Shashi Tharoor’s books, I have always loved. His writing never failed to appeal to me. The topics he chooses, are so relevant and his take, so sensible, so balanced, at least in my opinion. Riot was the only book of his that seemed to evade me since years. It had been recommended to me by loads of friends, I had been waiting to get hold of it. So the moment I found it at Landmark, I grabbed it.
Set during the turbulent times when the Babari Masjid was brought down, the book explores the ways in which emotions, politics, religious fanaticism change and end lives. Priscilla Hart, a young American woman is killed in a riot in a small Indian town called Zalilgarh. She was a volunteer with a non-governmental organisation working to increase the birth control awareness of the region. She gets killed during a riot. Her parents come down to India to find answers and take back what they can, of their daughter. Unknown to most of them, Priscilla has another story, she and the District Magistrate, Lakshman, were having an affair – one with no real future, though Priscilla wanted one. As the story progresses, more than one person seems to have a reason to get rid of Priscilla. Who killed Priscilla? Was she an innocent victim of the rage of the rioters? Was she just at the wrong place, at the wrong time? Read it to find out.
The story is told through journal entries, interviews with journalists, Priscilla’s letters, with all the characters having a means of expression. All the threads of the story running simultaneously. The story is much more than about Priscilla’s death. It is also a tale of the situation in India at that point in time. The fragmentation of society, the different lives, the different beliefs that make India, and the frustrations that built up, and what happens when people try to tap into religious sentiments to gain a few votes. The book also touches upon the politics and the nature of democracy in India, of how politicians use the excuse of popular sentiment to look the other way, and ignore injustice.
A wonderful book, a wonderful read, one that makes you think. Tharoor’s wonderful descriptions, his use of words makes his books such a pleasure to read. All the characters come alive, one can understand why Lakshman felt so lonely, Priscilla’s motivation, Gurinder’s(Lakshman’s IPS friend) story evokes so many strong emotions, each character has his or her own story, and despite that, the books moves at a very fast pace, keeping all the threads in hand. If you enjoy these types of books, ones where political history is interwoven with a story, I would recommend it. I thoroughly enjoyed it.