Saturday, 26 March 2016

Surpanakha by Hariharan Iyer: a review

Surpanakha. For those who have read Indian history I need not say more. But the thing that intrigued me was how the author Hariharan Iyer would compliment his story with the title. And I wouldn’t be lying if I say that with every page I turned I wanted to see the connection of the story with the title. A very simple yet eye catching cover, it makes you turn the book and read the blurb of the book to catch the essence of it.

According to the blurb- Educated, young, no-nonsense bearing, able administrator- these are the qualities that won Sesha the loyalties of the people after three year of rule as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. An allegation that he was the mastermind behind the murder of 73 Kannadigas threatens to bring him down but he is miraculously saved in the 11th hour. Even before he can relish his victory, Sesha is slapped with the charge of sexually offending a young nurse. This time round, the case is strong and his supporters are uncertain. Worse, his teenage daughter calls him ‘vile’ and walks out of the house. While Mythili, his wife promises her full support, her secretive activities- undertaken with the help of a retired cop- is cause of concern for Sesha. Will Zarina, the human-rights activist, succeed in bringing him down? What about the insinuations of a celebrity lawyer that he is casteist and anti-minorities? When the young nurse is found dead, the case becomes even more complex. Who is innocent? Who is guilty? And who is the mastermind?

First things first, are you also thinking what I thought after reading the blurb? That even if it is interesting and intriguing, the book runs the risk of being boring and lengthy and would fail to hook the readers after a few pages? But wait! It is just the opposite. No, from the beginning it isn’t a page turner but as you keep turning the pages and you keep reading, your interest will grow. The main twist in the tale comes when the Kannadiga story takes a pause and the sexual harassment comes.

The characters are worth commenting. It has been a long time since I have read a book where all the characters are equally strong, weak, correct, incorrect, good and bad at the same time. The best part of the book is that the writer forces you, through his writing, to believe what is being written yet leaving a bit of doubt in your mind that everything shouldn’t be this simple. I would take a moment here to mention Seshadri or Sesha as you know him throughout the book. He is a Chief Minister in its truest sense. You tend to hate him at times while you tend to like him at the other times. You feel as if you are a part of the whole story and the lives of the characters.

No, even though teenage daughter is mentioned, nowhere is Sesha mentioned to be a grey haired pot bellied politician but he is handsome in his own way. You paint a perfect picture of him. And so do you do of Mythili (his wife), Zareena, Indrani, Catherine, Sadagopan and the others. Even Vaishali, the teenage daughter leaves a mark on your mind. Every character is given hundred percent attention throughout the book and there was no unnecessary introduction of characters.

Now since I am talking about the introduction of characters let me mention that the author takes most of the beginning of the book to introduce the characters but it doesn’t seem boring or stretched as it beautifully is merged with the current scenario the book started with. But yes, at one point, you might feel that there are too many characters and you tend to lose the track of who is who. But trust me on this, as you go on in the book there comes a time where you would want to know what a certain character is doing at a certain point in the story.

Story wise, the book is very well knit. I say well-knit because there aren’t any lose ends and when you end the book you will have a sadistic smile on your face and I am sure the book would be liked my most of its readers, if not all. The story doesn’t stretch much but it isn’t a super fast book either. You need your own sweet time to read the book and the book doesn’t disappoint story wise. In the beginning it might seem to be a tough task ahead finishing the book but I, personally, was left impressed with the book.


Yes, I had thought that the book would have historical or mythological references due to its title but there wasn’t any and that came as a surprise till the time I came across a part where the author beautifully merges the story and the title. It amazed me how 1 line can summarise the whole relationship. That part was my high point in the book. Yes, at a point the story becomes predictable and you know what might happen but the end leaves you satisfied. If I have to say about the cons of the book then I guess I have already mentioned while speaking about the story and the characters. Apart from that, since it is an already wonderful book, the expectations from the next book of the author are rising. For me, the book is 4.5 out of 5.

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