Verdict: COINMAN, a thoroughly modern Indian folktale, presents a humorous portrait of a nonconformist who triumphs without trying.
The anti-hero known as “Coinman” is an irritating co-worker, an inattentive husband, a not-so-dutiful son…yet his apparent lack of love conquers all.
Coinman (his real name is Kesar) gets his nickname for his disturbing habit of constantly jingling coins that “occupied an eternal place in the left pocket of his trousers and…constantly slithered through the narrow space between his fingers.” Driven nuts by this annoying quirk, his coworkers begin slowly inching their desks away from him, a tactic that Coinman counters by measuring the progress of their retreat with tape and markers. They then instigate a series of increasingly hostile pranks designed to get him fired.
Set in India, COINMAN is narrated by Sesha, a storyteller who interjects his commentary at the beginning and end. The novel’s office scenes satisfyingly satirize the inner workings of a tight-knit bureaucracy: the irrelevant meetings, the arbitrary policies, the workers’ fears of management. But it is not only at work that Coinman’s odd personality arouses concern. His mother worries that he will never find a wife. When he finally does, his bride spends the first few weeks of their marriage weeping ceaselessly, then turns her attention to her own pursuit—the theater—having accepted that Coinman is not interested in producing offspring.
For all its darker aspects, this episodic work is curiously lighthearted, concluding on a positive note, with the bureaucracy working for, rather than against Coinman, and the subtle intervention of a famous guru working mystically on his marriage.
The author of this gentle parody of human frailty, Pawan Mishra, is an Indian residing in the US who states in a Foreword that his love of folktales began in childhood, hearing older relatives tell “bedtime stories that were never written down.” This articulate, wryly amusing creation focuses on simple situations that often have an unexpected, almost magical, twist. Mishra has taken what could have been a tragic tale of bullying, workplace harassment, even violence, and deftly transmuted it into a droll parable. In COINMAN, he has fashioned an archetypal folk hero who, seemingly oblivious to the criticism and opposition all around him, gets his way as it had been planned all along.
COINMAN, a thoroughly modern Indian folktale, presents a humorous portrait of a nonconformist who triumphs without trying.