Excerpt from Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Temporary People

by Deepak Unnikrishnan

Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan X
Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan
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    Mar 2017, 272 pages


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Lisa Butts
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Print Excerpt


(Complete short story)

Like the crow, Kerala's much maligned bird, Malayalees adapt well anywhere. Only our language Malayalam, a palindrome, is difficult.
– Wanted criminal Ramji Rao (1989)

Not many people know that 67.5 kilometers to Dubai's west sits an island, a little sultanate ruled by an envious little grump, Sultan Mo-Mo.

May 3, 2006

The sultan had enormous eyebrows, fibrous like angora wool. In moments of strife, his eyebrows twitched violently. Like now!

His Excellency's royal blood boiled. Once again another mesmerized American news anchor gushed about Dubai's vision, hailing the imagination of the al-Maktoum family.

"Where is this vision coming from?" probed Katie Couric.

"Ignorant Yankee!" Sultan Mo-Mo's British twang bore traces of Basil Fawlty.

The sultan wanted to retch. Dubai's showboating gave him indigestion but he continued to help himself to more chips and fiery salsa, downing cold Guinness, smoking excellent hash, humming "I get high with a little help from my friends..."



Watching TV.

There was so much envy in his royal blood he had been peeing green for several days. Dr. Ranasinghe, his physician, had warned him about that and advocated reincorporating the stress ball exercises into his routine. Otherwise the sultan would stink of petrol. And he did. The palace reeked.

But Mo-Mo couldn't harness his rage. No matter where he turned, there was no escaping Dubai, the oil bloc's Mr. Fabulous, flexing its international credentials, cocksure, so very %#$%& cocksure.

It was infuriating! Mo-Mo couldn't watch the news anymore. Every day Dubai's smug Finance Minister, Sheikh 'The Mind Boggler' Salman, as the networks dubbed him, claimed another first for Dubai.

Camera crews treated the man like Moses. They shot him like Brando, his oblong forehead descending from the heavens. Slowly. Like E.T.'s mother ship. Announcing another world's-first, just when regular folk thought Dubai's Ideas Men had finally succumbed, having extinguished every possible permutation the word crazy embodied.

"Marhaba, everyone," Mind Boggler would say. Dapper in Tom Ford. Customary grin. Then begin.

Broadcast by TV stations and radio, the man's baritone hypnotized homes on at least three continents. When the sound bytes ended, cyberspace pundits dissected the presentation. B-school faculty pored over stock options, made a few calls. The Economist filed a report.

Dubai's audacity made Mo-Mo stink of petrol. When, on February 3rd, 2006, Dubai authorities apprehended a Senegalese man for hiding and raising a pregnant hyena in his home, the animal was taken in an air-conditioned trailer to a secret location where the exhausted mother gave birth to a healthy litter. Immediately, the government announced plans "long overdue" for the largest game reserve Asia had ever known. That, for Sultan Mo-Mo, was the proverbial straw that broke his corpulent back. He reached for the red phone.

June 22, 2006

After security checks, endless tea, a plateful of dates, and more waiting, three Malayalees, Pinto, Tinto, and Vimto, were ushered into Sultan Mo-Mo's chambers. Here, Tinto gingerly produced a bagful of seeds he passed on to the sultan, who inspected the goods by sniffing them. The stuff looked like Nescafe coffee beans. Smelled like parboiled rice.

The sultan's trusted advisor, Ali al-Thani, 'Able Ali,' in British diplomacy circles, had set up the rendezvous. "You are not going to believe this," he told Mo-Mo excitedly on Skype, "I have three men who tell me Dubai grows its labor. Sprouts workers like sheafs of corn." Sultan Mo-Mo asked his most trusted minister to call him back when the Moroccan hash had worn off. "They will be there tomorrow, Your Excellency," Ali responded, suggesting the sultan check his e-mail before going to bed.

Excerpted from Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan. Copyright © 2017 by Deepak Unnikrishnan. Excerpted by permission of Restless Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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