Pakur Posts

“My Father’s Garden” by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar

…on each trip home, I found my father working unrelentingly in his garden. And under his loving care, it flourished more than ever. A hibiscus tree, which had been falling over on one visit, would be propped up with bamboo staves on the next, covered with pale orange blossoms. The lime and lemon bushes woudl hang heavy with fruit in season. As would the mangoes, guavas, bananas and jackfruits. Before we left our quarters, my father had carefully plucked a litchi sapling from the premises as a memento. That, too, was flourishing. And just behind our kitchen, my mother and aunt cultivated their own little patch of earth. Thick, deep green vines of pui leaves climbed the iron grille of the verandah outside our kitchen. Tusli, dhania and pudina grew lush in the cool space near the tubewell where the water keeps the earth always moist. Birds made their home in our garden. The caws-caws and the chee-chees would start at dawn and wake us up. At dusk, their raucous homecoming would tell us that the day was at an end.

I once read somewhere that the single-minded pursuit of one course over a lifetime can only be justified if one engages in two enterprises — building a garden, or raising a child. I now understand that my father’s garden is truly his child. And this child gives him the happiness and peace of mind that nothing else could ever give him.

Award-winning writer Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s My Father’s Garden is narrated in first person by an unnamed medical student (later doctor) and is set in Jharkhand. It is divided into three sections of unequal lengths — Lover, Friend and Father.

“Lover”, set in Jamshedpur, is a self-obsessed, narcissistic, self-centred portrayal of a young medical student for whom sex is liberating, needy and satisfying but it is also self-consuming when he is rejected by all his lovers for heterosexual relationships that are socially acceptable. It pushes the narrator to depression and a suicide attempt when he slashes his wrists only to wake up the next morning to discover the blob of blood congealing near his bed. He returns home to his parents.

“Friend”, set in Pakur, while ostensibly about a colleague Bada Babu — a successful man if measured by his genial generosity, his popularity and his ever welcoming home with a lavish party organised at every festival or birthday. The unnamed narrator becomes a permanent fixture at these parties. Yet “Friend” is also about the socio-economic horrors that plague society, particularly one where most of the locals are gullible, innocent and absolutely ignorant of their rights. There are also easy prey to be economically exploited by the very same person, in this case Bade Babu, who while being politically shrewd turns out to be the the victims’ benevolent benefactor as well. It is illustrated by the horrendous episode of evicting the people from the land where Bade Babu also has built a house, although his did not have a permanent roof. The poor people had invested their savings into buying the land not realising that they had been conned and were actually illegally squatting on government property. Bade Babu’s house is also demolished on the day everyone else’s is but to the narrator’s chagrin he discovers that Bade Babu has secretly managed to build himself quite a magnificent mansion, many times bigger than his present home, and the new place has a permanent roof. Many of those evicted had no one to turn to except Bade Babu for help which he magnanimously promised to provide. It is an age-old vicious cycle that can also be perceived as the Survival of the Fittest.

“Father”, set in Ghatsila, is about the narrator’s return home and witnessing his father’s entry into politics. It is an eye-opening journey of self-discovery not just for the father but for his family too. They watch the father become a trustworthy footsoldier in the Hindu India Party. With this is a brief encapsulation of the political history, the rifts created for political gains between the Adivasis, Santhals etc. The narrator’s grandfather was a prominent Santhal leader and an associate of Jaipal Singh. The father’s political spark probably stems from this inheritance. So he continues to give it his best including running successful campaigns at the ground level allowing unknown candidates to make critical inroads into the voter base and slowly transforming local politics. All the political ambitions that the father may have nursed come to a griding halt the day the father discovers he has been outsmarted by the very same leaders he trusted and hoped would one day support his candidature too. He gives up his political existence. After a period of self-reflection he takes to gardening with enthusiasm. With his nurturing it is vibrant, alive and bursting with health.

