Author: Ira Singh
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
Price: Rs 299
After the scintillating success of her first widely-acclaimed novel The Surveyor Ira Singh, an eminent professor of English from the Delhi University, once again dips her quill in the ink and presents another work of great literary merit Pilgrimage to the aficionados of the genre of fiction. Unfortunately, ours is a nation with very fragile religious sentiments.
In fact, it has become a sacrosanct taboo in recent times. Most of the religious fanatics experience no qualms or scruples about raising ruckus in the name of God. But without ruffling the feathers of any religious community, the author gingerly takes potshots on this roadside rowdyism of the ‘devotee’ kanwariyas who put the ordinary travelers to extraordinary travails.
Monica, the protagonist of the novel, with her critically ill father in an ambulance, gets stuck up in a traffic logjam caused by an impenetrable kanwariyas’ procession. The ensuing altercation between the agitated daughter and the head of the devotees’ group in the first segment Pilgrimage is not a mere figment of writer’s fertile imagination. Much to our chagrin, the lives of many ailing patients are often snuffed out on their way to the hospitals simply because of such blocks and barricades on the Indian roads. The over-religiosity of the devotees often makes life difficult for commoners and they are unnecessarily harassed. The second segment of the novel ‘Transgression’ transports the readers from the contemporary times of Monica into her bygone times in a girls’ hostel. It depicts her audacious foray into the world of drug addicts but with an altogether different design. As a social renegade, an iconoclast and a rebellious woman defying the old- fossilized dogmatic conventions of her family, Monica chooses to stay out of the fetters of marital alliance. She deserts her home to take up a course in psychology. Assigned with the task of conducting the case study of the drug junkies, she meets the family of her subjects. But during her frequent visits to the family of the hard-core drug addicts, she happens to forge a profound emotional connection with them. Thus, the subjects of her research are no more just subjects now. They become close pals. The narrative reaches its climax when Monica is smitten with Ajay a heroin addict from the same family. But their love fails to culminate into an abiding bond of marriage as Ajay again slips into the bottomless quagmire of intoxicants and dies an untimely death. This part of the novel also agonizingly focuses on the menace of deadly drugs highlighting the predicament of their preys. The narrative moves backwards in time and space and, thus, the final segment Punishment sheds a flood of light on the adolescent years of Monica at her parents’ home and reveals how she is brought up under the strict patriarchal checks.
Indubitably, Ira Singh has a knack of painting pictures in words and portraying lifelike characters with a subtle sense of probability and acceptability to which Aristotle remarkably alludes in his magnum opus ‘Poetics’. Each line of the novel has been crafted with utmost sublimity and grandeur, lending the narrative the charms of a literary masterpiece.