Ramesh’s fury – which “could have made India the world’s leader in renewable energy” – is fuelled by circumstance and the desire to circumvent a system designed to keep him in his place. This is a cinematic caper – HBO already holds film rights – and though Raina is highlighting expired dreams and inequality, he is always perceptive and playful. No one is beyond scrutiny, from the Americans to the Chinese. Social commentary meets standup comedy, as with a biting wit reminiscent of Binyavanga Wainaina’s essay “How to Write About Africa” or Paul Beatty’s Booker-winner The Sellout, Raina stretches stereotype and cliche into incisive satire.
Raina, 28, was inspired to write How to Kidnap the Rich by the US “Varsity Blues” admissions scandal, but it is his depiction of bustling, hustling Delhi and its grafting populace that makes this tightly written, fast-paced, often sharply savage societal satire such a rollicking read. He conjures up a memorable world that is ghee-greased, polluted, mired in dust and corruption, but also thrusting. At times his punchy sentences overreach and the rollercoaster action flags towards the end. Still, it’s an impressively entertaining but also insightful debut. The future probably belongs to the Rudis but the reader will root for Ramesh.
How to Kidnap the Rich is funny, if you like your humour abrasive and masculine (Raina’s portrayal of women, as individuals and as a fan demographic, isn’t stellar). Ramesh is a try-hard narrator (“take that, Slumdog Millionaire”), but what stands out in this book is its unapologetic depiction of a Delhi that’s frankly a bit rubbish. “This India, my India, smells like s---. It smells like a country that has gone off, all the dreams having curdled and clumped like rancid paneer.”
This lively first novel is only a crime novel in the way that Vikas Swarup’s Q & A (2005) or Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger (2008) might be said to be crime novels in that they both involve criminal activity. It is in fact a joyous love/hate letter to contemporary Delhi — a corrupt megacity of stink, sweat and noise — that insists the future is not orange or white but “black and brown and yellow”. Genuine feeling flows beneath the potty-mouthed satire as it gradually spirals into farce. Rahul Raina suggests life maybe “a relentless parade of fear”, but it is far better to laugh than cry.