The garden as a metaphor is a classic literary trope. Whether it is used knowingly in this manner by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar is uncertain but it certainly works very well in this story. The garden becomes the paradise everyone yearns for, and it is no less hard work than any other activity one engages on a daily basis. It is equally hard work for it is nurturing life.

And here I have to digress with a personal anecdote to emphasise the significance of a conversation about gardens and political commentary. My grandfather, N. K. Mukarji, was Union Cabinet Secretary when Mrs Indira Gandhi returned as prime minister of India for the first time after Emergency. At the first Union Cabinet meeting held after the new government had been sworn in my grandfather took his place in the room. According to the story he would tell recount all eyes were upon him and Mrs Gandhi rather than the agenda to be discussed. Everyone was watching expectantly to see how Mrs Gandhi would engage with Mr Mukarji given their past. When Mrs Gandhi had wanted to impose the Emergency she knew it could not be done while N. K. Mukarji was the Union Home Secretary. He would never have agreed to sign such an unconstitutional move. In a swift move she moved him to the Civil Aviation Ministry and did exactly what she wanted to. Rest is history. So when they met again a few years later in the cabinet meeting everyone present was naturally curious. Before beginning the meeting Mrs Gandhi had a quiet word with my grandfather which to all those watching seemed as if she had made her peace with Mr Mukarji and thus she very smartly and with all her politcal savviness set the tenor for a new working relationship with her Cabinet Secretary. And what did she discuss? Gardening matters!

My Father’s Garden is in all likelihood part-memoir for there are similarities between the life of the author and the narrator especially that of being a doctor in Jharkhand. But unless otherwise confirmed it is perhaps not wise to attribute too much into the fiction. Nevertheless as with his previous books Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar writes powerfully, borrowing heavily from real experiences, combining it with his remarkable ability of transforming these episodes into fine literary fiction. A fantastic mix of the personal, political and literary always makes for a great story. It also allows for precise detail about the local landscape. The eye for precision makes its presence felt even in the unapologetic use of borrowing phrases from other Indian regional languages such as Bengali and Hindi and letting them flow naturally in the conversations — without italicising them!

My Father’s Garden is a tremendously confident piece of writing and an absolute pleasure to read.

15 February 2019

Guest post: Why “The Lives of Others” makes me afraid, Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar

Guest post: Why “The Lives of Others” makes me afraid, Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar

( While reading ManBooker shortlisted novel, Neel Mukherjee’s The Lives of Others, I began to discuss it with Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar. He is an avid reader. Initially he was happy with the novel, it was well written, but then there was this long silence from him. A few days ago, I got a message from him at 2am to say he was not very comfortable at the portrayal of Santhals in the book. He should know. It is his community. So I asked him to contribute a guest post for my blog. I am posting it as he sent it. )

 

Neel Mukherjee

When  I  first  saw  the  Indian  hardcover  edition  of  Neel  Mukherjee’s  second  novel,  The  Lives  of  Others,  at  a  book  store  in  Kolkata  in  June  2014,  I  was  struck  by  the  familiarity  of  the  contents  of  the  book.  Having  grown  up  and  lived  all  my  life  in  a  southern  corner  of  the  state  of  Jharkhand,  the  complexities  of  a  Bengali  joint  family  and  the  Naxalite  movement  were  familiar  issues.  However,  what  was  even  more  familiar – and  striking – was  the  map  at  the  beginning  of  the  novel;  for  inset  in  that  map  were  all  the  places  that  remind  me  of  home.  They  are  not  big  or  famous  places.  They  are  small,  district  towns  and  villages.  They  do  not  find  a  regular  mention  in  the  media  like  bigger  cities  like  Kolkata  or  Delhi  do.  An  incident  that  takes  place  in  these  places  has  to  be  very  big,  remarkable  in  every  way  to  have  people  talk  about  these  places.  Even  if  these  places  find  a  mention  in  the  front  pages  of  The  Telegraph  or  The  Statesman,  I  am  quite  sure  that  many  readers  won’t  remember  their  names  just  a  mere  24  hours  after  having  read  about  them.  Yet,  these  are  the  places  whose  names  I  have  been  hearing  ever  since  I  developed  the  ability  to  listen  to  and  understand  words  and  names;  maybe,  since  when  I  was  2  or  3  years  old.  I  am  31  now,  and  the  names  of  these  places  fill  me  with  a  desire  to  just  run  back  to  my  ancestral  village  or  my  hometown  at  the  first  given  opportunity.

