Girl Made of Gold by Gitanjali Kolanad

The debut novel of Bharatnatyam dancer, Gitanjali Kolanad is one of the most gripping thrillers I have read lately. The story starts off with a hunter finding a dead corpse near the jungle overlooking a holy village-temple. This is where the unputdownable story of a young Devadasi girl- Kanak starts unfolding.  Kolanad’s expertise in dance widens the scope of descriptive storytelling throughout the book where the narrators at length describe the temple and the village, their facets, the hidden symbolism, and of course their life. The story progresses through the narration of its main characters and traces the cause of the disappearance of young Kanak coupled with the mysterious appearance of a golden statue that looks exactly like her. Girl Made of Gold highlights the Devadasi culture at its peak; and how young girls are betrothed to God and lead a life pleasing men.  But sometimes, some things go wrong. . . . . . or right!

The story progresses as each character connected to Kanak mulls over her disappearance.  Subbu, the young nephew of the village priest is set to find his lost friend; the village priest tries to leverage the situation by turning it into a tourist attraction; Vallabendran, the seat of the aristocracy of the village, is believed to have been after Kanak and win her as his latest possession, shows indifference; and Ratna, Kanak’s elder sister with whom her relations are sour is engulfed in her own world to care any less for her.  A spectrum of characters has been introduced by Kolanad throughout the course of the novel and they have something to hide, which might contribute to her disappearance.

The novel brings to the forefront the ritual of Devadasi which has been traced predominantly in the Temple states of Southern India where a girl is married off to a God and is expected to lead a life of celibacy attending to the temple rituals and excelling in performing arts. However, with time, the ritual has seen many transformations and in some parts, it is being misused as a form of sex-slavery under the garb of a ritual. It is admirable that even in the 21st century, people take to such rituals whole-heartedly or forcibly and make the decisions for young girls. Of late, various criminal activities have also gotten intertwined with the practice of forced Devadasi bringing it under the radar of Human Rights. It makes the readers wonder if a girl really wants to live the life of a celibate?  Does she really want to be seen as the wife of a God? And what about pleasing men as it is considered that every man is a part of God and in doing so; she pleases her husband-God? With the ritual being the central plot of the story, the author compels the readers to think closely about it and yet does not define the moral grounds for the same.

Girl Made of Gold beautifully portrays female characters- their strengths, desires, and follies. It also highlights the way society looks at women. Kanak, talented, and attractive has only desired true love. But the world sees her as nothing more than a Devadasi, one who is meant to serve the Gods and men. Ratna lives the life of the ‘other woman’ as she is given away to Vallabendran, despite him being married. Devyani, the wife of Vallabendran is a dutiful wife and daughter-in-law, who knows of her husband’s illustrious nature and yet keeps quiet all through, serving him. Nagaveni, the matriarch of the Devadasi household holds true to the tradition without understanding how cruel she is to her girls. However, if she has been pushed towards this deep endless well of satisfying others from a young age; she finds it nothing wrong in choosing the same path for her girls.

Kolanad further talks about the innate nature of men and women.  The deepest desire of a man or a woman’s heart is to desire human company. To turn it into friendship, love, care, or lust is the decision of the individual. Kanak, in her life experienced friendship and care from her friend, love from her admirer, and lust from the greedy vultures in the society. Only Kanak’s choice and to some extent her fate makes the decision for her. But the most important point put forward here is that all individuals- men or women- have a choice; it is only a matter of time, their values, and their feelings that lead them to choose one or the other.

The inherent idea of superstition which is most prevalent in the rural communities takes shape firmly in the story. The sudden presence of a golden statue where the village folks were expecting Kanak to be, elevates her status; similar to real-life reportage of idols drinking milk in India which had surfaced a few years ago. Faith and belief are gifts to humanity, but there also exists a fine line between them and superstitions and irrationality. While many would instill faith in irrationality, others may pounce on the opportune moment to take advantage of it, just like the village priest did to lift his position and that of the village, ensuring enough donations from the arriving tourists.

