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Book Review : Brinda Charry

Naked in the Wind

Brinda Charry

Penguin Books

Price Rs 250

Number of Pages 261

Fifteen years ago V. Vasu disappeared from his house on Campbell Road in Bangalore–a locality where middle class people live.  Where did he go?  After the first few ashrams he sought refuge in, his letters stopped. Through multiple narratives  we are told the story of those he left behind:  his anguished `loose-screw’ pill popping  wife, V. Shanthi;  his mother Jamuna;  his daughter Priya;   the sassy servant,  Rani;  an Anglo-Indian  neighbour  Marie Richardson and her teacher-daughter Kathy,  now dating Vasu’s IIT- educated son Vivek.

Till unexpectedly, midst  first-person ramblings, we find guru Vasu, returned from vanaprashtha, fingering rudharaksha beads,   almost as if he slipped in through the back door. But he is not alone. With him comes overzealous, disciple, Anand,  who has nursed him through TB, and who will not leave him alone.  A change of tone follows as the plot becomes  ominous. We grapple with the fundamentalist politics of the last decades as we  unravel the reason for their arrival,  only to find Rani’s new lover–  an undercover  policeman– too wants to know. Overtly the good-looking Anand is simply collecting money….for a temple…the grandest ever known.  Predictably his mission is to save besieged Hindu Culture. But a canker has entered the multiculturalism of Campbell Road….how will it end?

Now the plot turns portentous. It  interlinks with the happenings at Globe Circus, tented at the Gymkhana grounds. This is told through  yet another  first-person narrative  of Sapna, the Circus’s transvestite. Suggesting an allegory of sorts, bramhachari  Hindu Anand falls in love with Sapna’s adopted daughter, a Muslim acrobat. Supposedly Anand has this snake-like mesmeric effect on people, outwardly  young and beautiful but vicious in his sting. But we don’t really feel it.

Meanwhile the rape of nuns and burning of churches swathe the backdrop with shades of saffron. And suddenly the Circus goes up in flames. Outward violence is graphic, but the final denouement is shown with gentility and restraint.

So is the book about Hindu religious exclusivist politics? A didactic and forceful, Yes. About the nature and context of insanity? Yes, too. Does it posit the question of who is an outsider? Yes again. Clearly big themes absorb the writer. Universal Truths. And she has both passion and exemplary craft to deal with them… her  prose rolls like a film capturing the moment articulated,  with amazing exactitude. But she misses her defining moment—Vasu’s disillusionment.

The story meanders.  The plot thickens…and thickens… but doesn’t  boil over. Ironically while most situations/characters are superbly and finely etched,  the raison d’etre of the most pivotal ones, Vasu and Anand, (and their mutual relationship)  fails to convince.  Almost as if the writer is trying too hard to imbue them with an intent they did not really have.

Manju Kak

This review was published in Outlook India, here.