Book Review: The Legend of Ramulamma
When I started reading this book I thought at worst, Ramulamma would be an Indian derivative of Agatha Christie’s somewhat underwhelming Ms. Marple – a shadow of her legendary Poirot. However, as I got further into the book, I realized that getting an Indian Ms. Marple might have actually been a good bargain.
Quite frankly, I did not quite understand what the book was supposed to be. Was it stories to build up Dalit women from Telengana? Was it about the childhood/ adulthood/ some other life stage adventures of Rajan in Telengana? Or was it a collection of random short stories set in rural/ semi rural India?
The title, blurb and the first chapter implied that I would be reading about a lady who has exemplary prowess as a detective. But the book goes on to talk more about happenings in the rural and urban households of Telengana where Ramulamma plays some part or the other. We travel from story to story without there being a character arc really – Ramulamma is a good samaritan in one story, a great detective in the next, where she solves a case long after the plot has revealed who the culprit is and then, a good natured maid servant in the next who helps an urban couple with her cunning.
Rajan has a good hold over English – rare with contemporary Indian authors and can write flowery prose. Unfortunately flowery prose stands in the way of his stories. In detective/ thriller novels, the prose needs to be littered with subtle clues or be so direct, hectic and fast paced that no one can figure out the obvious/ semi obvious clues. I understand that Rajan suffers mostly because he has titled the book (or his publisher has) The Legend of Ramulamma. It could have been more aptly titled Tales from Telengana and made for a breezy airport read.
A couple of stories are mildly interesting; I liked the Visitor story; four pages shorter and it would have been a taut classic. Rajan has a good hold over English and his writing hand is steady. But for a titular character, Ramulamma does not really display exemplary logical prowess. She just appears and solves problems, which sort of leaves you exasperated as you do not get the Aha your mind craves when you read a detective mystery novel. The fact that the book is actually a collection of short stories doesn’t help; Ramulamma doesn’t really have enough mystique, character or backstory to actually do what she so suddenly does at the end of every story.
I am going with a generous 1.5 out of 5 stars for Vithal Rajan’s The Legend of Ramulamma. He can write but without a plot, all books are as good as a blog. I am rather surprised the publisher found the content publishable in a paperback.
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