When Amar Hamsa begins on a quest to narrate his twenty-six years lived at the Bungalow, what we witness is the gradual unfolding of the crumbling state of the physical and the mental, as also of relationships within and outside the home. Part witty, part serious, he traces the lives of the inhabitants of the Bungalow. We hear of his dysfunctional parents: the mother lamenting the loss of her loved brother and the father away on his regular ‘expeditions’ to Malabar; of the blind grandmother who forms an opinion on everything; of the uncle who wrote his name on every book along with the time he finished reading it. And of his siblings: the loving younger sister who drowns while attempting to pick a water lily; the selfish, pretentious elder sister for whose marriage the family sells off the blind lady’s Bungalow; and the devout elder brother who says his prayers five times a day. Against them is his own atheist self, who seems to be living a life already lived by his dead uncle.
While recounting the lives of his characters, Anees Salim also weaves the thread of the ‘real’ world: the demolition of the Babri masjid and the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, and the differing reactions of the Muslims of the Bungalow.
Death and life, marriage and heartbreak, Anees Salim has an easy way of engaging the reader with his story. It is the author’s storytelling and the reader-friendly approach, mingled with humour, tragedy, and the happening of the then-political world, that makes The Blind Lady’s Descendants a gripping, unforgettable work.
At the age of 16, Anees Salim made a promise to himself: ‘To read a lot, and write big books’. And he has neatly stuck by his word. Shuffling between a day job and maintaining a literary career, Salim has to his credit, apart from this book, Tales from a Vending Machine (2013), Vanity Bagh (2013), and The Vicks Mango Tree (2012). The Blind Lady’s Descendants won the 2014 Crossword Book Award in Indian Fiction. He employs language and subtle humour in his writings and stuns his readers with the sheer brilliance of plot and characterization.
Featured photograph © Madhula Banerji