This book lay on my book shelf for almost a year since I won it at the The Book Club’s Tornado2 event. Somehow, the book name gave a very depressing feeling about the contents of the book. And I felt, I am not interested in reading about a migrant labourer.
During the A to Z challenge this year, I got acquainted with Paromita’s blog in which she had documented the life of a 5 year old girl called Messy. Over the course of the month long challenge, I completely fell in love with Messy and Paromita’s writing which is crisp, clear and beautiful. I then decided to read up ‘The Shamsuddin’s Grave. ‘
I am so glad that I read this book. It has a very different subject than what you normally associate with Indian writers. It is the story of the migrant labourer Shamsuddin. But, it is also the story of Snehlata, a widow who lives alone, Mano who lives alone in Shillong, Latika, a divorcee and an NGO which runs in one of the poorest sections of society.
Shamsuddin lives, or rather boards at Snehlata’s house in Guwahati. He runs small errands for her. Her neighbours are appalled that she is allowing a Muslim man to stay at her house. Besides, being appalled, they are of not much use. But Snehlata is not bothered.
Shamsuddin is dirt poor with no roof over his head, no family to talk of. He himself thinks that he deserves it as he is ‘poor’ and then ‘Mian Muslim’ and does not constitute a vote bank. His only dream is to earn enough money and to build a house for himself and his family. It was this dream that had brought him from the village to the city of Guwahati. Open fields of his village is now replaced with slums in the city which are filthy, crisscrossed by open drains. The situation is grim but his dream keeps his hopes alive. Being illiterate and a lack of job opportunities, he finds it difficult to survive. The government benefits do not reach him as he is not even counted in the country population as he has no ration card or any identity proof.
When he visits his village after many years, he is in for a rude shock. His wife now lives with his brother. His children now hate him. He is presumed to have abandoned them. This leaves him heartbroken. But, he forgives them as they were also too poor and after all ‘what choices did they have.’
In the city, Snehlata’s brother and his daughter Latika come to stay. Latika is a divorcee. She had had a love marriage but everything changed as soon as she married the love of her life. In Guwahati, she joins an NGO which is trying to help slum-dwellers who are mostly poor Muslims. It is a lawless place. Latika takes the help of Shamsuddin to navigate the slums. Here, Latika discovers about a child-trafficking racket. She also finds a teenager who was raped but is scared to approach the police.
At the NGO, Latika meets Debjyoti and falls in love with him. He is also a widower with a young child. Their love blossoms in the town of Shillong. I loved the imagery here of Shillong. Never have I encountered this place in another book and now I want to visit it.
In the book, Paromita talks about common people who are affected by their uncontrollable circumstances. There are many lives in this book very well interlinked. The author has done some very good research and kept the story very tight. The language is beautiful and free flowing. The book is well-edited.
Highly recommended reading in literary fiction genre.