By Tania James. Grade: A+
In The Tusk That Did The Damage, Tania James delivers a stunningly realistic novel on the war between humans and nature as one tries to overrule the other. Set in rural Kerala, this novel ploughs through the lives of three protagonists – Shivaram, a nineteen year old resident of Sitamala , Emma Lewis a filmmaker from US who along with her friend Teddy is making a movie on the humans vs. elephant battle, and The Gravedigger, a violent elephant who buries his victims and thus the name.
Orphaned by poachers as a calf and sold into a life of labor and exhibition, the Gravedigger breaks free of his chains and begins terrorizing the countryside, earning his name from the humans he kills and then tenderly buries. Manu, the studious younger son of a rice farmer, loses his cousin to the Gravedigger’s violence and is drawn, with his wayward brother Jayan, into the sordid, alluring world of poaching. Emma is a young American working on a documentary with her college best friend, who witnesses the porous boundary between conservation and corruption and finds herself in her own moral gray area: a risky affair with the veterinarian who is the film’s subject. As the novel hurtles toward its tragic climax, these three storylines fuse into a wrenching meditation on love and betrayal, duty and loyalty, and the vexed relationship between man and nature.
The best thing about the book is the narration – simple yet so original. The story is fresh. The readers’ emotions are ruffled with the sharp delivery of lines. Told from three different perspectives, the lives of each character has been realistically portrayed with the exact right amount of Indian-ness. With growing urbanization and population, the boundaries that separate the wild from the humans have become fast vanishing and we see the consequences of this in our newspaper daily. But, it still comes as a surprise when we read it through Ms. James’s words. The clash of cultures is evident and brings to our notice the dire need for wildlife conservation in India.
Another non-conventional technique that Ms. James has used is the perspective of the Gravedigger. Having watched his mother die, the Gravedigger’s life is wrought with terrible memories that holds him unaccountable for his tempered rage, which the people around him don’t realize. The ill-treatment he undergoes and his isolation from the other elephants only makes you more sorry for not just him, but for all other elephants suffering a similar fate in the current day India. When the stories of all the three intersect, we are provided with a brilliant ironical climax which no one expects. The last few lines of the story will stay with you at least for a few days…
This is one of the best books I have read this year and I hope it finds the recognition it deserves.