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Posts Tagged ‘Rajasthan’


One Part Woman
Perumal Murugan | Penguin | Rs 399

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 11.50.53 AMFirst published in Tamil as ‘Madhorubagan’ in 2010, this heart-stopping tale from Tamil Nadu follows a series of twists in a life of a couple as they seek to conceive a child. Kali is a farmer married to beautiful sensual Ponna. People envy their union. Is Kali impotent, they wonder or is  Ponna barren? The two, beseech gods, undertake pilgrimages and do every penance suggested. Then in the festival of ‘The Chariot’ the wheel of life tumbles forward. Myth and ritual propel Ponna towards a night with a stranger in a forest and a loss that can’t be undone.

(The above review appeared in the Mail Today dated 4 December 2013.)

NOTE: Critically acclaimed writer and thinker, Perumal Murugan made news last week when he declared in a post on Facebook that “Author Perumal Murugan is dead. He is no God. Hence, he will not resurrect. Hereafter, only P Murugan, a teacher will live.” He made this statement after facing a sustained and ugly backlash from his community in Thiruchengode, Tamil Nadu, India. At the heart of the controversy is the book mentioned above.

The story, set in Thiruchengode some 100 years ago, agonises over a love of a man for a woman, their desire for a child and their eventual participation in a socio-religious carnival that offers a possibility of impregnation. In 2005 Amol Palekar’s film – Paheli (‘A Riddle’) – raised a similar issue by imaging a Rajasthan folk lore that had a ghost character impregnate a lonely wife. It raised tempers but did not escalate to the level protests against Murugan have grown. 

Clearly, political muscle lent to anti-Madhorubagan protests accounts for the ugliness that the writer is facing now. Silencing and hounding a writer cannot stop memories embedded and encoded in folk tales, songs, poetry, architecture or mythology. Not in Tamil Nadu, not in Rajasthan. It can only highlight how irrational and small minded we can be. Don’t kill the author. Kill prejudice.

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Beautiful Country
Sayeda Hameed & Gunjan Veda| Harper Collins| Rs 399

“Sayeda has the ability to make things come alive in a way that government reports festooned with official statistics can never do,” writes deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Dr Montek Singh Ahluwalia in the forward to the book. We agree. This beautifully written book tells the story of the country’s inability to deliver basic human rights and facilities, in a manner that makes you feel as if tremendous achievements have been made. That takes talent. And so we learn that MNREGA, despite its flaws, has provided assured livelihoods; Sarva Shikha Abhiyan, has increased school enrolment; and, the National Rural Health Mission, is reaching out to all. History of the rulers always rings sweet to establishment ears.

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The Maharajas of Bikaner
Rajyashree Kumari Bikaner | Amaryllis| Rs 695

When members of a royal family write books about their kingdom they present their families in glorious aura. This book, written by daughter of Dr Karni Singh, is no different except for one detail, which runs into two chapters at the end of the book. These chapters deal with the drama of succession that rocked the Rathore clan in 2003, in which the royal faction insisted that history of Bikaner would be obliterated if a male successor was not chosen, the rest, including the female members of the royal family, opposed it. “Mercifully,” she writes, “the rights of women are enshrined in the Constitution of India” giving them the right to ancestral property and history. Clearly, it pays to be part of world’s largest democracy.

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The Average Indian Male
Cyrus Broacha | Random House | Rs 199

There are two parts to this book. In author’s own write, “Book One contains letters from various anguished people thirsty for answers, which is interspersed with witty and profound observations from me. Book Two lists my experiences about being around.” In the first part, Cyrus explains why Indian men have thin legs (it’s because they are obsessed with feet and chest); are irritable (it’s all due to short height); and, smile stupidly (when you don’t understand you smile, even Obama does it). The latter half, he tells us why his father wears boxers and he underwear, and why meeting fellow Indians on the street is never a meeting of equals.

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 15 April 2012)

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In my recent visit to Rajasthan, I came across this commemorative altar on the National Highway 8. The altar depicts two men astride a motorbike. Before it is placed a clay lamp with a green chili to ward off evil spirits. The men, said the villagers, had died in a road accident two years ago.

In many parts of North India one can come across “chattris” or commemorative altars to the departed. These are usually erected by the families in the memory of their ancestors and are often located on the field or land owned by the family. Standing sentinels, guardian spirits. In some regions, such as Shekhawati, they can also be found painted on the walls of the houses.

There is so much that connects us to these men. Indian statistics show that currently 270 people die everyday on Indian roads. Much of it is caused by faulty traffic plan and fast modes of transport. Most National Highways cut through towns and villages without requisite by-pass or provision for slow moving traffic and pedestrians. And most lack first aid facilities for traffic victims.

The traditionally dressed men on the motorbike – an Enfield or Bullet – died one such death. The family of the deceased has placed the altar on the road. Like a milestone. Marking, it seemed to me, the pain of loss.

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