Minority’s insecurities

by Amrita Kumar.
Pages 261. Rs 295. 

Amrita Kumar’s novel, Damage comes at a time when the nation is rocked by the dilemma of religious and cultural identity. The writer has highlighted the brutal attacks on Christians and explored the causes of the ire behind the hate attacks.

Articles 25-28 of the Constitution give the minorities the right to follow, propagate and profess their religion without any duress. These are sacred fundamental rights, enshrined in the Constitution. Yet, the recent attacks on Christians in different parts of India have left them
worried and vulnerable.

Amrita weaves the story of a Christian family — Beatrice and her four daughters — around this reality. Beatrice is associated with the Christian missionaries. While three of her daughters are married and have moved away while the youngest — Gudda — the main protagonist, stays with Beatrice. As her sisters are busy in their lives, Gudda is rudderless and confused. She moves from the house to escape from all that she does not like — the surroundings, her mother’s thoughts and her way of life.

Gudda ends up marrying a Hindu. This inter-faith marriage comes as a shock to her mother, Beatrice, who banishes her. Gudda has damaged the family’s name by marrying a Hindu, so she is disinherited by her mother and her name is struck off her will.

Unfortunately, Gudda’s marriage breaks and she is forced to return to her mother’s house. Meanwhile, age has caught up with Beatrice who is frail, ill and needs care. Beatrice knows Gudda’s predicament and despite her own poor health refuses to let go the keys to the house. Gudda is not rankled by this attitude, nor does she hanker for control —she just wants to live a meaningful life. She understands her mother’s need for independence and does not want to interfere.

Gudda’s sisters, too, see her return as a threat to their share in the property. Then starts a tale of deception, lies and plans to hoodwink each other. Gudda, the black sheep of the family, has to face the wrath of her sisters.

Nobody pays attention to the unusual surroundings in which Gudda has been brought up. Beatrice was involved with the Christian missionaries and had forced Gudda to be a part of the belief. Beatrice’s house provided shelter to the missionaries, who came from other parts of the world to India to spread the Word. At a young age, Gudda was exposed to people of all hues and colour. Each left an impact on her. She resisted being a part of the sermons, prayers and services and thus won her mother’s disapproval.

Their thinking is poles apart yet the two women, one with no place to go and the other with failing health, are forced to stay together under one roof. Gudda becomes obsessed about finding her roots that are traced to the Dahriya clan that hails from Rajasthan. The court battles with her sisters, her failed marriage and her mother make her feel helpless. She copes with all the stress, trying to build a new life for herself. Is she able to do so?

It is right to conclude that the novel is, ‘a darkly humorous and provocative work of fiction that explores the fragile nature of secularism.’ The book is absorbing, but dreary. The written word convinces to the extent that one can actually feel the suffocating environment of Beatrice’s house. The unkempt garden, the stinking drain, the negative vibes leave the reader with a sense of despair.

The atmosphere in the novel is gloomy and along with showing the moth-eaten fabric of secularism also reflects the fragile nature of family system in India. The Courts in India are burdened with litigation regarding property disputes among siblings. But yes, there are pleasant moments in the life of each family, none of which have been captured by the writer.

The humour that is supposed to make one ponder makes one squirm. Perhaps that is the aim of the writer. The events, though, link with one another and there is continuity in thought.