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Friday, August 17, 2012

The Tattooed Fakir by Biman Nath - A Review

Set in 18th Century colonial India, The Tattooed Fakir tells the story of the uprising by fakirs and sanyasis against the British rule, from a viewpoint of the villagers and the sahibs of Jahangirpur, Bengal.

When the wife of Asif, a peasant, is kidnapped by the local Indigo plantation owner MacLean, he sees only one way to rescue his wife - to become a fakir. He runs away to the nearby mountains, where the fakirs have setup their camp to organize the fight against the British. While the fakirs wage their fight throughout Bengal, his wife, Roshanara, gives birth to a baby boy. The boy grows up in the care of the French manager and his sister. The kid grows up and join his father's band of fakirs, and they set out to take revenge on the sahib and the zamindar who destroyed their lives.

Biman Nath has definitely taken up a little known topic from the Indian independence movement, which happened half a century before the First war of Indian Independence of 1857. He dives into the details of the struggles of the fakirs, and how they go about organizing their skirmishes which kept the local British authorities on their toes for more than two decades.

As mentioned, this novels spans close to over two decades. And this is exactly where 'The Tattooed Fakir' falters. None of the characters, even the tattooed fakir, is developed properly. Also, throughout the novel, we get different and contrasting pictures of each of the characters. For example, when we start pitying Asif, the estranged husband, he takes off to the other side of India to Mysore, in what seems to be a fool-hardy operation to learn rocket technology from Tipu Sultan (though the author acknowledges that there's no historical proof of such a liaison between fakirs of Bengal and Tipu of Mysore). But it seems ridiculous that a man who was blinded with rage took more than seven years to even plan for a rescue operation.

The climax of the story is weak and does not keep with the rest of the writing. It seemed to me that the author wanted to end the story somehow, and resorted to a mediocre ending.

Biman Nath had taken up a story with a lot of potential, and he could have even turned it into a series. Instead, he has tried to cut the story short, and tell us all he had in mind in less than 270 pages. This has produced an average novel, good enough for a read if you are forced to spend some hours alone in a train or at an airport.


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