The title story brought tears to my eyes- it was so poignantly written.
Dr. Hansda Shekhar has continued the fine tradition of doctors becoming authors e.g., AJ Cronin, Arthur Conan Doyle, Somerset Maugham, Robin Cook., Oliver Wendell Holmes, Michael Crichton, Anton Chekhov. He has a very simple yet evocative style of writing. The reader can almost taste the dust and smell the grime and filth.
The ‘happier’ stories talk about those Santhals who have been fortunate enough to get an education and a job but struggle and oscillate between their traditional values and the new ideas, technology and cultural onslaughts that they are exposed to in Indian cities. It is a microcosmic reflection of the dichotomy of Indians trying to amalgamate the world view in the age of the internet.
In contrast, the author has shown us an idyllic way of life that has been brutally shattered by ‘civilization’ and ‘progress’. He writes about the blatant exploitation of tribal Indians by corrupt policemen, greedy human traffickers, lecherous goondas, venal politicians, rapacious land-sharks, proselytizing Christian Missionaries and pointedly ignored by the government machinery.
Some excerpts: “Sarjomdih, where most of the population is Santhal and the rest, Munda; all of them are followers of Sarna, the aboriginal faith of the Chota Nagpur area…. Sarjomidh, which bore the repercussions of development, the nationalization of the mine and the factory…. Sarjomidh, which is a standing testimony to the collapse of an agrarian Adivse society and the dilution of Adivasi culture, the twin gifts of industrialization and progress. Sarjomdih, which, within sixty years, acquired all the sign of urbanity, just lie the Copper Town: concrete houses; cable television; two-wheelers; a hand-pump; a narrow, winding tarmac that everyone called the ‘main road’; and a primary school”.
The last story (which left me lachrymose) is an indictment of a polo-playing, tricolour waving MP/industrialist/steel magnate and a very vocal and popular politician who wants to turn into a Hindu Nation.
Some more excerpts: “If coal merchants have taken a part of our lands, the other part has been taken over by stone merchants, all Diku – Marwari, Sindhi, Mandal, Bhagat, Muslim…… What do we Santhals get in return? Tatters to wear. Barely enough food. Such diseases that we can’t breathe properly, we cough blood and forever remain bare bones.”
“…..those Kiristan missionary schools where or children are constantly asked to stop worshipping our Bonga-Buru and start revering Jisu and Mariam….. the sisters and the fathers tell our boys that their Santhal names – Hopna, Som, Singrai – are not good enough. They are renamed David and Mikail and Kiristofer and whatnot.”
“Village after village in our Santhal Parganas – which should have been a home for us Santhals – are turning into Muslim villages….. We are losing our Sarna faith our identities, and our roots. We are becoming people from nowhere.”