For fans of Aravind Adiga‘s unforgettable 2008 Booker Prized first novel, The White Tiger, who were perhaps not as enthralled with his 2011 follow-up, Last Man in Tower, might I suggest you look backward a few more years to his very first book? Introduced to eager readers just after Adiga’s Booker win, Between the Assassinations was actually written before Tiger in spite of getting to the presses a little later.
With intriguing cleverness, Assassinations is an interlinked short story collection, presented as something like a tourist guide, introduced with a town map and a note, “Arriving in Kittur.” Located between Goa and Calicut on India’s southwestern coast, the three months following the monsoon season which ends in September “are the best time to visit Kittur. Given the town’s richness of history and scenic beauty, and diversity of religion, race, and language, a minimum stay of a week is recommended,” the guide advises.
That seven-day set-up which Adiga used with such success in The White Tiger, works equally well here. Presented as a ‘what-to-do’ schedule during seven days and nights in Kittur, Adiga embellishes each suggested go-to location with a related narrative. On arriving the first day into the railway station, Adiga offers the story of a young Muslim boy who initially works in a nearby “tea-and-samosa place” and moves from job to job – for awhile counting all the incoming and outgoing trains for a seemingly fancy stranger – unsure of his coming future.
On Day Two, you might go to Lighthouse Hill and see what happens when a bookseller who’s already been arrested 21 times for offering illegally photocopied books begins to sell Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. In the evening, you might visit the Market and Maidan, and meet Keshava who came from a small village two years ago, only to learn how disposable human life can be in a big city. On Day Four, Umbrella Street – Kittur’s commercial center – will introduce you to Chenayya who is not so young, who needs all his energy to deliver furniture throughout the city. On Day Five while you stroll by the Cathedral of Our Lady of Valencia, you might meet George who is convinced a “princess” will save him from a life of drudgery. On Day Seven at the Salt Market Village, perhaps you’ll see Murali, who at 55, might be coming to the realization that he has wasted his privileged life for an uncompromising cause when what he really longs for is a family of his own.
Populating streets, buildings, and neighborhoods with an array of characters with multiple stories – hopeful and bittersweet both – Adiga presents a multi-dimensional view of a bustling town on the verge of drastic change, caught at the crossroads of inescapable backgrounds and fresh new ideas. If you choose to visit Kittur aurally, rest assured that narrator Harsh Nayyar literally breathes life into Adiga’s workers and dreamers, politicians and escapists, students and fathers. Go ahead, take the trip – travel couldn’t be easier: by book or by iPod, Kittur awaits.