This was a Palampur Book Club read
After many many days I finally came across a cover that was something to write home about. It shows a baby seemingly whooshing through the air with a look of utter happiness on his face. It is just such an intriguing picture that seems to have no real easily decipherable meaning, that is until you start reading and understand it completely. It certainly needed a little more finessing, but there is no doubt that it is an excellent cover. It made me think of Alien abductions for one thing. For some reason though, the cover doesn’t show-up on the Kindle edition.
Ravan and Eddie was the first book by Kiran Nagarkar that I have read, after hearing rave reviews of ‘Cuckold’ by the other members of the book club. The title was no help in figuring out what the story would be about. Religious drama, split personality syndrome, Meera bai kind of devotion to a deity or alien abductions as mentioned above. Yes, those were the things I thought it might be about. It certainly has a bit of religious commentary, but its more about two little boys growing up in a Bombay chawl. No signs of split personalities or even a God complex.
So Ravan and Eddie are two boys born a few months apart in a post independence Bombay chawl and are divided by more than the floors of the chawl, their religious backgrounds and their cultural differences. A strange and tragic incident, when Ravan was an infant and Eddie was still to make an appearance, ensures that never the twain shall meet. At least as long as their mothers are alive. There lives run almost parallel as they grow up, look for ways to expend their energies, learn to handle the dramas at home, begin understanding their sexuality and do most of the normal things that boys do growing up.
This novel was a literary introduction into chawl life for me, since Bollywood movies are full of visual references to it. But reading about it and watching snippets of the hero emerging from the dilapidated tenements are two very different things. The religious divides and then those on the basis of caste seem to decide the social life of the residents of the chawl. The difficulty of conducting all of life’s affairs in the full glare of the society one lives in must need a formidable sense of confidence in oneself or perhaps brazenness. A hard life indeed.
The characters that Nagarkar has etched find instant connect with the reader. One begins to feel for Ravan and Eddie as if they were old friends. And, one must say, admire their resourcefulness. The lives of their respective mothers is hard and seems to have turned them both bitter and angry to almost the same degrees. And yet they are managing their lives in ways they know best. One would of course be free to judge and condemn their actions and the many mistakes they seem to be making in handling their sons, but that is always too easy to do. Trying to live the lives that these women are living seems harrowing. And yet, there are millions doing the same every single day. ‘There but for the grace of God’ seems a good phrase to contemplate on at such times.
The best part of the book were these essays that the author has put between the text to explain some of the idiosyncrasies of Indian culture and living. His take on Bollywood movies was an especially educating read. These little essays are nice little detours to take while reading the book. It’s almost like having a conversation with the author himself. By the end of the book, one feels that he/she knows the author almost as well as the characters that he has introduced to us.
The jarring note for me was the sexual exploitation of Ravan by the school gunda. It was disturbing and seemed very out-of-place, not because it isn’t something that could not happen but because of the way it happens and the number of people it encompasses and the matter-of-fact way that Ravan seems to accept it. Even extremely innocent 11-year-olds know when something gross is being done to them, even those who lived 60 years ago.
Some may take exception to the obvious religious disdain the author shows towards the various Hindu Gods and the Catholic ways of life, but he is sufficiently even-handed in criticizing both sides to comes across more of an atheist than anything else. And one should certainly be able to take criticism when it is mostly true. Maybe console yourself with the fact that things are changing all the time and hope for better things ahead.
Overall, this was an interesting read. And now that I know it has a sequel, I would certainly like to know what happened to Ravan and Eddie. Did they live up to their potentials? Did they become friends? Did they find love? Did they relive the lives of their parents or did they do things differently? Whatever, the next book may bring, this one was certainly good enough as a standalone novel too.