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The Unsettled Dust of Gardabad

Sukrita Paul Kumar

By Esther David
Penguin Books, New Delhi, India, 2010, pp. 122, 199.00


The title of the 'novel’ The Man with Enormous Wings arouses a child-like curiosity and expectations of a story that may be built with a rather innocent imagination. But what we experience within the folds of this short novel is an epic tale that presents an anticlimax to what we may have expected. Vignette after vignette, the story of Gardabad, the city of dust, as the Mughal Emperor Jehangir called Ahmedabad in 1617, unravels the pain of a city that, post-2002, bemoans fractured lives with bleeding hearts. The magic of the city floats through the presence of the Walking Dargah, the Coughing Saint, Badshah’s Drummers as much as through Hadkai Mata nu Mandir which houses Hadkai Mata seated on, not a lion, but a stray dog. These are not merely names to attract tourists to this city; they appear in the narrative as helpless witnesses to the gory and tragic scenes of human brutality. Esther David uses a highly aesthetic strategy in the very beginning of her novel and poignantly highlights the irony of how these ideals of happy coexistence, have become merely sad and dead remnants of the earlier near-Utopian harmony. The author holding the reader’s hand, as it were, leads her from one such place to the other, chapter by chapter, at once mystifying as well as de-mystifying the city of Ahmedabad much after the riots in Gujarat. It is like trying to juxtapose the smiling sunshine and laughter of the earlier days with these dark melancholic hours.   Talking of laughter, we get introduced to Hasti Bibi of Ahmedabad in the chapter called 'The Divine Laughing Club’. This laughing begum, it is said, has the power to heal through laughter! But then, it’s no easy task to reach her. I quote: To reach Hasti Bibi no Gokhlo, one has to cross over Nehru Bridge to the walled city, turn to Relief cinema, then old Panjra Pol, drive past a Jain Temple, take the lane to Kalupur Swaminarayan temple and stop at a tailor’s shop known as Yes, Boss! … this is a tiny gokhlo in the wall of a tailor shop, no bigger than nine inches on all sides… Again an anti climax! Today when you reach here, what do you get as 'you look closely, touch the walls and feel…’ You feel the salt, the same salt for which they had almost broken the back ...

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