The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
Raj Kamal Jha’s narrative of a woman, a child and a rapist is impossible to put down
Read this book while it’s light out, especially if you’ve ever waited for someone to come home. In a stream of prose that never loosens its cold hold on the reader, Raj Kamal Jha, editor of The Indian Express, tells a horror story that is particularly powerful because the horror was real and the story never ended.
One evening a woman went to watch a movie with a friend and never made it home. On a bus coming back from the cinema, the two were assaulted and she was raped with such brutality that we still flinch to read about it. This was the case that all of India followed, from the initial reports to the handing down of the death sentence, not to leave out the death that happened between the two.
Jha’s story is not a true crime re-creation. It leaps into the realm of fiction, probing into the mind of the dying woman. While her body lies in a bed,
attached to tubes and wires, she breathes the clear, Arctic air of a German city and looks forward to a glimpse of the sea. Meanwhile, her child waiting for her at home realises something has happened to her. Reality fractures at this point in the story. A boy called December leads him out into the mad, unhappy city in search of his mother. During the night, the child finds papers that seem to contain December’s confession and realises that it is December who has done something terrible to his mother.
We know what has already happened and what is to come, but it is impossible to turn away from this triangular narrative told by a woman, a child and a rapist. In reality, there was no child. He is the child that could have been if her body had not been broken, just as she holds in her mind the snowy world and icy seas she could have seen.
And the confession of the rapist, is it real or is it also what might have been? Unlike the child who never existed and the woman no longer alive, December lives and breathes. We may look at his story askance, thinking, no, don’t stir up my sympathy here, but we are compelled to read it through. The entire work, painful as it is, must be read, not just because it forces us to face the darkest dark, but because it leaves us a glimmer of hope as well.
THE CITY AND THE SEA Raj Kamal Jha Hamish Hamilton `499, 240 pages