Uma Mahadevan-Dasgupta reviews “The Earthspinner” by Anuradha Roy

Syncretism and unconditional love form the beating heart of this thoughtful novel

“Say it how you want, but say it. Fill in the holes. Work with whatever soil you get. A potter knows how to do this.

Anuradha Roy’s new novel comes as a breath of soft and fresh air. The first thing about the novel is its soft tone. Although he recounts violent and traumatic acts, he does so in such a calm, thoughtful and understanding tone that one finds oneself to think, with a touch of sadness, about so many things that could have been otherwise.

Fractures in the life of communities can arise in a moment of rage, when it can take years, even decades, to repair the damage. “Today, I marvel at the certainty of these people that their world would heal in a matter of weeks … As the city was remade, Kummarapet itself would fall to earth.”

Forced to create

The second thing about the novel is its setting. The main story takes place somewhere in the Deccan, but the location is not specified. One character dreams of traveling “where the mainland stretched as far as the eye could see, where rocks the size of a hill perched on top of each other.” It could be anywhere, any small town, animated by a few signs – a river, a forest, a potters’ house, an autorickshaw carrying the children to school, a handful of petty crimes reported in the newspaper. local. A microcosm of how we have lived for decades and how we might live.

The third thing about The terrestrial spinning top is his powerful description of the process of artistic creation. “My father would have said

The little master of Kummarapet: Uma Mahadevan-Dasgupta reviews

the change was the work of the earth turning, turning as it always had. The central metaphor is that of the earth and its soil, of work with hands and clay and a potter’s wheel. A river to wash away sorrows. A terracotta lamp which, when lit, casts the shadow of a flower. A sculptor who creates pots and lamps every day; and who one morning wakes up from a dream suddenly forced to create a monumental terra cotta horse. “In his dream, the horse had risen by itself like an earth fountain. He wore a pearl necklace and his ears were like two mango leaves on either side of his magnificent head… The mane descended down the neck in a wave, the eyes looked straight ahead, staring into eternity.

Lives left behind

Along with working with clay, there is calligraphy: the intricate and beautiful writing of words, created by humans to communicate and dedicate. A blind calligrapher dreams of the beauty of writing: “His fingers had forgotten what it was like to hold his bamboo quill or to hear its sound on paper – inaudible to all but him – to see the lines appear one by one. one, forming pages of beauty and learning. “

Sculpture, text and syncretism. Kabir’s epigraph, beautifully translated by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, brings these various elements together into a whole: “I am a bowl / And I am a tray / I am a man / And I am a woman… I am nothing / Said Kabir / I am not among the living / Nor the dead ”.

But it is as easy to destroy peace as it is to shatter a clay pot into pieces. A man falls in love with a woman who lives in the same city, but they are separated by insurmountable religious barriers. “In this country, it’s just movie stars and cricketers who marry who they want,” says one character.

Ways to heal

Years later, the narrator meets a friend from her childhood and they reflect on the tragic turn of events and all that they, separately, have left behind: “I didn’t know when I would hear those intonations again. and these words, this particular language. of my childhood. I listened as if my life depended on memorizing every word.

At the hot and beating heart of history is a little dog: once called Tashi or good fortune, he is now Chinna, “little one”, proudly walking anywhere and everywhere in the village and town. “’Chinna, Chinna,’ Elango crooned to the dog, whose cries of pain grew weaker and sadder as the night passed. He kept stroking her back and it moved something inside of him that he didn’t know was there.

Like dogs do, Chinna teaches human characters what it’s like to be human. It is the little dog who can cross the borders that seem impassable to humans. “It was Chinna, Kummarapet’s big old dog, who had lived, loved and populated the neighborhood with versions of himself.”

Chinna connects people whose disparate lives would not otherwise intersect: a couple from the city, assaulted on the edge of a forest; a working-class potter who also serves as a local rickshaw driver, transporting children to school; two little girls, sisters, whose father is ill and whose mother is a reporter for the local newspaper; a lame girl and her grandfather, a near-blind calligrapher. Chinna brings them all together with her fearless and unconditional love. And show them a way to heal and be reconciled, a way out of painful darkness.

The Earthspinner; Anuradha Roy, Hachette India, ₹ 599

The examiner is in the IAS.

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