The Folded Earth, Anuradha Roy
Free Press, 253 pages
At nineteen, Maya gave up everything to marry the man she loved. Her intelligence had secured her parents’ respect, and they hoped, in time, that Maya would take over the family business. While away at university, however, she fell in love with Michael, whom her parents deemed unsuitable because he belonged to a different religion and a lower caste. Maya’s mother whispered hopefully of reconciliation once Maya and Michael had children, but that moment never came. Six years after their wedding, Michael had a fatal accident during a mountain climbing expedition. Maya, stricken with grief, decides to build a new life for herself close to where he died in the foothills of the Himalayas, two thousand kilometres from everything she has ever known.
Maya quickly settles into life in the small village of Ranikhet. She teaches a few classes at the Catholic school and supervises the students who work at the jam factory. At the end of the day, she walks to the house she rents from Diwan Sahib, who once held great power in the region and has served as the custodian of the letters between Edwina Mountbatten and Nehru. Maya listens to Diwan Sahib’s glorious tales of India in days gone by, and in the evenings, types his unfinished biography of one of his heroes from that time, an explorer with a fearless love of the Indian wilderness. From Diwan Sahib’s stories and the kindness of other neighbours, Maya learns to love the land and people of Ranikhet. She takes care of her aging landlord, teaches her neighbour Chua to read and write so she can secretly correspond with her boyfriend in the city, and has potentially found a new love in Diwan Sahib’s nephew Veer.
Just when Maya has created a place for herself in Ranikhet, however, the peace of the village is threatened. Upcoming local elections have stirred up hatred, greed and violence in the area, and suddenly, things are different. Hindus are pitted against Catholics, striking fear into the hearts of the staff and students at Maya’s school. Chua’s uncle, who tends animals and lives simply on the edge of the village, is brutalized. And Veer has come to Ranikhet with a disregard for his uncle’s well-being and more than a passing interest in the famous correspondence.
Written in a captivating voice and set against an enchanting backdrop, The Folded Earth is a brilliant exploration of the roles of the individual, the community, and the landscape in a changing India.