Format: Hardcover, 256 pages
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
Pub Date: September 4, 2007
With a title like "The Solitude of Emperors" and a publisher's blurb that went like this:
Before I go any further, here's a short history about the 1992-93 communal riots which provides the backdrop against which this story is played out (courtesy of the Guardian (UK)):
Vijay, our raconteur is eager to escape the caste biases of his small unnamed town in South India. After a chance letter to the magazine "The Indian Secularist" lands him a job in Bombay, he becomes a journalist and is rendered a spectator to the 1992-93 communal riots (in which he gets beaten up) after which we see him spiraling into a depression of sorts. The reason for his despondency? The sad state of secularism in India and the apathy of the public who seem wont to do anything about communal violence. By the way, Davidar is unflinching in his descriptions of the rioters and the cruelty and brutality they unleash upon their fellow Mumbaikars.
"...the left eyeball had been gouged out of its socket and the right eyeball had been slashed by a knife, and was cloudy and occluded by blood. The injuries hadn't killed him; below the chin, there was a surgically clean cut that had finally extinguished his life"
Seeing that his protege is depressed the kindly Parsi boss (Mr. Sorabjee) at the newspaper decides that a change of scene might do Vijay good and sends him to the blue hills of the Nilgiris to a town called Meham to report on some trouble brewing at a place of Christian worship called "Tower of Silence". Sorabjee also requests Vijay to read the manuscript of a textbook he (Sorabjee) has written for young students of history. Its title is "The Solitude of Emperors: Why Ashoka, Akbar and Gandhi Matter to Us" and in writing this textbook Sorabjee's goal is to acquaint and arm India's youth with the wisdom and values of their older and wiser rulers, especially in matters of religious tolerance. The use of this manuscript is a clever narrative ploy because it allows Davidar to write a polemic about religious fundamentalism and tolerance without seeming like he is preaching to his readers.
In Meham, Vijay discovers that there are plans being made to attack the shrine in a manner similar to Ayodhya by Rajan a local businessman, rightwing Hindu and a political activist. It is at this point you see Vijay make the transition from passive onlooker or reporter to activist, but does he succeed?This sounds like a very engaging book doesn't it? So why didn't I enjoy it as much as I expected to? I think it's because the narrator lacked spirit and that seemed to drag the narrative down. I'm glad I didn't give up on it however because Davidar addresses some very important issues that I think are very relevant everywhere in the world today:
# The misuse of religion in politics
#The misinterpretation of religion to suit one's agenda
# Fundamentalism vs. Secularism
# Should a journalist ever get emotionally involved in an assisgnment he is sent to cover?
I laud Davidar for writing this book which I see essentially as a critique on contemporary India. For too long Indo-Anglian writers of fiction have focused on exotic India and few have taken on the challenge of writing about the problems facing the country today (exceptions are Kiran Desai's "The Inheritance of Loss", Altaf Tyrewala's "There is No God, Salman Rushie's "Shalimar"). I am thrilled to see David Davidar do the same.
About this Author
David Davidar is president and publisher of Penguin Canada and also a director on the board of Penguin India, of which he was a founding member. Davidar’s first novel, The House of Blue Mangoes, was published in sixteen countries and was an international bestseller.
Sep 29th, Toronto's "Nuit Blanche"
7:03 pm to sunrise
For one sleepless night, we Torontonians will get to experience Toronto transformed by artists. We are being asked to discover art in galleries, museums, alleyways and demolition sites to churches and squash courts....and in some other 195 destinations. One night only. All night long!!!
I really,really want to go! Museums, Art Galleries, Churches, Theatres, educational institutions, sports centers, you name it, are going to be open all night long! Anybody going?
Then on Sunday, Sep 30th we have Toronto's THE WORD ON THE STREET.
This year's authors include:
Craig and Marc Kielburger
Richard B. Wright
I really would love to go but at this point I am not sure I can. Cereal Girl and Nix are going so check their blogs for updates.