Himalaya Watch

People, issues. Debates, perspectives. Details, nuances. A crisp view from the top.

Visit the new professional website of Jiwan Kshetry

Saturday, March 10, 2012

'The Story of my Assassins' A Brilliant book about Indian Society

Jiwan Kshetry 

How is the Indian society faring? How real are the things that come out about Indian society? How do the lives of people in Indian cities differ from that of those in countryside? Overall, which direction is being taken by the society and the nation? If fiction is your choice to look into all these, there is one book. 

Knowing Indian society inside outwith help of a single book: is that possible?

Well, I think it is so after completing one book. Written by one of the most prominent contemporary Indian journalists, Tarun Tejpal, 'The Story of my Assassins' is a novel that knits well more than a dozen stories of people from various strata of society into one story. 

Unlike the popular Booker winner book of Arvind Adiga, this books covers wide spectrum of lives in the subcontinent. Unlike most other novels, this one makes the reader feel that he/she is not reading the book for mere entertainment. Humor is there, often dark; but most important is the way in which the social ailments of the subcontinent are dealt in minute details.

So what exactly one gets by reading this novel? First thing to be realized is that the society is far more complex thing than it appears. Second, governments and other social institutions often do many things that they are not seen doing ordinarily. Third, corruption and rule-bending is not monopoly of politicians, rather it is the way of life for people who are moving or have moved up the prosperity ladder. Fourth, if India is shining, it is the upper and upper-middle class. The people at the bottom of the social strata are not shining at all, if that term can be applied.

In a sense. it is like a compilation of dozens of journalistic reporting but there is something more in the book than this. The main character, the narrator, is a journalist who, after exposing a huge scam in one government agency, comes to controversy. Subsequently, the news is out that there was a plot to assassinate the narrator but the to-be-assassins get then caught by the police. 

The whole book is the story of each of the supposed assassins. It is through their life-stories that Tejpal details the lives of people in different parts of the India. From stifling poverty to recurring religious conflicts, land disputes to caste politics, he details the predicament of Indian societies brilliantly. The most somber part of the book illustrates how exactly the events of Indian partition impacted the lives of people of both religions who had lived in harmony till then. 

Tejpal's illustration of the lives of children in the railway stations and the process through which they drift towards criminality is another impressive part. 
Over all, the mundanity of life of ordinary people all over the country and the treachery of the people at the top of the society and country is shown; that too in details. 

Through a kind of psycho-analysis, Tejpal has convinced the reader that, with the mentality of people ruling the country, bringing even a small betterment in livelihoods of people is exceedingly difficult. Let alone the magical dreams of bringing the country altogether out of poverty. 

Coming to the serious nature of his books, when Tejpal was in Kathmandu for a literary festival, I asked if he thought readership of his kind of 'serious' books were challenged by the more light-hearted and commerce-minded bestsellers from other Indian writers repackaging the plethora of stories of successful middle-class people, he answered something like this: "Obviously both kind of books do exist and should exist. There are two kinds of books, that's why it is possible to contrast one from another. Since readers are there for both categories of books, there is scope for both kind of books."

And to another question if the narrator, being a journalist with some details of life resembling those of Tejpal himself, was fictionalized self of the author, Tejpal was simply dismissive: though he got so much of information and insight about the society through his work in journalism, his resemblance with the narrator; or the other way around, was only incidental. He was the author and the narrator was a mere narrator, and that was all. 

And with this book (which bears the autograph of the author) completed, I am eagerly awaiting for opportunity to read his newer book: Valley of Masks, which is already published.

No comments:

विजय कुमारको खुशी पढेपछि

जीवन, खुशी अहंकार

जीवनमा अफ्ठ्यारा घुम्तीहरुमा हिंडिरहँदा मैले कुनै क्षणमा पलायनलाई एउटा विकल्पको रुपमा कल्पना गरेको थिएँ, त्यसलाई यथार्थमा बदल्ने आँट गरिनँ, त्यो बेग्लै कुरा हो त्यसबेला लाग्थ्योः मेरा समग्र दुखहरुको कारण मेरो वरपरको वातावरण हो, यसबाट साहसपूर्वक बाहिरिएँ भने नयाँ दुख आउलान् तर तत्क्षणका दुरुह दुखहरु गायब भएर जानेछन् कति गलत थिएँ !

Read more from Dashain Issue

Debating partition of India: culpability and consequences

Read the whole story here

Why I write...

I do not know why I often tend to view people rather grimly: they usually are not as benevolent, well-intentioned and capable or strong as they appear to be. This assumption is founded on my own self-assessment, though I don’t have a clue as to whether it is justifiable to generalize an observation made in one individual. This being the fact, my views of writers as ‘capable’ people are not that encouraging: I tend to see them as people who intend to create really great and world-changing writings but most of the times end up producing parochial pieces. Also, given the fact that the society where we grow and learn is full of dishonesty, treachery, deceit and above else, mundanity, it is rather unrealistic to expect an entirely reinvigorating work of writing from every other person who scribbles words in paper.

On life's challenges

Somebody has said: “I was born intelligent but education ruined me”. I was born a mere child, as everyone is, and grew up as an ordinary teenager eventually landing up in youth and then adulthood. The extent to which formal education helped me to learn about the world may be debatable but it definitely did not ruin me. There were, however, things that nearly ruined me. There came moments when I contemplated some difficult choices. And there came and passed periods when I underwent through an apparently everlasting spell of agony. There came bends in life from which it was very tempting to move straight ahead instead of following the zigzag course.

Read more