The crimes of Joseph Fritzl, who held his daughter captive in a basement cellar in Vienna for 24 years, revive memories of the shenanigans of a similar character closer to home. Ram Karan, the protagonist of Akhil Sharma's first novel in 2000, is a man mired in such moral confusion that all his dirty deeds eventually devour him. Karan is perhaps a coward who enjoys wielding power over others. He is a bully but one who will crawl if his design to control the life of another is challenged.
When Radha, his wife, finds him having sex with Anita, their 12 year-old-daughter, she beats him blue. He lets Radha drag him to the temple on a Tuesday where he cries and bangs his head at the feet of the idol of Hanuman, pleading for forgiveness. He promises his wife - never again.
The man does all this but he is unable to stop having sex with his daughter. Physically unattractive, this petty government official in an Indian ministry lives in a lower middle class neighbourhood in Delhi. He is also unable to stop taking bribes on behalf of corrupt superiors close to senior members of the Congress Party, led at that time by Rajiv Gandhi.
Standing on the terrace of his humble home, Karan goes through his troubles at work but his gaze is glued on the opposite rooftop, where he sees a mother bathing her young daughter. The child flees her mother's grip and runs naked around the roof.
The second half of the narration takes place two decades later when Anita is forced to live with her father along with Asha, her young daughter. Anita's husband died in a road accident and her mother is no more. Karan loves his granddaughter. He buys ice cream for her and cries before the girl, saying he is a sad, bad man who must take three sets of tablets every evening to stay alive. Karan tries every trick to gain the sympathy of Asha. When it dawns on Anita that the next victim of Karan is Asha she unleashes such terror upon the head of her family that he is forced to become an obedient father.
In Freudian terms, Karan's behaviour illustrates the weakness of some human beings to conquer destructive instincts. The only fault of people like Karan is that they allow their instincts to dominate. To delve deeper into the malaise, Freud looked at the family that he saw both as a cave of comfort and as a chamber of horror. Freud closely studied the bourgeois family. For, this is the model for all contemporary families in urban areas around the world.
Sex role divisions in the bourgeois family are strict. The husband is the dominant authority and provides for the family by working. The wife, considered less rational and less capable, concerns herself exclusively with the home, which she cleans and decorates to suit the social status of the husband.
The bourgeoisie view women as asexual and as angelic creatures beyond animal lust. For the men, sex is divorced from feelings of tenderness and considered a conquest of lower-class women. Prostitution is required by bourgeoisie males because they have been taught that sexual fulfillment is impossible from a mere spouse.
Bourgeoisie respectability separates sexuality from marriage even as a marriage binds couples forever. To live happily ever after implies living together without intense passion but with restrained respectability.
Relations within the bourgeois family are so regulated that they stifle individuals who often find it difficult to live up to the strict roles tailored for them by society. This is a burden on human beings who are unable to fulfill responsibilities like that of a "good" parent or "perfect" husband, or wife.