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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 45

Projecting Farmers’ Plight

Wednesday 31 October 2007, by Anilkumar Sharma

BOOK REVIEW

River Stones (novel) by Kota Neelima; Book Wise, New Delhi; pp. 300.

The author highlights the sad plight of the poor farmers from different angles: failure of crops, the farmers’ inability to clear debts, especially to private moneylenders, starvation, hunger deaths and suicides due to desperation and many more reasons.

The relief packages and welfare schemes earmarked by the government are an eyewash— because not even 10 per cent of the money allocated is reaching the farmers. The people living in the same country, especially the middle class and the rich, ought to realise that the financial burden of the farmers who are dying— unable to pay debts—is much less than what the rich pay for their electricity and telephone bills.

The lines of the novel unfold clearly. Ari (Arihort Mohan) is an honest man, simple, humble, good-natured, concerned about the welfare of the farmers and the common people. As his professor stated, he is a good man, a better writer and the best student he had ever had, but also the most ungrateful man he had ever come across as he is indifferent to improving things around him.

These words struck Ari deeply. He justified himself by vowing to improve things around him; he wanted to prove that he was not a mere spectator of the events in life, but a fighter for the cause of his fellow human beings—a fighter unto death.

The title of the story comes from the fact that Ari, like the river stones that retain their identity despite strong currents, stood firm like a rock for the noble cause he had taken up. He did not forget who he was even for a moment, that he was a committed journalist, constantly worried about the welfare of the poor farmers.

Ari’s philosophy comes out in bold relief when he says that people put behind them the inevitable truth that they cannot live life forever, and that every moment we enjoy brings us close to the end of our lives. Shaken by the death of Kapil Rao (his friend), he takes it as a personal tragedy, begins a fast in protest against the death of his friend and for the cause for which he died.

ARI wants immediate relief to the farmers and long-term planning to keep them out of the death- trap. Ari comforts the farmers saying that they should bear their hardships and not think of putting an end to their lives.

We walk on this planet earth but only once but how many of us could do what Ari did? In the eyes of the farmers a fasting man for a noble cause is equal to God! Here, I am reminded of the Late Potti Sree Ramulu, who fasted unto death for the formation of Andhra Pradesh.

Similes and comparisons render spice to the novel—“the heat of the day … indelible”. The truths of life—“No peace without fear and no fear without pain”—leave a lasting impress.

Let us salute the farmers’ “Jai Kisan” echoing the words of our late Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. Kisan, without whose sweat and blood spilt on this good earth human life would be extinct from the face of the earth.

Kota Neelima was obviously moved by the suicides of farmers and has done well in projecting their plight in her novel. Well-written with sympathy and objectivity, the novel puts in perspective the condition of the Indian farmers after so many years of independence and nine Five Year Plans.

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