This month, we are back to the Caribbean, to the beautiful little island country of Barbados, surrounded by coral reefs. Barbados is quite densely populated and has one of the highest number of per capita centenarians. It was once a British colony and still retains many aspects of the British culture. It is said to be ‘the most British of the Caribbean islands’(Source:http://barbadosetecvotorantim.blogspot.in/)
Barbados is populated is with a large population of freed African slaves and hence has a tradition of storytelling. The stories are dripping with magical realism and are populated by mythical creatures. Barbados literature is usually equated with the work of Kumau Brathwaite, the famous poet. There are other interesting works also available in English.
The book I have chosen for my reading is Karen Lord’s ‘Redemption in Indigo’. Its the story of Paama who cooks wonderfully, her husband Ansige, who is a glutton who wont be satiated with even Paama’s cooking and the Chaos Stick which falls into Paama’s possession. This is the first fantasy that I am reviewing in this blog. I am expecting it to be a fun read.
‘The Redemption in Indigo’ is the story of Paama. A village lass and the daughter of a fairly rich and ordinary household, Paama has nothing to single her out at the outset. What distinguishes her is her strength, poise, her quiet dignity and of course her cooking ability. The smells wafting from her kitchen makes people passing through the street stop and smile. She is married to Ansige, who goes to extraordinary lengths for an extra morsel of food. It should have been a match made in heaven since Paama is a Goddess in the kitchen and Ansige worships food; only, it isn’t. Paama’s delicate sensibilities are hurt by Ansige’s insatiable lust for food. So she walks away and returns to her father’s native village, with her parents and younger sister, Niela. Fate follows her here and she is given the ‘Stick of Chaos’ for safekeeping.
‘Chaos was a far subtler force than most people realized. It would be so easy to sense if it threw off thunderbolts or sent barely sensed thrummings through the fabric of reality, but it was nothing more than the possible made probable. It did not break or bend any laws of nature or tip the balance of the universe. How would a mere human understand how to manipulate it? They would end up thinking they were merely lucky, or blessed.’
The Indigo Lord – one of the immortals – is not happy that his former power is with a mere human.
‘Humans did not hold such power within themselves easily; they had a deep-seated need for symbols, talismans and representations. Somewhere in the house was the symbol of the force of chaos, and unless he took that with him, he could not take back the power.’
He comes looking for it to Paama’s village and mistakenly assumes her sister to have the stick:
‘He had no idea how biased he had become. He saw Neila’s beauty, her casual cruelty and her boredom, and he saw himself. Naturally he assumed her to be the one gifted with his stolen power’.
He pretends to be Neila’s suitor and brings with him a whole retinue of staff. Among them is the poet, Alton, entrusted with the task of creating love ballads to serenade Neila on the Indigo Lord’s behalf.
‘Once he would have thought himself beyond fortunate to be in the household of a rich merchant prince, but fantasies and dreams worked well enough when unfulfilled. Now he would have to produce work worthy of his exalted position and the muse in him fled in terror at the thought.’
The rest of the story is of the struggle between the Indigo Lord and Paama and the combined fates of Alton and Neila.
This is a charming book with many interesting characters like the Sisters on the Hill, the talking insect shadows, the King of Dark Waters, the Commander of Bright Winds, the Queen of Everchanging Lands and the Trickster.
My only qualm is that I, as a reader, find it very annoying when the author talks to me directly and this book has such conversations aplenty. But for this, Redemption in Indigo is a delightful read. It gives a glimpse into the traditional village hierarchy and mythology of the country and I recommend it highly for reading from Barbados.
Other Options from Barbados:
In the Castle of My Skin – George Lemming
A coming of age novel; a commentary on race and class in the Caribbean
The Origin of Waves – Austin Clarke
Two childhood friends, now elderly, meet in a bar in the West and share secrets from their past.