Kolanad has brilliantly depicted the rural life, its nuances, and most importantly the depths of human relations through Girl Made of Gold. It is indeed a page-turner and every page comes with new revelations that are bound to leave the readers wanting for more. The complex web of relationship, intertwined within the members of the Devadasi community, the villagers and the aristocratic household has been kept intact, all the while progressing with the mystery of Kanak’s disappearance.

Girl Made of Gold is definitely a recommendation if you are searching for a good book to read, explore, or love the thriller genre and Indian writing. And I’ m sure you would finish the book and take time to contemplate its brilliance for a while. Indeed a thriller such as this is rare to find and one must not miss the opportunity to grab it FREE from the Juggernaut App. I personally hope that it hits the bookstores soon as paper/ hardback too.

No. of Pages: 256

Publisher: Juggernaut Books 

Available: Juggernaut App

Rating: 4/5

Some Perumal Murugan Shorts Please!

With the stay-at-home routine becoming the new norm one has a whole new array of activities- work from home, household chores, reading new books, learning a new course, trying out a new hobby and spending time with family and pets that have been shelved off for too long, do add to the list if you have more activities in mind. For me, it has been mostly been catching up on my reading habits and with Juggernaut making its entire catalog freely accessible, I didn’t have to look too far, so I #ReadInstead. Being a fan of short stories, my first preference was to download a few by Perumal Murugan, one of my favorite authors. Having previously read his novels like One Part Woman, Poonachi, and others; I was keen to read his shorts. In this post, I talk about five of his short stories which I read and liked, you can find more in the short stories compilation called The Goat Thief.

The Well  – Who could have thought that something as simple as a well can give so much joy to people- the young and the old. When three children invite a man to take a swim with them in the nearby well, it does not strike him that the experience will be unforgettable. One just needs to be courageous enough to take the leap of faith. Once that is accomplished, the vast expanse of the well is their playground. The cold water caresses the body providing relief from the scorching sun complemented by the occasional cool breeze. The isolation of the well from the rest of the world gives the much-needed seclusion that one longs for. BUT, sometimes a well has a mind of its own. ‘In fact, it is the well’s trickery. Its invitation to step in. If a man visits once, the well casts a spell that goads him to return again and again.’ (translated from Neer Vilayattu by N. Kalyan Raman)

Ask for the Moon- When an otherwise quiet and content child starts wailing one night, it brings thick lines of worry on the faces of the family. Is it a bad dream? Is the child thirsty or hungry? Has the child been possessed by some evil spirit? Does the child need medical attention? But when two gibberish words come out from the mouth amidst the loud wailings, the family leaves no stones unturned to identify and present the child with what it was looking for. A very relatable story which shows that parents are willing to go to any extent in order to fulfill wishes and to see that their child is having a comfortable life. It is only a matter of time to see whether such an attitude spoils the child or makes him/ her understand the worth of parents and respect them even more. (translated from Peridhinum Peridhu)

Sanctuary- It is said that a child inside an individual never dies no matter how old he/she grows. When a middle-aged man returns to his native village and finds his old friends are either entwined in the shackles of marriage or have become intellectual beings, he tries to find solace in locating a group of children playing in the well and befriending them. His ‘primary motive must have been to win back my childhood’ but transcending the age barrier especially when it means to join those who are younger is no less a challenge in itself. What is physically possible by children in terms of fluidity and flexibility is impossible by the physique of a grown-up man which leads to the existence of a divide- mentally and physically. Moreover, children often prefer to be more attached to those within the same age –group. Will they accept an older man among them? Will the knots of worldliness be undone?  Will childhood overtake the persona of the man? Sanctuary is a story of letting go of the inner fear, shame, stigma, and prejudice to be able to complete ones transgression through age. (translated from Pugalidam by N.Kalyan Raman)

The Man Who Could Not Sleep- Muthu Pattar is a man famous for his sleep patterns. Going straight to sleep after a hard day’s work and waking up exactly when he wants to is his forte. But what happens when he suddenly starts showing signs of sleeplessness? Is it the village demon who has taken hold of him? Is he diagnosed with terrible insomnia? Is something in his unconscious mind worrying him that he has had to let go of his peaceful sleep? A simple story of how one man’s anxieties take hold of him and those around showing beautifully that sometimes problems are not only of those who are facing them but also for their dear ones. (translated from Kombai Chuvar by N. Kalyan Raman)

