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Santhal village behind doctor’s novel

- Modern fuses with traditional in Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s debut

A Jharkhand doctor’s debut English novel, based on his own community of Santhals, is drawing rave reviews in various prestigious journals ever since the book was published early this year.

Born in Ranchi, brought up and educated in East Singhbhum and now working as a government doctor at an additional public health centre in far-off Pakur district for the past two years, Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s achievement has largely gone unnoticed in his home state.

The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey, published by Aleph Book Company, portrays life in a Santhal village, replete with the good and the bad, and includes several popular rituals of the community.

Priced at Rs 295, the 210-page novel spans the lives of three generations of the Baskeys of Kadamdihi village bordering Bengal — Somai, his daughter Putki and her upright husband Kharda Haram and Rupi, wife of Putki’s eldest son Sido.

The story revolves around Rupi, the strongest woman of the village, who gives birth to a child while working in a paddy field. She is then administered something “evil” by Gurubari, her rival in love.

Believed to be an act of witchcraft, that potion made Rupi suffer from a mysterious ailment, finally confining her to a bed.

“I know a lady from my village (near Chakulia) who helped me shape the character of Rupi,” Hansda (31), who studied medicine at Jamshedpur’s MGM Medical College, told The Telegraph from Pakur.

“I took the hint from an incident in my village, but the book is a combination of village gossip and my imagination,” said the doctor who wrote his first story in the students’ section of an English newspaper when he was a 15-year-old tenth-grader at St Joseph’s Convent High School, Mosabani.

Though Hansda continued writing stories and articles, many of which were published in well-known magazines, this is his debut novel.

“I didn’t like the first draft I completed in June, 2011. I rewrote it in October and sent the synopsis and sample chapters to David Davidar of Aleph,” he said.

The book, he admitted is about women. But, he ensured the men folk got their due whenever the plot demanded.

Did Hansda have to set aside his knowledge about medical science while writing a book that draws on the paranormal?

“No. We are fortunate to grow up in the midst of both, traditional and modern beliefs. We may become famous as scientists but we are still deeply rooted in our traditional beliefs, our religion and our faith,” he explained.

Fiction or medical science, Hansda is firmly rooted in reality. “The most beautiful thing,” he added, “is the balance we achieve between the two, the traditional and modern.”


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