Book in hand, she straightens the large square pillow before reclining on it. Next, she glances at the bottle of water on the wooden side table, scratched with age. Content at having completed the routine, she runs her fingers over the words ‘The Keeper of Memories’ on the paperback. Then she turns the cover and sinks into the story. It begins with a totem and a tale. “The first chapter is the most revealing of them all,” she thinks. “It gives away the theme.”
Speaking from the shadows of her Dehradun home, Dharmshila Bajai’s story of her brave Gorkha ancestors and their epic battle against the British enraptures her grandson Kharak. The grandmother’s yarn echoes to its end by invoking the kuldevta — a grey stone of enormous spiritual significance to the family. Bajai’s passing on her family’s history to the next generation underlines that Gorkha culture was rooted in the art of storytelling, and is reminiscent of Chinua Achebe’s description of the Nigerian village before colonial rule in ‘Things Fall Apart’. The oral tradition was central to both cultures as the written medium hadn’t yet become a repository of beliefs and values.
The Keeper of Memories is essentially a story of survival, of retracing the path to one’s roots. The novel carries a dark undercurrent that eventually envelops the Gurung family home, nestled in the idyllic green hills of Uttarakhand, untouched and pristine until change strikes. Read more