata ko bhata’ — this is the marketing slogan which kicks off the kind of epic confrontation that can keep fans of comedy chewing on satirical cud for hours. Cow and Company by Parashar Kulkarni provides that fodder in the form of an epic battle of the ages between chewing gum, which the British Chewing Gum Company wants to introduce in India, and “the empire of paan — the sun never truly set on it”.
Company director Thompson has his task cut out — the nefarious paan industry cuts across lines of religion, caste, class and gender. Though, as Young, the American man in charge of the paan survey quickly finds out, few people can adequately explain why certain groups of people prefers certain ingredients in their paan. The accountant, Dibu Banerjee, is an avid customer of the industry. But the real sabotage, which anyone paying attention to recent headlines would have seen coming, is when the company accountant Pesi Pestonjee sends some employees out to hunt for a cow to act as the product’s mascot.
From the hunt on swelteringly hot streets for a cow, which is eventually taken to the second floor of a colonial building, to disastrous attempts to survey the consumption of paan, Cow and Company manages to pull up these and many other aspects of society in a comparatively short space. Satire of this kind takes on a special significance at a time when comedy is often the most powerful and effective way of calling out things that the mainstream media doesn’t. Be it the religious sentiments that are inevitably hurt by the Company’s use of the cow or the mob mentality that escalates matters quickly, Parashkar’s wry humour acts as a deceptively sharp lens through which to study them.
However, that very style is, perhaps, also what throws the story off its pace from time to time. In the novel, the main plot is not always front and centre, often shunted aside for humorous examinations of different kinds. Satire is often at its best when it is restricted to a certain length. While having space to branch out in different directions can allow for a wider range, the story sometimes falters because of it, as it becomes progressively harder to maintain that same, incisive level of insight.
Perhaps, the most immediately recognisable aspect of Cows and Company is the universality of many things, most prominently human nature. Be it its characters or the hilarious-yet-terrifying spiral of misunderstanding that starts with the hunt for a cow, this could just as easily be set in today’s world. That is, perhaps, the most damning indictment of all.