by Leela Soma
Set in South India, in the tiny cantonment of Nandagiri The Tainted by Cauvery Madhavan traces the lives of the Anglo-Indian community. They belong nowhere, not to the ruling Raj, or the local community, tainted by their mixed blood. The love story between Private Michael Flaherty of the Royal Irish Kildare Rangers and Colonel Aylmer’s wife’s maid, Rose evokes a period of the 1920’s era, and is captured through the eyes of the protagonist Michael and diary entries authored by Rose.
The first part of the book describes a hill station that I am familiar with. Madhavan has brought the flora and fauna of the area with brushstrokes of perfection that one is transported to it on the pages of the novel.
Readers will enjoy the wonderful and realistic portrayal of the lives of both a young man serving in an Irish regiment in a foreign land. Father Jerome with his ‘solar topee’ keeps the men on the straight and narrow. Mass is held in the chapel. The cantonment is like a tiny Ireland in the sweltering heat of India.
“The officers are planning a tiger hunt in the Masinagudi Forest: they are eager to have it before the rains come out… the forest cover is sparse at the moment animals are easier to spot, but just one heavy rain can change everything, turning everything lush and green.”The Tainted by Cauvery Madhavan
Madhavan’s meticulous research of that period and of the life of an Irish Regiment is flawless. But news of the ‘Black and Tans’ atrocities reaches the Kildare Regiment in India and the young men get restless. Michael and feisty Rose’s passionate affair ends abruptly. Six decades later, Colonel Aylmer’s grandson Richard, a photographer, arrives in India.
The 1980’s India is very different from the one Colonel Aylmer experienced. Madhavan has once again captured the life of an Indian civil servant, Richard’s host, beautifully. She has written sensitively on the quest of a young Irishman searching for connections of his grandfather’s life in India.
I liked the novel for highlighting the close connections between India and Ireland. As a writer who researches connections between Scotland and India, this was another facet of the Raj that has been neglected in our mainstream literature. I am glad that this novel fills that void. Readers will empathise with the main characters and want to see them achieve their goals.
The Tainted has a historic setting and is brought to life in deft strokes by an accomplished writer. Given that the current Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is also of Indian heritage makes this book even more relevant and a welcome means to celebrate the multicultural communities of the Emerald Isle.
The Tainted is published by Hope Road Publishing Ltd on 30th April
Leela Soma was born in Madras, India and now lives in Glasgow. Her poems and short stories have been published in a number of anthologies, publications. She has published two novels, Twice Born (You Right On 2008), Bombay Baby (Dahlia Publishing 2011), A short story collection Boxed In (Pot Hole Press2018) and two collections of poetry From Madras to Milngavie (2006) Tartan & Turmeric (2018). She has served on the Scottish Writers’ Centre Committee and is now in East Dunbartonshire Arts & Culture Committee. Some of her work reflects her dual heritage of India and Scotland.