CHAT There are more than two Indias now, but this space is filled with tension, finds journalist Neelima Kota, in her latest novel
After Riverstones and Death of a Moneylender , both of which focused on issues of farmer suicide, journalist Neelima Kota has now written her third work on the connection between rural India, dynastic politics and agriculture in her third novel Shoes of the Dead , published by Rupa. “The first two books published from Jan 2007 onwards reflected the issues of that time, which mainly revolved around farmer suicides and then the role of money lenders in agriculture. But this book reflects the dynamics of change that is now present in the rural scene as much as it is present in the urban space,” says Neelima Kota, over telephone.
Neelima is the political editor for The Sunday Guardian and Research Fellow for South Asia Studies at The Paul H.Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC. “When we ask for change in the city, it is covered in the media but there is a similar demand in rural areas and as such it is known the governance in rural areas leaves a lot to be desired.”
The book is described as debating the priorities of the scions of political families in India towards issues of welfare as compared to the concerns of the rural youth. It also addresses the issues of farmer suicides and poverty in the heartland.
“After travelling across the country I realized that the situation of marginal and small farmers across the country is more or less the same. They cannot afford education or healthcare and they are immersed in debt. Most of their money is loaned from private moneylenders and banks don’t give them new loans because they haven’t cleared their old loans.”
She has based this part of the story, drawing from the experiences of farmers and widows of farmers,in Vidarbha, the region in Maharashtra that is most known for its high rate of farmer suicides.
“I have been a journalist for over 19 years now and every time I have travelled into these regions for reporting, I always come back with another story. This then evolved into a narrative of a crisis from its beginnings to the present and I had to put these stories in the form of a book.”
The book basically contrasts the lives of the urban and rural youth, sharing the perspectives of the haves and have-nots, connecting this to a political legacy that has become inherited, rather than owned. “It is ironical that we brought in democracy only to root out the system of inheritance but it seems like we are going back to a system of family run politics. So the common man who wants to bring about a change in governance aspires to join politics has to compete with children of politicians who are well-acquainted with political games and have access to their father’s position in the party as well as party tickets,” she explains.
“The odds are then heavily against the common man and the voter too has to choose from among a certain category. So it’s not total democracy.”
Shoes of the Dead revolves around the stories of two young men, one a son of a powerful politician in Delhi, who is a Member of Parliament and the other, an educated and brilliant son of a poor farmer who leaves a job in the city to go back to take up his father’s profession.
“India is no longer divided between the rich and the poor. There are more than two Indias that are clashing because education has become a great leveller, bringing these two worlds closer, but this space is filled with tension. That’s the conflict I have addressed in the book” she says.
“Rural India has changed in the last ten years. The rural youth are educated, they know their options and they know what’s wrong with their system. So neither the conflict of power nor the conflict of poverty can be taken for granted. What I’m trying to say is that the inheritance of power and poverty can be changed if one wants it to.”