Kota Neelima is an Indian political author, a columnist and she also loves painting. She mostly writes on social issues related to women, farmers, rural people, etc. Her other writings include River stones, The Honest Season, Death of a Moneylender (which are also political novels), Widows of Vidarbha, Tirumala: Sacred Food of God, and Tirupati: A Guide to Life. She is also a Political Editor with The Sunday Guardian and Senior Research Fellow, South Asia Studies, Johns Hopkins University, Washington, DC.
Kota Neelima’s Shoes of the Dead is a fiction novel. Based on farmers from Mityala district in South Central India committing suicide due to debt distress. Which in turn affect the image of a political party in New Delhi. The story moves back and forth from Delhi to Mityala. Unraveling the lives of two different worlds. One that has inherited the power of the vicious political legacy. And the other that is fighting against the inheritance of despair and injustice.
Sudhakar Bhadra a farmer from Gopur village in Mityala, trapped in the vicious circle of continuous crop failures and increasing debts commits suicide. But unfortunately, the District Suicide Committee dismisses his case as death due to other reasons. And refuses compensation to his widow the Padma, like many other earlier cases. After learning about this injustice done to the dead farmers and their widows, Sudhakar’s brother Gangiri Bhadra decides to give up his job in the city and fight for the rights of the farmers by staying back in Gopur. He manages to become a member of the District Suicide Committee. And reopens every case that was earlier declared illegible for compensation. The re-inquiry conducted on these cases turns most of them to be eligible for compensation, which raises the number of debt distress cases in the district.
This, in turn, creates a major problem for Keyur Kashinath, the first time MP, representing Mityala district and son of a powerful politician Vaishnav Kashinath. It also affects the Party’s image in the process, questioning Keyur’s capabilities. The Party tries it’s best to save their image but nothing helps. This gives rise to conflicts between these two worlds of truth and lies, of poverty and power. Leading to unexpected circumstances and giving way to incidents that cannot be changed, corrected or undone.
This novel is a battle between Gangiri a simple and intelligent farmer and the newly elected MP Keyur Kashinath. Both represent two different worlds of truth and lies, justice and injustice and of selflessness and selfish motives respectively.
Gangiri tries his best to give justice to the dead farmers and their widows and wins the battle at last. But as it is said every win has its price, and Gangiri had paid the price. Though he had won the battle against inequality and injustice, he had lost the battle he was fighting against his own destiny. The ongoing events had pushed him to such an extent that realizing his fate he too chooses the same path the dead had once chosen. To depart from this wrong place, the wrong world. For he too had walked in the shoes of the dead.
Shoes of the dead is an intriguing novel focusing on the difficulties our farmers face. This story is not just about Gangiri Bhadra. But of every Indian farmer who is trapped in the vicious circle of crop failure and debt distress. And whose ultimate solution and relief to this is suicide. This, in turn, leaves behind their widows and innocent children to fight the heartless and selfish world. The author tells us that if we don’t treat our farmers correctly and address their problems on time then time is not too far to give us another Gangiri Bhadra and helpless poor families abandoned by them.
Shoes of the Dead is a good read. The language is also good and easy. The dialogues are simple yet strong. The author has an artistic skill of describing things and people making them attractive.
This novel is written very beautifully. Though the story is quite disturbing. As you proceed, every chapter unfolds the different faces caught in the vicious web of the unfair world – some for selfish reasons, while some of the selflessness. It unravels the bitter truth of the political world on one side whereas the disturbing reality of a farmer’s life on the other.
I liked Gangiri’s character the most. He is the immortal character of this novel in the true sense that has left a print of his powerful persona in the lives of the characters in the novel. And has also managed to leave a mark in the reader’s heart.
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As Gangiri says in this novel “none of us can match the powers we challenge. It is an unequal fight…” and yes it is. Our only weapons to overcome these challenges are those of honesty, truth, determination, and self-confidence.
I also liked the way the author has hinted towards the changes taking place in the system at the end of the novel, hopefully for a better future.
Shoes Of the Dead is a must-read novel. Once you finish reading, it’s hard to get your mind off it.
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