By Vithal Rajan. Grade: A
In a typical village somewhere in the Deccan, justice arrives in a different form…
A middle-aged Dalit mid-wife, Ramulamma goes about her day performing her services as a dai, looking for odd jobs in surrounding villages and occasionally in the city, and countering constant ill-treatmeant from the local Inspector Sahib.
But there’s more to Ramulamma than her torn sari and the gold stud twinkling on her nose reveal. Through her wisdom and canny intuition, she finds her way around the most intractable problems with the deftest touch. She brings to book a powerful landlord for the rape and murder of a young Dalit girl, saves a falsely accused thief from a miserable fate, and demonstrates to abusive policemen (and occasionally her high-born patrons) in her signature, subtle style the real meaning of duty.
With delicate wit and never-failing empathy, the twelve stories in this delightful collection expose the hypocrisies of our sharply divided society and celebrate the self-empowerment of its oppressed.
This book revolves around a middle-aged Dalit widow, Ramulamma, who lives in a village somewhere near Hyderabad. Her experience and skills as a dai (midwife) have given her a little stature, and her inherent goodness earns her the trust of not just powerful people but of animals as well.
The book is a collection of short stories, each one meticulously detailed and rich with symbolism. There is strong characterization of the region and its culture. Though all the twelve stories are different and unrelated, the element that binds them together is the protagonist’s knowledge, presence of mind and her ability to think things out.
She uses her snooping skills, intuition and courage, to bring justice to those who need it the most i.e. the poor, while booking the powerful and influential. She even manages to teach the police a lesson or two. While ludicrous statues collapse into lakes, the police’s corruption runs rampant and arrogant doctors turn a blind eye on Dalits, Ramulamma inconspicuously turns situation into her favor and helps her people. In innumerable creative ways, she ensures that justice is done. The crimes are varied, a brutal rape and murder, the mysterious death of a young joint collector, a stolen wallet in the aftermath of a glorious wedding, a hit-and-run and a sinister plot to rip off a rich young widow. However, that is not all. Ramulamma knows how to edge out an unwelcome guest, get her own back and even treat a patient beyond medical advice
She is always remains behind the scenes. Moreover, while she is physically ill-treated and abused by the police and upper-caste men, they acknowledge the fact, however minutely, that she is a person of importance.
The humour, the carefully shaped sentences and slow revelations are throwbacks to this ostentatious novel. In addition, Hitchcock-like, the author makes a cameo appearance at the end, giving perspective to much of what came before. There are books that you wearily tick off must-read lists without enjoying; there are books that are lauded and hyped and yet too tedious to read to the end. But there are also books no one is talking about, and yet they mesmerize you. This book is one of those.