There are some novels that stand out based on just the power of narration. Through that narration, the author manages to paint a picture, take us into the novel and make that picture come alive. It’s as if we are walking down the roads the characters walk and seeing what they see. Lavanya Sankaran’s The Hope Factory was one such novel I remember. I’ve come across very few such evocative novels from Indian authors, and it was a pleasure to read this one, The Smoke is Rising, from Mahesh Rao.
Set in Mysore, in South India, the novel talks of the battle between the present and the future. When the world around is changing every day, it does make an impact on every aspect of life. What matters more? Embracing the future at the cost of the present, or keeping the present at the cost of the future? Especially in a small city which has yet to embrace those everyday changes completely, yet doesn’t want to be static. The way forward for the city seems to be a theme park, billed as Asia’s largest and best. But for that to become reality, the sacrificial lamb is/are the city’s residents, some of whom are set to lose their homes.
The novel’s strength is definitely that narration. There is satire delivered subtly, starting from the name of that theme park itself. The characters are realistic, and their worlds, interspersed in the story, feel real because of that, and also for the detailing that the author had done very well. You see characters that worry about a small cough and aren’t satisfied with the doctor’s explanation, which we see so often around us. You see aspects of society you don’t see that often too, like someone helping out a stranger during a violent “bandh” when it would have been easier to just leave them to their own means. These are minute details that don’t seem relevant or necessary in the overall picture, but it helps to evoke the steps they take. You don’t find twists and turns in the story, which flows as it should flow, true to life.
The author’s focus on details brings tediousness to the pace at times, but that is a flip side that is expected in such a tale. Other than that, I felt the story and the plot held merit. And it would be one that I would read again.
Title: The Smoke is Rising
Author: Mahesh Rao
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Random House India
Price: Rs. 499
(24th August 2014)