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The novel is set in the India of the 1950's in the northernmost part of the State of West Bengal. It is a time of change and uncertainty. India has just recently become independent and a democratic republic. The Constitution of India has come into force. Nehru’s “Tryst with destiny…” is just beginning.
It was a time of great transition when there were still a few of the British left as managing agents and managers of tea gardens. The old generation of the members of the Indian Civil Service appointed in the colonial era was still in high positions of authority, while the new generation of young Indian Administrative Service officers was just taking charge.
You are transported into an India of 60 years ago in this realistic and absorbing depiction by B.S. Raghavan of the subtle inter-generational and inter-racial conflicts and friendships among the new rulers and business interests when the old order was yielding place to the new:
“The words of my book nothing, the drift of it everything. A book separate, not link’d with the rest nor felt by the intellect. But you ye untold latencies will thrill to every page.”
Rajan was relaxing with Arthur W. Ryder’s translation of the Panchatantra when his younger brother, Saranyan, a final year law student entered. Rajan was back home at Madras from West Bengal on a leave of four months after five years. He was still finding it hard to bring things to focus. Saranyan, for instance, whom he had last seen as a tiny undergraduate now discussed bulky tomes on jurisprudence. Worse! He had grown a thick moustache—a sacrilege on South Indian vegetarian Brahmin traditions! Let me pass the evening at this expense, decided Rajan.
He asked: “Have you finished the course in Constitutional law?”
“Then you must have heard of the two momentous rulings In re Clifford Rerrie? The Doctrine of Person-Citizen Tangle and Newton-on-the-Bench’s First law?”
Saranyan’s brows collided. Emerging from painful efforts at recollection, he said shamefacedly, “It just happens I don’t remember the rulings you mention. Who was Rerrie anyway? Do you know him?”
“If I don’t, who would?”, answered Rajan, and continued enigmatically: “In a way I am responsible for those decisions which, I presume, are world-shaking for you chaps. He was a tall, good looking Englishman, auburn hair neatly swept back, blue eyes given to fluttering, cheeky chin. We were thrown together in Jalpaiguri, you know, in what may be christened annus mirabilis.”
Saranyan hated this mystifying manner of indulging in anecdotage; but if he protested, his elder brother would only be flattered and make matters worse. So, he contented himself with the question, “How come?”
“Clifford Rerrie was the manager of one of the tea gardens in Jalpaiguri district. What I am going to narrate is a tale…..” Rajan with an impatient wave of his hand anticipated Saranyan’s comment and went on: “…… a tantrum, if you prefer it that way, of people trapped in situations for which, by temperament, they weren’t made. Of course, Mallik had to be killed, for, besides being a member of what your J.B. Priestly would have called Topsidery, he was a Tarantula, you see. Lawrence, elusive as an eel, extremely clever, misguided Mallik and Griggs. Rafiq was a willing victim of a melodrama. Am I making myself clear?”
“Perfectly!”, responded Saranyan. “All the same, it will be clearer if you oblige me by beginning at the beginning.”
Rajan thought it was a good idea and put the Panchatantra aside.....
B.S. RAGHAVAN, IAS (Retd), formerly: Chief Secretary, Tripura; Director, Political & Security Policy Planning, Ministry of Home Affairs, India; Chairman-cum-Managing Director of four major public sector enterprises; Policy Adviser to UN(FAO), former US Congressional Fellow; Chancellor of Jharkhand State ICFAI University.
At present he is a columnist, The Hindu Business Line and on the Board of Governors of various educational and social service institutions