‘Yamraj 5003’ – Sophisticated Humor

Bhaskar Parichha
In Hindu mythology Yama or Yamaraj is a terrifying character. According to the Vedas, Yama is said to have been the first mortal to have died. Ask any common man to visualize Yamraj, the first impression that one would get is a huge dark green bloke with near fearful physicality.Yamraj rides the buffalo, known as Mahish. He is the God of death for all beings.He keeps a record of all the
good and bad deeds of human beings. His expression is a correct authentication for the role he plays. But, what if Yamraj is no longer terrifying and has a romantic heart? Can he still do justice to his duties? ‘Yamraj 5003’ by Mrinal Chatterjee explores this exciting scenario where there is not one but a multitude of cloned Yamas, thanks to the burgeoning population on Earth. The protagonist of the novel makes a choice himself by becoming the number 5003 Yamaraj. A short story writer, a humorist and novelist,Chatterjee’s first short-story collection ‘Orissa O Anyanya Galpa’ was published some thirty years ago. He has to his credit six novels, seven short-story collections and four anthologies of prose. He also translates works from Bengali, English, Hindi and
Gujarati to Odia.A journalistturned media academician,Chatterjee presently heads Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC),Dhenkanal. Says the blurb of the book: ‘Yamraj Number 5003 is the
story of one of the thousands of cloned Yamrajs in Mrityu Loka. The Yamrajsare supposed to carry outtheir duties like robots, but by some fluke one Yamrajcode-named #5003-has a ‘manufacturing defect’ by which he can think and feel,making him ‘different’. He begins to question the status quo, shaking the very foundation of the power structure in Devlok, making the divine trinity-Brahma,
Vishnu and Maheshwarjittery. What happens when they decide to take action against the erring Yamraj?’What is interesting is that the author adds many tidbits of information for the readers
which keep them absorbed. So, if you want to know how Narada really came into being or about Yama’s sister ‘Yami’ , this book provides those little gems. Yet another fascinating theme is the correlation of heavenly deities to professionals on earth. Sample this: Narada is the quintessential journalist who does not just poke his nose around every situation in Triloka, he also makes sure the news is spread far and wide. But, Chatterjee’s Narada does not manipulate stories; he just yanks it as per the personality of the Godhead. Chatterjee makes sure that the prevalent issues on Earth are part of the heavenly discussion, too. And, in the novel, Yamraj 5003 is the hero. So, when Yamraj swiftly points out the bias of the lords against women, he gets cheered from the crowd for his stand supporting women. In other words,women both in hell and heaven haven’t given up their feminist anxieties. To a reader, this juxtaposition also raises a larger question about how we view our scriptures. Why is it that a woman is always extolled for her sacrifices and a man for his heroic abilities? Fantasy at its best,Chatterjee causes an intriguing idea or two. The
curious mishap by Heaven’s own communicator. The calamity has a far-reaching impact on the characters and raises perturbing questions that even the Trinity of the Gods is unable to face.
Interlaced with sophisticated humor, this multilayered novel will nudge the readers into approval besides keep them amused. Originally published in Odia and translated into Assamese, this hugely
popular novel has been translated into English by Thirumoy Bannerjee. The novel delves deep into some pertinent question that has been enraging humankind for ages. Will commands sustain the natural course of time or will they continue as just paraphernalia which fail to address the biggest anxieties? By positioning Yamraj at the center of the inquiry, the author explores the irony through the lens of a character known for his scary persona. The Yamraj in Chaterjee’s novel questions the norm rather than curl up under the demands of his duty. Through ‘Yamraj 5003’ the
reader will revel in the adroit manner in which Chatterjee weaves the real world problems into the novel’s narrative. A smart read indeed! ‘Yamraj 5003’
Mrinal Chatterjee
Rupa Publications
New Delhi

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