In Between the Assassinations, Aravind Adiga has imagined the small Indian city of Kittur, an everytown nestling on the coast south of Goa and north of Calicut. Through the myriad and distinctive voices of its inhabitants, an entire Indian world comes vividly to life. Kittur presents a microcosm of Indian life in the 80’s, the years between the assassinations of Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv. Muslim, Christian and Hindu, high-caste and low-caste, rich and poor: all of life – the ‘sorrowful parade of humanity’ – is here.
Journeying through Kittur’s streets and schoolyards, bedrooms and businesses, its inner workings and outer limits, the book begins every new story with an image of the fictional landscape, the Bunder with its prawn curry and rice, the lighthouse hill, the Nehru Maidan, Angel Talkies Cinema, the history, the language, the demographics of Kittur, the Salt Market Village etc.
- Ziauddin, a village boy who found work in a tea shop and then employed by a Muslim man, Pathan, as a porter at the train station who instructed Ziauddin to count how many trains that carries truck load of Indian army every day.
- Abbasi, an owner of textile factory who constantly receive extortion to pay corruption to the State Electricity Board and the Income Tax Authority. Until one day he decided to stood up to them.
- The authority defying ‘Xerox’ Ramakrishna who sells bootleg textbooks and The Satanic Verses despite repeated taut from the authority, to earn a living.
- Shankara, a student of the St Alfonso’s Boy’s High School, half Brahmin, half low caste Hoyka, planted a home made bomb in Lasrado chemistry class, to mock his chemistry professor (who is mocked in his entire life because of his impaired speech).
One day he met an old Brahmin who said ‘You must find your own caste,’…. ‘You must find your people.’ Shankara felt sorry for this old Brahmin who has to catch the bus. Shankara is always chauffer driven. Shankara thought: he is of a higher caste than me, but he is poor. What does this thing mean then, caste? Is it just a fable for old men like him? If you just said to yourself, caste is a fiction, would it vanish like smoke if you said, ‘I am free’, would you realise you had always been free?
- Mr. D’Mello, an assistant headmaster at St Alfonso’s who invited pet student Girish to his home has high expectation of Girish to be virtuous, intelligent and to succeed. D’Mello was not pleased that Girish is not winning in quiz competitions and was disappointed Girish took a peak of pornographic images at the back alley.
- Keshava, a destitute old man, who came from rural village and mixed with the wrong crowd. He is promoted to a bus conductor only to meet with a tragic accident.
- Gururaj, a disenchanted journalist who believe he is reporting lies on the newspapers upon grapevine validation from a Gurkha night watchman, until he became mental and forsaken his rise to the editorial chair.
- Chenayya a cycle-cart pullers, working for Ganesh Pai of Umbrella street, pulling carts which consume higher calories than his daily food intake and it doesn’t make sense to him that ‘When an elephant get to lounge downhill without doing any work at all, and a human being has to pull such a heavy cart?’
- Soumya’s scrapping a living on begging to feed her father’s drug habits.
- Jayamma, the Brahmin cook, was condescending to the lower caste, but she was not treated any better by her employer.
- George D’Souza, a manual labour at construction site who became a gardener to the rich thinks he can controls his employer, Mrs Gomes, but stepped over his line and lost everything.
- Ratnakara, a sexologist who helped his rejected potential son-in-law to seek remedy to cure his STD.
- In the affluent neighbourhood of Bajpe, the childless couple of Giridhar Rao and Kamini, lives a life free from societal restriction. – except I don’t understand the link between Giridhar escape to his private beach and the deforestation to make way for the sport stadium. 🙂
- Murali of Salt Market Village, a bachelor at 55, gave his life for the work of the communist party only to see the ideology losing its appeal and things have not work out for the better in India.
It moved a few inches at a time, and then Chenayya (the cycle-cart pullers) had to stop mid-hill and clamp his foot down on the road to hold his cart in its place. When the horns began to sound, he rose from his seat and pedalled; behind him, a long line of cars and busses moved, as if he were pulling the traffic along with an invisible chain…….
Through the eyes of all of these characters, Adiga demonstrates acid observations and textured with wicked humours and humanity. Through them I understand the lives of the poor and deprived Indians, and the bigger forces at work that kept people in poverty. Short stories are essentially harder to write than a long one, the ending should be curt enough to stop it from dragging into a long fiction, but meaningful enough to prompt the reader to ponder about the implications and the meaning of it. In my opinion, Adiga fared better in his Man booker prize winning The White Tiger than this book.
My Verdict: 3/5
The settings, landscape depictions are brilliant. Although stories like Chenayya and Shankara’s stories are inspiring and the meanings are deep seeded, but the book and its characters left a bad taste in my mouth. I lost interest mid-way. The reason is despite being in an impoverished and destitute life situations, the main characters manage to exude an air of contempt to fellow human beings, and the outlook in life is one of finding a way to be one-up against peers by indulging in more misdemeanour and lies. Whether this is intentional or not, the writer has not created and developed endearing characters that I could empathise with, and that dilutes the horrendousness of the atrocities committed by the characters in the book towards one another.
For my reviews on The White Tiger click here.