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Ravan & Eddie: An Analysis Over the years many different books, events and developments have impacted and

shaped my thinking. If I were to look exclusively to the last few months, then the book "Ravan & Eddie" by Indian author Kiran Nagarkar would be my choice. Let me explain why. First, it is absolutely central to the conflicts that the "not-so-well-off" urban Indians face. Second, it explores why English is still the most sought after language of education in India. Third, it elaborates on both elementary and critical differences between the Catholics & Hindus living in a Chawl (low-income group housing). And finally, the novel provides a window into an era before India started its sharp economic climb and within its pages preserves the old Mumbai (Bombay). But first, a bit about the story. The era is 1950s. India has just won its independence. The locale is Mumbai (Bombay) and the chief characters are Ravan, a Hindu boy, and Eddie, a Catholic boy. The story pivots around the lives of both, being neighbours in the Chawl at Byculla, Mumbai. Ravan has a role to play in the death of Eddie's father and, with this thread binding them, the two live bittersweet, parallel lives. Their families haven't been on talking terms for years, and are at best, hostile to each other. What the novel captures effortlessly is the concept of time and space in a Chawl, those much-maligned one-room tenements that have given Mumbai much of its character. The cultural differences that abound in a Chawl are evocatively sketched, and there are all kinds of eccentricities, beliefs and rituals, much like the ones you would still find if you were to stop by a Chawl today. Having never before been inside a Chawl, inspite of seeing plenty from the outside, this book was instrumental in transporting me to a new experience. Shortly after reading the book I attempted a trip into one such tenement myself. This was the other India. Not the ones that walked the neon lit corridors of corporate offices, shopped at swanky retail outlets, drove the fast cars or hung around at coffee bars. This place was home to the janitor who kept those corridors clean, the valet who parked customers’ cars, and the lady who mopped the floor of the coffee-bar when people walked in with dirty shoes. The disparity struck me as alarming. But there was a lot to learn too. My curiosity was satiated by an NGO worker with whom I had extensive conversations over the course of a few days. What I learnt was an eye-opener. While most were literate, their avenues of employment were limited to low-end work. But what was invisible to the rest of the world was the great hunger for knowledge and a high level of entrepreneurship, especially among the women-folk. Most supplement their husband’s income by selling flowers, cooking meals for bachelors and working as housemaids. Nagarkar also peppers the text with the unsaid truth about urban India - the power of knowing English. This is a very subtle aspect, one which escapes most of us who have had the luxury of going to English-medium schools and colleges, and have been exposed to the English media since childhood. These few lines from the book bring out the real meaning, as seen from Ravan's eyes: "English is a mantra. It opens new worlds. English makes you tall. You can become a chef at the Taj Mahal Hotel or a steno at Hindustan Lever, even a purser with Air India or Pan Am… If you know English, you can ask a girl for a dance." I had studied in English schools and I realized we lived parallel lives compared to those who went to vernacular institutions. It was partly about English. This point can be best put forward in the form of another line from the book "If you have English you are the Haves, and if you don't have English you are the Have-nots". Trust me, I used to believe in that very strongly, but not anymore. While the book underscores the reason why Indians place such premium on convent education and the need of fluent English for any high level employment, it has encouraged me to think whether it is really an advantage or not - after all we have equally prosperous, efficient and successful people in our society who do not know the language. On the social front, Nagarkar showcases the religious divide quite well. The unthinkable happens when Eddie joins the Hindu Sabha (the RSS). Not only does he do well as a scout, he excels (Ravan is an early drop-out). No other Hindu kid can match Eddie’s knowledge about the Bhagvat Gita and Mahabharata. When his mother comes to know of this, she drags him to

The theme could be broadly called the East-West encounter. the only way we may know of Chawls & life in them will be through books like Ravan & Eddie. the minor and major incidents and accidents. mostly Catholics. Ravan on the other hand is curious about everything Christian. with the story being set in the 1950s. The outcastes of Hinduism. the first four stories were occupied by the Hindus. with the textile mills & any tract of spare land in central Mumbai being sold off for commercial gains. It also throws light on yet another piece of Indian history. As a piece of creative writing too. random digressions on human nature and a great many dysfunctional families spread across its pages. nothing changes.the church to get him exorcised. In fact. while the fifth was exclusively for Christians. Nagarkar has been able to paint the life in old-time Mumbai with alacrity. I later found out that in that entire complex. Additionally. which is not well understood: "It did not cross the minds of most Hindus that they were responsible for Catholicism in India. I can unreservedly say that this book has made me more perceptive about the heterogeneity of my own Indian culture and life. While it did not register initially. and the concept of eating out too expensive to consider." The author does not make religion an over-riding theme. and customs of both cultures which are deep-rooted in their respective religions. . rituals. the untouchables. Suffice it to say. In conclusion. As sub-humans they were little better than slaves. yet the manner of presentation is brilliant and interestingly realistic. It’s the sub-plots. had ample reason to convert. colourful people. it sets a good example for young writers. It showcases life in India at a time when rationing of basic necessities was common. involving the two protagonists that form the basis of the story. I have noticed this first-hand. automobiles were uncommon. There are hilarious anecdotes. in the future. In fact. but does manage to present the blind beliefs.

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