|Image Courtesy: Penguin Books|
Author: Chatura Rao
At the heart of it, "Meanwhile, Upriver" by Chatura Rao is a simple book. It is a simple tale of two outsiders who swim against the current of the Ganga. The author Chatura Rao is a familiar name among children's fiction, so this is her first attempt at writing for adults. Temporally, the book is set in the bylanes and ghats of Varanasi.
The story unfolds through Yamini Trivedi, a Maths teacher who is 38 and single who finds love when she meets Duncan Thewlis, a part-time dance instructor and a foreigner. Duncan is also a part-time writer who is in the city to write a book about the Ganges and the city itself. Running parallel to her story is that of 11 year old Shiva, who is believed to have been washed up against his foster father, Sadhu Bhyomkesh, an ambitious and charismatic sadhu. He lives in an ashram in Dashwaswamedh Ghat and passes his day in the hope that he can find his mother some day.
On the face of it, the book has a very simplistic feel with a child-like appeal to it. The stories of Yamini and Shiva are dealt in alternating chapters which eventually crisscross when their lives meet and merge into one story. The synopsis of the book says it is due to two outsiders who are outcasts and struggle to find answers and the courage to swim upriver against the stream.
The book has its moments as it describes the rival religious factions, bigotry and power mongering among the sadhus. There are vivid descriptions of the narrow lanes in Varanasi, the ashrams, the sanyasis, ghats and exuberant preparations for the annual Ramlila. In entirety, it is a poignant tale of love and politics as Ms. Rao's voice sounds very fresh.