The Dance of Durga by Kanika Dhillon is the story of a strong woman from a small village in Punjab to conquer the world. And when she conquers the world, she has to conquer herself.
The story begins in the most dramatic way, with the dying grandmother making the prophecy about her about to be born granddaughter. She insists that the newborn is named Durga – for she has to do great things in life. Grandmother passes away, and the young girl does have a special gift. She can predict things, things like it would rain tonight or a bridge across village canal is about to collapse. The build-up for Durga’s story is brilliant. You want to let go of your food or favorite TV show to read what she would predict next.
As she grows up, she is just another girl, one among many sisters and a brother. She falls in love, gets cheated, gets married to an old man. Gets raped by his ambitions – and her gift it seems is lost or the author Kanika Dhillon forgot about it while writing this part of her story. Anyway, she lands in an Ashram and starts nurturing ambitions of being the leading God woman of the ashram. Like any other person driven by pure ambition, she uses or abuses everything in her power to reach that place.
She uses her body, mind, and soul to chase her ambition.
A usual story of extremely beautiful and highly ambitious women. The special gift angle is lost, even when it makes an appearance in the story, it is too feeble a voice to matter. The protagonist does not even feel pain. She just plots and gets what she wants – even when she is trying to redeem herself. I guess Kanika Dhillon wanted to highlight the loss of faith she goes through and how in the end it is the faith that redeems her. But to me even there she plotted for her win, making sure that no one lived off her fame and the one most devoted to her are annihilated.
I had an unusual journey with the book. It began on a high note, then it dragged on with the twists and turns. And the end though unexpected did not leave a great aftertaste. What I must credit Kanika Dhillon with is her creation of mood – you love the little stubborn girl when she wants you to, you hate her when she is manipulative. You sympathize with her when she is abused and you detach yourself from her just as both the protagonist or the author wanted. Character etching is really good. However, it is the pace that I was not comfortable with – not that it was slow or fast. But there were too many scenes with too many faceless descriptions.
For example, she mentions gardens and birds too many times. There is a long description but never mentions the name of birds or the plants around – apart from the usual ones. Similarly, her description of the village is great – brings alive the village but most other places remain soulless. Many other scenes are also unnecessarily stretched with long descriptions not relevant to the story or the state of mind of characters.
In one part of the book The Dance of Durga, she takes her scenes across India – giving a travelogue-like the description to say places like Lucknow. As if she is trying to connect her protagonist’s story with the underlying story of the place, but that does not happen. I did not see the need of the same. Curtailing these descriptions would have made the story crisper. Characters like Devi appear out of nowhere.
In The Dance of Durga, Kanika Dhillon very courageously puts light on ashram chains sprouting across the country. How the politics and religions come together to sell religion and sway opinions or votes in their favors. The flesh trade that goes on behind the scenes only points to the women being objects is here to stay – no matter if a woman is heading the organization or a man. Kanika Dhillon deserves an applause for writing about these rampant practices at ashrams. Would love to dig into her research.
Language is easy but gets too repetitive in repeat scenes. The editing leaves you wanting for much more. There are gross errors like mentioning Lohri festival in Summer months. The protagonist goes from 22 to 34 in a journey of more than 15 years. I can go on and on, but then how many times am I going to crib about editors. These days I am surprised when I find a book without this kind of errors. They do not even bother to correct them in upcoming editions.
Take your call.
This is the first book I read on Google Play. And that calls for a comparison between Play & Kindle – someday soon.