Email this review


A Delhi history professor's promising but flawed first novel offers a what-if? look at recent Indian history -- in this case beginning with an accidental fall that sends the hero back to 1942 and on to Independence. When Kesavan's photographer-narrator sets off on assignment to shoot pictures in Lucknow, he's carrying his late grandmother's ashes, as well as the camera lenses her pension helped pay for. Her ashes are to be cast into the Ganges at Banaras, but before he arrives, the narrator falls when climbing out of a stalled train and is dragged down by the weight of his lenses into the river below. When he awakes in the home of a young Muslim, he discovers that he has somehow been transported back to 1942, ""a sacred year in the memory of the Nation, the year of the Quit India rebellion."" Once he realizes what's happened, the narrator decides to lose both his memory and his name: ""...any other Course would have meant impossible explanations."" Readily accepted in varying capacities -- invalid, actor, and waiter -- he experiences firsthand events he'd learned about in school or from his family. He witnesses the killings and arrests of new acquaintances as the British forcefully end the Quit India campaign; the growing enmity between Hindus and Muslims; the missteps that could have easily been avoided; and the 1947 flight of thousands of terrified Muslims to the Old Fort in Delhi as Independence leads to slaughter, persecution, and the establishment of Muslim Pakistan. Along the way, he also meets a slew of colorful characters: a pornographer, the feminist founder of a political party, an amorous member of the British Raj, and his now-living grandmother, busy saving fallen women. An interesting if disappointing debut: a series of richly detailed but one-dimensional set-pieces in which the characters obediently hop through the hoops history sets up.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1995
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: "Farrar, Straus & Giroux"