Although the book “Between The Assassinations” by Aravind Adiga had been lying in my bookshelf for more than a few years now, it is only now that I found time and inclination to actually read it, given that I am in the middle of a voracious spell of devouring books by Indian authors in recent times. And it was quite a read.
I opened up the book without any expectations whatsoever having read no reviews or heard anything about the book itself and armed with the knowledge that the author had won the 2008 Man Booker Prize for his other book The White Tiger and this happened to be a blessing in disguise in more than one way. For one I was not burdened by the fact that I had a yardstick to measure this book against the award winning one, given that I have not yet read it, and secondly, the fact that I had absolutely no inkling as to what to expect from this one in terms of the plot or what it dealt with meant that I read it with a completely open mind, and what follows therefore is an honest opinion of the book by itself.
The book is a collection of short stories set in the fictional town of Kittur which per the author lies in coastal Karnataka somewhere between Goa and the rest of Karnataka. With regard to detailing the town itself, the author’s craft reminded me on more than one instance of how the great RK Narayan had detailed the town of Malgudi in a lot of his books. All the stories are set in the period 1984-91 between the assassinations of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi and is set on the cusp of the historic liberalization of India. The author deliberately has chosen this time frame and setting to present a mirror to small town India in the 80s well before our country opened itself up to the world and in turn allowed the world as well to open up to India. The setting by itself makes for an interesting choice to write stories with.
Another underlying common theme in all the stories in this book apart from the setting itself is the fact that the main protagonists are everyday men and women who we would encounter in similar small towns even today. Ranging from the middle class bank manager, the daughter of a daily wage laborer, a full time house maid who has to work to eke out a living, a young Muslim boy who does various odd jobs around town, a High School teacher who has pinned his hopes on a favorite student of his, the owner of a garment factory who detests corruption in the Government, these eclectic bunch of people probably still exist in India even today, living similar lives as well.
Yet another underlying theme, which I particularly found interesting was the fact that almost all the stories dealt with the everyday lives of these characters without any fictional embellishments at all. They dealt with troubles, travails, fears, insecurities, anger, frustration and all other base human emotions without getting too fictional or storyish about it. What worked well for me in all these stories was the particularly grim way in which the lives of the protagonists was presented without taking too much literary liberty of embellishing them with unnecessary stuff. At the heart of it, this book is a relatively ‘no nonsense’ approach to story-telling and telling the truth as it was.
And the truth of these everyday men and women in Kittur is far from heartening and at times so grim that the reader actually starts feeling depressed through some of these stories. Aravind Adiga manages to weave human emotions in everyday lives in small town India by cleverly incorporating the settings within these stories. The death of socialism and the gradual rise of capitalism, the clinging on to older middle class values and the caste system by the elders, the class divide between the haves and the have-nots, the vicarious living of one’s life through others, the selfless devotion to ideologies, the dilemma between doing what is required and what is right, these are some of the human conditions that the author highlights through this book.
Another thing which worked really well for me was the fact that the author chose to write short stories about each one of these, which meant that he gave enough importance to each and every one of these without overwhelming the reader with the burden of one single overarching story arc with all of these thoughts.
Do read this book if you enjoy reading about simple human emotions and real life characters with whom you can relate to.
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