Book Review: Dvarca by Madhav Mathur

By Imteyaz Alam

2-dvarca-coverImagine a country with one race, one language, and one religion where the state intrudes into the personal life of citizens. The state decides pregnancy and the traits of progeny to be born, distributes a quota of a type of food for each individual, decides the profession of people and promotes one language and one religion. The control is draconian and the thought process is manipulated and conditioned. It is boastfully declared that “Multi-culturism is dead”. It is a futuristic imaginary country depicted by Madhav Mathur in his new novel Dvarca.

Madhav Mathur, a Singapore-based writer, works for an MNC. Dvarca is the second novel by this writer-filmmaker. His first novel is The Diary of an Unreasonable Man. His award-winning films The Insomniac and The Outsiders have been screened at numerous festivals.

At a time when the ultranationalists and right wing forces are taking centrestage across the globe, Dvarca is well-timed. The book depicts the future but has an imprint of the past and is quite relevant to the present as well. The author has a deep knowledge of mythology and history. The author also has a sharp observation of current developments. Madhav Mathur has skillfully crafted the story nicely, blending it with mythology, history, science and fiction.

The craft and story of Dvarca resembles George Orwell’s 1984. The telescreen of 1984 is modern interactive television. Two Minutes Hate is celebrated as the Hour of Honour. The Big brother of 1984 is the great leader called Shastriji. The network of spies in 1984 is replaced with the omnipresent DD — Distant Directives — that tracks the movement of every individual. Every right or wrong is done for the country and for religion. The motto of the fictional country is “THINK THE SAME ACT THE SAME BE THE SAME”. One country, one language, one way of life that is Navmarg is enforced by state apparatus. Uniformity is celebrated and diversity is hated. The people are blinded with hate against other countries, other languages, and other cultures. They are indoctrinated to believe and accept whatever comes from the state. “ASK NOT WHAT GOD AND COUNTRY CAN DO FOR YOU.” “ASK WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR GOD AND COUNTRY.” The line between sport and war is blurred.

The title of the book is based on the ancient city Dvārakā., the city of great religious importance. The present-day Dwarka situated in the state of Gujarat, India is one of the char dhams (the four abodes/seats). The very title of the novel lays the foundation of the book on which the author constructs the edifice. The novel is full of allusion to history and mythology. The names of characters and events are named after characters from Hindu mythology. The women are named Jyotis, Miras, Aditis whereas men are named as Gandharva, Nakul, Arjuns, Vishwakarma etc. They are further identified by kalaava (wrist band) which shows the position of the individual in the hierarchical society of Dvarca.

*Spoiler Alert* This gripping dystopian novel depicts a futuristic country called Dvarca which India is called at the turn of 22nd century. The world is in a mess with warring factions at loggerheads with each other. This is a story of a family of a lowly bureaucrat Gandharva, Jyoti, Mira and Nakul. One night Gandharva chose to walk instead of going by bus for a routine test. This aberration makes him suspicious in the eyes of the state. He courts trouble and ends up with a huge penalty — a 50 percent cut in food quota and recommended training. Jyoti, mother of Mira and Nakul, is a devout and caring lady. She works at Dvarca Mill. Jyoti is artificially inseminated with Vidur as is the practice of Dvarca. All the pregnancies are state planned and is artificially done. She is unwilling and resists the insemination as she is already a mother of two. But she has to accept for the country and for the God. One day she escapes a deadly explosion; an act of terror orchestrated and perpetrated by Dvarca itself. But the blame is put on the caliphate, a hated country in war with Dvarca. This is done to create fear and instill obedience among the citizen. She survives as the lone witness. It makes her vulnerable. Somehow she hides the fact that she knew anything. Nakul, son of Jyoti and Gandharva, a prodigy, is declared “The Pupil of the Nation of the Year”. He gets the opportunity to meet the great leader. It so happens that at the time of meeting and hugging the great leader, Nakul gets an erection, which the great leader mistakes as a hidden weapon in his pyjamas. He orders the arrest of the ill-fated Nakul. Nakul somehow escapes without being caught by the ferocious Varaha, the guard of Dvarca. With the help of another shamed girl Samyukta, Nakul runs away.

This timely novel is a captivating dark satire which depicts modern times. It is well-researched, well-crafted and multi-layered.

The reviewer works with the Ministry of Railways, Government of India.