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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Jai Hind! India's Revolution in Freedom of the Monsoon


I encountered Malika Ghandi reaching out to readers on Goodreads to promote her historical fiction, Freedom of the Monsoon.  I consider it important to give a chance to new indie writers when they have work that seems unusual to me.  I also thought this was a good opportunity to read a novel taking place in India dealing with how the British Raj was brought to an end.  I had never read about this period in India’s history.  So I expected to learn a great deal from this book, and that this would provide me with substantive content for this blog. 

                                                     
It's from Freedom of the Monsoon that I learned that Mahatma Gandhi developed his philosophy of satyagraha as a result of facing apartheid in South Africa.  I located his book  on the subject in pdf format, Satyagraha in South Africa  Readers should be aware that this book is almost five hundred pages in pdf.

Before I read Malika Ghandi's book I already knew that the satyagraha approach  has been a model for many protest actions since then.  I could see its continuing influence in this book.  The echoes of the Quit India movement in demonstrations during the 1960’s and in recent actions of the U.S. Occupy movement were clearly visible.  Satyagraha means non-violent resistance.  Yet the response of the authorities to non-violent protest can be violent which can result in protesters fighting back.  Reading how violence arose from non-violence in India has helped me to understand how it happened in local Occupy actions.  One evidence for the continuing  influence of satyagraha in India is the wheel in the center of India's flag.  According to The Flag of India on I Love India. com , the 24 spoke wheel in the center of the flag of India is called the Ashoka Chakra.  This web page quotes Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, India's  first Vice President as saying that the Ashoka Chakra wheel symbolizes "the dynamism of peaceful change".  It seems to me that the satyagraha philosophy is all about peaceful change.  It is much admired by enlightened people throughout the world.

Another cross-cultural commonality that I found in Malika Ghandi’s book  was the divo or “divine flame” that is lit by families for their departed members.  Catholics light candles for the dead in churches and on home altars.  Jews light Yohrzeit candles to mark the anniversaries of family deaths. 

The character perspectives in Freedom of the Monsoon were intimate and powerful.  I identified with the struggles of nearly all of these characters.  When we see Pooja and other women suffer abuse, we realize that India had problems other than being colonized.  We also see English who are portrayed sympathetically, but it’s obvious that these were exceptional individuals who are capable of treating people of another culture as equals.  I also found it interesting to read about English characters speaking of India as a refuge during WWII with London having been devastated by bombing.  That is not a point of view that had occurred to me previously. 

This novel  briefly deals with the Sepoy Revolt of 1857. It was an event that occurred about fifty years previous to Freedom of the Monsoon.  Sepoys were soldiers from India who had been conscripted into the British military.  Although their revolt had a number of causes, it was precipitated by gun cartridges that were greased with cow and pig fat. Since Sepoys  needed to bite the cartridge to release the powder, the beef grease was offensive to Hindus who consider cows sacred, and the pig grease offended Muslims who are forbidden to eat pigs. Wikipedia states in its article on Mangal Pandey, the Sepoy who began the revolt, at Mangal Pandey on Wikipedia  that this was only a rumor, and that these cartridges were really greased with beeswax and linseed oil.  There are notes included with that section of the article that point out that there are no sources given for this information.  There is also a well-sourced Wikipedia article at  Indian Revolt of 1857  which confirms that some cartridges were greased with animal fat. This illustrates that Wikipedia is selectively useful, and that the Sepoys had a legitimate religious discrimination complaint.

My only problem with Freedom of the Monsoon is that Goa, a city in India that was ruled by the Portuguese, seemed to be portrayed as if it were idyllic.  I recognize that a book that is tightly focused on character perspectives will only show you the viewpoints of those characters.  Nevertheless, Malika Ghandi presented historical material about the British Raj and how the people of India were impacted by it.  I would have appreciated seeing a bit of historical perspective on Goa.  A historical fantasy called Goa: Blood of the Goddess by Kara Dalkey which I read some time ago, deals centrally with the Inquisition in Goa in the 16th century.  A page at Goa.com about the Portuguese Conquest of Goa  says that the Portuguese massacred the entire Muslim community when they first occupied Goa, and that Hindus in Goa were forcibly converted to Christianity from 1540-1759.  Tolerance for Hinduism was established in Goa in 1759 when the Jesuits were banned, but it doesn't erase the fact that Hindus had been persecuted in Goa for more than two centuries.  Wouldn't this history have an impact on how Hindu Goans would have viewed Portuguese rule?  I am also aware that Goa and other Portuguese colonial possessions did not join the rest of India in independence in 1947.

Although I feel that my criticism of the portrayal of Goa is significant , I think that the novel as a whole is a strong one.  I was moved by the characters' experiences.  I would also like to thank Malika Ghandi for teaching me so much about India's history and culture.

I really liked the fact that Hindi and Gujarati words were linked to their English translations in the glossary.  This was a very user friendly format.  If I had been reading a print version of Freedom of the Monsoon, I would have spent extra time searching through the glossary rather than going directly to the right word.  Through this glossary I was able to build a small vocabulary in Hindi and Gujarati.

                                              






4 comments:

  1. A note from the author:
    Thank you so much for this brilliant review. I liked your extensive research of India's history - points/topics triggered from Freedom of the Monsoon. I agree with you in regards to Goa's history, but to include a lot of that in the book, would have caused a loss of focus of the current issue/plot of that certain chapter.

    You have obviously gone through more research on India's history and I applaud you of that. I am glad to see that Freedom of the Monsoon is an inspiration to you to do just that.

    Again, thank you.

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  2. Glad to read your interview and to know India's history through your eyes. I'm following you now, and hope you too will follow me.

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  3. Lakshmi, I am now following you via e-mail and I have downloaded your book, A Difficult Decision.

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  4. I wanted to let you know that I have nominated you for the Versatile Blog award! All of the info can be found on the awards page of The Things You Can Read at: http://www.thethingsyoucanread.blogspot.com/p/awards_31.html

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