Scent of the Soil 

Suchita Malik

Rupa Publications 

Price: Rs 295

Pages: 281

 

Suchita Malik’s Scent of the Soil is a classic work of fiction, a marked departure from her previous novel. The author, like a sculptor extraordinaire, carves an incredible and intricate chronicle. The riveting tale encapsulates the life and a career of a bureaucrat, an embodiment of unwavering zeal, who finds himself trapped in the mundane trials and tribulations of life. 

The story revolves around the protagonist of the novel, Shubhojit, his wife, Yashodhara, his two children, Hemant and Neelakshi and his aged mother, Kamladevi. A two-time Prime Minister awardee, Shubojit’s personal life is in shambles. His wife Yashodhara accuses him of being a failed husband and father. Like a flat cold drink, their marriage is also without the fizz. Just then, Yashodara decides to call it quits. She’s had enough. 

The glitz and glamour in the lives of public servants is true only on the surface. What lies underneath is a messy saga that must be laid threadbare. And Suchita Malik does justice. She effortlessly brings the core dilemmas confronting a civil servant to the fore. The trade-off between professional success and family life and all the myriad decisions that a career bureaucrat has to make along this long journey are often underestimated. However, the writer succeeds in revealing to the naive reader the complexity of decision making in the professional sphere, that too, in a heavily politicised environment where the bureaucrat finds himself under constant media and judicial glare. That’s not all. Add to this, the responsibility of being a devoted husband and a dutiful parent. Sandwiched in between is a hectic social life, lined up with extravagant dinners and musical soirees. One body pulled in three different directions to satisfy and please diverse stakeholders. A nervous breakdown is on the cards. Subhojit Singh suffers a massive heart attack. Will this become a watershed moment in his life? Will Yashodhara return? Will he be able to win the confidence of his children? Will he be able to give back to his roots? Will he return to his homeland? Only time will tell.

The glitz and glamour in the lives of public servants is true only on the surface. What lies underneath is a messy saga that must be laid threadbare. And Suchita Malik does justice. She effortlessly brings the core dilemmas confronting a civil servant to the fore. 

Malik’s style of writing is unparalleled; her calibrated selection of words and a self-effacing vocabulary makes the book a worthwhile read with the gravity of a common thread shining through. The author weaves a beautiful veil with distinct and vivid patterns through her characters, thereby creating an impeccable prose. That she has a deep understanding of human emotions would be an understatement. Malik, like an expert artist has an eye for great detail and paints mystic images which leave the reader spellbound. 

Shubojit is the quintessential Indian civil servant, with extraordinary resilience and the will to live in spite of all hardships that life has to offer. Flipping through the pages of this book is like breathing in lungful of fresh air which makes it a promising work of fiction.  The book is a must read for all those who wish to peep inside the life — both professional and personal — of a career bureaucrat. The writer apparently prefers multiplicity and variety over drama and intensity, and the result, if not incredible, is definitely warm and charming. Delving into the pages of this novel is like sipping hot chicken soup at the end of an extremely rough day: it just soothes your taste buds rather than exciting them and you are indebted for that.  

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