SHOES OF THE DEAD: A Review
Author: Kota Neelima
Publication: Rainlight by Rupa Publications India Pvt. Ltd
Price: Rs. 495
Until now I lived in the illusion that it was I who selected the kind of books that I wanted to read and review. But, today after reading Shoes of the Dead, “….I am only incidental,” I realized that I played no role whatsoever in the kind of books that came to me. Instead, the books choose me! Whether good or bad, energy consuming or a wastage of time, the books decided whether I was worthy of them or not. Otherwise, how could it be that some books refused to come to me even though I desperately desired to read them while some books just seem to pop into my hands without any effort or desire?
Kota Neelima’s book, Shoes of the Dead seems to be one such purposeful and heart wrenching book which deals about one man’s courageous battle against the system that refuses to acknowledge suicides by farmers.
It isn’t easy writing about farmer suicides. All the more difficult weaving a novel around it without appearing cynical or hypocritical. After all, such things happen in villages, to poor desperate farmers, not to urbanites like you, me or the writer! But, the author writes a novel that is sensitively soaked in reality with a narrative that edges you on, making you feel part of it all, making you want to make a difference!
The novel deals with the issue of suicides of debt ridden farmers, how it affects their families, how the matter is either ignored or politicized for selfish gain by the people in power both, in villages and at the Centre.
Gangiri Bhadra is the main protagonist of this deeply moving novel who has to face the agony and loss of his dear brother Sudhakar, a farmer to suicide. More tragic is the betrayal of the law that refuses to accept the untimely death as related to any ‘burden of unpaid farm debt.’
Gangiri has a choice – to either go back to the city, continue his job as a teacher and become just “a man from nowhere, a man who was just a name on a salary cheque, a face on a photo ID, a voice on the phone. A part of the moving mass of people in a crowded bus, a metro, a local train. Perhaps he was braver than Sudhakar. He was not merely killing himself; he was killing the farmer in himself.”
Or, make a decision, “to make sure no farmer was ever humiliated again, no widow ever called a liar.”
But, the fight is deadly, the consequences even deadlier – not only must he protect his sense of integrity and self respect, he must also not allow poverty, hunger and the innocent vulnerable desire to live of his brother’ s two small children and widow to make his mission weak. He has to protect them from humiliation, hunger and death while be wages a war against a system that is both powerful and insensitive.
Will he succeed when the enemies outnumber him in politics, power and immorality? Will he be able to garner justice for the farmers when Keyur Kashinath, MP whose constituency lies in Gangiri’s village is hell bent on destroying the blot that farmer suicides have made on his party’s image by destroying the one man who is making it public – GANGIRI?!
Don’t miss out on this powerful piece of political fiction. I guarantee that you will not come out unaffected.
Kota Neelima works as Political Editor with The Sunday Guardian and is a Research Fellow for South Asia Studies at The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, John Hopkins University, Washington, DC. Her previously published works include the novels Riverstones and Death of a Moneylender.