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

India Today - - LEISURE - —Latha Anan­thara­man

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

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