A former director at the Indian Ministry of Coal explores the effects of a mine collapse from three different perspectives: the coal miners, their families and the mine officials.
Raimoti is an older miner, addicted to ganja and subject to visions of the “Beast” coming to announce his mortality. When he finds himself trapped below ground with five other workers, he draws on his years of experience and his keen ear—always attuned to “the sound of water,” a death knell for miners—as he tries to lead the group to safety. Waters rise, panic grows and disagreement breaks out among the crew. Above ground, mine officials scramble to find a scapegoat and subdue protesting union members whose rebellion outside their offices is threatening to become violent. Adept and often chilling prose shows the officials passing the buck and smooth-talking their way out of trouble. Shocking corporate irresponsibility and corruption are exposed in the casual words mine officials employ to seal the fates of the workers and save their own careers. Meanwhile, first novelist Bahadur deftly weaves the back stories of the miners and their families into his unfolding narrative, providing well-timed and evocative glimpses into Indian culture. Among the topics cogently elucidated through these stories: the ferocious will to succeed that drives many Indians; the favors traded among the government, corporations and individual citizens; and the role of women in Indian society. The fates of the trapped miners and those involved in dealing with the disaster are sobering.
Long-listed for the 2007 Man Asian Prize, this revealing, moving and well-written debut offers a dramatic, engaging lens through which to view an endlessly complex country.