The tantalizing title and the brilliant yellow coloured cover promises a reading feast, and the reader will not be disappointed. A bacchanalian and bucolic trans-generational epic about Santhals that is spiced with mysticism, animism and superstition. The home-brewed ‘haandi’ seems to play a vital part in Adivasi society. It appears to lead both to their downfall, as well as acting as a lubricant for social interactions. Ghosts, curses, demonic possessions, orphic dreams, occultic practices and other anagogic events form the mainstay of the story.
It is ironical that the author, a physician, writes so convincingly about psychosomatic diseases and witchcraft. I would like to learn of his experiences as a medical officer and how he balances the dogmatic medical science with the esoteric spirituality of adivasis.
The prose is lyrical in the description of tribal Santhal life:
“Her body isn’t the sturdy banyan of old, it is a diseased eucalyptus: pale and covered with sickly patches.”
“And wherever one looked, there were red crosses. There was one on each side of the name of the doctor. Just above the front door which opened into the homoeopath’s chamber was a smaller board which had the same text printed in Roman and Devanagari. Red crosses had been painted on the frame above the door like the auspicious swastika; there were crosses on the pillars which supported the upper storey. The homoeopath’s motorcycle parked outside had red crosses painted on the both the back and front license plates. It was difficult to miss that Dr Mahato was, indeed, a man of medicine.”
There are vivid descriptions of traditional Adivasi life, rituals. Moreover, there are succinct inclusions about Santhal political history and geography about Jharkhand. A simple map gives a spatial bearing to the reader.
My only grouse is the excessive use of the Santhali dialect – there should have been a glossary to explain the terms and provide a cultural subtext.