Shelves: hard-tack , political-animal Thank god this is short stories, so I was able to pause between the resounding slap of each delineated life. Living in India would be pretty bad, "local color" aside, right? But perhaps you might try, with a book like this. This book is angry like a furnace about caste, baksheesh, poverty and poshlost. I think they work in this context, and the writing is beautiful even when describing the ugly.
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It is bounded by the Arabian Sea to the west, and by the Kaliamma river to the south and east. The terrain of the town is hilly; the soil is black and mildly acidic. The monsoons arrive in June and besiege the town through September. The following three months are dry and cool and are the best time to visit Kittur.
The station is dim, dirty, and littered with discarded lunch bags into which stray dogs poke their noses; in the evening, the rats emerge. He is the spiritual leader of a local Jain sect that runs a free hospital and lunch-room in the town. The famous Kittamma Devi temple, a modern structure built in the Tamil style, stands on the site where an ancient shrine to the goddess is believed to have existed.
It is within walking distance of the train station and is often the first port of call of visitors to the town. None of the other shopkeepers near the railway station would hire a Muslim, but Ramanna Shetty, who ran the Ideal Store, a tea-and-samosa place, had told Ziauddin it was okay for him to stay.
Provided he promised to work hard. And keep away from all hanky-panky. The little, dust-covered creature let its bag drop to the ground; a hand went up to its heart. He boiled tea for the customers in an enormous, pitted stainless-steel kettle, watching with furious concentration as the water seethed, overspilled, and sizzled into the gas flame. Periodically, he dug his palm into one of the battered stainless-steel boxes at his side to toss black tea powder, or a handful of white sugar, or a piece of crushed ginger into the brew.
He sucked in his lips, held his breath, and with his left forearm tipped the kettle into a strainer: hot tea dripped through its clogged pores into small, tapering glasses that sat in the slots of a carton originally designed to hold eggs.
Later, the men would see him squatting by the side of the shop, soaking dishes in a large trough filled with murky bilge water; or wrapping greasy samosas in pages ripped from college trigonometry textbooks so they could be home-delivered; or scooping the gunk of tea leaves out of the strainer; or tightening, with a rusty screwdriver, a loose nail in the back of a chair.
Late in the evening, just as Ramanna Shetty was ready to close up, Thimma, a local drunk, who had bought three cigarettes every night, would roar with delight to see Ziaud din, his bum and thighs pressed against the giant fridge, shoving it back into the shop, inch by inch.
Take a guess. He was the sixth of eleven children from a farm-labouring family up in the north of the state; as soon as the rains ended his father had put him on a bus, with instructions to get off at Kittur and walk around the market until someone took him in. On Sunday, at noon, Ramanna pulled down the shutters, and slowly rode his blue-and-cream-coloured Bajaj scooter over to the Kittamma Devi temple, letting the boys follow on foot.
Four months later, when Ziauddin came back, he had developed vitiligo, and pink skin streaked his lips and speckled his fingers and earlobes. The baby fat in his face had evaporated over the summer; he returned lean and sun burned, and with a wildness in his eyes.
At night, Thimma hugged him several times, and then slipped him two paise coins which Ziauddin accepted silently, sliding them into his trousers. Thimma asked the shopkeeper if he was joking. Gritting his teeth, Ziauddin had begun pushing the fridge into the shop with the back of his legs.
Ziauddin had stopped his work. The shopkeeper explained that Ziauddin was now spouting this Pathan-Wathan gibberish all the time; he thought the boy must have picked it up from some mullah in the north of the state.
Thimma roared. This time Ziauddin had been caught red-handed. Did you steal it? Tell me the truth this time and I might give you another chance. Then Ramanna howled: he raised one of his fingers, which was bleeding.
He publicly swore never to work for a Hindu again. New Muslim restaurants were being opened at the far side of the railway station, where the Muslim immigrants were settling, and Ziauddin found work in one of these restaurants. They wondered what on earth had happened to him. In the end, Ziauddin picked fights with the other porters, got kicked out of the train station too, and wandered aimlessly for a few days, cursing Hindu and Muslim alike.
Then he was back at the station, carrying bags on his head again. He was a good worker; everyone had to concede that much. And there was plenty of work now for everyone. Several trains full of soldiers had arrived in Kittur — there was talk in the market that a new army base was being set up on the route to Cochin — and for days after the soldiers left, freight trains followed in their wake, carrying large crates that needed to be offloaded.
Ziauddin shut his mouth, and carried the crates off the train and out of the station, where army trucks were waiting to load them. He woke up with his nostrils twitching: the smell of soap was in the air. Rivulets of foam and bubble flowed beside him. A line of thin black bodies were bathing at the edge of the platform.
The fragrance of their foam made Ziauddin sneeze. Leave me alone! Some of us are Hindus! A coolie? He wore a clean white business shirt and grey cotton trousers and everything about him smelled of money; this drove the other porters wild, and they crowded around him, still covered in lather, like men with a horrible disease gathering around a doctor who might have a cure.
But he rejected them all and walked up to the only porter who was not covered in lather. After sticking his tongue out at the other porters, Zia set off with the stranger. The two of them walked towards the cheap hotels that filled the roads around the station. Stopping at a building that was covered in signs — for electrical shops, chemists, pharmacists, plumbers — Ziauddin pointed out a red sign on the second floor.
You have gone into the countryside and seen life there, unlike ninety per cent of our writers. Kittur, the fictional coastal town "between Goa and Calicut" which serves as the backdrop to these linked stories, is said to have , residents. We meet upper-caste bankers and lower-caste rickshaw pullers, Muslim tea boys and Christian headmasters, capitalist factory owners and communist sidekicks. Adiga gives a human face to each of these characters. The book opens with the story of Ziauddin, one of "those lean lonely men with vivid eyes who haunt every train station in India". Each of the stories begins with a short touristy description of some section of the town, replete with anthropological detail; the anodyne blandness of the travel guide throws into relief the clutter and chaos of smalltown life, where "a subaltern army of semen, blood and flesh" jostles to survive. The title refers to the period between the assassination of Indira Gandhi and the killing in of her son, Rajiv Gandhi.
Between the Assassinations