Author: David Davidar
Publisher: Penguin Books India
Paperback: 432 pages
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The saga of Dorai family spanning over 3 generations during the last 5 decades of British Raj (1899-1947), set in a fictitious district in Madras Presidency (now the state of Tamil Nadu plus some regions now in Kerala, Karnataka & Andhra) . The scene of India's struggle for freedom plays in the background, subtly touching the lives of the main characters.
The book is in three parts. The first part is about Solomon Dorai, a strict but just and benevolent headman of the village Chevathar. The second part is about his son Daniel Dorai who becomes a renowned physician and establishes a new family settlement Doraipuram near their ancestral village Chevathar. Kannan, the son of Daniel Dorai , a successful manager of a Tea Estate owned by an Englishman in Pulimed, is the main protogonist in part three. He becomes a "pucca brown-sahib". But once he realizes that Englishmen will never consider him their equal, he resigns and returns back to his roots in Chevathar.
The plot is simple with no dramatic thrills or turn-arounds. Issues described in the story through excellently etched characters are very realistic - caste wars, father-son disagreements, family politics, love marriage breakup etc.
There are several British characters - Father Ashworth, Chris Cooke, Harrison who play a very significant roles in the the lives of Solomon Dorai, Daniel Dorai & Kannan respectively. However I cannot help feeling that they are mainly introduced with the global readership in view.
The narration is very vivid and holds your attention throughout the book.
A very good book for light reading, though in my opinion the rave reviews from all over the world quoted in the back cover and first few pages of the book are somewhat exaggerated.
A few impressive extracts from the book:
1. "At the moment of his triumph, he had escaped the world, the hundreds of little things we say and do to ourselves bind us down, make us helpless little worms, who on their deathbeds only remember and lament what they always wanted to do, but never had the courage for. Think about it, anna. What a waste of life, no matter how pitiful or earnest or triumphant it has been. Do you really want to die, and in your last moment go into the dark thinking only of what might have been".
2. As Father Ashworth put the pages in order, he read what he had written - At the heart of every religion in the world is the divine mystery.
The problem that the teachers who have contributed to the evolution of each faith have always been confronted with can be simply stated:
How to plumb the divine mystery, describe it, explain it to themselves and the followers of the faith ? It is a problem almost without solution, for how do you describe God ? There are no facts that can adequately explain the Supreme Reality; none but the greatest seers are granted the intuition to experience the Divine.
As a result, each religion has evolved a host of symbols and myths and conventions and dogma, to make its central mystery better understood. Over the centuries, these have obscured the central mystery to the impoverishment of faith. And the priestly class has only itself to blame for obscuring and misinterpreting the Truth, perverting religion for its own selfish ends, setting brother against brother, saint against saint, dogma against dogma. Is Krishna's memorable message to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra any less important than Christ's Sermon on the Mount or the Buddha's explication of the Eightfold Path? No, a thousand times no ! Men of vision of all faiths need to explain to their followers that the goal of every religion is same - to achieve the transcendent state, experience the one true Reality, understand fully the eternal Truth..."
3. As she prepared the meal that evening, a memory of Aaron insinuated itself into Charity's sense of well-being. Instantly her mood grew less buoyant. Where was her beautiful boy, she wondered. What was he doing now? She shook off her gloomy foreboding. Aaron will be all right; God is watching over him, and one day he will return. As she bent to light the fire she gave thanks for her perfect day. Even the shadow cast by Aaron had its place in it: too much happiness wasn't good for you; it was bound to be followed by great sorrow, as the world tried to keep the balance.
4. "It's ironic, I kept running away from the place, but it grew to be most important thing in my life....." ........."Isn't it curious how we always realize the important things when it's too late? Perhaps that's His way of reminding us how useless and significant we really are".
5. 'Watch how you speak to me, you young whippersnapper. Do you mean to tell me that you haven't spent your working life fitting into a straitjacket devised by someone else? You look like a fellow who doesn't put up with nonsense, so it must have been even more of a trial. Look at you, enunciating your words carefully, polishing your English manners, playing right into the hands of those who seek to keep you down. Why the hell should you not say Les-ester or Wor-sester or Chol-mon-de-ley when not one Englishman of my acquaintance can pronounce an Indian name correctly? And why should you not spit in public when the honking of a white man into his handkerchief would drown out a tiger's roar? And do you really think the English oak is sturdier than the banyan and the thrush superior to bulbul? And that the lotus is inferior to the rose? Is Tamil less than English? Why don't these things make you angry?' [ This is Harrison a bitter Englishman berating Kannan for holding Englishmen with high regard. This could also serve as a reproach to the people who blindly ape the west and think anything American or European is better than Indian]
6. 'But is that what you really want to do? I know things have been rough around here but you are a good planter, Cannon. You could have an excellent career on the estates.'
'I thought so too, sir, but sometimes you keep putting off the inevitable, knowing all the while that the decision has already been taken a long time ago, often without any conscious thought. It's always been there, you've just taken a few twists and turns in the road before you arrive at it.'
'Now you've lost me, with all this talk of destiny. What do you chaps call it, karma?'
'Not bad at all, sir', Kannan said with a smile.
'You've never seemed more Indian to me than you did just now,' Michael said.
'But that's the whole point, sir. I am Indian, and I expect we just forgot that for a while.'