Sandeep Ray’s historical fiction narrates the story of a young couple who make their way from newly-independent India to a town in Malaya. In a manner befitting the cadence of his writing, the author introduces us to the highly turbulent environments of Bengal and Malaya, as the respective regions grapple with communal tensions and the aftermath of being colonized by Britain.
The writing style is so fluid that with every chapter it sweeps you further and further into the embrace of the narrative. Although the political jargon is kept to a bare minimum and makes for comfortable reading, the novel very authentically depicts the way some non-native English speakers attempt to converse, by incorporating several Bengali and Malayan phrases into the dialogue. And that was my problem with the book. Many a times, I would have to take to Google in order to understand what a word or two means. But in the overall engrossing vibe of the novel, this didn’t bother me all that much.
Throughout the book, the main male character is referred to as “the young man” and initially, I didn’t understand the author’s motivation for leaving one of the primary characters without a name. But as I kept reading about the character’s role in Pre-Partition Bengal and the Malayan Emergency, I realized that it is because the author is not writing the story of one individual with a defined identity. Through that young man, Sandeep Ray voices the story of thousands of men and women who’ve stood against the Empire. The young man is in essence the ‘flutter in the colony’. This could very well just be my interpretation and not the actual reasoning, but that’s what I felt.
Maloti’s character has so many layers. I was glad to see her being indignant in the face of patriarchy, speaking her mind freely and being a supportive family member. Her equation with her husband is for the most part cordial with sporadic depictions of affection and other strong emotions. She blends in effortlessly even when compelled to mingle with people of different cultures.
I loved the way the chapters alternate between their lives in Calcutta and in Malaya. This helps us form a rich picture of their identity and back story in our minds. How domino effects work resulting from a single decision can all too clearly be gleaned from the way the story pans out. We get to read about religious clashes, corruption, tribes, Indian values, colonization and so much more. All in all, it was such a great experience reading this book. I did not want to set it down and finished reading most of it in one sitting. Highly recommend it!