Thursday, November 19, 2020

The Tainted by Cauvery Madhavan, a novel of Ireland, India, and their intersecting histories

Madhavan describes an era long gone which continues to make an impact. An Indian-born writer who has lived in Ireland for over thirty years, she conveys her extensive familiarity with both countries’ histories and how they intersected. The first half of this thought-provoking novel opens in 1920, as Private Michael Flaherty settles into life in the Indian hill town of Nandagiri along with his regiment, the Royal Irish Kildare Rangers.

While assisting the local priest with Sunday Mass preparations, Michael meets Rose Twomey, a pretty Anglo-Indian who serves as the lady’s maid to the wife of his commanding officer, Colonel Aylmer. In her diary, Rose shares her feelings about Michael, her role in the Aylmer family, and her longing for Ireland, which she considers her true homeland. Her naivete is heartbreaking, for readers know that even with her elegant handwriting, fair skin, and her utter rejection of her Indian heritage, she’ll never be accepted into Irish society. When Michael and his fellow soldiers get word about the atrocities committed by the Black and Tans during the Irish war for independence, they take drastic action that affects his relationship with Rose.

The novel’s second half is even better. In 1982, Richard Aylmer, the colonel’s grandson, travels to Nandagiri for a photography project, and the friendships he establishes allow for open cross-cultural dialogue about the region’s complicated history. A key contributor to the discourse, May Twomey, Rose’s granddaughter, wryly observes Anglo-Indians’ misplaced sense of nostalgia for the days of the Raj: “We’re tainted – we were never white enough then and will never be brown enough now.” She’s a terrific character, a woman with a clear-eyed view of the past and present. The story offers a lot to unpack about colonialism and social belonging and is recommended for its insights and thoughtful writing.

The Tainted was published by Hope Road in 2020, and I reviewed it from a purchased copy for November's Historical Novels Review.  

The Royal Irish Kildare Rangers are based on the historical Connaught Rangers. As I learned on Twitter afterward, on November 3rd, 2020, the Embassy of Ireland in New Delhi hosted a virtual conference with Jawaharlal Nehru University entitled India, Ireland, and World War I: The Connaught Rangers 1920 Mutiny and its Socio-Political Dimensions. Author Cauvery Madhavan was a featured speaker, discussing the historical background to The Tainted and how she wove it into her story. The archived presentation is available on Facebook. Her session begins around the three-hour, 29-minute mark (3:29:00). Having just finished the novel, I found it absolutely fascinating.

No comments:

Post a Comment