Some books come to light because of the story. Some come to light because of the beautiful cover design. Some books even come to light purely by chance, or by the name of the author. But there are few books which come to light because of the controversy the story creates.
I had no idea there was a book called Aavarana in Kannada written by S L Bhyrappa. I neither read Kannada novels nor do I follow Kannada authors/literature as such. I chanced upon the recently released English translation of the same while browsing through Flipkart. The title caught my eye, but only when two of my friends said the book was controversial and that they had a Kannada copy of the same, did I purchase the book.
The book follows the life of a movie-maker Razia and the people she’s related to/associated with. Razia was born Lakshmi, but having met Amir, and fallen in love with him, she goes against the wishes of her staunch Gandhian father, converts to Islam when Amir demands it. It alienates her from her father, who disowns her, and pretends like she doesn’t exist. Though Amir promises her before marriage that she wouldn’t have to follow Islam strictly, she comes to realize after that that was easier said than done. When she refuses to bend completely to his will, Amir pronounces talaq on her, which shocks her, leading her to a deeper exploration of history. Events like her father’s death test her strength even more. She begins to write a novel that her father had wanted to write, knowing full well it won’t be what he wanted to write, because their characters were very different.
In the movie School of Life, Ryan Reynolds (Mr. D) says history is coined by the term his – story. The story would be different for each one of us of course. But there is a story. I don’t know history, and I’m no historian to check if the events that the author tells in the book here are absolute facts. The author mentions the books he has perused before writing the novel. I’ll not go into that aspect at all. From a purely fictional point of view, does it engage the reader who does not know all that history? Does it make the reader imagine traveling the paths that the characters take and the decisions they make? Does it make the reader feel the various emotions like anger or sadness or defiance that are spread across the novel? Yes, it does do that. It is written strongly, it has the pace to keep the reader turning the pages and finish the novel. It makes me feel those emotions, especially the pain the character in the “history” part feels. Does it make complete sense always? No. I didn’t understand the urgency of Aruna falling in love or another inter-religion marriage there. The move is perhaps validated later in the novel, but it felt like an overdose at the time of reading. I enjoy reading descriptive writing, but at some places, the descriptions felt too repetitive. It didn’t need to stretch. And I don’t necessarily agree with the final idea that is put out through the character of Lakshmi/Razia.
Not every novel is perfect. This novel isn’t either. Why it isn’t perfect, the reason may vary from reader to reader. To some readers, it may even be perfect and brilliant. For me, it was an interesting read. But not being a fan of historical fiction myself, it was definitely a one-time read and I gifted the book to a friend who is a fan not only of historical fiction but of the author too. So I can honestly say… if the genre interests you, perhaps this book will too. But it is not a certainty that you will be interested in the book.
Title: Aavarana – The Veil
Author: S L Bhyrappa
Translator: Sandeep Balakrishna
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Rupa Publications
Price: Rs. 395
(12th November 2014)