I  can  vouch  for  the  actuality  of  three  places  in  that  inset:  Belpahari,  Binpur,  and  Jhargram.  I  am  not  too  sure  of  Gidighati  and  Majgeria.  Perhaps,  they,  too,  are  real.  Perhaps,  they  are  a  creation  of  the  author’s  imagination.  But  Belpahari,  Binpur  and  Jhargram  are  real.  They  exist.  There  is  another  place  mentioned  a  number  of  times  in  the  novel,  giving  that  place  a  certain  importance,  although  it  does  not  appear  in  the  map:  Gidhni.

The  name  of  my  village  is  Kishoripur.  It  is  the  village  of  my  ancestors;  the  place  where  my  father,  grandfather,  and  all  those  who  came  before  were  born  and  raised.  Kishoripur  is  a  village  in  Chakulia  block  of  East  Singbhum  district  of  Jharkhand,  a  mere  10  km  from  the  border  with  West  Bengal.  Both  Gidhni  and  Belpahari  are  some  10-15  km  from  Kishoripur,  in  two  different  directions—Gidhni,  towards  the  east;  Belpahari,  towards  the  north.  Jhargram  is  some  30-35  km  from  Kishoripur,  towards  the  east.  Binpur  is  some  20-25  km  from  Kishoripur,  towards  the  north-east.  I  remember  a  saying  I  have  grown  up  with.  Choluk  gaadi  Belpahari—Let  the  vehicle  go  to  Belpahari.  This  is  a  cry  of  excitement  that  village  people,  who,  in  earlier  times,  didn’t  usually  get  to  see  a  car  or  bus  or  other  automobile,  used  to  make  when  they  boarded  a  gaadi.  The  poetry  in  this  simple  cry  of  excitement  cannot  be  missed.  Gaadi  and  Belpahari  rhyme  with  one  another.  Somewhere  in  the  book,  Ghatshila  has  been  mentioned.  Ghatshila,  the  place  famous  for  its  copper  factory,  and  for  being  a  favourite  weekend  getaway  among  the  Bengalis  from  Kolkata,  is  the  place  where  my  parents  used  to  work  and  where  I  have  grown  up.  Ghatshila  is  my  hometown.  Belpahari,  Binpur,  and  Jhargram  were  the  reasons  that  drew  me – and,  ultimately,  made  me  read – The Lives of Others;  while  Gidhni  and  Ghatshila  filled  me  with  a  feeling  of  pride  that  the  places  I  am  so  familiar  with – one  of  those  being  my  hometown,  no  less – are  being  read  about  by  people  all  over  the  world.

