Sunday, February 1, 2009

Children of Kali (6/81)

While in a London bookstore, seeking out books to prepare himself for a prison lecture in front of a group of felons, author Kevin Rushby gets involved in a conversation about murder. So begins his fascination with the infamous Thugs or Thuggee, a bloodthirsty cult that would gain the confidence of travellers on the road before strangling and robbing them, all in the name of the goddess Kali. After hearing of the murderer and bandit Veerappan, who Rushby sees as a modern-day Thug, he sets out to India to find Veerappan and follow the trail of the original Thugs.

What he finds turns out to be surprising and much more complex. As he travels south from Mumbai to look for Veerappan and then north to where William Sleeman worked to eradicate Thuggee, Rushby gets a fascinatingly rounded picture of India, which was already starting to be transformed by its entry into the world service economy.

Rushby has a talent for description, an eye for detail, and a knack for finding the most interesting people. From a mysterious European to lecherous beat cops, his travel is full of fascinating people. The story he tells reflects an empathy towards the people he meets that allows the book to transcend the Orientalism that such an account risks. Rushby reports on an India that's complex and changing, full of poverty and corruption but also hard working and intelligent people. What originally started out as a quest for murderers ends up being a very humanistic account of a fascinating country.

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