There is a general consensus among reviewers that Indian writing is depressing. Well, there is plenty of pretty upbeat Indian writing out there these days, however Between the Assassinations written by Aravind Adiga is definitely not one of them.
Between the Assassinations is a compilation of short stories of various incidents that take place in the small town of Kittur – during the time period between the assassinations of two iconic Prime Ministers of India – Indira Gandhi’s assassination (1983) and Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination in 1991.
Kittur is a small town in South west India (Karnataka). It is a forested town, with Hindu temples and Catholic churches, near the Arabian Sea. In this setting, Aravind Adiga tells stories about various characters – Ziauddin, “small and black, with baby fat in his cheeks, and an elfin grin that exposed big, white rabbity teeth,” is a Muslim boy who finds work in Kittur shops but steals from his employers. Abbasi is a businessman trying to deal with corrupt local officials. Xerox, who sells pirated books (including a copy of the banned Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie), is the son of the lowest of the low: waste collectors. Half-Brahmin (his father), half-low caste (his mother), the rich but confused Shankara sets off a bomb at school and suffers the consequences.
All the stories are very well-written, and the writing is first-class. Unfortunately, I could not relate to them too much partly because the India of today is so much different from the India of the 1980s. In addition, none of the stories have an uplifting ending. All the stories have either an unhappy or a status quo type of ending.
In addition, after reading The White Tiger, reading this is almost like an anti-climax. In The White Tiger, the protagonist takes control of his destiny (even if it is by committing murder). In this collection of short stories, the protagonists make fruitless efforts to improve themselves before falling into a state of lethargy.
However, I must say that I still enjoyed reading this book. I would have probably enjoyed it a lot more if I had read it before The White Tiger. In fact, in some ways it is a prelude to The White Tiger, and I highly recommend reading this before reading The White Tiger.
Btw, here is a link to a nice interview where Aravind Adiga answers some questions on what inspired these two books. The interview also gives a neat background to these books, which might help readers who don’t have such a detailed knowledge of recent Indian history.