Nominated | Book Awards 2021 | Creative Writing in English (Fiction & Poetry)
Every now and then, the lush green of the hills is hacked by wastelands of bleeding red earth and limbless tree stumps. Over these, a signboard ‘India Aluminium Inc.’ – with a big eye – keeps an eerie, humming, omnipotent watch. And it is with riveting cinematic metaphors like this that Devashish Makhija transitions his film Oonga into a powerful novel that sits deep in the clash between adivasis, naxalites, the CRPF and a rapacious mining company.
The story moves between lyrical innocence and militant justice, fear and brutal oppression – nuanced, sensitive, ramping up the tempo till all explodes. But at the heart of the churn is the little Dongria Kondh boy, Oonga. Desperate to see a performance of ‘Sitaharan’, he goes on an epic journey to the big city – to return as the blue adivasi prince of the forest, Rama himself! And, Rama-like, he must now take on the gun-wielding demons who have swooped on his village after abducting its passionately idealistic but pragmatic teacher, Hemla didi. With echoes of real incidents, a filmmaker’s flair, a cast of unforgettable characters, and a masterful retelling of mythology, the book hurtles breathlessly forward to expose the dystopia of ‘development’ and conflict of ideologies, complicated by the faultlines of language. Showing how peaceful people become victims of violence and are forced into battles they don’t want to fight.
Devashish Makhija researched and assisted in the well-known films 'Black Friday' and 'Bunty aur Babli'. He is the writer-director of the highly-celebrated full-length feature films 'Ajji' and 'Bhonsle' as well as several award-winning short films. He has written numerous screenplays - notably Anurag Kashyap's yet-to-be-made superhero saga 'Doga'. His versatile writing includes the collection of short stories 'Forgetting', the bestselling picture book 'When Ali Became Bajrangbali' and a widely published oeuvre of poetry. "I try to take every opportunity to present the heartbreak of the world to the world" he says of his work, believing that "reminders reinforce resolve", which 'Oonga' hopes to do.
Hemla walks ahead without hesitation. She knows the way. Having crossed the stream, she turns left to climb the bank, when Linga stops her with his rifle. He points in the opposite direction. At first Hemla looks puzzled. And then she understands. The jungle-lok don't stay in one place for long. They need to keep changing their coordinates. That makes it difficult to hunt them, even for the most experienced foe.
The slender forest path cuts away from the stream, and without warning cuts back towards it, where Hemla walks past a silent figure scrubbing a green uniform in the water. The figure pauses to watch Hemla pass. Her hair comes undone. It is long and lush. And falls like a stream down her shoulders and back.