As  I  progressed  with  the  novel  and  the  ups  and  downs  in  the  Ghoshes’  lives,  I  came  across  many  other  familiar  places,  like,  Bali,  Nalhati,  and  Memari.  I  am  working  with  the  government  of  Jharkhand  and  am  posted  in  Pakur.  Pakur  is  a  district  in  the  Santhal  Pargana  division  of  Jharkhand.  When  I  came  to  join  my  job  in  Pakur,  I  had  no  idea  about  the  route.  So  my  father  accompanied  me  and  we  came  from  Ghatshila  to  Pakur  by  road.  We  passed  through  four  districts  in  West  Bengal – Pashchim  Medinipur  (western  Medinipur,  mentioned  in  the  book),  Bankura,  Bardhaman,  and  Birbhum – before  we  entered  Jharkhand  again  and  reached  Pakur.  Nalhati  and  Memari  were  two  places  we  passed  through.  Now,  I  travel  from  Ghatshila  to  Pakur  by  train.  I  first  travel  from  Ghatshila  to  Howrah,  from  where  I  catch  the  train  to  Pakur.  Bali  and  Nalhati  are  two  stations  I  pass  through.  The  familiarity  provided  by  these  places  further  drew  me  into  The Lives of Others.  I  wasn’t  reading  the  book  because  I  wanted  to  know  what  happened  with  the  Ghoshes.  I  was  reading  The Lives of Others  because  it  was  so  familiar,  because  it  told  me  things  I  knew,  because  I  hoped to  find  another  familiar  point  in  one  of  its  pages,  because  it  seemed  to  speak  to  me.

I  wasn’t  disappointed.  The book threw up the names of other  familiar  places.  Jamshedpur,  Giridih,  Latehar,  Chhipodohar,  McCluskieganj.  I  had  goose  flesh  as  I  read  the  names  of  these  places  and  realised  that  many  like  me,  all  over  the  world,  were  reading  these  names.

Not  only  places,  The Lives of Others  was  familiar  also  with  regards  certain  terms  that  I  have  grown  up  with.  For  example,  munish.  Our  family  owns  land  in  our  village.  When  I  was  very  little,  my  grandfather  used  to  talk  about  letting  the  munish  farm  our  fields.  At  that  time,  I  understood  that  munish  meant  workers.  Men  who  work  in  the  fields.  As  I  grew  up,  I  learnt  that  munish  meant  the  sharecroppers  who  worked  our  fields  for  us.  This,  exactly,  is  the  meaning  The Lives of Others  gives  for  the  word  munish.

Then  there  were  the  familiar  Bengali  sayings.  “fourteen  forefathers”.  When  I  read  this  term  in  Chapter  18,  I,  despite  the  sad  and  fearful  context  of  this  chapter,  couldn’t  help  smiling.  That  is  because  I  have  heard  people  saying  the  original  term:  Choddo  gushti—and  also  the  comic  implications  of  this  term  when  it  is  said  in  anger.  Another  saying  was:  “a  case  of  the  sieve  saying  to  the  colander, “Why  do  you  have  so  many  holes  in  your  arse?””,  in  Chapter  10.  I  know  the  Bengali  of  this  one  too,  although  that  has  the  sieve  with  a  needle.  The  sieve  is  riddled  with  holes,  but  it  accuses  the  needle  of  having  a  hole!

The Lives of Others  was,  indeed,  speaking  to  me.  I  don’t  think  I  need  to  write  about  how  meticulous  this  book  is.  I  came  to  know  of  the  politics  in  West  Bengal,  as  well  as  about  the  processes  involved  in  the  manufacture  of  paper—this  shows  how  good  the  research,  the  work  on  the  background,  has  been.  Finally,  when  the  narrative  reached  the  villages  of  West  Medinipur,  and  Santhal  characters  entered  the  story,  I  found  myself  turning  the  pages  in  sheer  delight.  I  wanted  to  read  what  had  been  written  about  Santhals,  how  they  had  been  presented.

And  this  undid  everything.

Maybe  I  had  had  too  high  expectations  of  The Lives of Others.  Just  because  a  book  seemed  so  familiar,  and  was  well-researched  and  well-written,  I  had  felt  that  it  would  be  entirely  satisfactory.  I  was  wrong.  The  description  of  the  Santhals  in  The Lives of Others  is  anything  but  satisfactory.  At  the  most,  it  is  stereotypical,  one  dimensional,  and  whatever  the  author  has  written  about  Santhals  has  been  drawn  so  heavily  from  whatever  opinion  the  world,  in  general,  holds  about  Santhals – about  the  Adivasis,  in  fact – that  it  all  seems  like  a  cliché.

