Just Read: Ravan & Eddie by Kiran Nagarkar
Ravan & Eddie tells the story of two boys, one Hindu and the other Christian. They live in the same CWD Chawl in Mumbai’s Mazagaon area. The era is 1950s. India has just won its independence. Goa is still under Portugese rule. Religious and caste-based divisions are very much a part of the day-to-day lives of everyone in the chawl. The Hindus don’t talk to the Christians and vice-versa. Language being the chief barrier.
Ravan & Eddie begins with an incident that defines the lives of Ravan & Eddie. Eddie is still in his mother’s womb and Ravan is just few months old. Victor Coutinho, Eddie’s father, is madly in love with Parvati-bai Ravan’s mother. But he cannot muster the courage to tell her. One day he sees her drying clothes in her balcony while going to work. He stands there gazing at her. In stead of attracting her attention though, he interests Ravan, who, overcome with excitement, jumps out of his mother’s grip, from the fourth floor balcony in the direction of Victor. Victor catches Ravan. Much to the relief of everyone. Parvati-bai rushes down to get hold of her baby. Victor’s wife, Violet is there too, shouting at her shameless husband. But Victor has frozen by now. He is dead. The whole chawl has witnessed the incident. Little boy jumps on to a man, and now the man is dead. Ravan is the Murderer!
Eddie knows little about the incident that killed his father, except for the watered down version that says: Ravan killed your father. He is bad at studies and hates his sister. Trouble is his life partner. He stays away from Ravan. The unthinkable, however, happens when he joins the Hindu Sabha (the RSS). Not only does he do well as a scout, he excels (Ravan is an early drop-out). No other Hindu kid can match his knowledge about the Bhagvat Gita and Mahabharata. When his mother comes to know of this, she drags him to the church to get him exorcised. Suffice it to say, nothing changes.
Ravan on the other hand is curious about everything Christian–especially the girls. Their skirts, lipsticks, make up, language and lifestyle. He’s of the curious kind. But he just cannot figure out why people refer to him as the murderer of Eddie’s father. How could he have killed a man when he was barely an year old?
Life in the chawls is a perpetual melodrama in itself. Large, mostly unhappy middle-class families packed in one building–not by choice of course. Hence, there’s a lot of scope for fights and quarrels over the slightest of things. Water is not a matter of quarrels, but full-fledged war. It turns housewives into warriors and water containers into missiles and canons. Like in a small village, everyone knows everything about everyone else.
Kiran Nagarkar’s knowledge about the lives of the chawl and the chawl-dwellers is amazing. In fact, there would be very little to be said in the story if the chawl was removed from the plot. And Nagarkar sees to it that the reader gets a full tour of the minutest details of the chawl–right down to the make of the flush in the common toilets. Another thing that gets a lot of attention from Nagarkar is the intimate rendering of the sexual side of the chawl-dwellers. He gives a no holds barred description of the women, especially Parvati-bai.
Several interesting characters appear, play their part, and move out. Nagarkar uses them as a means of providing the minute details of the life in the chawls. And he does well. His chief weapon is his sense of humour. At times it is scathing. Mostly though, it gives you a hearty laugh.
After finishing the book, I realised that there was no one story line that runs through the length of the book. It’s the sub-plots, the minor and major incidents / accidents, involving the two protagonists that form the basis of the story.