Unveiling dark times

Unveiling dark times

The Muddy River
P A Krishnan
Tranquebar
2011, pp 245, Rs 250

Literature about North-East India abounds in tales of the troubled political climate, violence, backwardness, underdevelopment and poverty. The unique geographical positioning of the seven states and their equally different olitical, economic and social situations from the rest of the country have resulted in the rise of a body of writing that is onsidered to be different from mainstream Indian English literature.

P A Krishnan, in his latest book, The Muddy River, chooses Assam as the
central location where the entire story unfolds. Krishnan also dwells on grounds of politics and corruption in narrating the story of Ramesh Chandran, a bureaucrat on a mission to rescue a hapless engineer who had been kidnapped by militants.

The author has juxtaposed considerable amounts of facts with fiction in portraying the different machinations of politics and corruption in the public sector of the state. Drawing from his personal experiences of being a bureaucrat, Krishnan lends
authenticity to his narration of the kidnapping and the tangled web of politics surrounding it.

In representing the North-East scenario, the author brings to light the various intricate problems of the common people of the region, who are the ultimate sufferers. The suffering of the common man at the hands of the local police as well as the militants finds expression in the author’s ruthless unveiling of the different hands involved in terrorism and corruption. However, unlike many other books which dwell on such issues, Krishnan gifts the readers with a breath of fresh air, through his mastery of handling multiple themes, instead of giving them an overdose of typical problems of the North-East.

Although it isn’t a part of the main story, the narration gains its momentum and interest in the representation of Chandran’s relationship with his wife, Sukanya. Like any other husband and wife, their relationship also has its own ups and downs. After the death of their only child, Priya, life comes to a momentary stop for both.

The absence of the child has a profound effect on their marriage as well. Sukanya torments herself by withdrawing into a cocoon and Chandran attempts all the while to come to terms with reality, as well as his own marriage.

Chandran’s relationship with the other characters in the book, and his keen
observation of them, makes the narration interesting. As he proceeds with his
mission of rescuing the engineer, he encounters Bhuyan, a cynical police officer; Anupama, another officer torn between professional integrity and her love for Assam; the engineer’s wife; the ex-chief minister of Assam, a Gandhian; Khasnobis, a senior correspondent for an international news channel, and many others who either help him in his search or, as in most cases, make matters worse for him.

The author scores his points by involving each and every character, even the
peripheral ones, in unfolding the final mystery. While the rescue drama reaches its climax, Chandran also exposes a massive financial scandal in his company and pays the price for ignoring warnings that he might be pushing too far for an unashamedly corrupt society’s comfort. Without regard to his devoted service and unwavering courage in rescuing the engineer, he is given a notice of suspension!

Krishnan’s interesting narrative also dwells on Gandhianism in the form of Chandran’s father, a complete believer in the great leader’s philosophies as well as Rajbankshi, an ex-chief-minister of Assam reputed for being “the cleanest politician” of the state.

The author’s belief that “no person who is embarking on a life of struggle and service can ignore Gandhi’s methods” finds poignant expression in the book. The followers of the great leader may seem to offer no nstant solutions and the practitioners often stare at defeat and humiliation, still, Krishnan maintains that “mankind hasn’t yet come out with a better weapon against violence and bloodshed.”

The author, amidst all the tension and mystery, impresses his readers by bringing forth many under-represented, yet beautiful aspects of the region. Chandran’s visit to the Kamakhya Temple in the Neelachal Mountain and to Jatinga, “a charnel house of birds” with his wife, brings forth to the readers the fact that the North-East is not only about its seemingly unending problems, but also many other praise-worthy aspects.

Readers who are familiar with Krishnan’s first novel, The Tiger Claw Tree (1998), will find that he has evolved as a more mature narrator in his recent work. He breaks free from conventional narrative techniques and experiments with diverse story-telling methods, such as the epistolary form and the flashback technique. The Muddy River promises to be worthwhile and intelligent reading, filled with practical wisdom and humour. A must read.

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