Between the Assassinations is a collection of short stories looking at the years between the assassinations of India’s third Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (1984) and her son (also Prime Minister) Rajiv Gandhi’s (1991). Adiga explores this time of political uncertainty and increasing modernisation in India through the unique lens of the inhabitants of a small coastal town in South-West India; Kittur. Moving beyond his vaguely Malgudi Day’s style of writing, at the heart of it, this book tells the story of the (still) ignored people of India; the poor, the farmers, the labourers, the invisible, silent mass.
This is the kind of book I love; ‘political/historical fiction’ that gives a glimpse of a historical/political event but from a different, bottom up perspective. Stories that highlight political events as more than just news bulletins but events that alter peoples day to day lives. In that sense this is a book that definitely connects the macro to the micro.
On the other hand, not even quarter way in to the book I began to roll my eyes at Adiga’s obsession with caste politics in his little town of Kittur. I thought to myself, here we go again…I found myself sighing with fatigue at the same old stories of poverty, caste violence and hatred being dispatched to an international audience hungry to reinforce their image of the ‘Third World’ Other.
For this reason I was very torn about this book. I mean the whole reason I started this blog was to highlight that there is more to the global south than poverty and suffering. I want literature from this part of the world to move beyond selling ourselves as the poor, colourful and exotic nations.
However, before I could dismiss this book as yet another fethised representation of India as the poor struggling nation I witnessed another political crisis. Across the state border, in Tamil Nadu the prominent chief minister Jaylalitha passed away and I was in AWE of the kind of public outpouring of grief her death triggered. Thousands of people braved the searing heat and suspended their lives to wait outside Apollo hospital for any news of their beloved leader. Men and women had to be dragged away
In a country where almost everybody is cynical of the government and the word “politician” is synonymous with corruption and greed, this kind of loyalty for me was remarkable.
While initially, I felt that his ‘exposing the Indian underbelly’ narrative was a bit worn, JL’s death and more importantly the reaction to her death got me thinking. Was the fatigue I felt reading this book a reflection of my own ignorance, arrogance or even prejudice? Because I could never imagine myself sobbing on the streets for someone I never even met. I will never understand how important subsidies for a packet of salt can be for a family. This event forced me to reconsider why I felt an aversion to this book and some of the narratives in it. I began to realise that I didn’t fully get his perspective because in this particular context I was speaking from a position of privilege. Maybe it wasn’t that I disliked the characters or the overall narrative but that the story made me feel uncomfortable by highlighting this.
Its true what they say never judge a book by its cover. What I thought would be just a simple but educating read turned out to be a quick journey to self-discovery!