Thursday, Sep 29, 2022
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Karmic Payback

A lyrical farewell to an extinct way of life, a lament for those — the rulers as much as the ruled—who are bound by its laws, and a satisfyingly plotted tale of sin and retribution.

Karmic Payback R. Prasad

Like all good murder mysteries, Shivani Singh’s first novel starts with a body. In this case it is of a Patidar, a Brahmin, who has been discovered with his throat slit in the Raja of Sirikot’s palace. As far as the royal family is concerned, he is a "nobody". Yet with his murder is set in train a series of events that shake the very foundations—psychological and physical—of the palace and its inhabitants: from the raja himself down to the lowliest carrier of his shit.

The year is 1947, and yet the momentous events of that turbulent time register only as distant thunder to Leela, the raja’s 13-year-old granddaughter. Like an older sister of Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird, or Leo in The Go-Between, Leela’s ambivalent age—not quite child, not yet grown-up—makes her an interesting player. Shivani manages almost flawlessly to capture her oscillation between precocious princess and frightened kid in a narrative pacy enough to sustain the momentum of a true whodunit yet rich in descriptive detail about the decadent courtly life of rajas and their ranis: "My mother and nani settled comfortably back among the antimacassars to the soft rustle of peacock feather fans and the clinking bangles on the arms of the vas gharianis as they pressed their feet. Cool rose sherbet and the pleasant sound of the gold nutcracker demolishing betel-nuts lulled me."

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