"Kali’s Daughter" | A slice of society
Like the Narmada in spate, the book runs deep and turgid, plunging into the uncomfortable truths of pernicious pride and prejudice that surround caste in our society
On the surface, this is a story – and an engaging one, at that – of a young girl from a small town who enters the Foreign Service, her friendships, relationships and professional dilemmas. But Kali’s Daughter is considerably more than that. Like the Narmada in spate, it runs deep and turgid, and plumbs the uncomfortable truths of pernicious pride and prejudice that surround caste in our society; and it does this with a frankness and incisiveness that is as sharp as it is disturbing.
The story line is superbly crafted, weaving together a myriad caste-related incidents that we read in the newspapers into a coherent and interesting narrative. Clearly, the author has drawn on his experience as Secretary of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Tribes, and the access he had to rich documentation of events. Such an approach could have well degenerated into dull reportage. But not so. On the contrary, Chandra manages to hook the reader in the opening pages and never lets interest flag.
Chandra doesn’t shy away from telling it as it is. What is remarkable is that few of his characters are either just black or white. Through conversations and stories within the story, he touches on a gamut of thorny issues and taboos – reservations, beef-eating, professional merit, menial work, inter-caste marriage – and he does this without judgement, with an exposition of arguments in favour and contrary, leaving the discerning reader to make of it what she will.
But in the end, it is a powerful indictment of caste discrimination. One of the characters, a thakur himself, says: ‘Our great Indian head is stuffed with two big things: gobar and jaat. Laws can change, governments can change, but one thing never changes in India – our minds.’ As the story unfolds, one begins to see the truth of this.
Such a book could well have turned out to be sombre and depressing – but Chandra delivers a tale that is as interesting on personal humane level as it is in the larger societal dimension. The twists and turns in the plot keep you guessing about who will end up with whom, and what will become of the main characters after they leave the cocoon of the Academy of Administration.
Readers familiar with Madhya Pradesh and those from the Civil Services will find the book etched with echoes of authenticity; and the graphic depiction of the life of Officer Trainees during the joint foundation course in LBSNAA, could only have been written by one who has experienced it himself.
In more ways than one, this compelling story is an insider’s view of the contradictions in our society, the vulnerabilities of administrators, and the hypocrisies of the privileged. It is also a charming story of courage and hope that neatly ties up some loose ends and leaves others to the reader’s imagination. A book of our times that needs to be read!