First,  there  is  this  violent  scene  in  Chapter  10—a  moneylender  called  Senapati  Nayek  being  hacked  to  death  with  tangi  (an  axe).  The  men  who  wielded  the  tangis  were  Dhiren,  a  young  man  from  Kolkata  who  has  turned  to  Naxalism,  and  Shankar  Soren,  a  Santhal  man  from  the  village  Majgeria.  Senapati  Nayek  was  hacked  twice,  and  it  has  not  been  mentioned  who  hacked  him,  whether  Dhiren  or  Shankar.  It  could  be  that  each  of  them  hacked  him  once.  It  could  also  be  that  either  Dhiren  or  Shankar  hacked  him  twice.  In  Dhiren’s  case,  it  could  be  understood  that  he  was  driven  by  his  Naxalite  ideal  to  kill  the  landlord.  He  had  something  to  prove.  In  Shankar’s  case,  he  only  had  his  poverty,  and  the  fact  that  Senapati  Nayek  was  cheating  him  out  of  what  he  produced  on  his  land.  The  novel  tells  us  that  Senapati  Nayek  cheated  Shankar  Soren,  that  Shankar  Soren  sought  revenge.  The  novel  does  not  tell  us  what  kind  of  person  Shankar  Soren  was.  He  could  have  been  a  good  man,  but  he  could  have  also  been  a  bad,  a  cruel  man.  For,  the  novel  tells  us  that  he  beat  his  wife.  He  beat  his  wife,  the  novel  informs  us,  out  of  frustration,  but  that  could  also  mean  that  Shankar  was  depressed,  that  there  was  something  going  on  in  his  mind.  The  novel  further  tells  us  that  Shankar  was  drawn  by  Dhiren  into  the  plot  to  kill  Senapati.  Shankar  agrees  to  it.  But,  sadly,  whatever  the  novel  tells  us  about  Shankar,  it  does  not  give  us  a  detailed  insight  into  his  back  story,  it  does  not  give  Shankar  a  redeeming  story.  Shankar,  here,  represents  the  Santhals,  and  what  we  come  to  know  about  Santhals  through  the  character  of  Shankar  is  that  Santhals  are  naïve,  helpless,  frustrated,  angry,  yield  easily  to  incitement,  and  violent—in  this  order.  I  don’t  understand  if  this  description  of  Santhals – through  the  character  of  Shankar – does  any  good  to  Santhals.  Chances  are  that  readers  who  are  not  familiar  with  Santhals  might  take  Santhals  to  be  fools  who  tend  to  lose  whatever  they  own  and  repent  for  it,  and  then  turn  to  violence  to  get  their  possessions  back.  Perhaps,  Santhals  might  be  seen  as  a  bunch  of  psychos.

Second,  there  is  this  scene  in  Chapter  15,  in  which  a  drunk  man  called  Ajit  tells  his  friend  Somnath:  “…I  find  these  tribal  people  really  innocent  and  pure.  Qualities  we  city-dwellers  have  lost.”  Fine,  this  could  be  true.  But  let  us  consider  the  scene  in  its  entirety.  Ajit  is  drunk.  How  much  weight  do  the  proclamations  of  a  drunk  man  hold?  Next,  there  is  one  more  friend,  Shekhar,  he  too  is  drunk,  who  adds:  “[The  tribals]  have  no  money,  no  jobs,  no  solid  houses,  yet  look  how  happy  they  are.  They  sing,  dance,  laugh  all  the  time,  drink  alcohol,  all  as  if  they  didn’t  have  a  single  care  in  the  world.”  Now,  isn’t  this  stereotyping?  It  has  been  taken  for  granted  that  tribals  “have  no  money,  no  jobs,  no  solid  houses”,  and  they  “sing,  dance,  laugh  all  the  time,  drink  alcohol”.  Even  if  it  is  assumed  that  it  is  the  voice  of  that  particular  character – and  not  the  voice  of  the  author  who  wrote  this  book – what  positive  thing  do  these  lines  hold  for  tribals?  A  reader  who  does  not  know  tribals  will  assume  that  all  tribals  do  are  “sing,  dance,  laugh  all  the  time,  drink  alcohol”.

