Book: The Legend of Kuldhara
Author: Malathi Ramachandran
Format Read: Paperback
I had heard of Kuldhara before…it is that ghost town in Rajasthan, a forsaken place that is a tourist attraction, and a source of tales. Theories of why the place was abandoned range from gradual migration due to earthquakes, to the more romanticised tale of an overnight desertion to escape a certain Divan’s lascivious gaze on a maiden.
It is from the second that author Malathi Ramachandran draws her inspiration in “The Legend of Kuldhara.” The novel recreates a Rajasthan of two hundred years ago as the story follows the villagers of Kuldhara and their disappearance.
Saalim Singh, the ambitious, vengeful, and cruel Divan of the Maharawal Gaj Singh, already married some six times, suddenly finds in Kuldhara a beautiful girl by the name of Pari. A man accustomed to getting what, or who, he wants, the Divan makes the mistake of attempting to force Pari’s father into give her in marriage to him…and Saalim Singh finds himself outwitted when entire village vanishes by the next morning.
The characters in “The Legend of Kuldhara” are memorable, with depth and nuance, especially Pari, who is young, and has that air of child-like glee and mature wisdom. There is also Saalim Singh, self-centred and wrathful, and one of his wives, Parvati, a tragic character who was once radiant, and now prone to peculiar dreams. She wishes her husband would return to her and waits with desperate hope. There is Colonel Tod, the British Political Agent for Rajputana, for whom Saalim Singh has plans.
And threading the lives of these characters together, and foreseeing the fate of Kuldhara itself, is the strange old man with the stringed ravanhatha instrument. On the face of it, he appears to be a folk singer of unusual skill, but coupled with his music is an almost mystical understanding of fate, and an oddity that defines his persona – he never speaks, but he does always sing.
“The Legend of Kuldhara” is a beautifully crafted novel that evocatively portrays the romance of the desert. The colourful sunrises and the ringing of temple bells, the old man’s haunting melodies, and the sprinkling of surreal enigma over the course of the story make this book an unusual and absorbing read.