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Anjana Basu’s Rhythms Of Darkness, is a story of love, betrayal and revenge – set against a backdrop of state politics and Maoism.
Review by Chitra Iyer
In Rhythms of Darkness, the central character of Anjana Basu’s previous release, Black Tongue, facilitates our onward journey with our new protagonist and her niece; Shyama. In this sequel, Basu departs from the theme of witchcraft and moves to the treacherous territory of Maoism and state politics in West Bengal. However, she brings the politics alive with the story of Shyama Mondal and her evolving relationship with an outlaw, Maoist-turned-mainstream-politician Dakhin Rai a.k.a Diptanshu Sen.
Basu is an exceptionally gifted writer who pulls off two things that one rarely finds in the same book.
First, she strings her words together beautifully – you can read entire passages in this book for the sheer beauty of the words alone, without caring for its meaning in the larger story. Consider some of my favorites: ‘Once a dragonfly hovered over me – large, green and grotesque – except for those wings that caught rainbows floating in the air’ or her description of ‘dark people’ who work with the land: ‘…the sun burns your skin and draws plough tracks through it until, in the end, it looks like the land – wrinkled deep with time. …..(they are) just clods of earth with lives…’. Her description of Urna’s cat-filled mansion with her eccentric mother floating about reminds me of Miss. Havisham in Great Expectations. There are many such delightful surprises peppered through the book.
Second, she creates a racy narrative with interesting characters and multiple timelines to keep the pages turning. The book follows the stories of Shyama told in first person as a flashback; and Nikhilesh, told in the present but as a narration of a past experience to his ‘firang’ friend Jenny. The two never have any significant interaction, but their lives are connected through Nikhilesh’s girlfriend and party-worker Urna, who is central to the climax. Basu does a spectacular job of creating compelling characters. The description of Shyama’s life in tribal West Bengal is so alien and primitive that I constantly had to remind myself that this was not a period novel but one set in today’s day and age.
At its heart, this book is about the age-old theme of ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’. Young and innocent Shyama, a natural dancer and poor but footloose village girl, inevitably falls for swashbuckling Maobandi leader Dakhin Rai. For Dakhin she is a mere weapon of distraction to be used in various Maoist operations. In order that she can travel with him freely, he asks her to pretend that she is ‘married’ to a mystery man, and hands her the all important box of sindoor. Of course, poor Shyama genuinely believes she is married to him because more than anything else, this is what she wants to believe. It is endearing, the way she hangs onto every shred of hope that could even remotely suggest that the dashing Dakhin Rai could care for her. So, you feel her rage when he uses her, takes her innocence and dumps her unceremoniously. You feel her helpless hatred for his ‘white beauty wife’ and her desire for revenge when he trains his guns on anyone even remotely connected with his former movement.
Through the book, you get an inkling of her inner strength in spite of her vulnerability and silence. So it is not a real surprise when her transformation from Shyama to ‘Shyama Didi’ is complete and she decides to take matters into her own hands. It almost makes you – as a woman – feel pride that she did not roll over and conveniently die as men like Dakhin Rai would have her do, and so often succeed in doing. As a reader, that is certainly satisfying.
However, as Shyama herself puts it, in the end, politics and land wars kill men. For women, there is a different season of death altogether.
Publisher: Gyaana Books
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