Review: A Bond So Sacred by Usha Rajagopalan

by Amir Ullah Khan

Usha Rajagopalan
Manipal University Press 2016, pp 360, Rs 450


A Bond So Sacred is Usha Rajagopalan’s tryst with a most fascinating era in modern Indian history. There is so little written about ordinary lives during the freedom struggle that what happened less than a hundred years ago appears so exotic and remote. Raman and Kokila are siblings who live during the twentieth century, with each mega event casting its shadow on their personal lives; The struggle against untouchability, emancipation of women, the salt agitation, widow remarriage, freedom from the British, the trauma of partition and the India Pakistan wars that follow.  Each of these incidents come alive through the lives of these two protagonists who take us through the making of modern India and its various trysts with tradition and modernity. Vey subtly, the novel brings in Gandhiji and Vaikom Basheer, among other stalwarts who become players in this story of a few simple people wanting to live a full life with their loved ones.

The story is told with such sensitivity and grace that the prose becomes poetic often. Six generations of characters come alive starting from the first page to the last, each so different from the other. Raman’s mother is the matriarch, and her personality is at once powerful, wise and vulnerable. She gives so much love, such sound advise and also inflicts a life long wound. Amina is a strong, free willed, determined young woman who appears in a few pages but stays through the book, hidden behind a veil of suspense and tragedy. Murali is absolutely heroic, gallantly stands up for his wife, speaks up against injustice, fights against all odds and grapples with life valiantly. Nagarajan is vile, ugly, cruel, scheming; the quintessential villain. The former represents the idealism, the valour and the romanticism of the freedom fighter, the latter stands for the vile, frustrated, helpless and limp post independence fate a young country suffers, as hate and anger tear apart the social fabric.

A Bond so Sacred is at once a heart wrenching saga of a few decades of history as it is a tale of a few familiar people who live and suffer through some of the most traumatic periods of hope and despair. The novel is at once rooted in a historical setting as it is timeless in its understanding of human emotion, longing and loss. The pace of action in the village where the story is set is gentle, but large political events alter the external environment frenetically, giving the plot a breathlessness that makes it difficult to put down the book.