Rarely do you come across a book which tries, and to a great extent succeeds, in sensitively handling social taboos existent in a society. Neil Must Die (NMD), a novel by Kaberi Chatterjee, is one such brave attempt. NMD has been previously published in the United States, and is brought to the Indian bookshelves by a new publishing house, Blackbuck Publication, which is debuting with this book.
The book has an interestingly laid out story which keeps you gripped much before the story actually starts. The acknowledgement and preface of the book explicitly inform about the presence of adult content in the novel which was enough to rouse interest (Tongue firmly in cheek). On a serious note, NMD shocks you, shakes you and presents before you an interestingly knit piece of events which moves back and forth in time and has its layout divided between different characters.
The novel keeps up the pace nonetheless, which got disturbed by too many vernacular Bengali words with their explanations and references listed in the end. It is understood as the initial market of the book was non-Indian, and hence a detailed explanation of all the customs and rituals was required. But the to and fro mode of the story and the regular flipping through the pages exercise did take some time to wade through the book. It also lightened the intensity of the situation as I needed a break to look out the meaning of the heavy words. Though an inline explanation would have pushed up word count, it would have gone well with the narrative. Additionally, my copy of the book had many typos which dented my reading further. I hope the publishers rectify the mistakes in forthcoming editions.
Neil is a no-nonsense guy who lives in Calcutta in a joint family, with a strict father and stricter rules. His brother gets married to a happy-go-lucky girl, Tuli, who fills music in the bland environment of everyone’s lives, who makes their house feel like home, and she slowly wins over everyone’s heart in the house. Even Neil’s. Tuli was prophesied after her birth that she would die soon, so she takes up risks, lives life to the fullest and happily awaits her death. Neil tries to flee away from Tuli, but there’s a bad world waiting out there for him, which overpowers him and sucks him to the core. Tuli tries to flee death as she finds greater solace of her thoughts and feelings with Neil. The Tuli-Neil romance forms the crux of the story and the developments in the plot leads to further complications and strains in familial ties which eventually shapes the question, why must Neil die?
Chatterjee has done a praise-worthy work by mixing together elements of thriller and romance with a fine dose of suspense as to which side the scale would tilt after a few pages. The author has intricately portrayed the key characters and the events which influence them. The book is a work of fiction but you find a certain sense of connect to the protagonists. The conflict plays out in your mind and you can easily relate it to epic romance sagas, where the love is sacrificed for the sake of love.
Book: Neil Must Die
Author: Kaberi Chatterjee
Publisher: Blackbuck Publications
Price: Rs. 190