No major spoilers in this review.
Indra Sinha’s Animal’s People centers around the question of being human and humane while simultaneously ruminating on the the porous boundary between human/animal as well as humanity/animality, and its implications to ‘human’kind.
Written in 2007, the novel is loosely based on the 1984 Bhopal Gas Disaster caused by the Union Carbide India Limited (owned by Dow Chemical Company, USA). The gas disaster left grave health consequences for the local community – a theme that Sinha holds constant throughout the novel.
The protagonist of the novel is Animal. He is not an animal per se, but rejects the category of ‘human’ as an identity for himself. This particular self-identity sets the stage for a deep interrogation throughout the novel on who gets to be treated like a human and who do not. It questions those of us who consider ourselves to be ‘human’ in being embedded in deep structures of oppression; oppression that is inflicted on those those who are not afforded the humanity that we believe all people deserve.
Sinha also imagines the audience to be someone unfamiliar with the Indian context on which the story is set. The book unapologetically uses extensive Hindi and Urdu phrases to literally give voice to preserve the Indian-ness of the novel. The phrases in Hindi and Urdu are followed by their loose English translations to inform audience not familiar with the Indian context or the languages to help follow along and educate themselves on the particularities of the local culture.
Overall, the book is bold in that it tackles macro themes of capitalism and its violence, the oppressions caused by the global North to the global South, while also zooming into the micro themes of local politics, healthcare system, and understanding of the self. It is in maintaining this balance while continually exploring Khaufpuri life (Animal’s hometown) through Animal’s eyes that allows Sinha to demonstrate his inner genius.