On My Bookshelf: Community Recs No. 8

Book cover for S. Shankar's "Ghost in the Tamarind: A Novel." Background is a negative imprint of a tree thick with leaves against a red gradient.

 I recommend Ghost in the Tamarind: A Novel by Subramanian Shankar. It is a postcolonial story that takes place in India where a Brahmin boy, Ramu, finds a body of a laborer, Muragappa, under a tamarind tree. The time is pre-Independent India, and the class and caste boundaries prevent an investigation. Ramu cannot get the image out of his head and reaches out to Ponni, Marugappa’s daughter. They have to create a secret friendship so that the eyes of the village do not talk with rumors. Ramu and Ponni reflect what is going on in the country as there is much turmoil. Their friendship turns into a romantic relationship but Ponni is from a lower caste than Ramu and is considered untouchable. Ghost in the Tamarind is divided into four parts the first is set in a village in Tamil Nadu, Paavalampatti. Shankar provides vivid imagery of the caste hierarchy in this region. Marugappa is grateful for his employment because he is a lower-caste man. The importance of the caste system is in question because of the negative impacts it has on social justice. The third and fourth parts return to Tamil Nadu. Ramu, Ponni, and a friend Arokiasamy plan on building a school in Thirunelveli. The owner of the land finds out that educating people would prevent him from getting workers. It is a confrontation that causes Ramu and Ponni to drift apart. This story of forbidden love is parallel to the history and present India. Shankar’s novel is fascinating because it has ordinary people doing extraordinary things by having the courage to challenge society. They risk everything to try to change society because their love is more important than societal control. It is a controversial novel that enlightens the fact that India may not have changed however it is a beautiful challenge.

Subramanian Shankar was born in Salem, India, and is a professor of English and Chair of the English Department at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He is a critic, novelist, and translator of Tamil into English and his areas of interest are in postcolonial literature specifically Africa and South Asia, creative writing, literary theory, and cultural studies. He was my creative writing professor and a mentor during my undergraduate studies at the University of Hawaii challenging me to keep on improving.

-Richard Ramirez

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