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Review: The Muddy River

books Updated: Feb 03, 2012 18:54 IST

Sanjib Kr Baruah, Hindustan Times
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The Muddy River

PA Krishnan

Tranquebar

Rs. 250 pp 248

Albert Herbert’s ‘Jonah and the Whale’ looms in the mind’s eye as one races through the gripping drama in The Muddy River. In PA Krishnan’s novel, the painting is a copy made by Kalita, an IIT graduate who returns to Assam from the United States to take up guns and fight for independence from India. For Kalita, that Biblical painting works as a metaphor, the India-whale swallowing up the puny Assam-Jonah.

That identification, though, remains problematic throughout the novel, as the dialogue and narrative tension keeps changing the notion of who actually signifies Jonah and who the whale.

The Muddy River is set in Assam, a sttae often in the news for the frequent abductions for ransom by militant groups seeking to raise resources to fund the insurgency. Like Krishnan’s novel, the insurgency is multi-layered and complex, bearing different connotations for different groups. Gandhian ideology, too, is one of the underlying themes, coming up every now and then whenever a layer is peeled.

One gets the sense that both Assam and its insurgency is being dealt with a dash of sympathy. “This tragedy is being staged without viewers,” says Anupama, a skilfully-crafted character “torn between professional integrity and her love for Assam”.

The central action revolves around Ramesh Chandran, a left-leaning upright bureaucrat who takes upon the might of prevailing power centres in a bid to rescue an engineer held hostage by militants. In the process, he takes on the Kafkaesque political class and bureaucracy.

Engaging and stylish, The Muddy River succeeds in accurately presenting the interplay between insurgency, corruption, bureaucracy and politics in Assam, written by one who has been in the know of things (Krishnan is a former bureaucrat). For anyone who has observed the state from close quarters, it won’t be difficult to identify the personalities on whom some of the characters are based. The book will also help those keen to comprehend the insurgency-based politics of a theatre that is far from New Delhi, both geographically and otherwise.