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Of Love and Affect

Barnita Bagchi

By Anuradha Roy
Hachette, India, 2011, pp.268, 495.00


The folded earth produces mountains; in their folds in turn nestle hill-stations,in one of which Maya, the grieving, widowed protagonist of Roy's novel winds up. In Ranikhet, to be precise. Ranikhet as much as Maya star in this novel. Sitting first in an airport lounge, and then in the bowels of an aeroplane, I consumed this beautifully-written novel with great enjoyment. This is a novel about love and affect, satisfyingly rounded out by a memorable gallery of peripheral characters. Corbett and Edwina Mountbatten's absent presence notwithstanding, the novel is not one steeped in Raj nostalgia. There is a satisfying, momentum-ridden plot-line, particularly impressive in a work which does an accomplished job of giving us entry into the heroine's reflective consciousness. Maya comes to the mountains from Hyderabad grieving for her late young lover and husband, killed while mountaineering. Disinherited by her pickle-industrialist father for her marriage, Maya teaches school, bonds with various locals, deals affectionately with her "This is a novel about love and affect,satisfyingly rounded out by a memorable gallery of peripheral characters." landlord, the larger-than-life Diwan Sahib (widely believed to have letters exchanged between Edwina Mountbatten and Nehru in his possession), falls in love again, and acts as epistolary go-between for a young hill girl and her beloved, a migrant to the Big City. Roy is a shrewd storyteller, and impresses in particular by her delineation of the upstart, opportunist, neo-Hindu fundamentalists, and those who collude with them, such as the devastatingly portrayed administrator Chauhan, penner of outrageously cliched slogans. It takes a novelist of verve and unpreachy maturity to craft the scene where a brigade of fundamentalists arrives in righteous anger against ‘forced conversion' at the jam-factory at the Christian institution where Maya teaches, to find young women listening with enjoyment to ‘dum maro dam/ hare Krishna hare Ram'. The delicious irony of this hip, psychedelic, dance number, which nonetheless chants the names of Ram and Krishna, is exquisite, leaving the fundamentalists gobsmacked, and the reader rolling in the aisles. Charu the mountain girl, Kundan, her beloved-turned-migrant, Ama, Charu's sharp mother, wise to the ways of the world, anxious about her daughter's fate in a rapacious world, and a most unusual comrade for Maya, or the superbly delineated subaltern, Puran Singh: we have a gallery of vivid side-characters in the novel. For this reviewer, the delineation of the Veer-Maya relationship was not the most well-crafted ...

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