A promising story that could have been so much better.
The author, Taj Hassan, has made good use of his experience as an IPS officer in the Naxalite affected areas while coming out with this insightful novel about the Maoist insurgency. Had his editor invested a little more time and energy and guided the author in shaping this novel up properly, 'The Inexplicable Unhappiness of Ramu Hajjam' would have been a great book.
The story is mostly set in two fictional villages of Bihar. One village, Tesri, is inhabited by the so-called low-caste people and most of them are either menial labourers or some kind of small time businessmen. The other village, Bhagatpur, has a predominant population of high-caste farmers. The main protagonist of this story, Ramu Hajjam, is a poor barber from Tesri who makes his living by running a roadside saloon. One day, Ramu the barber accidentally cuts Subedar Singh’s cheek. Subedar, a high caste man from Bhagatpur, beats Ramu badly for this small mistake. This incident infuriates Ramu’s only son Pawan and he decides to avenge the insult to his father. Pawan runs away from home and joins a Maoist group. Things change for the residents of Tesri and Bhagatpur as a bloody game of violence and counter violence unfolds before their eyes.
Thematically speaking, it is an attention-grabbing book as the Maoist violence and the anti-insurgency operations by the government always remain in the news. The author’s use of multiple points of view suits the story and the use of slang adds local colour to the prose. However, his failure to do full justice to the two main characters is a negative aspect of this work of fiction. Ramu Hajjam, the chief protagonist, is a well-chiselled character but he does not get as much space as he deserves. By showing us more of Ramu’s background, the author could have made this character more interesting and more convincing. Another major character, Achal Singh Mukhiya, the feudal lord of Bhagatpur, is shown as a one-dimensional creature as one never gets the chance to hear his inner voices. In other words, Mukhiya gets the caricature treatment. Further, Pawan’s journey from a village teenager to a hardcore Maoist is too hurried.
Despite these flaws, the novel is successful in taking its readers to the hinterland where the presence of government is negligible and where the brutal inequality and appalling poverty breed extremist ideologies like Naxalism. A decent first attempt by the author. This reviewer will definitely look forward to reading his next book.
The Inexplicable Unhappiness of Ramu Hajjam, Taj Hassan, Hachette, p.240, Rs. 295.