The Unexpected Visitor- The elders usually find a daily routine for themselves in the peacefulness of the village. They garner respect but are also victims of banters from the local men and women folk. Such is the daily life of Paati, till her granddaughter leaves her son Kunju with her. This changes the way she has been living alone for years and makes her adapt to all the changes that would ensure Kunju to have a comfortable life in the village. She starts making new dishes for him, worrying if he gets late while playing with his newfound friends, and tries to give him everything that he wants that makes him happy. It is almost as if she has a new objective in life. But with old age comes an enormous amount of self –doubt especially when it comes to taking the responsibility of a child. Will Paati ultimately be able to manage this responsibility or will self-doubt take the better of her? (translated from Veppenei Kalayam)

Murugan’s short stories reflect the simple village life but if you read between the lines of the instances, they are not –so –simple. Each story is bound to take you on a contemplating spree about life and the way we choose to live it. There are several other short stories by Murugan and you can read them in the compilation available on Flipkart, Amazon, and Juggernaut App.

So, Keep Reading until next time!

The Sinners by Sourabh Mukherjee

If you are looking for a mirror that shows the real face of corporate giants with hidden agendas, thirst for power, frenemies and ruthless market competition; the sinners is just the book for you. A fast-paced unputdownable thriller, yet again, by Sourabh Mukherjee, will keep you glued to the pages of the book.

Rewinding and unwinding

The story is narrated as a flashback and is presented as a series of mysteriously related events which ultimately ends with the climax. Mukherjee, from the very beginning, lays bare the signs of sins in the personality traits of all the major characters. What is interesting is that these characters are very relatable and almost always around us. One just needs to unmask the worldly masks to find the Sinners. The novel presents an array of intriguing characters from the biggest tech giant of the day-NexGen- a company that is the perfect example of the journey of a start-up to a corporate. Every character is nothing but a pawn in the hands of the mastermind. But truly, they are nothing by slaves of their own sins, their own weaknesses – traits that are terrible and compel them to turn into silent observers as their fate comes crashing down in front of them.

Unmasking the Sins

Whether it be a woman who has lost her love, or a man fighting to rise up in the corporate ladder, a jealous ex, a miffed wife, an over-confident player, an underestimated techie, a beautiful slayer; Mukherjee makes it a point to incorporate all. What is interesting is that not a single character is pure black or white. Every personality has traits of grey so much so that some exhibit multiple sins. In fact, it was as if, the author had personified the seven sins- Pride, Greed, Lust, Envy, Gluttony, Wrath, and Sloth- through the illustrious characters of the book.  This is what makes the book special as no person is devoid of sin and gives way to their basic instincts, as every human being tends to do.

The Game called Corporate

Another very interesting aspect that Mukherjee puts across through his writings is the corporate environment. With the big businesses having almost reached their saturation point, it is the era of the start-up revolution. Nowadays, start-ups are a favorite with the media; and when they become successful and get praised by the society, not only the brand but also its top employees get trapped under the radar of media. As is said that a company is made by the employees, hence the higher the position the lonelier and competitive it gets among the subordinates and peers. One can trust absolutely no one. Even friends become enemies, not mentioning the actual enemies that one creates along the way. One is often forced to resort to ways that might otherwise seem ‘immoral’ and ‘betraying’, but these form part of the survival tactics. This corporate scenario is beautifully penned down in the pages of the book. A closer look at the storyline will surely make the reader understand how the foundation of the entire narration is formed keeping in mind the competitive corporate structure coupled with the complex basic human instincts and relationships.

Set against a highly relatable, realistic and practical backdrop, the sinners is a highly recommended book for anyone who likes to read contemporary thrillers!

No. of Pages: 191

Publisher: Srishti Publishers

Rating: 3.95/5

Available at: Amazon/ Flipkart