Book Review: Shoes of the Dead

Book: Shoes of the Dead
Author: Kota Neelima
Number of pages: 274
Price: Rs. 495

Shoes of the DeadI was looking forward to Shoes of the Dead by Kota Neelima. With farmer suicides, arrogant politicians and conflicting interests, it looked like a timely read. Reminded me of something that P Sainath might put together. In her note, at the beginning of the book, Neelima admits, “The stories of the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra are the soul of this book.” Largely set in Delhi and Mityala, a district in south central India, Shoes of the Dead draws you into a world of greed, deceit and helplessness.

Sudhakar Bhadra, bogged down by the burden of successive crop failures and excessive debt, commits suicide. The powerful district committee of Mityala denies his family compensation, stating that his death was not debt-related. Gangiri, Bhadra’s brother, takes it upon himself to bring justice to the dead by influencing the committee decisions to validate all similar farmer suicides as being debt-related. He gets himself appointed in the committee and systematically works toward questioning the status quo and reversing the previously passed verdicts.

In Delhi, a novice politician, Keyur Kashinath of the Democratic Party, a first-time member of Parliament from Mityala, is facing his first political crisis. It is in his invested interests to project the farmer suicides in his district as negligible and that all is hunky dory. However, Gangiri does not let him rest easy. The fight is not personal. It’s about being principled and doing the right thing.

Joining the two worlds is the tale of Nazar Prabhakar, a conscientious journalist, and Dr. Videhi Jaichand, a academic with the Center for Contemporary Studies, both of whom are fighting demons of their own.

Shoes of the Dead is an incisive read. Exposing the rot at the local government level, it has characters we are all too familiar with: the young and ambitious second-generation politician who thinks political power can be inherited and the spoils are his for the taking; greedy, unscrupulous moneylenders who thrive on exploiting the impoverished, often living off them; well-meaning but misguided academics; and farmers who give up literally everything in the hope of a successful harvest.

It is a loaded but an easy road. Neelima is rich with her descriptions, of people, of homes, of nature and even Delhi. I could keep rereading her passages where she narrates how the day makes way for night, the ennui of mid-morning angst and the bittersweet feeling that accompanies most sunsets. But as much as I loved reading the prose, I kept feeling that a lot of the writing and pontification belonged elsewhere. There was too much subtext between the lines, which the author failed to tie in successfully. Perhaps she didn’t intend to lead them to a conclusive end but I was left wanting.

Read Shoes of the Dead for its bold and blatant portrayal of the complexities and dynamics that govern our interaction with and perception of rural India. Let the facts startle you and leave you pondering on the worth of human life and its inequities.

I finished the book in a few hours but I’m going to revisit it to get reacquainted with heroes like Gangiri and Nazar Prabhakar.

Rating: 3.5/5

Learn more about Shoes of the Dead.

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