Third,  and  this  really  irritated  me.  Chapter  15,  just  before  that  drunken  discussion  about  tribals.  Somnath,  who  is  a  complete  lecher,  is  attracted  to  a  young  Santhal woman  and  goes  to  ask  her  the  name  of  the  flower  she  has  put  in  her  hair.  The  woman  behaves  coquettishly,  and  asks  Somnath:  “Babu,  you  give  me  money  if  I  tell  you  the  name  of  the  flower?”  At  this  point,  I  can’t  help  noticing,  The Lives of Others  turns  into  Satyajit  Ray’s  film  adaptation  of  Sunil  Gangopadhyay’s  novel,  Aranyer  Din  Ratri.  The  young  Santhal  woman  could  very  well  be  Duli,  the  Santhal  woman  in  the  film  Aranyer  Din  Ratri,  played  by  Simi  Garewal;  while  Somnath  of  The Lives of Others  could  be  the  city-bred  Hari,  played  by  Samit  Bhanja  in  the  film  Aranyer  Din  Ratri.  In  fact,  there  is  a  scene  in  Aranyer  Din  Ratri,  set  in  a  small  rural  joint  selling  hooch,  in  which  a  drunk  Duli  comes  to  a  drunk  Hari  and  asks  him  to  give  her  money  to  buy  more  hooch.  “E  babu,  de  na.  Paisa  de  na”—Duli’s  lines  from  the  film  are  still  clear  in  my  mind,  not  because  I  liked  those  lines,  but  because,  being  a  Santhal,  I  found  those  lines  terribly  embarrassing,  and  the  character  of  Duli – played  by  Simi  Garewal – absolutely  unreal  and  a  caricature.  The  same  feeling  of  embarrassment  came  over  me  when  I  read  about  the  Santhal  woman  in  The Lives of Others  asking  for  money  from  a  city-bred  man.  Simi  Garewal  in  Aranyer  Din  Ratri  might  have  looked  very  glamorous  to  some  people,  but  I  cannot  forgive  Satyajit  Ray  for  making  a  complete  hash  of  a  Santhal  character.  Similarly,  I  cannot  forgive  Neel  Mukherjee  for  Aranyer  Din  Ratri-fication – or  Simi  Garewal-isation – of  a  Santhal  woman  in  his  novel.

Further,  in  the  same  chapter,  Somnath  has  successfully  seduced  that  Santhal  woman,  promising  to  buy  her  liquor,  and  was  leading  her  towards  the  forest  to,  apparently,  make  out  with  her.  This  is  what  has  been  written  in  the  novel:  “He  had  heard  that  these  promiscuous  tribal  women  had  insatiable  desires;  they  were  at  it  all  the  time,  with  whoever  approached  them”.  Promiscuous?  I  wonder  if  the  author  was  trying  to  count  the  qualities  of  tribal  women  or  just  generalizing  things.  If  a  woman  drinks  alcohol,  does  that  make  her  promiscuous?  Was  it  necessary  to  portray  “tribal  women”  as  “promiscuous”  and  with  “insatiable  desires”?  This,  together  with  lines  like,  “You  think  we  didn’t  see  you  unable  to  take  your  eyes  off  the  ripe  tits  of  these  Santhal  women?”,  “Ufff,  those  tits!  You’re  absolutely  correct,  Somu,  they’re  exactly  like  ripe  fruit.  The  only  thing  you  want  to  do  when  you  see  them  is  pluck  and  shove  into  your  mouth”,  and  “[Santhal  women]  fill  every  single  sense.  But  not  only  tits,  have  you  noticed  their  waists?  The  way  they  wind  that  cloth  around  themselves,  it  hardly  covers  anything,  leaves  nothing  really  to  imagination.  High-blood-pressure  stuff”  (all  lines  from  Chapter  15)  seem  to  only  further  the  Simi  Garewal-isation  of  Santhal  women.  Santhal  women  have  been  presented  as  objects  of  fantasy,  what  spoilt,  city-bred  men  desire.  While  there  might  be  some  truth  in  men  lusting  after  Santhal  women,  is  it  that  difficult  to  accept  Santhal  women  as  real  persons  and  not  merely  as  objects  lustful  men  fantasize  about?

