Lanterns On Their Horns
Harpercollins n Rs 399 n pp 471
Radhika Jha’s Nandgaon is a village that hasn’t known change. Controlled by headman Gopal Mundkur, who believes that modern values will only lead to the fragmentation of the village, Nandgaon’s inhabitants know nothing about what goes on beyond its borders. There’s no electricity, no water supply — in fact, there’s no development here. The villagers subsist on marginal and dairy farming.
Things, however, change once Ramu, an orphan goatherd, marries Laxmi, a college-educated daughter of a poor farmer, and brings her to Nandgaon. Jha’s second novel tells the story about the change — and the fear of change — that strikes this ‘islanded’ village.
Other characters enter the scene. Manoj Mishra, the idealist from Jaipur and a failed PhD in History is on his way to meet his prospective in-laws in Bombay, where a chance meeting with a European lady inspires him to take the path less trodden.
After marriage, he sets off for Khandwa with the firm belief that he can solve rural poverty. In Khandwa, Manoj joins an institute that artificially inseminates Indian cows with sperm from European bulls in order to increase milk yields. Then he sets off to implement his strategy — to convince ignorant villagers to let their cows be artificially inseminated. After encountering countless rejections, Manoj ends up in Nandgaon.
Lanterns On Their Horns weaves a story of social change, of a clash between tradition and modernity. Despite the maze of events, the novel is tedious in parts. Jha’s multi-layered narrative, with so much potential, ends up being predictable and uninspiring.
The book’s cover doesn’t help matters even at the onset. With such an insipid cover design, it’s really not difficult to bypass the book.