Title: Dancing to the Flute
Author: Manisha Jolie Amin
Source: Advance copy from publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 4 out of 5
This is an inspiring story about a young Indian boy named Kalu. He is an orphan who doesn’t remember his parents or his past and wakes up one day in the rural village of Hastinapur. He starts working for a wealthy woman, Ganga Ba as a way to earn a living. He befriends Malti, the yound servant in Ganga Ba’s household and Bal whose father has sold him as a bonded slave to a buffalo keeper. His only passion is playing a flute.
When a travelling vaid heals Kalu’s infected foot, as part of the payment, he requests Kalu to play the flute for him. Then he teaches him a raag. As the final part of the payment, the Vaid asks Kalu to become a student of his brother who once was a world-famous musician but is now a recluse living in an isolated house far away from the village.
This is a mesmerizing complex story of Kalu and his friends. It is tender and harsh in equal parts, bringing out the complexities of Indian caste system, culture and tradition. The story of friendships, love and sacrifices is intricately woven with the harsh age-old customs of the Indian society which brings out some shocking realities with it.
As we see Kalu rising from a beggar and transcend the boundaries of caste, we also see how the lives of Malti and Bal are changed over the years. Kalu has a deep desire to change his friends’ lives as he himself changes through acquisition of knowledge and exposure to a better world.
The characters and deep, complex and very real. The story drags a bit somewhere in the middle but it is just as poignant and moving and addresses some social issues that we face today.