by R K Biswas
Hansda Sowvendra Sekhar’s debut book, The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baski, had ushered in a new voice into the Indian English literary scene. A voice steeped in the soil of its origin—the land of Santhals—and refreshing in its clear visualisations of his people. His second book, The Adivasi Will Not Dance, published by Speaking Tiger does not disappoint. In fact, being a collection of short stories, this book feels (at first) like a Santhali Thali meal, with an array of ten (Santhali) dishes, each giving off its own aroma, distinct from the rest, strong or mild, sweet or over powering, creating together, a hearty experience. The colours, the sights, sounds and scents, the Santhali spirit—put together, they make up the essence of Hansda’s prose.
In the first story, “They Eat Meat”, the Soren family have to go and live in Vadodara, Gujarat, when Biram Soren, a high ranking officer, is transferred. The Sorens overcome the restrictive food habits of a vegetarian city, and even grow to love the place. But soon they are forced to confront the spectres of religious and caste divides, especially in the aftermath of the Godhra killings. And this is where this heartwarming story charmingly displays the indomitable human spirit of ordinary Indians.
“Sons” is the story of two women whose grandfathers were brothers. Like the two mango trees in the narrator’s house, one nurtured but fruitless, and the other left to grow wild but with the sweetest mangoes in their locality, their sons grow into manhood. Told in a conversational style, as if the narrator is relaying the events unfolding before him, “Sons” takes us straight into the bustle of a middle class Santhal home.