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The waves

As the Wind Blows

Location: Chennai, Tamilnadu, India

28 May 2007

“Hitchhiker” - Book Review

Details could be boring; long and winding; – but not if they are depicting a lot of the things that you know or could relate to; and if a lot of them mirror your own first hand experiences.

“Hitchhiker”, a novel by Vinod George Joseph, a London based lawyer, gave me that feeling.

In fact most of the readers who grew up in Tamilnadu would be able to connect immediately with the novel - the vivid picturization of the milieu – complete with the cultural, societal, educational, economical, religious and all kinds of moorings and idiosyncrasies.

What amazed me was that the story - woven around Ebenezer, a poor Christian boy who climbs up to be a software engineer, but in personal life, loses a battle against the mother of all ills, caste war and fails in his efforts to marry, Gayathri the Upper caste Hindu woman he loves - is quite authentic in its depiction of all the layers of the society.

If one chapter describes the household of the Parthasarathys, a middle class Brahmin family, where the patriarch is stern that the school going daughter should not watch TV except for news and admonishes the mother for even suggesting that the daughter should “waste” her time to water and clean the pots of roses, the next chapter has the vivid picture of Ebenezer household in his grandparents’ village, where his parents are still known by their old names – the names given to them at birth and were called before they changed their religion to Christianity. The details include the “Two - tumbler” mode of serving tea in village tea shops – one – the steel ones for upper castes and the other glass ones for the others.

The whole story revolves around how the caste factors playing pivotal role in all aspects of the region. In the process you get an insight into the struggles of the younger generation caught in the cross fire, their own perceptions and dreams, their confusions over elders’ assertions the clash of convictions and so on.

The work has an excellent back drop in the stories of the families involved. The technique presents a concise social history of Tamilnadu, enveloping a span of three to four decades, while the novel’s contemporary plot runs undercurrent as the story unfolds back and forth between the past and the present.

Tamils who have gone through the spasms of this transition period between the past, the traditions and the contemporary, will certainly identify a lot with the central characters.

What gives me a sense of satisfaction is that the author has made it a point to stick to reality throughout the narration and the story itself. Even the ending, I feel, he has avoided the “cliché` closure” to the story - either deliberately or he resisted a temptation to give a “lived – happily – ever - after ending. The concluding chapters when Ebenezer is taken for a ride by all religious extremists do tug your heart. The reality of our contemporary society is shown to you in very candid and unpretentious words, completely stripped off any nuances and “nice talks”.

In the end, Ebenezer chooses to walk alone – sans any religion.

A very readable novel – plus points from my perspectives are the lucid style and the penchant to stick to reality.


Books for Change
Price: Rs.350
US$ 22

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