Thursday, 22 March 2012

Kim's Review: Shades within Shadows

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that this book is written by my uncle - my mum's sister's husband. Uncle Alan has a special interest in the history of Mangalorean Christians and his first 2 books - Saraswati's Children and the Captivity of 1784 specifically focus on the historical and geneological aspects of the community.

When asked why he was writing "Shades within Shadows", Uncle Alan jokingly remarked that his nieces and nephews did not read his first books, finding them too technical and history textbook like, so he had fictionalised it so we would read his book and learn more about our community's history

If this was his objective, then he has most certainly achieved it. After reading this book, I'll definitely re-attempt reading "Saraswati's Children" once our household goods are delivered and book cartons are opened.

The tales told within this book begin with the forced conversions of Goan Hindus to Christianity and their subsequent persecution between the Santo Officio - Portugese Inquisition, increased taxes to fund the Portugese missions & wars and the local chieftains who run thieving incursions into the villages of the converts and take away their harvest, livestock, gold or anything else that they can get their hands on.

Over the next 200 years, some of these converts flee to South Canara to make a better life for themselves in slightly less daunting circumstances and slowly build up their land holdings, reputations and businesses over generations.

Life progresses steadily until Tipu Sultan comes to power. After his skirmishes with the British, Tipu needs a new "enemy" and the 40,000 Catholics of South Canara are targeted. The 'Captivity' occurred in 1784, when on Ash Wednesday, the Canara Christians are deported to Srirangapatna. Males who survive the arduous trek are circumscised and conscripted into the army, females are inducted into the harems. In the next 15 years the captives who didn't die were converted.When they were finally set free in 1800, less than a third of them returned. Inspite of their return, the Christian population of Canara had fallen to 10,000.

Shades within shadows tells the fictionalised tales of these converts, the trials they face, their joys and sorrows, the myths and lore. There are so many stories in this book, that at times you lose track of the charaters, but this is exactly the kind of story telling that grandma indulged in. Jumping from one to another until everything ties up into a neat loop, with the irrelvant threads left hanging for another day.

Some of the stories of bhutas & daivas in the book were familiar to me, because I remember nana telling us these tales on cold, dark nights in the spooky environs of the power-cut engulfed estate bungalows. There are almost 2 distinct voices that weave this tale together, one is a poetical voice that waxes lyrical about the greenery, or the water and the other is a bit more stacatto, focussing on the facts that weave the story line.

Its initially a bit confusing to follow with the multitude of characters introduced in the first 5 pages, but when you stop focussing on the characters and their names and just let the story wash over you, is when you really start getting involved and drawn in.

I highly recommend this book to any Canara Christian who wants to know more about their collective history. Its also an engrossing read for any Mangalorean. And even if you don't fall into either of these categories, this is a lovely prolonged ajji kathe, (grandmothers tale) that has a lot of local lore and historical details to keep you engrossed.

Rating: (I don't rate books written by family or close friends, but I will recommend this book highly)

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