River Dolphins

“It was never about winning or losing, it was never about fighting for something, it was never about whose land it was, it was only about an ideology that became stale on its way. I was not reborn again after I died the night I helped to kill….I was sleeping when both my mothers died,….when I held my old and sobbing nurse in my arms, her brown wrinkled skin smelled of a smoky charcoal fire, the one that warms the milk and cooks the rice.“ “ Now the leaf floats on the water. Rain falls on it but it cannot stop its journey. Carried away by the current, the leaf sometimes bobs and sometimes floats sideways, but it continues on, moving. Jhorna follows it as she stumbles along the muddy bank, her feet slipping on the smooth and cold mud. Then, there are tipsy little boats tied next to each other, each bobbing against the other, their long slim prows pointing to the river and she cannot go any further. She watches her leaf bounce up and down in the current until she cannot see it anymore. “I am the keeper of leave-taking“ Three generations. Three voices. River Dolphins follows the story of a family in India living through the end of the British Raj and its aftermath. The life of each generation is touched, shadowed, shaped by the larger historical forces in play. But rather than charting a chronological history, this novella weaves together individual scenes and moments of intense perception from the lives of Mohan, the fair skinned son of an Indian estate owner; his daughter Jhorna; and his granddaughter, the “I” figure of the novella. She fulfills the Indian dream of a foreign education and leaves home with a pocket full of memories.

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Review by Prof. Dr. Surabhi Banerjee:

‘River Dolphins’ is a novella with a difference.The author is a riveting storyteller who weaves unalloyed emotions into the living texture of her yarn with admirable finesse.The story unfurls itself through the soulful and kaleidoscopic recollection of the past.Ostensibly it is the story of Mohan – the pronounced protagonist of the novella,but it is also the saga sprawling over three generations who lived through several significant watershed phases in Indian history. History functions all through  as an animated backdrop which goes into the making of Mohan and his childhood peers.The last days of the British Raj,the frenzied and fearful turbulence of the Naxalite movement, the decline of the feudal system,burning social issues generated by the livid fervor of the freedom struggle, the sheer atrocity of the communal riots – all this is organically absorbed into the timbre of Mohan’s life.

History revives the past but interestingly enough, the storyteller, like the Roman God Janus,also chooses to look forward to the future from the vantage point of the present.

In this novella, time is structured with amazing dexterity. Time is endowed with fluid resilience, easefully oscillating to and fro it flows in and out and beyond the chosen temporal frame,reaching onto the fathomless continuum of timeless time.And thus, braving and blurring the fragile borderlines, it creates indefinable magic space.

The lyrical interludes strewn in between the narrative tell us that magic,fantasy and romance are more than a colourful strand in the variegated mosaic of the story.It tells us that it is preeminently the story of the narrator’s mindscape. It is the sojourn of the narrator ‘I’, the author’s second self, as it were, meandering through the chiaroscuro of the past, the present and the future.

Some moments of epiphany are kindred to Proust’s ‘A la recherché du temps perdu’ but as the reader delves deeper into the picturesque and intense narrative,the novella turns out to be a many-layered piece of aert. It comes to an end with an open-ended Epilogue which again is magically many-layered in terms of time and space.The wheel comes full circle; the fusion is complete.

‘The River Dolphins’reads like a symphony.The dolphins are the leitmotif which continue to reverberate like a musical refrain all along.’The River Dolphins’feed,soothe and comfort your soul when you need them.And when they swim away, they carry your worries with them.


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