Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Ravan and Eddie by Kiran Nagarkar (1995)

Ravan and Eddie by Kiran Nagarkar (1942, Mumbai) was recently selected by The Guardian as one of the ten best novels set in Mumbai.  I like to read stories set in Mumbai. A lot of my readers live in Indian mega-cities.    Kathleen Boo, author of a brilliant work of non-fiction set in a Mumbai slum, Behind the Beautiful Flowers, is quoted on the webpage of the publisher, New York Review of Books, saying Raven and Eddie is "Wicked, magical, hilarious, enduring:  A masterpiece from one of the world literature's great cult writers".

Ravan and Eddie are from a vertical slum in Mumbai, Eddie is Catholic and Ravan is Hindu.  Ravan and Eddie is a vivid, at times almost too much so, look at growing up poor in modern Mumbai.  We see terrible ways people suffer, the abuse of women and Dalits that is taken for granted, the day to day struggles just to survive, the many class markers, and we learn a good bit of history along the way.   Eddie's family became Catholic long ago during the period in which Portugal ruled Mumbai and had a colony in Goa.    We see the influence of religion and how it divides people.  In one very powerful scene Eddie's family priest found how he went to a Hindu religious observation and subjects him to tremendous mental abuse over this.

There is lots of x-rated sex in this story, most of it either abusive or part of a power struggle in  one way or another.  In one very graphically told episode, we see the oral rape of Eddie at age 13 or so by an older boy at his school.   Life in the chawl where the novel is set is totally corrupt.  There is no one to admire in this work.  One of the women  in the novel says that poverty takes everyone's integrity if they endure it long enough.   

This is a really good novel.  I was pondering how I might compare it to another, better, novel set in Mumbai which I recently read, A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.  The people in Ravan and Eddie are less fully developed than those in A Fine Balance but maybe it is hard to fully develop when you grow up in extreme poverty and your mother is a prostitute and your father a drunken wastrel.  The people in Ravan and Eddie are without human dignity, those in A Fine Balance, have some left.

Ravan and Eddie is a wild ride, I never knew what would happen next but I was kept reading with great anticipation.   Life in this story is ugly with little to look forward to but more misery.  

This is a funny, wise, and entertaining book.  

KIRAN NAGARKAR was born in Bombay in 1942. In addition to plays and screenplays, he has written five novels, establishing his reputation as an outstanding representative of contemporary Indian literature. His books are a target of ideological critique due to the hybrid nature of his version of postcolonialism, involving irreverence alongside seriousness. 

Nagarkar studied at the Ferguson College in Bombay and then worked as an assistant professor at some colleges, as a journalist and screenplay writer, and, notably, in the advertising industry. He wrote his first book Saat Sakkam Trechalis (1974; Eng. Seven Sixes are Forty Three, 1980) in his mother tongue, Marathi. His bitter and burlesque description of the young Bombayite Kunshank - achieved by means of a fragmented form and rendered in innovative language - is considered to be a milestone in Marathi literature. In his first play Bedtime Story (1978), Nagarkar takes on the subject of modern responsibility by broaching the topic of political crises of the day (for instance the Cuban Crisis, the Vietnam War, and the State of Emergency called for by Indira Gandhi). 

Mel u

1 comment:

Tabula Rasa said...

I had heard a lot about Kiran Nagarkar's God's Little Soldier. This one also sounds interesting. I'd like to read it - I am currently reading Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra, which is also set in Mumbai. I haven't read many English books set in India, but it's fascinating to read books about places you live so close to.
By the way, Kiran Nagarkar studied at Fergusson College in Pune; I know because that's where I go!