Book Review: The Song Seekers by Saswati Sengupta

The caste system was an age old tradition in India which was inspired by religion, mythology, folklore, and much more. It is of course abolished now, but sit back and ask yourself, is it really done away with? The same can be said for the mistreatment of women. Women bore the brunt of a male-centric culture and although the claims are that equality has been established, most feminists will still continue to argue otherwise.

The Song Seekers, the first novel written by author Saswati Sengupta, revolves around the life of recently married Uma, who leaves her maternal home in Delhi to live with her husband’s family in the outskirts of Kolkatta. Kailash, the family bungalow, is an eerie mansion with many hidden stories which paves the twists of the story as the educated daughter-in-law of the house struggles with tradition and new age thinking to encourage equality for the domestic help in a more modern world that revolves around the conventional Kailash. As she begins to read the one-time revolutionary and traditional Chandimangal, written by one of the ancestors of the house and printed in the family press, she helps uncover the truth hidden in the mansion by giving courage and a voice to the previously neglected family servants.

The book is a constant premise of an ever-opening story which unfolds gradually with the turn of each page. Each chapter lays ground to the unravelling of another small story within the book which makes it a very interesting read. Laced in mythology and religion with the prevalent caste system, the story establishes how the past of the country is tarnished in inequality, despair and blind faith. It explains how the caste system proves to be a never-ending vicious circle for the lower castes since they are born into it and cannot break free. The onset of the Indian freedom struggle also plays its part in the book, with the caste system seeming to prevail despite the ensuing fight for independence which was said to unite all castes and creeds.

While a very interesting book to read, the author’s style manages to flounder the reader. The constant transition between direct and indirect speech during conversations, the jump from one characters thought process to another’s, the mid-chapter transitions from one characters view point to another’s are some of the difficulties for the reader to fully grasp while going through the book. It takes a good few pages to get a hold of the author’s writing style, but after that it’s smooth sailing with a fairly engaging story.

The Song Seekers throws light on many stories, unravels ideas and highlights plights which are usually forgotten ‘for the greater good of all’. It makes for an interesting read of a story set in a period of transition with several flashbacks and parallel stories which happen in a much more turbulent past.

- Sean Sequeira

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