Godavari: A Novel

Godavari: A Novel

Godavari: A Novel

By: Fahmida Riaz


Publication Date:
Jun, 12 2008
Binding:
Paper Back
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Godavari is a novel based in India during the period of the 1980s. The story focuses on a week spent in a holiday resort in Maharashtra just prior to the outbreak of communal riots in cities across India. Ma, who is the mother in the family of five vacationing at the hill resort, is an educated, sensitive, middle-aged woman who constantly seeks to understand people and events through the prism of history. Ma tries hard to enjoy the vacation but is unable to do so due to her anxiety over her children as well as over her husband's flirtations with the young Worli woman, Usha who looks after the villa and the family when they are there. Ma is fascinated with the ethnicity of the Worlis, who are low caste tribal people populating the hills and valleys around the hill station. Her conversations with Usha and her father reveal the depth of oppression and indignity that these people suffer not least because they are poor, but because of the rigid caste system among Hindus. Ma learns of how the Worli's face their oppressors and seek redemption by protesting for higher wages spurred on by Godavari, the almost mythical mother figure who is, in fact, a political worker but is seen by the Worlis as a goddess. Communal riots break out in some cities and the family, fearing for their safety, leaves the resort and goes back to Mumbai. Here Ma meets up with an old family friend who is a film director and another who is a character actor. She seeks to understand the roots of the riots through them. She also goes to a Mumbai tenement housing complex with a boy from a militant political organization whom she had met at the resort. Through him Ma begins to comprehend the reality of the unhappy situation: that the parties to the conflict do not really understand each other's religious practices and communal leaders play on the obvious weaknesses of the other for their own ends. Ma's relationship with her family and specifically her husband leaves her bereft. She feels unable to reconcile her own feelings with the reality of society, history, communality, and indeed, of growing old. The terrain of the resort is portrayed vividly as are the people who live there. Usha's character is charming and strong. The brutality borne by the lower castes is the subtext of the novel. Indeed, the novel reveals that although discrimination exists on so many levels, people seek and find hope through the act of confronting prejudices intellectually, as in the case of Ma, and by organizing and protesting as in the case of the Worlis.