Sunday 10 April 2016

Book Review- The Curse of Damini by Debajani Mohanty

The moment I picked up Debajani Mohanty's debut novel "The Curse of Damini", and read the back cover blob which talked of a historic pre-Independence setting, I was sure of two things. One, an extensive detailing of the Bengali culture and the rustic rural settings, and two, a definite inspiration from Tagore's works and stories. So, that part didnt come as a surprise or a novelty factor to me.
Yet, I will give full credits to Debajani, its very tough to recreate and reinterpret what Tagore has already done so perfectly. Even a director of the stature of Anurag Basu wasnt so perfect in capturing the maestro's stories and the vibrant atmosphere he built up in them. But where everyone mostly fails, Debajani succeeds. So, +1 for that.

The book is feminist to the core, a topic which I appreciate and find a lot of interest in reading. Debjani has very smartly kept away from pseudo feminist ideas and her protagonist Renuka fights with the system and the society surrounding her, keeping her identity and valor intact. I was aware that the setting being pre-Independence rural Bengal, a small town of Medinipur, the problems a strong willed girl would face and fight would be the very problems we have grown up reading about . I wasnt exatcly disappointed to see the same problems surfacing in Debajani's book. However, I expected more clever solutions to those problems, more imagination from Renuka. I was a bit disappointed in Debajani using the same old methods to fight those problems, same old theatricals and approaches. So, -1 for that.

The book begins on a very high pitch and strong grounds. Debajani has very cleverly arched out the characters of Renuka and her strong willed husband. Its always a pleasure to read books where demure spouses gradually rise above the stature of their level headed partners. I mean thats a character arch, where the protagonists make an impression isnpite of the risk of getting overshadowed. And for most of the part Debajani succeeds in the same. But then, all of a sudden you cannot make the same level headed character say something totally out of his league, just to make a point.

The first half is splendid, the reader completely gets lost in the aura of the Havelis and the pompousness of the zamindars of those times and the little neatly explained detailing of the Bengali culture. The terror of communal violence is beautifully explained not via those who got killed, but by those who lived and that deserves a special mention.
The story begins to falter in the second half a bit. Introductions of certain characters and re-introduction of a few break the momentum and all of a sudden there is another feminist character who is confused yet determined.

Overall, I enjoyed reading the book, specifically for the detailed explanations by Debajani of the scenic beauty of Medinipur, the villagers, their antics, their customs and rituals. The character of Damini is the spice of the story as Debajani has very intelligently used her character.
I would give 3.5/5 stars for the book. Its a must read.

You can buy the book from Amazon

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