The House of Blue Mangoes by David Davidar

Cross-posted at Bookreviews at Bookrack

The House of Blue Mangoes is a story spanning three generations of a non-Brahmin Christian family in Tamilnadu. It follows the story of the family while mirroring the developments in society at that time. India’s own freedom struggle from the British, is happening at the same time.

Solomon Dorai is the head of a village Chethavar in what used to be Madras Constituency in Pre-independence India. He was very particular about maintaining peace between the various powerful castes. He prided himself with the fact that Chethavar had not seen the nasty caste-based clashes which were so common around them. The peace which had been maintained for long is threatened and broken in a caste based clash, which results in Solomon’s death and Solomon’s elder, studious son Daniel, his wife Charity and daughter moving to Charity’s hometown. Solomon’s younger son Aaron stays on in Chethavar. Solomon had always been a little disappointed with his elder son who was more interested in his books and learning that the so-called manly interests like fighting and sports. Aaron on the other hand had always been sporty and also looked down on his gentle elder brother.

Aaron feels detached from his family and goes on to get involved in the Freedom struggle. Daniel goes to become a doctor and even markets a fairness potion that becomes very popular. Slowly, Daniel is pulled back to his birth village. He realizes that his destiny is entwined with his village. He goes on to build a house surrounded by the famous blue mango trees that are a specialty of Chethavar  and builds up a community, which he  heads. The local legend has it that the blue mangoes are the best in the world.  His life and times and his son Kannan’s life with the new opportunities and new temptations take on a different aspect. The values that Daniel cherishes are not exactly high priority for Kannan.

The story that spans three generations, Solomon, Daniel and  Kannan, is captivating and has a charm of its own. The backdrop of India’s freedom struggle and the equation between the last Britishers who are on their way out is fascinating.  The prejudices and the distrust that seem to exist on both sides of the divide is very beautifully brought out. Alongside this, Davidar does a beautiful job of chronicling the lives of women at that time. When a man hitting a woman for bringing him coffee, that was not the right temperature was justified. Be it, Charity, or her daughter’s lot, or her daughter-in-law’s life.. A portrait of society where a woman’s role was primarily to ensure that her husband’s life is enhanced, even if her own is endangered.

It was an enjoyable read. It gave me a lot of insight to the lives of people at that point in time. The belief system, the caste divides, the politics of caste and religion and the bigger question of India’s independence all part of the same book. It did make me wish that there were more women who made a real difference in the book, but then again, it might just have been a reflection of times. It would interest anybody who likes historical fiction, even it is not very old history.

I would give it a 3.5 on five.

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The Solitude of Emperors By David Davidar

Cross posted at Bookreviews at Bookrack.

This was once again a book, that came recommended by several in the blog world. I wanted to read The House of Blue Mangoes first, but got hold of this one first.

Vijay is a young man, in a small town K— in Tamilnadu, and is desperate to escape from the small town living. His father encourages him to write about the rise of religious fundamentalism in India, after their family servant Raju ran away to help build a temple. He wrote an article, which was partially made up and edited with his father’s help. It got rejected from most newspapers and magazines, but managed to catch the interest of Rustom Sorabjee, who was the proprietor and founder of The Indian Secularist.

Rustom Sorabjee is passionate  about the Indian method of Secularism, where we learn to live by and tolerate those of other faiths and he is also very concerned about the rise of religious fundamentalism which threatens India’s seclarism. He is impressed by Vijay and is given a job in his newspaper in Bombay. Vijay grabs at it, only too happy to escape from his small town life. He is having a happy, normal existence in Bombay, when in his fervour to report on the riots in Bombay, he witnesses some gruesome scenes, almost loses his life and is badly affected by it.

Rustom Sorabjee, in an effort to help him recover from his ordeal, sends him to a tea plantation in Nilgiris, where he also wants him to cover a story on a Christian Shrine which has some Hindu-Christian dispute related to it.  Vijay meets an enigmatic character Noah, who is very different from anybody he has met before. His ideas, his philosophy, confuses Vijay, and yet, he seems to trust Noah, on some plane.

Vijay is very keen on preventing any sort of religious clash, that might impact the shrine. He manages to gather enough information that leads him to believe that there is some sort of attack planned on the shrine. His warnings go unnoticed, or dismissed by most of the prominent personalities in the village.

Getting personally and emotionally involved, he sets into motion some things, which could not be reversed.

It was an interesting read, although I felt the that the book lost momentum in some places. Noah’s characterization was done very well. The author does a beautiful job in showing how circumstances and conditions motivate different people, in different ways.

It was a very thought provoking read and I would give it a 3 on 5.