Kuldhara is an intriguing place, one of the most haunting places I have visited. It is one of those stories that has all elements of a mystery with just a bit of known history in it. So, when I heard about this book, where the author has reimagined the legend of Kuldhara a historical novel set in Rajasthan, I was keen to read it. It took some time for the book to reach me, thanks to the pandemic.
Malathi has done a great job of re-imagining the story of Paliwal villages, of which Kuldhara was one. She begins her story from the event that led the 84 villages of Paliwal brahmins fled their homes overnight. The story oscillated between Salim Singh who is the reason for departure and the villagers who have fled. The strategy they used to escape getting caught is interesting.
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It is the fate of the protagonist, the young girl at the center of the whole story that takes turns and weaves the story. Her journey along with the journey of one of the wives of the antagonist brings out streaks of feminism in a very subtle way. It is an interesting case of the inherent strength of women, that often stays behind veils, rarely spoken about.
I think the story could have been a bit shorter. There are long descriptions of everything and everyone, which is nice if you do not know the area at all. However, if you have been there and seen it all, it can get a bit stretched, especially in the beginning. Makes me wonder if the writer has to evolve for the times’ when visuals are so easily available. The need for long descriptions and adverbs was probably relevant in pre-internet days. This is just a thought I had while reading the book.
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There is an interesting play of human emotions as the relationships undergo ups and downs along with circumstances, as disappointments turn into affections and vice-versa. Human relationships are the most complex. There is love and there is revenge that it incites. Overall, an interesting story to read.
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Language is simple yet carries the old world charm. The author has tried to re-create the desert for you through her words and has done that quite successfully. She has invested time in learning the nuances of the region, be it in costumes or in palaces or in food or even the interactions with the British. The only place where I found a bit of error is when she mentions the cremation of someone who is apparently Muslim or at least has a Muslim name. I must say I am nit-picking here. It is a lovely re-imagination of a historical event that we hardly know anything about.
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Overall, this historical novel set in Rajasthan is an enjoyable read that takes you to the colors and melancholy of the golden city of India.