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Redolent With History

Kiran Doshi

By Keki N. Daruwalla
Fourth State, an Imprint of HarperCollins, Delhi, 2015, pp. 242, Rs. 499.00


If I recall right, Keki Daruwalla, a noted poet and writer of short stories, first ventured into the jungle of novels relatively late in life, in 2009, with an intriguing book titled For Pepper and Christ. I am not sure if the book did well in sales. I rather think it did not, although it had much to commend it. The problem was with the way it had been structured. His second novel, Ancestral Affairs, should do better. Mind you, it too is oddly structured. For one, it seeks to tell not one coherent story but three, somewhat awkwardly put together stories, along with several shorter, diversionary tales, not all of which have much to add to the stories. The first story is that of Saam Bharucha, legal advisor to the nawab of Junagadh in the critical year of 1947 (when that Princely State, with its majority Hindu population, shot into limelight for wanting to accede to Pakistan.) The second is that of his son, Rohinton, growing into a troubled manhood in different cities in post-Independence India. The third is the story of their ancestors, told in bits and pieces across several chapters, mostly through reminiscences of the elders in the family—and serving as a bridge of sorts between the first and the second stories. Also, the stories are told by two narrators, father and son, alternating chapter-wise, the chapters being of uneven sizes. And finally, the book moves through time in a somewhat jerky, and probably unique fashion, from 1947 to 1955 to 1947 to 1953 to 1950 to the late 50s to . . . The love interest in the book—and the needed tension—is provided by Claire, an English widow with whom Saam has an affair (incidentally giving the author slots for sex scenes, the obligatory item numbers of commercial literature these days,) Zerine, his aggrieved wife, and Feroza, the son’s nowon-now-off girl friend/wife. Of the three stories, the one of the ancestors, built round an old family feud, is without doubt the most entertaining, dotted as it is with humour and peopled with many fine characters. The humour enlivens even the bits of pure history Daruwalla has thrown in—e.g., the opium wars (about which, one would have thought, Amitav Ghosh had left nothing to be said after his Ibis trilogy.) The story of Saam in Junagadh in 1947 begins well but fails to become historical. Saam neither affects nor is affected ...

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