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Title :City of the Dead
Author: Snehalata Chatterjee.
Publisher: Vishv Vijay PTE. LTD. New Delhi
Book ID: VP 162:277
Price: Not known.
Historical novels have a charm of their own.
The readers can escape from the present day horrors, and spend a few hours in a
separate world created by the author. A historical novel requires a good deal
of solid research of the period of its setting. And, there is always the
trepidation that it may lead to controversy. A historical fiction, on the other
hand, offers the author a good deal of leeway in depicting the characters.
There have been innumerable novels of this genre, which go back a century, or
two into the past. Those that venture further back, say, to a thousand years
are rarer. This novel, written by Snehalata Chatterjee dares to go back five
thousand years – perhaps, one the rarest to do so!
The story of the novel is set as
taking place during the period when the Mohenjadaro civilization flourished.
Following the theories of the Western scholars, the author portrays the period
as one in which the Aryan invasion was in progress. (Unlike the modern
technology-supported invasions, these invasions, of those days, take place
gradually, spread over centuries.) There was constant fighting between the
Aryans and the non-Aryans, and also among the Aryan kings themselves. The
author has imaginatively used some of the names and characters that appear in
the Rig Veda: such as pani, dasyu, rishi,
Indra, and so on. Many verses of that Veda repeatedly sing, of how the cattle
are stolen by the panis, and how Indra helps in tracing and recovering them.
The story of the novel begins,
employing such a theme. From thereon, the author weaves an imaginative romantic
plot. The central character, Anjasi, an Aryan woman, along with her brother and
lover is taken away by Karanja, a non-Aryan king, when the trio had taken their
cattle for grazing into the forest.
The plot begins to thicken as
events unfold. Karanja falls in love with the fair-skinned Aryan beauty. Karanja’s
army chief, Bal’s sister is already betrothed to Karanja. Bal too falls in love
with Anjasi. Nirda, the sister of Bal, betrothed to the king Karanja, loves him
and wants to marry him. She is jealous of Anjasi. Nandan, the Aryan friend who
is also taken by the king Karanja to his capital, loves Anjasi. A non-Aryan
woman in the capital falls in love with Nandan and tries her best to woo him. Initially,
Anjasi is confused about her own true emotions – whether to love Nandan, or the
king. The Aryan king, Puramitra storms the capital of Karanja, as an act of
revenge. Bal, the army chief is furious that his king wants to marry an Aryan
woman, discarding his betrothed sister. He plots to overthrow his king. Still
more subplots are woven into the story, to keep the reader guessing till the
end. The end is well managed, with an unexpected, tragic twist.
The author has skilfully painted
the background life of the civilization, constructed out of a study of the excavations
at Harappa and Mohenjadaro. There are interesting dialogues, between visitors
from other distant civilisations, like Egypt of the pharaohs, and the non-Aryan
characters. The non-Aryan civilization is shown to be far superior to that of
the invading Aryans.
Altogether, the book makes an
interesting reading. The only flaw, if one suspects, is the diction and
language used. It is very simple – almost like a plain story book meant for
pre-college reading (Perhaps, the author might have designed on purpose); but
that does not detract the enjoyability of the book.