Red Earth and Pouring Rain – Vikram Chandra

Aprils Close Encounters “Books Without Pictures” book was Red Earth and Pouring Rain by Vikram Chandra.

Red Earth and Pouring Rain, on its surface, is the tale of a young Indian man, Aphay, who having returned to India from America, shoots a monkey who regularly visits his parental home for food, however, a spirit is awoken within the monkey as it is nursed back to health by Aphay’s parents, it is the spirit of Sanjay Parashar a poet who has to bargain with the Gods to extend his life, his payment? To tell a story and keep Lord Yama at bay.

His story is told throughout the book, which jumps back and forth over a couple of centuries covering everything from pre-English rule Hindustan, prior to Sanjay’s birth, the key figures at that time, both real and fictional, through his birth alongside his “brothers” Sikander and Chotto through to Aphay’s time studying in America, his falling in love but ultimately in him returning home and his fateful conflict with a white monkey who had stolen his jeans from the washing line.

This is over simplifying the tale that is told within the pages of Chandra’s writings, even referring to it as a “tale” is to also over simplify things, as Red Earth and Pouring Rain is a whole bunch of tales with a wide variety of key characters and voices all told within an amalgamation of tales themselves. We are told of the Gods, of war, heroes and villains, love, death and everything in between and in the hands of a lesser author it could all have so easily have gone awry. That’s not to say that Red Earth and Pouring Rain isn’t a challenging read, it can be difficult to keep up with who is who and what has happened to each of the characters and at what point in history certain events take place. I also felt I may have had more of a grasp of things if I’d had more of an education in regards to India, its history and the religious upbringings of its people, as thing stand we’re not even taught about England’s involvement in the area (and it wasn’t until the recent episode of Doctor Who that I knew anything of the Partition of India for example) so reading this has been an eye opener really.

I’ve struggled to take much more from the it really, I’m not sure if its trying to say anything in particular, and again, I can’t help but thinking that my very white working class upbringing has played its hand there, not that that excuses my ignorance, but I’m definitely glad that Red Earth and Pouring Rain came up as otherwise I wouldn’t have known is existence, let alone read it, as its most definetly outside of the kind of book I’d normally pick up and read.

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