I have always admired Renita D’silva’s writing style as it manages to strike a right chord by combining emotion, drama and some sort of connection to the characters’ past. It would be wrong of me to not admit that her stories are set in Karnataka and that instantly helps me relate a lot more to the characters and setting. I love reading her descriptions of Karnataka’s villages, its people and even food!
‘A Daughter’s Courage’ her latest novel makes references to all these aspects and a lot more. It brings to fore the often ignored ‘Devadasi’ practice whereby young girls are groomed to “serve” the temple deity (Goddess Yellamma), priests and rich landlords. In summary, it is prostitution in the name of religion and tradition. It is shocking to note that this practice is still carried out in certain remote parts of Karnataka. Part of the book is set in colonial India so we are also given a glimpse into the lives of British tea plantation owners and their interactions with the “natives”.
Gowri and Lucy to me, are the main protagonists. Gowri, banished into the world of Devadasis and Lucy, married to a tea plantation owner. Their lives appear to be very distinct and yet when you are greater acquainted with their stories, their motives and apparent compromises, their lives to an extent, seem to mirror one another. Apart from Gowri and Lucy, we also have Kavya and Sue. Now, are their lives inter connected at all and how can this be traced back to the lives of Gowri and Lucy? Also, does the title of the book ‘A Daughter’s Courage’ allude to a commonality across these characters – all women, all daughters?
Renita has done a fantastic job in character development and I particularly enjoyed reading about Gowri’s passion for books and reading. This paragraph for example poignantly captures this passion – “I read. And it is magic – I forget the yearning for my family, the ache in my soul; I forget myself. I am an adventuress, an explorer, intrepid and unafraid. I am not beholden to anyone, I am in charge of my own life”.
The story line that Renita has created is extremely engaging as it begins in present day Karnataka with the discovery of a ruined temple and thereafter the stories of each woman mentioned above and their association with this discovery slowly starts to unravel. At no point did I find the plot confusing nor did the supporting characters in the stories of the four women make the narrative tedious. In fact, I would put it down to Renita’s skill as a storyteller that I remained effectively engaged throughout the book.This is a fantastic novel especially if you are interested in India’s colonial past. Also, if you want to find out more about the Devadasi tradition Gowri’s character will provide this insight from the perspective of a Devadasi herself. Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I am already looking forward to Renita’s next piece of work!