Published by The Aleph Book Company Pg.210, Price. Rs.295
The success of a novelist lies in unfolding the complexities and different hues of our lives. Hansdsa Sowvendra Shekhar seems to be succeeding in doing this with his debut novel. Hansdsa, by profession a medical doctor, successfully unravels the anatomy of human relations and explains the cultural intricacies of Adivasi life in The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey. He was deservedly shortlisted for the Hindu Prize 2014 and the Crossword Book Prize in 2014, and ended up by winning the Sahitya Academy Yuva Puruskar.
The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey is set mainly around the bucolic village Kadamdihi which was named after the Kadam tree. But ironically Kadam Trees are found no longer on the land of Kadamdihi. There is another neighboring village Tereldihi which too was named after a tree- “the terel or kendu whose leaves are used to roll bidis with”. These villages are located “on the lower most tip of the Jharkhand and is wedged between West Bengal and Odisha”.
The novel is populated with the myriad of characters of tribal people. It is a crystalized miniature of Adivasi cultural practices and their political and cultural past. The novel begins with “the strongest woman of Kadamdihi”, Rupi Baskey who, squatting in the middle of the rice paddy, bears her eldest son. She's been recently married to Sidu, the educated grandson of Somai-haram of Kadamdihi. After spending few days in her in-laws 'home, with Sidushe moves to Nitra, a neighboring town where her husband works as a school teacher, and lives in his colleagues Bairam's house. Rupi nurtures a strong bond with Bairam's wife Gurubari. But here she is soon afflicted by some “mysterious ailment” which the doctors are unable to cure. It seems a willful attempt by the writer as he wants his reader to ruminate on the causes of Rupi's ailment. In an interview Hansdsa accedes it that “while writing Rupi Baskey though I felt neither a doctor nor a writer…And no I never felt diagnosing Rupi's ailment. There would have been no mystery then.”
There is always a central theme in the novels that is corroborated by every characters even the minor ones, life's mundane details, small fantasies, and cultural practices taking place in the peculiar story. Cultural practices of Adivasis, infidelity of Rupi's husband that causes her ailment and oppression of women in the agrarian society are the recurrent themes of the novel. The essential aim of the art of the novel is to present a perfect depiction of life, and it is achieved by creating the apposite atmosphere with all the necessary nuances, and shaping the life-like characters. Hansdsa is really exceptionally brilliant at his characterization; the portrayal of Rupi's mother in-law is the evidence of his outstanding characterization. A really complex character, she is the embodiment of a liberal woman who, to some extent, lives a kind of debauched life and breaks the barriers of religious and cultural constraints. In the last spell of her life, she lives too miserably with conflicting relations with her sons but she is always sympathizing with Rupi.
The novel offers a universe too rich in life-detail and makes the reader acquainted with the sensory experiences. The writer has adroitly drawn the beautiful landscape of village-life gravitating the reader to enter it, and witness all the occurrences, and savour its beauty as well. The core defining quality of this book is the way it highlights the everyday observations of village life.
The language of the novel exhibits the power and persuasiveness of ordinary speech that is the natural conduit for the prosaic moments and random sensations on which the world of the novel is based. The words of the rural language like “dhai-budhi”, “haandi-togoij-majju”, “haayechando” and “gushti” often appear on the pages and sometimes may sound unintelligible to an English reader though they mirror an important strand of Adivasi culture. The entire story has been narrated effortlessly with no discontinuity in the flow of narration. Uncluttered language, well-knit plot and no ostentatious narrative techniques are the telling features of the book.
The reviewer is occasional contributor to this page.