HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERon 13 May 2013
If you came to this review because the title suggests that this is a romantic, even pretty, little novel of love in exotic India, then you will be shocked by what you discover here. This is a tough novel depicting what author Uday Prakash, controversial in his own country, sees as a major problem for India's next generation. The economic changes in India in the 1990s have brought about a thriving middle class and a vibrant life in the cities, much of it "American style," but those changes do not translate into similar changes in rural states, where traditional ways of life continue, including dramatic contrasts between the wealthy Brahmin class, which still controls the economic, political, and intellectual life of many areas, and the non-Brahmins who seem unable to rise, no matter how hard they try, because those very Brahmins also control most of the opportunities.
A sweet love story between Rahul, a non-Brahmin student at a university in the state of Madhya Pradesh, and Anjali, the Brahmin daughter of the state minister of Public Works, provides the framework through which author Prakash asks whether the economic good news of the past twenty years, as we see it in Mumbai and New Delhi, will eventually dominate the country as a whole, or whether the struggles of those left out of the "success story" and its "progress," by virtue of their lack of "status," will eventually be heard. Madhya Pradesh, in the center of India, is one of the least developed states in all of India, and its isolation from the major economic trends allows its ingrained, traditional ways of life, and the dominance of the Brahmin culture, going back centuries, to continue.
Rahul, who has been majoring in anthropology, quickly changes his major to Hindi after first catching sight of the beautiful Anjali, a Hindi major. All but Rahul and two others in that major are Brahmins, and all the faculty are Brahmins. Even knowing this, Rahul still has few clues as to his future difficulties. He quickly learns, however, that goondas, some of them supported by government officials and their minions in the post office, know when students will be receiving money from home and then show up for their "cut." These goondas "could break in at any moment and put a gun to your head." Banding together against the "goondas," the students form the SMTF, the Special Militant Task Force and prepare to strike back. Their computer skills allow them access to information which shows how widespread the corruption is on the highest levels and how many in the university administration are part of the conspiracy. As the violence continues, Rahul and Anjali reach a crisis and must make their own decisions regarding the future.
An unusual novel in which plot is subordinated to message without overwhelming the reader with moralizing, this stimulating novel recreates life in rural India during the beginning of the twenty-first century. Long-time traditional values are distorted by dishonesty and petty actions by police and officials who share a gang mentality, and life becomes impossible for many non-Brahmin citizens, all of whom continue to live on the "outside." Translator Jason Grunebaum, who has geared his translation for an American audience, also recognizes its importance for other English speakers, including some in India, and his translation is lively and informative without becoming ponderous, with a message that rings clear and true.