Lanterns on Their Horns, By Radhika Jha

Seductive story of the new India

Reviewed,Guy Mannes-Abbott
Tuesday 01 September 2009 00:00
Comments

Radhika Jha's second novel is about transformations in the heart and body of India. This new India will impact on us all, despite the lack of interest we showed in its national election this year. Jha bridges this chasm with a highly affecting and finely crafted story.

Lanterns on Their Horns takes place in an invented village a bus ride away from the real town of Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh. It follows outsiders Laxmi and Ramu in their struggle with a benign but absolute headman whose power is concentrated in a fine herd of cows. Battle commences with Ramu rescuing a fugitive "junglee" cow which Laxmi allows to be artificially inseminated with the high milk-yield-producing seed of a foreign breed.

This really is a novel about profane Indian cows, and yet nothing is quite as it appears. The traditional electricity-free village is the double of one flooded by Narmada river waters. A heavy monsoon inundates this new village too, forcing a return to the ruined site. Once there, Laxmi, the educated daughter of a suicide farmer, and Ramu, an orphaned goatherd, get rich on their insurgent milk. The centre of village life gravitates their way.

Jha begins with the miracle sperm itself, and how the fumbling idealist Manoj Mishra invests his Mumbai-wife's dowry in spreading this miracle free to poor farmers. However, her story is about the empowerment of Laxmi and Ramu – people destined for exclusion and exploitation in the old India. Her strength lies in conjuring the quiet and earthy life of a relatively thriving village. She inhabits the voice of Ramu's "junglee" cow brilliantly, but the jaunty satirising of the Kamdhenu research institute is a little tedious. Indian writing in English rarely lacks voice, but can misfire as to tone.

Lanterns is a seductive novel about the potential change beckoning hundreds of millions of Indians: a witness to India's complex interiors, and the revolutionary "churn" underway. This wonderfully warm and properly grounded novel is a great place to become familiar with it.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in