By Manju Gupta
In the Shadow of Legends, Sujata Sankranti, Rupa & Co. Pp 275, Rs 195.00
This story is set in Kattuvalli, where lived people who were “simple, warm, enthusiastic. Reaching to each other’s help spontaneously. Birth or death, marriage or mourning. They shared their joy, their sorrow, their fate – readily, willingly. Come Onam, Christmas, Deepavali or Eid, it was all the same. A festive spirit held them together in a common thread.”
It is a sleepy, peace-loving, small town nestled in coastal Kerala. Here lives Swati, the eldest daughter of noble Ramachandra Shastri, who is a follower of Mahatma Gandhi. Though he is wealthy, owning verdant paddy fields and rich acres of land, Shastri despite having Swati, the twins Mandakini and Mrinalini, son Shankar and domineering bother-in-law and wife, gives away most of his land and prefers to lead a simple life as a Sanskrit school teacher. Young Mrinalini called Mini for short, is fixed to marry her Vishnu Mama, but Mini is unwilling to get married and just to flout her mother’s wish, she cuts her knee-length hair when “to put scissors on a girl’s hair was considered a great offence, inauspicious and ominous” and brands her face with a live piece of wood so that her marriage to Vishnu Mama would be called off. She becomes a sacred legend for the village of Kattuvalli. This is a love story set against the backdrop of ideology to draw the parallels between an increasingly Marxist Kerala and communist Russia. Ultimately it turns out to be a story of Swati’s survival and the courageous tale of the spirit.
(Rupa & Co., 7/16, Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi-110 002; www.rupapublications.com)