Malathi Ramachandran’s “Legend of Kuldhara” (Niyogi Books)

The Legend of Kuldhara is a scrupulous research which allows a mixture of fiction and historical facts to the extent that they stand undifferentiated. Kuldahara, a village in the Rajasthan desert, perched at the edge of time. It was abandoned and cursed nearly two hundred years ago, leaving the glorious culture, tradition, lives, laughter, homes and many more merely the dream of the past. Touching upon various topics from obsession, lust, status of women, curse, migration, society and much more, the author take the readers through a whirlwind of events and emotions. 

“Oh alas, alas! The gold will now turn back to sand. There are miles of sun and sand and nowhere to go. There is sickness and sadness and nowhere to go. There is anger and betrayal and nowhere to go…oh alas, alas!”

The Legend of Kuldhara is the story of Pari – a beautiful youth belonging to Paliwal Brahmins; Saalim – the Diwan; Parvati – beautiful, educated and passionate second wife of the Diwan; and Pratap – right hand of Harshvardhan Singh, the head of the village. The less you reveal, the more people can wonder, and so is true about Malathi Ramachandaran’s book. The novel is a continuous process of finding truth and untangling mysteries. 

The story begins when the concupiscence eyes of Diwan Saalim see Pari and he desires to achieve her as an emblem of his subjugation and supremacy which will further honour his Harem. So he sends his messenger to Kuldhara village to announce his verdict that if they want mercy from heavy taxes, Pari must be married to him.

“My third message is that on marrying the chosen maiden, the Diwan sahib shall waive off the taxes that was levied on the Paliwal Brahmins from tomorrow. So you shall pay nothing more than what you have been paying until now.”

In revolt of Diwan’s immoral desires, the paliwal brahmins abandon all the eighty villages overnight which Saalim conceives as his insult and pledges to capture and punish them. The villagers decide to move in different directions so that Diwan’s men could not track them down. In their unfateful journey, severe plague spreads, causing several deaths. At the same time in the port Saalim Singh intrigues to overthrow the throne of Gaj Singh to take his age old nourished revenge.

“He had his personal devils to live with, his enemies to avenge, women to possess, power to capture and only one life to do it all.”

(Readers must pick one copy to find out about the revenge!) 

Saalim Singh shakes hands with Colonel Tod to take his vengeance. He with the help of British power plays his game very cleverly that turns the scenario upside down.

“It is going exactly as per my plan. After the arrest of Mahan Singh by British last night, the Rawal is in shock and needs time to regroup…”

It becomes very interesting to see Pari returning to Jaisalmer along with Pratap and living as a married couple happily.

“And now Farishta will be angel who’ll bless us and make all our dreams true. We have so much to live for Pratapji, and I and Farishta…”

But after some time things changed between them and their relationship turned bitter.

” Through the whirling mists around her, she heard him calling her a whore, randi, veshya.”

You must find the reason behind this change in the relationship of Pari and Pratapji, which even led to deterioration of Pari’s respect in Pratap’s eye and his degrading words for the lady whom he loves the most, by reading the book. 

On the other hand Saalim Singh used Parvati physically and emotionally for his selfish needs. Parvati urges him to forget about revenge and move on, but the fire in his heart and eyes against the Rawals do not allow him to forget anything. His hunger for retribution, not only consume his family’s peace, but also kills Junaid, his innocent son and later takes away his life as well.

The novel is set in patriarchal society and thus women are presented as a commodity or their partner’s possession and child bearing machine whose duty is to satisfy the opposite sex physically, mentally and emotionally. But at the same time the two women: Pari and Parvati both are presented as iconoclasts who fought against all odds and showed immense will power and strength. Both of them did what was right and what they wanted to do rather than what they should do according to the society.

What is the revenge? Who killed Junaid? What is the reason for the indifference between Pari and Pratapji? What happened to the villagers who migrated from Kuldhara? and many more questions continuously appear and make the book captivating, not allowing the reader to take a break. The unremitting twists and turns, discovery of new mysteries make the novel gripping, enthralling and engrossing.

“But go you must! If you stay, you will loose your honour, which is greater than your gold and your silver and your copper. Go, go, my friends, for the time has come to face your fate… you cannot fight what is already destined…”

M. J. Rose rightly said “A mystery is a whodunit. You know what happened, but not how or who’s behind it. A thriller, or a suspense, is a whodunit. You know what happened, and you usually know who did it, but you keep reading because you want to know how they pulled it off.” Legend of Kuldhara is an amalgam of all – mystery, suspense and thriller which make the ground prepared for the book to be enrolled in the list of must read for those who want to experience something new and want to learn something of society and the people. 

About the Author

Malathi Ramachandran is a Masters in Mass Communication, who has had many short stories published in magazines and anthologies, two of which have won prizes in British Council short fiction contests. She is the author of two novels, The Wheel Turned (2010) and Edge Of All The Light (2013). An avid reader, amateur artist and an ardent itinerant, she has travelled widely and loves observing people of different cultures. Her plots and characters are often inspired by her rich and varied experiences. Malathi conducts creative writing workshops for adults and children under the brand name Melting Pot.

Reviewed by :
Ghanishtha Verma