Finally,  in  Chapter  3,  there  is  a  mention  of  “the  burial  grounds  of  the  Santhals”.  I  wonder,  what  burial  grounds?  I  am  a  Santhal.  I  know  that  we  Santhals  do  not  bury  our  dead.  We  cremate  them.  So  where  did  these  “burial  grounds  of  the  Santhals”  come  from?

The  “burial  grounds  of  the  Santhals”  part  did  put  me  off  a  bit.  But  it  was  still  quite  early  in  the  novel,  and  I  was  ready  to  overlook  this  error  because  I  had  started  falling  in  love  with  this  novel.  I  found  one  more  error:  “Gidhni  Junction”,  in  Chapter  2.  Gidhni  is  an  actual  place,  and  the  railway  station  at  Gidhni  is  not  a  junction.  If  one  travels  to  Gidhni  from  Howrah,  one  would  reach  Jhargram  first  and  then  Gidhni.  So  why  would  “the  railtrack  [become]  a  loop-line”  and  why  would  “the  train  [leave]  the  main  railway  line  and  [go]  over  the  cutting”?  If  one  travelling  from  Howrah  needed  to  get  down  at  Jhargram,  he  could  easily  get  down  at  Jhargram  without  needing  to  travel  all  the  way  to  Gidhni.  I  overlooked  “Gidhni  Junction”,  initially,  thinking  it  to  be  a  creative  freedom  the  author  took.  The  type  of  creative  freedom  that  Jhumpa  Lahiri  took  in  The  Namesake  when  she  made  the  young  Ashoke  Ganguly  travel  from  Howrah  to  Tatanagar  in  an  overnight  train  instead  of  in  one  of  the  many  trains  that  ran  during  the  daytime  so  that  the  overnight  train  could  have  an  accident  near  Dhalbhumgarh  and  Ashoke  Ganguly’s  life  be  changed  forever.  I  tried  overlooking  both  “Gidhni  Junction”  and  “the  burial  grounds  of  the  Santhals”.  But  what  else  was  written  about  Santhals  crushed  all  my  hopes  in  such  a  way  that  The Lives of Others,  a  book  I  had  found  so  familiar,  stopped  working  for  me.

I  am  happy  that  a  novel  which  has  a  few  Santhal  characters  is  being  received  so  well  all  over  the  world;  but  that  is  exactly  what  makes  me  afraid—that  readers  all  over  the  world  are  reading  about  Santhals  in  The Lives of Others.  Some  readers  might  even  believe  in  what  The Lives of Others  tells  them  about  Santhals,  and  this  does  not  make  me  happy  at  all,  because  the  actual  lives  of  the  Santhals  is  somewhat  different  from  what  The Lives of Others  tells  us.

25 September 2014

Neel Mukherjee The Lives of Others Random House India, London, 2014. Hb. pp. 514 Rs. 399

Hansda

 

 

 

 

 

 

HANSDA SOWVENDRA SHEKHAR is the author of the novel, The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey, published by Aleph Book Company. He is a Santhal, a native of Ghatsila subdivision of Jharkhand; and he is currently living in Pakur in the Santhal Pargana division of Jharkhand, where he is working as a medical officer with the government of Jharkhand. ( http://www.alephbookcompany.com/hansda-sowvendra-shekhar )