Costa First Novel Award

I read this 242 page novel in one go. The novel certainly is a deserved winner of the award. The shocking story of a teen accused of killing all thirteen people is a page turner. You want to find out from the opening pages of the diary of the young Durga(apt choice of name!) to the narrative of the beer swilling,cigarette-toting Simran the unconventional social worker who is determined to find the truth what really happened on that night. The diary and the narrative is used to tell a searingly brutal story of female foeticide happening in the modern tech-savy middle class Punjab of today. I can see the rage seeping in the pages, that Kishwar says she felt when she saw cases of young women/ children being made victims of untold misery or deprived of their basic human right to live by a patriarchal culture that rules supreme in small town Jullunder.

I was gobsmacked when a Punjabi friend of mine related how her grandmother buried her female child in a claypot in the field. She had no other choice and still faced the wrath of the family, until a baby boy was delivered soon. That was in 1930’s India. This novel is set in the present and you read hoping this is not happening now.

The plot was carefully executed for the research could have made it a dry documentary version of another police case. Desai is a skillful writer and the characters and setting are superb. Nightmarish scenes written in pellucid prose that flows like the Beas where little bodies of female babies are drowned, it is a compelling read, yes! Yet, I am filled with a great sense of disquiet.

From the 1950’s (R.K Narayan being the exception)books written about India that have won awards in the West have been on themes of the quirky or tales of the worst cultural excesses of the country. Honour killings, political corruption, scams, child labour,plight of the untouchables the list goes on. I am unhappy that award judges are looking for the next sensational tale hailing from India.

I am pleased that K. Desai has got another deal for a novel with the same character of Simran. Would she start a series of novels picking the sores from the underbelly of India unwrapping more horrific tales? Misery-lit from India rolls on.

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