Friday, May 23, 2014

The days of the jackals!

Are the rich, educated people as clever as jackals? Dressed in the garb of development, with the laws to their side, don’t they devour fields and forests to create a new social class – of the disposed and displaced? Forced to bear it with gritted teeth and suppressed whimpers, the injury of displacement has left permanent scars on the souls of millions! In this award-winning novel, Vishwas Patil lends voice to the pain and anguish of the people of Jambhli, who have been ousted to make way for the construction of a large dam.   

Close to reality, the saga of resistance conjures up multiple images of people who refuse to surrender their ancestral land to the juggernaut of development. Rooted to their cultural inheritance, they question the veracity of forced relocation which in no way can compensate the sweat that they had poured into their lands. Caught in the rehabilitation trap, the Jambhlikars find themselves battling petty politicians on one hand and apathetic officials on the other. Patil’s accomplished prose and fine sensibility captures their unending ordeal. 

Utterly relevant to our time, the heart-rending narrative exposes the system that acts like a ghost, riding on poor’s neck and pushing them deeper and deeper into the quicksand till they perish. Since the dams get choked with silt much before the oustees are resettled, the plight of the displaced rarely persists long in popular perception. Who will mourn someone who dies everyday! Full of rage and disbelief, A dirge for the dammed is a painful saga of the new ‘class’ of people exiled from their homelands. 

Divided into seven parts, the novel braids together several lives and desires. If there is Khairmode Guruji who is in relentless pursuit of justice then there is Haibati whose unending search for alternative employment reflects system’s hostility towards the displaced. Between these two lead characters are many others whose frustrating struggle sustains narrative tension in flawlessly elegant prose. The politics of rehabilitation, which forms a major part of the plot, is explored with a thoroughness befitting an investigative journalist, and yet retaining all the elements of a primarily fictional work. 

With an innate desire to bring the hidden dimensions of development to light, Patil spends inordinate amount of energy elucidating the details of every intrigue. The sub-stories of men and women whose lives have been destroyed by the project evoke strong empathy, mocking at those who hold notion of ‘public interest’ supreme in the quest for development. Poor don’t have ten doors open for them; they have to squeeze their lives through the only door. Development shuts the only door! 

It is heart-rending story, translated to perfection by Keerti Ramachandran, that is a must read for all those who have some stake in ‘development’.
A Dirge for the Dammed 
by Vishwas Patil 
Hachette India, New Delhi 
Extent: 471, Price: Rs. 450

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