Sin does not result if one’s natural action is undertaken. As nature ordained it. O son of Kunti! Natural action should not be discarded, even if it is tainted. Because all action is tainted, just as fire is shrouded by smoke. – Tarun J. Tejpal, The Story of My Assassins
There was a nagging feeling of nausea in the core of my body. I mentally ran through my litany of woes – not that, not that, not that either, no, that’s a constant font, same old same old –and then, I remembered the exquisite detail in the telling of a prison interrogation scene in the book I had put down an hour before: The Story of My Assassins.
Ah yes. That’s it.
The story is basically an Indian why done it. Of course, as my favorite character in the book, Hathi Ramji says repeatedly,
If we all began to ask why, there would be only a mountain of whys. (20)
Ramji is sent to protect the sorry life of a journalist who has survived an assassination attempt that he did not know was attempted. Through his inquiry into his near murder, Tejpal tells the story of lives lived at the lowest denominator with a brutality that would make Roberto Bolaño proud, and me nauseated.
I said, ‘It’s about my murder.’
He said, ‘That doesn’t matter.’ (505)
Because in the turmoil and shit storm of survival, it really doesn’t matter. In fact, “to fret was naïve.” Why give yourself a stomachache? But I suppose I am naïve.
Interspersed between the brutalization of the lives of five children cum future murderers, is the story of a man trying to decide whether or not to escape, or find, his humanity. His erotic escapades with his mistress are highly charged and very funny. His nonchalant perplexity, leans slightly north of charming, if he weren’t such a bastard. But then, Tejpal has a beautiful way with words and imagery.
He heard the sweet music of rain on a thatch roof amid wet green trees at the end of a world he could never again find. (340)
That line sent me dreaming…It’s a long and epic book that delves into the history of India, hearts of darkness, and a mountain of whys. Never the less, I wish the book had been two pages shorter. It is not that I wanted our protagonist to suffer, or be punished for his deplorable behavior to the people, especially the women, in his life – no, in a way I quite like him. But, even I am not so naïve to buy the note of processed redemption that ends his story. At least not in the way it is expressed.
Sometimes when I read a very long, intense book my head feels a sort of physical pressure of all the words swarming around. I am so immersed in the world of the writer that I can’t help the feeling of creeping intimacy between us. After 528 pages, we are friends now. I have my own way of seeing things, but I know what he meant in the end. And I agree.
All that each stumbling soul wished to know was that there was someone out there who would hear him, hear the story of his darkness, and punish or absolve him. (199)
*Title from line – “the man was a master of bastardy” (274)