In a way this is a parable of what life is meant to be in the Hindu context. Scent of the Soil: A Civil Servant Returns to His Roots by Suchita Malik is a story of a civil servant in his fifties who decides to abandon his profitable career and return to the soil where he grew up. Subhojit Singh (the protagonist) has won two Prime Minister’s Awards and is a highly regarded civil servant but his personal life is in shambles. His wife has left him and his two children are at loggerheads with him as a result.
Quite a few authors have started by flinging their hero into the thick of things, setting up life afresh separated from the rest of the world and finding their ways through herb gardens and bird watching to a brave new world. Malik’s approach is different. She uses a heart attack caught in the nick of time which throws Subhojit into hospital and following that a period of bed rest. His children and his mother keep him company and together they begin to talk about old times.
Malik paints the picture of an ideal life in Subhojit’s ancestral village where everyone co-exists in perfect equality. Those lower down the social scale work on a system of barter for services rendered to the landowners and all those problems which leap out at us from the front pages of papers seem not to exist. Her tale of utopia comes to transform Subhojit’s life through the words of a wise senior, his mother. When his health improves, he realises that he cannot live alone in the cold world of bureaucracy — his children are going to college and they have their own lives to lead. So he packs his bags and reaches the state shown on the book cover, the village of his childhood. However he does choose not to move back into the haveli with his mother.
The story is a gentle reminder that we need to come to grips with what is important before it is too late. In the twenty first century, we all know that people are far too busy chasing success to relax and unwind barring a select few who choose to find their vanprashthaness. Malik points out that the kind of success that Subhojit is celebrating is actually damaging since his is a dog eat dog kind of world where attempting to do good comes with a cost.
Anjana Basu is the author of Rhythms of Darkness...