“I needed to force money from Father Joseph, and it made me nervous.”
An Obedient Father is the story of Ram Karan, who supports his widowed daughter and eight-year-old granddaughter by collecting bribes for a Congress politician. He is an average Indian man who cannot avoid the shackles of corruption – “an unstoppable process, no more preventable than the weather.”
He confesses to his “general incompetence and laziness”, motivating sympathy and kindness from the reader until a vile secret from his past tumbles out of the closet. Twenty years ago he had raped his own daughter Anita repeatedly over two weeks and stopped only when caught by his late wife.
Anita has no choice but to live with him under a constant threat that her own twelve-year-old daughter may now be in danger. Her fear becomes real when one night she witnesses him touching her little girl with his penis. Her trapped, dormant rage then explodes with a fierceness that he is unable to survive.
At the same time, he also gets embroiled in a dangerous political game when his boss, Mr Gupta, switches his allegiance to the rival BJP party after Rajiv Gandhi is assassinated in the capital during the 1991 parliamentary elections.
“It's easy to brand Karan as vile and despicable, but such epithets don't capture the complexity of his personality or the subtlety of Sharma's prose,” says author and journalist Akash Kapur. “He possesses little of evil's dark grandeur and all the pathos of a man too frightened to do anything but play by the rules of a world in which corruption, extortion and even murder are the norm. Karan is, in his own words, ‘a sad bad man’ – pitiable, even comical, rather than simply detestable.”
The novel received the 2001 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award and Whiting Writers' Award. Sharma also won the £40,000 Folio Prize in 2015 for his autobiographical second novel, Family Life.
Published in 2000.