Free Press Journal

The Friendless God by S. Anuradha: Review


Book: The Friendless God

Author: S Anuradha

Publisher: Moonlight Books

Pages: 351; Price: Rs 325

The Friendless God – an intriguing title. Not because the God has no friends, but because it makes one wonder why God would need friends.

This is clarified fairly early on in the novel. It is a part of the lyrics of a hymn being sung for Lord Rama. Our young and naïve protagonist, Kodanda, hears these words and wonders why the Lord is friendless. It also marks the beginning of his obsession with Lord Rama and his yearning to see him. A fairly simple task, one would think, but there is a twist in the tale.

Kodanda’s mother, Vaidehi, is a vehement atheist. She has raised him alone and has done an excellent job of keeping him away from every form of religious influence. Vaidehi’s absolute hold on Kodanda’s life starts to slip with the arrival of Raman into their lives.

Raman is a classmate and friend to Kodanda. He is an uncomplicated self-starter who goes where the path takes him. His life gets some direction when he finally meets his mentor, Dasharatha, the politician.

The early part of the book is pleasantly meandering. The setting moves from a small village in Tamil Nadu to a similarly small town in Andhra Pradesh. Vaidehi, an abandoned wife and fledgling singer, becomes further disillusioned with her life when she receives discouraging feedback on her public performances. Her only child, Kodanda inadvertently keeps running into the cusp of religious knowledge and is deftly pulled back and redirected by his mother. Never mind that his wings are being clipped in the process. Meanwhile, Raman grows up and takes charge of his life. He tries to take Kodanda along for a while but soon gives up, in the face of the formidable Vaidehi.

Raman moves from job to job. The author takes us behind the scenes and gives us insights into what it takes to be a salesman at a garment shop to working in a coal mine. After an eye-opening encounter with the local Maoist rebels, Raman finally finds favour with a politician and semblance of stability, for a while at least.

Kodanda’s character is low-key but by no means a slacker. His mother directs and redirects his life, time and again. Brief forays into a technical school, learning music, handloom fabric craft, printing, gardening all end in failure or are unceremoniously terminated by his mother. The turning point comes when Kodanda quietly rebels. It almost appears that he is unaware of his own actions, led solely by his desire to see his object of affection and fascination. What follows is a journey across India to the birthplace of Lord Rama. The change is scene is vividly brought alive through the sights and sounds; the change in food, language, climate and even the way hymns are sung. The kindness of strangers helps Kodanda several times along the way. These incidents form poignant high points in the second half of the book. His luck finally seems to be changing. Serendipity brings Raman and Dasharatha to the same place at the same time.

The Friendless God is a dispassionate, non-partisan narrative of ordinary lives in small-town India and the impact the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement had on them. The author skilfully creates diverse personalities and takes us on an insider’s tour of the hinterlands of India. The various sub-plots are like the proverbial mini-skirt – long enough to cover the important parts but short enough to maintain interest. The incidents in the latter part of the book are heartwarming. Especially the one where Raman is fed a meal cooked by a bunch of veiled woman and he expresses his thanks in the only way he knows.

Reading a book based on the events of the Babri Masjid is like watching the movie Titanic. You know beforehand what will happen in the end. What you don’t know is who it will happen to. You get invested in the characters. You flinch when life slaps them. Their setbacks remind you of your own failures, big and small. Their frustrations stir uneasy memories in your mind. Their escapes make you catch your breath – will they make it or will their nemesis catch up with them? It’s these beautifully etched details that keep the book going. Read it to find out who sinks and who is saved.