Coal Miners squelch like wet puppies to The Sound of Water

May 20, 2009, 07:58 IST | Manish Gaekwad

Title: The Sound of Water Published by: Roli Books Author: Sanjay Bahadur

Title: The Sound of Water
Published by: Roli Books
Author: Sanjay Bahadur

One look at the cover art of Sanjay Bahadur's novel, The Sound of Water and you know you are on treacherous ground. "Six lives, two worlds, one hell" this could have been the poster of a disaster film. As the adage goes, do not judge this book by the cover.

It's crisply written, alternating between two worlds; the real and the nether, encompassing the lives of a bunch of hard nut labourers working in a tenebrous coal mine, who get trapped when water from an encroaching lake spills in and swallows them in a violent burst.

While it should have helped that the book has been longlisted for the Man Asian literary prize in 2007, yet, it's unheard of even in 2009. This could have something to do with the theme of the book, based on miners which isn't quite as glamourous as perhaps the toxic flamingoes of Siddharth Dhanvant Sanghvi taking over Mumbai's salmon-tinted sky raining rose petals.

And unlike a Vikas Swarup, who does not have to live in a slum to whip up an escapist Q&A, Bahadur has worked as a director in the Ministry of Coal, which gives a verity to his writing, not bordering on the fantastical even when slipping into alternate realism.

The gloomy setting of the coal mines becomes a Kafkaesque metaphor for his wretched characters to seek the light within. This could have been a Heart of Darkness type novel had Bahadur canalized his writing through the plight of one main character, but he fritters away by allowing every one in the book to plunge into the pit of a coal mine, if not by death, then by peering into it as a sort of wishing well to change fortunes.

What are his chances with this book heralding a new voice in Indian writing? Look at the odds: here's a "Bahadur" descending into a coal mine (a peculiar choice of name for a mining writer), titling his book, The Sound of Water, which is tepid, since it appears to be a dissertation by a water tasting professor. What if this book was called, The Scent of Water? You would be tempted to pick it up, even if just to rub your nose into its pages, to sniff out the elixir of life aqua lust.

Published by Roli Books for
Rs 195. Available at all leading bookstores.

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