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Saved By The Details

Brings to mind those useful synopses of daily soaps, but with characters drawn in bold strokes.

Saved By The Details
Blood Ties
By Ameeta Rathore
Penguin India Pages: 192; Rs 200
Blood Ties brings to mind those useful synopses of daily soaps. Young Ila is the grand-daughter of a zamindar in Bihar, his estates on the banks of a river where she grows up serenaded by the piquant perfume of rotting jute. Her parents played out the class struggles of Bihar in their marriage; her father, the less privileged, swore revenge for the perceived humiliation his wife and in-laws put him through but had to postpone his vengeance when his wife inconsiderately died. Ila is brought up by her grandfather in an idyllic (from her point of view), feudal world where her whims have the force of law and where she breathes the heady, but deceptive, air of liberal ideas.

But her father, deciding that revenge is a dish best eaten cold, strikes and whisks her off from gracious Brahmnagar to governmental Patna. He confiscates her English novels, forcing her to traverse the journey he made from Hindi to English in the opposite direction, puts her into an inferior school, discards her smart dresses for a Talibanised costume and uses the whip of verbal abuse to call her to order. The chance will come for the worm to turn, as Ila’s grandfather reapplies for custody, but by then blood calls to blood with unexpected repercussions.

As Rathore goes for baroque, what rescues the book from its melodrama is her careful recreation of Bihar as the zamindari system comes under threat, her painstaking tracing of the ties—caste, gender, blood, even the shared history of the oppressor. She draws her characters in bold strokes. Ila’s father is no deep-dyed villain; and Ila’s mother is a tour-de-force even if offstage for most of the book.

But as grandfather and father join battle over Ila’s future, a fatal flaw comes to light. Rathore can end with the soap-operatically satisfying, yawningly predictable outcome; or she can steer Ila onto a path far more startling, but far less logical. The epilogue, which brings the story to an abrupt end, seems to indicate the reader was not alone in finding this something of an anticlimax.

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