The Eighteenth Parellel is the translation of the tamil novel –“padinettuvada atchakadu” by Ashoka Mitran, one of the popular contemporary Tamil writers. The novel first published in 1977. The translator is Gomathi Narayanan. It is about the life of Chandrasekharan, an adolescent guy and various incidents woven around his life.
The novel is set in the backdrop of the Nizam state of Hyderabad. Apart from it being a story of Chandrasekhar, it provides insight in to the life in Hyderabad during the 40’s, the plight of Hyderabadis between August 1947 to September 1948.
The author switches from first person to third person and viceversa brilliantly.
Coming to the story, it begins with Chandra Sekhar’s college mate, a royal Muslim inviting him for Cricket net practice. Chandru has to leave the college early to be on time for practice. But, the watchman at cyclestand will not allow to take the cycles before college ends. He looks down upon Chandru. “if it were a capped fellow or a sahib, he would have let them” thinking so, Chandru bribes the man and leaves with his cycle.
Despite the story being one of the trauma and struggle of post independence times in the princely state of Hyderabad, the book is a comedy too. the author has a wonderful style of generating comedy even from a single sentence. Some of the lighter parts of the story are:
The Chemistry professor asks Chandru to sing “Vidudalai” (of Subramanya Bharathi ), Chandru describes-“I sang vidudalai in that chemistry room haunted by spirits of Egyptian alchemists and madame Curie, a curious amalgam altogether”.
Describing the way he and his chemistry professor sang the song together, he says-
“between ourselves, we produced a whole range of sounds that the humanvoice is capable of”.
“hegde was not at home. Only an old woman. The number of oldwomen in Hyderabad appeared to have gone up considerably”.
His description of Shanmugham’s way of bowling and Chandru’s batting is also enjoyable.
It is a celebration of childhood. A celebration of fights and frienships of childhood. Especially, Chandru’s relationship with their Buffalo is one thing that will make us laugh and feel sorry for him at the same time. Due to ongoing agitation, Chandru discontinues college for some months-
“plain ordinary things had aquired excitement now that he had ceased going there”
Describes the feelings of nostalgia that one faces. It is a celebration of life in Hyderabad during the 40’s.
“If the pride of Mohenjodaro civilisation was its underground drainage system, pride of Secunderabad is its culture resided in its maze of lanes and alleys” says Chandru.
Coming to the serious issues talked about, Religion politics were there ever since those days. Chemistry Professor laments with Chandru –
“ to survive in this place, one need to have a cap or turban”
Regarding the Government of India taking over the Hyderabad state, he says-
“ till now, we had English men above us and from now, it will be Gandhi cap people. They are all same as far as we are concerned. Theres no escape for us.”
“a Hyderabadi gets no respect anywhere else in India” laments the Professor. This might perhaps be the response of Indian crowd towards Hyderabadis for refusing to join the Indian union. The participation of students in the fight against Nizam is well presented.
The incident of “Hindu” paper coming a week late and the local papers like Deccan Chronicle, Hyderabad Bulletin and Daily News not publishing anything other than matters of this state is one thing that shows the restrictions on the press. “the Hindu” and “The Indian Express” were banned for sometime too for supporting Indian Government. The Indian Government stops some supplies to Hyderabad state. The plight is described in the words-
“ in the princely state of Nizam, the only things available these days are greens, maize and peanut oil.”
The plight of Hindu people owing to the atrocities commited by the razaakars is well described in pointing out the increasing number of Hindus migrating out of Hyderabad. A sudden change is seen in the way the neighbour Kasim behaves with Chandru’s family. While this is going on on one side, refugees especially Muslims from various parts of North India migrate to Hyderabad following partition. The constant fear in which Hindus lived is described in the following sentence-
“ since there was a mosque nearby, people were always cautious in their worship in a temple. Bells were never very loud, no singing or playing of instruments, the sacred astotra praises of Ganesa became intimate whispers….”
Some of the Muslims who criticized these atrocities like – Shoyabullah Khan, the journalist met deplorable plights.
As the Indian army comes nearer, situation changes. The way various towns are affected in this process is narrated in the words-
“ for sometime now, the Indo – Hyderabad border especially the Warangal district has been reeling under the combined assault of Hyderabad’s police and Indian Military forces”.
In the end, when the Nizam announces his surrender, there is a sudden change in the attitude of people. Though nothing provocative happens intially, in a matter of minutes, Muslims stop coming out of their houses and suddenly, some Hindu powers arise. One thing that is uncertain is the introduction and abrupt end to the character of Narasimha Rao, Chandru’s rebel friend. Chandru once says about this person referring him as a Congress leader. One wonders if it is our ex-PM Mr P.V. Narasimha Rao. Mr PV has also been a rebel during that time as it can be gathered from his “Insider”
On the whole, the book is a simple, yet eleganly written account of a Hyderabadi life in the 40’s. Ashoka Mitran’s way of generating comedy from simple sentences is admirable.
Note: posted on 20th July 2005 in telugupeople.com