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Riot: A Love Story Hardcover – Import, 10 Sep 2001
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There is no finer guide through the multilayered intricacies of India's diverse ideologies than Tharoor, a longtime UN diplomat and celebrated author. His latest novel opens with the murder of Priscilla Hart, an American student killed during a riot while in India, who worked with impoverished women on reproductive and population control issues. When her parents travel to India to probe the events preceding her death, they are told of Hindu-Muslim conflicts over the Babri mosque, which is situated on sacred Hindu ground, and of a chaotic religious parade that spiraled into violence. In reality, Priscilla's death is a paradox of love and hatred, and there is more to her demise than anyone will ever reveal. This novel unravels in a spellbinding fashion, asking the question, What is stronger--love or tradition? Tharoor, whose previous works are fascinating explorations of India's social climate, here reaches gingerly through a haze of violence and offers India in his cupped palm like a tiny bird that has not yet spread its wings to find its destiny. Elsa Gaztambide
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Tharoor has written an ingenious story of the investigation into the mysterious death of a young American during a riot. -- Michelle Reale, Library Journal
Tharoor offers India in his cupped palm like a tiny bird that has not yet spread its wings. -- Elsa Gaztambide Booklist, 2001-08-01
Tharoor's story is about a larger topic--it is about the potential fragmentation of the secular Indian republic. -- Publishers Weekly, 2001-08-13
The author is impressively knowledgeable and perceptive about the subcontinent's history and current ills, including increasing intolerance of religious diversity. -- Kirkus Reviews
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The story, as indicated earlier, is about the death Ms. Priscilla Hart and the events preceding and following this unfortunate incident. Ms. Hart is an idealistic American student who comes to India as a volunteer for women's health program and is due to return to New York after finishing the field work for her doctoral research. Having survived a disturbed childhood, Ms Hart's idealistic views take a tumble when hit with the reality that exists in the by-lanes of the 'ghettos' of Zalilgarh. Amidst these blossoms an illegal affair that turns to be true love for Ms Hart and her 'spineless lover'! The love that blossomed in that dilapidated 'sunset room' of the abandoned mansion - Kotli, eventually ends in the death of Ms Hart at the same place. It is almost prophetic when Ms. Hart, in her letter to Cindy Valeriani, writes "it's the only place I love in Zalilgarh, and I'll rather die than give it up.....”
As for setting up the background, the author uses the riots that exploded between the Hindus & Muslims over the Ram Janmabhoomi issue. The plot of Ms Hart's death and the reason(s) thereof is interleaved with the riots itself. The events also introduce and reveal the characteristics of the various protagonists involved. Mr. Tharoor uses a unique style of story-telling through the use of 'flashbacks' personal diary notes, scrapbook entries, personal correspondences, interview transcripts, newspaper clippings, etc. Through these mediums, the author provides his reader a view of American sensibilities, their paranoia, the 'classic Indian mentality', the way of 'Indian life' among its poor, the moral sensibilities and objectives of India's middle-class, the ideologies of 'the rare and very few existent' bureaucratic officers, a police-officer's real reason to be a cop and continue as a cop, the corrupt mindset of India's fanatical politician, the factual errors of the so-called spineless think-tanks, the personal views intermingled with personal agenda of academic scholars, to name a few.
Riot also illustrates malevolent tensions between Hindus and Muslims in India and events that eventually ends up in a riot. The book also paints a very graphic picture of the ensuing mayhem which gives the rioters a license to kill and avenge and the very little that a state-administrator and a top-cop can do in such situations. Riot also questions the Indian citizen for his/her sensibilities, responsibilities and priorities. It also questions the ‘common man’ as in where do his ideologies and beliefs truly lie. Although the back-cover of the paperback describes the book as fiction, it’s hard to believe it to be one. Mr. Tharoor in fact acknowledges the contributions of Mr. Harsh Mander, IAS for his accounts on riots in Khargone, Madhya Pradesh; Prof. Shahid Amin of Delhi University for his work on Ghazi Miyan and Mr. Kisan Mehta for his efforts on Coca Cola in India. But, as a reader I couldn’t stop myself from comparing the protagonist District Magistrate Mr. V. Lakshman and the author himself.
Riot displays a Rashomon-effect storytelling, but doesn’t entirely convince the approach. Certain diary entries and personal correspondences don’t seem to be entirely in a format that is expected to that form, but rather appears as an edited one. All things said, the book is a good-read and certainly one for the shelf; although not recommended for a reader who is on the look-out for a straight who-dun-it! On another note, being a Mumbaikar, the book brings out the disturbing memories of 1992, when my Mumbai burnt.
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