The Assassin's Song
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The magnificent new novel from the award-winning author of The In-Between World of Vikram Lall (“This beautiful novel . . . is proof that fictional truth can illuminate an epoch in history like nothing else”—The Boston Globe).
In the aftermath of the brutal violence that gripped western India in 2002, Karsan Dargawalla, heir to Pirbaag—the shrine of a mysterious, medieval sufi—begins to tell the story of his family and the shrine now destroyed. His tale opens in the 1960s: young Karsan is next in line after his father to assume lordship of the Shrine of the Wanderer, and take his place as a representative of God to the multitudes who come there. But he longs to be “just ordinary”—to play cricket and be part of the exciting world he reads about in the stacks of newspapers a truck driver brings him from all across India. And when, to his utter amazement, he is accepted at Harvard, he can’t resist the opportunity to go finally “into the beating heart of the world.”
Despite his father’s epistolary attempts to keep Karsan close to traditional ways, the excitements and discoveries of his new existence in America soon prove more compelling, and after a bitter quarrel he abdicates his successorship to the ancient throne. Yet even as he succeeds in his “ordinary” life—marrying and having a son (his own “child-god”), becoming a professor in suburban British Columbia—his heritage haunts him in unexpected ways. After tragedy strikes, both in Canada and in Pirbaag, he is drawn back across thirty years of separation and silence to discover what, if anything, is left for him in India.
A story of grand historical sweep and intricate personal drama, a stunning evocation of the physical and emotional landscape of a man caught between the ancient and the modern, between legacy and discovery, between the most daunting filial obligation and the most undeniable personal yearning—The Assassin’s Song is a heartbreaking ballad of a life irrevocably changed.
Six for laughing inappropriately. ” I bent, received six stinging strokes of the cane on my backside and hastened out tearfully to the grounds, where recess was not over yet. Mr. David was not seen in our school again. Vasudev Sharma, son of a low-level civil servant, apparently had confessed to having allowed the teacher to touch him inappropriately. The boys put it more bluntly. Sharma was expelled from our school. People in the village were generally grateful to my father for averting a possible eruption, though there were the few who sneered, Wasn't it the Muslim saint who cured the Saheb's child?
What's in your bag? ” “Books,” I said. “Do you want to see them? ” “Can you write? ” There was invitation in the voice, and I sat down beside her and showed her my English composition book. “Yes—look. ” She looked at the open page, then at me, with a half-smile of grudging respect. She was barefoot, twitching her toes, and her coin-sized nose stud drew my stares; her head was covered loosely; her teeth were white and large; and her eyes … they pried into my heart. I showed her a library book about space travel, told her the Americans would soon go to the moon.
I had a greater facility with the culture and had lost much of my awkwardness; and my accent, I believe, had lost its worst abominations—though there were instances still when I opened my mouth only to draw a smile from my friends. She told me she had taken a leave of absence from MIT to volunteer for Senator McGovern's presidential campaign, and after the disappointment of that 1972 election she had gone to finish her studies in Montreal. She was back in Cambridge, had moved in with a friend, and was looking for a job and hoping to go to graduate school.
Directly in front is a raised platform where perhaps dancing nautch girls performed once upon a time. The great Ghalib could have come to recite his poetry here; he lived not far from where I stand. The courtyard is strewn with rubble; the platform, which has a roof, is stacked with brown boxes containing, according to the description on the sides, computer monitors. A girl stares at me from a doorway to my right; she points to a dilapidated flight of open stairs across the yard, towards which I venture uncertainly.
Kem, tamaro dikro mati gayo? Am I no longer your son, even a disobedient one? Yes, the snow looks beautiful now, after the blizzard; soft white clumps balanced on the tree branches like pearls or tears, lights reflecting off the white crystals so that the night has the magical glow of fairy land; snowball fights, and Bob the burly Canadian is out showing off on his skis. I too should be out there among the brightly clothed boisterous fellows, this is the only way to beat the winter; only it's one of those days and the heart feels heavy, wants to drag me screaming into the darkness, though I won't let it, no I won't let you do that today, heart, it's lightness and freedom I want.