By Pradeep Singh
There are narratives of India’s freedom struggle spread across genres. History, historical fiction, memoirs, novels, plays and a range of movies have evoked memories of a past that is still fresh in the minds of our senior generation. For others, this period is made familiar through writings of several authors including the USA based Neerja Raman.
What is refreshing about the latest from Neerja Raman’s oeuvre is that she brings the dramatic events connected with India’s freedom struggle closer home. Her ‘The House on East Canal Road’, launched earlier this year by Archway Publishing, locates the major events in the life of its chief characters in the sylvan landscape of Dehradun.
Raman’s flowing style eases you into the chequered life of Kishan Chand Das, the patriarch of the family, who rises from somewhat humble origins through education and entrepreneurial spirit to prosperity and prestige in the social and business circles of Doon. He is well received in the halls of power of the British Raj.
Events take a turn when Kishan Chand decides to surprise all those dear to him by his spontaneous choice of a very different career.
The novel covers the early decades of the twentieth century when the British Raj was at its imperial zenith and the Doon Valley was an integral part of the Raj ecosystem which Raman emphasises.
Dramatic scenes do take the four offspring of Kishan Chand to other parts of the sprawling empire but Raman keeps the central focus on Dehradun. The Chand children despite strained circumstances prosper because of the values their father had ingrained in them and they, in turn, give a good account of it in their troubled times and in the face of challenges.
There are moments of mystery and expectations are tested as the plot winds its way and there are portions where the reader will turn the page eagerly to stay abreast with the unfolding events.
It is after a considerable time gap that a novel has appeared that will engage readers who seek to relive the bygone Dehradun of the British Raj, when the town was a unique haven secluded in the Valley of considerable charm in which you are touched by the sentiments and emotions of a great nation seeking its destiny that had been impacted by the colonial rule of Great Britain. Perhaps Raman’s long stay in the USA, away from her beloved Dehradun, places her well to reminisce vicariously through the actions of the main characters of the story of the Chands. ‘The House on East Canal Road’ and Neerja Raman’s charmingly simple narrative style will not disappoint those keen to know about this quaint town at the turn of the last century.
(Pradeep Singh is an historian and the author of Sals of the Valley: A Memorial to Dehra Dun.)