Saga of love & loss

Saga of love & loss

This is the book to go to if one needs to know about the struggle for Independence in pre-partition days, especially in the southern parts of the country.

A Bond So Sacred reveals how the freedom struggle affected the common man and the significant number of followers Mahatma Gandhi had in South India. Usha Rajagopalan attempts historical fiction with this tale after trying her hand at genres as varied as crime thrillers, short stories, and translations of Mahakavi Subramanya Bharti’s poetry.

Raman, a staunch follower of Mahatma Gandhi and an idealistic patriot to the core, brings home the young orphaned daughter of a satyagrahi couple and raises her with his mother’s help. He is in love with Amina, an educated Muslim girl in his neighbourhood. Both of them know the uphill task they face in convincing their parents about their marriage, and do not know how to broach the topic with either his mother or her father. His participation in the freedom struggle results in prison stints off and on, leaving his mother to cope with the frisky-spirited Kokila.

The plight of his ageing mother in bringing up Kokila makes him suggest to his mother that, in his absence, Amina could help her by caring for the little girl and teaching her, too. He feels this may help the old lady come closer to and appreciate Amina, which may eventually make her more receptive to the idea of them getting married. Despite her misgivings about a Muslim girl entering the threshold of her Brahmin home, the old lady reluctantly agrees to letting Amina take over Kokila’s education. Gradually, Amina’s sincere efforts lead to a thaw between the two, but not enough for the young couple to tie the matrimonial knot. Amina’s father too does not agree to the alliance and disappears with his family to Pakistan, where she is married off to a widower with children.

Raman cannot forget his only love and devotes his energies to the freedom struggle and his adopted sister Kokila. He takes his duties seriously, especially after his mother’s death, and as wished by her, gets Kokila married to an eligible young man Murali, who the old lady had approved of. Kokila imagines herself in love with Nagarajan, Raman’s distant relative, who has ingratiated himself as his right-hand man. However, she gives in to Raman’s wishes and gets married to Murali, and gradually comes to love him.

Raman meanwhile immerses himself in the upliftment of Harijans. The story continues till the years after the partition of India. Raman and Kokila’s lives and circumstances too follow the changes in the country and society. Raman does not marry, penning his thoughts about his love for Amina in his diary. The air in the country changes, the attitudes of people change, idealism gives way to greed in the country and it’s not those who fought for this country but moneybags who get pride of place.

How does a disillusioned Raman cope with the new realities? And, for that matter, how does Kokila deal with her altered circumstances? This forms the crux of the novel that depicts the changing times: from the satyagrahas of Mahatma Gandhi, the Salt Movement, Independence of India, assassination of the Mahatma, down to the liberation of Bangladesh.

What is admirable about the novel is the amount of painstaking research done by the author. Whether it’s the historical facts or the topography of the region the story is set in, Rajagopalan’s immense study shows. The ambience of Mangaluru and its vicinity is brought alive, as is the humidity of the Kerala landscape with pepper vines and their spiked berries snaking up coconut trunks. However, at times, the cultural references seem somewhat forced and distract from the flow of the story. Ignore those and the stilted conversations at the start; the narrative picks up later, though there seem to be a few loose ends and characters here and there. By the end of the tale though, the main characters are people you have known for a long time. And your history facts have made a quantum jump!

A Bond So Sacred
Usha Rajagopalan
Manipal University Press
2016, pp 360, Rs 450

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