Tuesday, 17 February 2015

She Will Build Him A City by Raj Kamal Jha / Bloomsbury

Reviews, Vol. I, Issue III
Also available as an audiobook from Audible Studios.
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There was a time when Midnight’s Children was being written not just by a person, but by a nation; here comes another time when another narrative of modern India has taken birth from the womb of a nation, instead of a mind. Rajkamal Jha’s novel She Will Build Him A City published by Bloomsbury India is such a saga which tells multiple tales entwined into one grand narrative; just like this nation - India, known for its oneness and plurality; divided by states, united by a nation.

The story is about the midnight’s grandchildren as well as the great grandchildren of the same night, who are out there on the streets of a city (which is going through the process of mallification) in order to build their own destinies. It is all visible in the pages of this book. The urge is clear; to tell a tale which has been craving to come out since quite some time.

The narrative begins with three different tales, of a Woman, a Man and a Child, enveloping various identities, ideas, viewpoints, emotions such as - love, horror, grief, guilt, destiny, belonging and forgiveness, altogether, but emerges as a single, unified tale by its edge. 

The story begins where it ends; as the capital city Delhi covers itself with the quilt of night, the woman - a mother, spins tales from her past for her sleeping daughter.

“This, tonight, is a summer night, hot, gathering dark, and that is a winter afternoon, cold, falling light, when you are eight years nine years old, when you come running to me, jumping commas skipping breadth, and you say, Ma, may I ask you something and I say, of course, baby, you  may ask me anything … “

Now an adult, her child is a puzzle with a million pieces, whom she hopes, through her words and her love, to somehow make whole again.

“Tonight is thirty years forty years later.
So quiet is this little house that I can hear, from upstairs, through the walls of the room in which you are lying, the drop of your tear, the rush of your breadth.
One’s like rain, the other wind, they both make me shiver.”

Meanwhile, a young man, thirty years, thirty—five years old, rides the last train from Rajiv Chowk Station and dreams of murder.

“He is going to kill and he is going to die.
That’s all we know for now, let’s see what happens in between.”

The narration is postmodern, indeed; as incidents keep merging from past and present, enveloping the technique of flashback, most importantly.

In another corner of the city, a newborn wrapped in a blood-red towel lies on the steps of an orphanage as his mother walks away.

“The night is so hot the moon shines like the sun, its light as bloodless white as bone, casting a cold shadow of a woman as she steps off an autorickshaw, carrying her newborn wrapped in a thin, blood-red towel, tells its driver to wait, walks up Little House, a home for children,, orphaned and destitute, leaves the baby on its doorstep, turns and walks away into a wind, slight but searing, that slaps her in the face and fills her eyes with water.

An essential and interesting instance is put together in the novel through a red balloon. As this thirty years, thirty—five years old man tries to get into a relationship with a beggar girl who sells red balloon; it immediately strikes a linking cord with a short French film Le Ballon Rouge (The Red Balloon) by Albert Lamorisse. Similar to the little boy in the film, the man anticipates the balloon girl flying with him in the sky taking him on a ride over the city.

It also relates to the famous song "Girl with the Red Balloon" written by John Paul White and Joy Williams, as well as with the widely acclaimed painting - “Girl with a Balloon” by Banksy.

The characters of Jha develop as develops his city – it becomes a character in itself.  

Intriguing, intense and intricate, this may seem as the story of a city and its people; but in reality, it is the story of a nation and its people.

Raj Kamal Jha has expertly blurred the division between the narrator and the narrated. His tricks are upright and probably make one turn back the pages to confirm themselves twice, thrice. His language is effortless but layered into manifolds. As a reader of this novel, it becomes essential to be doubly sure, what has been read just the past page.

His reliance on narrative techniques such as fragmentation, paradox, and the unreliable narrator are capable enough to deceive the readers while going through the revelations of the “New India”.

The blurb of Raj Kamal Jha’s She Will Build Him A City clarifies the soul of its narrative very well - There are twenty million bodies in this city, but the stories of this woman, man, and child--of a secret love that blossoms in the shadows of grief, of a corrosive guilt that taints the soul, and of a boy who maps his own destiny--weave in and out of the lives of those around them to form a dazzling kaleidoscope of a novel.

Reviewed by Varsha Singh
Managing Editor, Reviews

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