The Village by Nikita Lalwani

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‘Showing people the real India, eh!’

The Village revolves around Ray, a British-Indian BBC Reporter, sent with two colleagues to India to produce a documentary on a community prison there. Convicts are encouraged to live with their families in order to make them feel more a part of society. This documentary will be Ray’s first as producer, and as a woman with Indian heritage she feels that she has a lot to prove: ‘she was Indian and the British audience would see this film and understand what being Indian really means.’

Ray is caught between the British culture represented by her BBC colleagues, Serena and Nathan; and India, where the entire novel is set. This raises interesting questions about the politics of living in between two cultures and therefore wholly in neither. Ray tells everybody that she is a vegetarian, but she sneaks off to eat chicken when she thinks that nobody is looking. However, Ray’s life back home is rarely mentioned, specifically her personal life. Perhaps this is intentional, but it made her a little less real to me.

The Village is a worthwhile book and it brings up interesting questions about how societies should treat people who have broken the law. The open prison is praised by Nathan, who has experienced the British system first-hand, for ‘undo[ing] the damage that prison does. Traditional prison makes the transition back into society even harder.’ Yet when the people in the prison do get to speak for themselves it doesn’t seem as simple as cleansing as one might imagine. The child of one of the convicts seems to hate his dad whose fault it is that they are there. Anup wants to ‘get out of here’ when he is old enough, leaving his dad in prison so that Anup can look after his mum and brother. I appreciated this because I like to hear from both sides of things: what may be good from a political, societal, perspective is not always good for individuals.

But the delicacy and complexity with which this is handled seems missing in the last few pages. The characterisation is good throughout, except, in my opinion, of Ray. We don’t hear of family or friends back home and at the end of the novel she sabotages her professional life. I would have preferred Ray talk more about her background, have her explain a little more about being caught between the two cultures. Ray ultimately comes across as a very naïve person, as if her television career has just started, not that she is five years into it. Ultimately she is the least believable character in the novel; it is a shame that other characters that we see less frequently are more realistic. Overall, though, I would recommend the novel to anybody interested in contemporary Anglo-Indian fiction because there are a lot of interesting ideas inside it.

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