While there has lately been a growing number of small-town India travel memoirs, 'Nautanki Diaries' by Dominic Franks stands apart with its earnest sincerity and exuberant love for cycling as, beyond a sports activity, a metaphor for life. Certainly, it is worth spending a few hours to take this charming journey with the writer and let his beloved Nautanki reveal and redefine both exterior and interior landscapes for us readers too.
[For those who may not know: Jaipur Literary Festival (JLF) is a five-day annual event in India and known to be the largest of its kind. This year was their 11th edition.] Over the last two decades or so, every few years, I have been hauling myself to a literary festival in some part of the world or other. Mostly, it is because I believe that the coming together of writers and scholars to discuss, debate, debunk, or define the complex issues of our times, even when such matters are not necessarily chronologically taking place in the here and now, is crucial. And there are very few other venues left in our societies for such dialogue. In the end, whether it enlightens or confuses, such dialogue almost always widens our perspectives beyond our individual cognitive biases and cultural values. I find this to be a vital aspect of my personal development as both a reader and a writer.
Set in Gujarat, India around the time of the 2016 Dalit protests, 'Each of Us Killers' explores the present-day politics of Hindu cow worship — a highly-charged issue. It is also the story of a minority low-caste community struggling to reconcile their position in society with their need for personal agency. This struggle is, of course, universal wherever there is oppression of the minority by the majority. I also wanted to explore crowd psychology here. The actual main events of my story are entirely fictional. In fact, the village itself is fictional. However, like the Una, Gujarat flogging incident described in the story, I have also referenced a few other real-life acts of caste-related violence that have been reported or revisited in the last couple of years in Gujarat. While I am very interested in the religious and socio-political constructs that still drive casteism in present-day India, I have focused here on the aspects of human nature that allow us, collectively, to turn away in silence when witnessing injustice, violence, or murder — and what that might mean for us as communities/societies.