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Book review: Blood Brothers by Chandini Santosh

Blood Brothers, A Story of Separation and Loss by Chandini Santosh. Dhauli Books.

Chandini Santosh takes up the twin strands of a little village by a river  and  of the communal politics ravaging it, entwines the two,  and offers up a compelling story that warms the cockles of your  heart even as it fills you with dismay.

Santosh`s protagonist Biju Kallat is the son of the village whore and the village drunk. He makes a desperate bid to escape his personal backstory and finds that the world beyond is indeed as big and as bad as he has heard it is.

There is something raw and ferocious in the telling of Biju`s tale. The inherent violence, the personal violence and the political violence are all neatly intersected by the bucolic prettiness  of this Kannur hamlet.

There are descriptions of petunia fences, paddy fields, the sound of the waves at water`s edge, the sun dappling light into the mango groves, the bright blue fishing boats, the normalcy of everyday life. Alongside,  we read of  people`s faces falling off like the handmade mask of a temple oracle, of police brutality which takes two eyes for one/ two or three lives for a full set of teeth, of savage sex and the equally savage hacking of limbs.

Some of the characters stick on inside your head long after the last page has been turned. Characters like Maroli`s mute daughter on her disastrous trajectory. Like one half of the blood brothers,  Sunil Neroth, tortured by doubts yet willingly subjugating those doubts to play eternal second fiddle to Biju. Like Sunil`s mother who `smelled of fresh water and Hamam soap.` Like the unnamed little girl playing in the dirt outside the Marxist office, who dies in a bomb attack. Like the woman who closes the two halves of the door and pushes the shaft locks to the right and the left, as if she were `shutting out all the nights that came before and all the nights that would come after.`

Santosh draws up a battlefield between the left and right wing political parties and their satellite organisations, etching in small yet significant details. That is the macro picture. The micro picture is no less devastating,  whether it is Biju`s father`s agony which he tries to drown in drink; the young party workers recruited into a way of violence, whose blood `contained seeds of distraction;` Sindhu the young woman who loves Biju in a hopeless fashion.

Politics is entrenched deep in the Malayali psyche, they say. A character in the book corroborates this:  `Fire is there in our psyche, the fuel is added by politics.`

Blood Brothers is a gripping account of just how deeply  the personal becomes the political and vice versa.

Blood Brothersbook reviewChandini Santoshdivisive politicsfictionKannur

Sheila Kumar • November 24, 2020

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