A fine blend of historical fiction, memoir and travelogue is what strikes on reading Acharekar’s Wanderers, All. Structured on a vast canvas, the book spans centuries and generations, reflecting on journeys of various kinds.
Inspired by the author’s family history, the novel juxtaposes the pre-Independence time period with the present day one. Acharekar narrates the story of Murlidhar Khedekar, the protagonist, who belongs to a goldsmith’s family in the Konkan region. As a young man, Murli travels to Bombay with his father and gets besotted with the world of theatre that he comes across.
Coming from a rural background with seeds of love for the stage already within him, Murli is drawn towards theatre and determines to become an actor. Much of the book features Murli striving to reach his goal. However, when he does not taste success, he does not give up. He works with similar urge and dedication, becomes a policeman and works continuously towards reaching higher ranks. Murli’s story of various transitions in career, from the world of theatre to being a clerk, and then a wrestler, and finally a police superintendent, shows the author’s interest in depicting a true-to-real character who goes through various courses in life.
Running parallel to Murli’s story is the narrative of his great-granddaughter, Kinara. While Murli’s story takes us back to the India of the bygone days, Kinara belongs to contemporary times. A true wanderer, Kinara travels the length and breadth of the world, satisfying her urge to see places. At the age of 35, single and without any particular vocation, she has the right credentials for being a true traveller, not attached to anything or any place. She arrives in Goa, albeit for a reason, but more importantly, to party, enjoy and discover new lands. Set on mission by a roll of maps given by her father with a cryptic message, “It’s about journeys.
We are all on the same one,” Kinara packs her bags and goes off to unfurl the unknown. As she takes up the interest in looking through the maps, she is astounded to discover a whole new world, a world of the past, that of her own ancestors who were goldsmiths who had fled the Goa of 15th century. She discovers the journeys of her forefathers through Khed, a Konkan village, to the big and happening city, Bombay. Carrying her backpack through unknown parts of Goa, discovering and rediscovering a hoard of temples, forts and beaches for months together, Kinara says, “I’m not in Goa forever. I’m never anywhere forever.” Kinara’s sojourn in Goa is that of a true nomad. Even as she jots down long lists of “Things to Buy”, “Things to Carry” and “Things to Do”, she represents the detached traveller who is never in one place for a long time.
Portraying Murli’s journey towards his ultimate choice of career and Kinara’s literal travelling in and around Goa, Acharekar focuses on the purpose of her book, revealed in the choice of her title. Kinara’s genes reflect that of her ancestors; her great-great-great-grandfather, Narayansheth who discards the luxury of his home to go to Bombay. The big city lures even his son, Gajanan, who reaches there to become a goldsmith apprentice. Later, young Murli also follows the footsteps of his father and grandfather as he reaches Bombay to realise his dream.
Relying heavily on her own paternal family history, Acharekar draws inspiration of the book from the oral narrative passed down to her through generations. Modelled on her own great-grandfather, Rao Bahadur Shridhar Acharekar, Murli’s story and his environment takes us back to the pre-Independence Maharashtra with snippets of the freedom struggle movement led by Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Several other features in the book are drawn from the author’s own family history — her ancestors too belonged to the goldsmith community that she wrote of in the book.
Depicting Murli’s craze for the stage as well as that of his father’s, Acharekar goes back to the interest of her own family members of the past generations, who were involved in theatre. Of course, theatrical activities had flourished in the then Maharashtra among the middle classes as the most popular means of entertainment and thus, the author’s portrayal of the obsession with the stage in Murli goes on well with the time depicted.
Acharekar’s book, illustrating generations of travellers, spanning across generations, portrays vividly Indian history, freedom movement, and the cultural and social milieu of the country. Definitely a well-researched novel, but the sojourn for the readers through the lengthy 420 pages tends to get a little irksome trying to keep pace with the vast canvas and grasping a heavy dose of facts and fiction in the same bag.