Saturday, April 15, 2017

Book Review: Gandhi, Ambedkar and the Four Legged Scorpion by Rajesh Talwar

Gandhi, Ambedkar and the Four Legged Scorpion by Rajesh Talwar

‘Gandhi, Ambedkar and the Four Legged Scorpion’ is a play on Untouchability in India during the pre-1947 era. Its not a novel or a regualr story. Its based on real life incidents with a little bit of writer's creativity thrown in.

A Warning: First things first. This book is NOT a novel and not a story. It relays a part of history – about Bapu and Babsaheb – in the format of a play. It took me some time to get my head wrapped around the ‘stage / theatre / play’ format but once I got into the groove, I enjoyed it. It was indeed refreshing to read the play. It has been a long time since I have seen a play and would love to see soon. So don’t be discouraged when you are slightly uncomfortable reading the play format. Give it time and you will enjoy it.

Yet Another Warning: The summary or book blurb tell you everything about the main theme or plot line of the play that you are about to read. And the introduction and preface and other things that appear in the book ‘before’ the play begins repeat the theme and its details and other aspects of the storyline. So much so, that there is nothing you get by reading the play except details. The book/play is intended to convey a message, enlighten the reader about an aspect in history. The play does that effectively BUT in the book format, this is spoiled by everything else that the reader reads before reading the play.

If you are going to pick this book, skip through the initial pages and go straight to the page where the play begins. DO NOT read the introductory pages. Read them AFTER you have read the play.

There is too much repetition in the introduction and there is a lot pre-content which should have been at the back in the book as notes for those want to enact the play and want a deeper understanding of the same. The stage notes also should have been at the back.

Point to be Noted: Don’t go literally by the title of the book. There is Gandhi and Ambedkar but there is literally no scorpion. The concept behind the scorpion is explained in introduction /preface of the book BUT it never comes up in the play. So if it was a play that people were watching in the theatre, they would leave wondering what happened to the scorpion unless the team enacting the play took liberties to modify the script and introduced the relevant explanation of the scorpion by way of narration or a monologue by one of the characters.

And finally the Book/Play: By itself, the play was written nicely. Not perfectly but nicely. There were quite a few places where the choice of words and language used did not sit well with the time period or the characters. It seemed like some modern slang slipped into the dialogues unnoticed by the author.

The author manages to convey the conflict between Gandhi and Ambedkar during the freedom struggle but at the same time, it does seem a bit superficial. There are those incidents incorporated which played a role in shaping Ambedkar in the role that he played for the Dalits but that was not enough.

I would have expected a lot more monologue by Gandhi as well as Ambedkar; as it is through monologues that the personality of a character is built and not though interactions with other characters. Wish the author would have taken that route to give more meaning and impact to the characters of Gandhi and Ambedkar.  It would have been meaningful to see the characters evolve through their life incidents and monologues.

I will give it 3/5 rating as it was a good read BUT do heed the warnings and points to be noted above.



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