Book Review – The Dalliance With Destiny by Aman Singh Maharaj

Dalliance of fate spans over a century and does so beautifully. It effectively captures the dire circumstance under which the forefather of the protagonist is forced to leave his homeland in search of a better life. In search of a life that would enable him to provide a square meal for his family, the journey thus began from remote rural India to South African fields where Jagat Thakur begins life afresh. A life that was filled with hardships and setting a home away from home, forging new bonds with ‘Jahajibhais’, and looking beyond caste and creed. The author describes this phase so vividly that you can visualise yourself amongst those Indians who set foot in South Africa in 1910. This section also kind of gives an idea about how hard the ancestors of the Indian diaspora may have had to struggle before making it big, and it wasn’t all hunky-dory.

The novel has its fair share of twists and turns that will keep you engaged as a reader; it may be pertinent to mention at this point that this is an adult read.

The protagonist of the novel is in an intriguing love-hate relationship with himself. The parts where he narrates his childhood insecurities are quite relatable. A particular incident involving his best friend is quite heart-wrenching. The portions where the protagonist is seen coming of age, could have been vulgar, but the author manoeuvred the episodes successfully steering clear of vulgarity yet conveying a detailed description. The protagonist Milan Gansham is unnoticeable and seemingly unlike a hero, yet he ignites curiosity about himself in the reader’s mind. Having been subjected to a bygone litany of low caste monikers, and racial discrimination, the novel draws a clear picture of what the Indian diaspora faces in a foreign society, that they have adapted as their own, yet there is a bridge that needs to be crossed. In a complex way, Milan’s existence was a gift of European Imperialism. And that isn’t an easy task – to accept.  

Milan, despite his professional experience and expertise, is looked upon as a glorified clerk by his employer who also happens to be his ex-lover. He is unfairly dismissed by his employer, and now a lonely, unemployed divorcee Milan sets off to find life. Disillusioned by his non-existent existence in South Africa, Milan embarks on a self-exploratory journey to India. His strong urge to trace his ancestral roots, the hope of finding his soulmate, and understanding the purpose of life, are what sets the pace for the next phase of the novel.

The author effectively captures the dilemma the Indian diaspora faces with respect to their loyalty to their home country and their adopted country, in this phase of the novel.

Milan indeed traces his ancestral village, Kusmara, and this episode in the novel will have you glued to the pages, what with Milan meeting a dacoit. You may also draw a parallel with the movie Swadesh at this point wherein the protagonist uses his civil engineering skills to develop a system for water supply for the poor villagers, thus becoming the hero of his new found extended family.

By this point of the story, you already would know the innumerable one-night stands and marriages Milan has had, fate never being kind to him with matters of the heart, including an interesting rocking affair with an elite intellectual he meets in Calcutta. Until one fine day when love finally beckons him in Delhi as he meets Maya. To him, she is like the goddess, perfect in every which way. Interestingly, Maya is born of a cross-cultural marriage between a Kashmiri Pandit father and an Iranian Zoroastrian mother.

The story becomes even more interesting hereon, and it isn’t all easy to get the love of his life as a twist in fate awaits. The protagonist’s journey from finding himself at Osho to Goa, to Kashmir, and finally at the holy Ganges is an intriguing and interesting read. In a way it personifies the trials and tribulations many faces during their mid-age as they try to seek pleasure, battle loss, hold on to hope, fight their own demons and past trauma, search the purpose of their existence and finally inch towards finding their true calling.

The author has efficiently captured global along with local, history, he has given extraordinary attention to detail across space and time, which is reflective of the research he must have done to write this novel. A story that maps the mental turmoil, myriad emotions, material depravity, and finally the spiritual quest of the protagonist. The author has expertly tackled the darkest human emotions, the triumph of willpower.

The title of the book is thus a very apt one. The protagonist to whom initially life is nothing more than a dalliance, a casual fling, who sees life through one’s sexual escapades. And as is the law of nature, life keeps teaching us the same chapter until we learn the lesson, it holds true in this case too. Destiny keeps throwing various twists in an otherwise mundane life of an equally mundane person, until such time that he tries to seek the hero within.

This novel is an intriguing read, one that will keep nodding you to turn the page and read a bit more before hitting the bed. The language used is easy to understand, in some places Hindi words have been incorporated, albeit effectively. The novel however is best suited for an adult read, because of the context it explores, and the use of certain language and words. The author has made use of prose that is rich in alliterations and metaphors. With the power of his imagination, he has woven a sweeping plot that remains cohesive and consistent throughout the story. The characters are well thought out, and the main character as well as the supporting characters stand out on their own and leave a lasting impression on the reader’s mind. Maintaining the link spanning a century is a mighty task and kudos to the author for maintaining consistency on that front. All in all the book is a good read that will take you through contrasting situations and plots and leave you wanting to read some more.

The author who belongs to the Indian diaspora, having been born and brought up in South Africa, is a civil engineer. He later pursued MBA and then a Ph.D. in development studies. An engineer who has a discovered his literary streak is a rarity. The author has worked in diverse professions from engineering to economy, before finding his calling as an entrepreneur and writer. He is also a columnist with the national newspapers, focusing mainly on the Indian Diaspora.

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