‘It was the year 1959, the day of inauguration of Panchet Dam. Budhni, an employee in the DVC or the Damodar Valley Corporation had dressed up in the traditional Santhali outfit as per the instructions of the officials. She welcomed Nehru by garlanding him and became the part of the switch on function. Little she knew then, that this act would change her life forever.’ – Budhini, Sarah Joseph
Nehru’s vision of a modern India was rooted in science. For the evolution of the country as an urban- modern space, setting up the basic necessities like electricity needed constructions the nation had seen never before. ‘Can you imagine light and continuous supply of water in your homes?’ would be the general note made by anyone on the perks of what was being constructed. Budhini by Sarah Joseph is the revival of a single character named Budhni, who represents the nuances of displacement and its aftermath in a literally unsettling manner.
In a path breaking narrative, Sarah Joseph has weaved in the stories of the victims who have paid a price for taking the soul of the country which was hailed to be in the villages to urban spaces or constructions that fuelled urbanization. The story of Budhni traced through many lives running parallel to that of hers. Budhini is not a happy tale. It exposes both sides of the same coin, which is grey. It doesn’t let you completely sympathise with the displaced. Budhni Mehjan might have formally garlanded the Prime Minister, but according to the traditions of the tribe she had become an outcaste.The episode of banishing her from the village is brutal and gruesome. It looks alien not only to us but also to the fifteen year old Budhni. She is helpless and runs for her life after being brutally attacked.
The protagonists helplessly rewind the luxury they had in their own way. From being their own masters to being the slaves of a system they are forced to be a part of. They teach us that displacement cannot be equated to migration. They are uprooted and scattered, facing the heat at different intensities, through improper rehabilitation, deluge and wild custom and practices. Budhini, is the victim of the sum of all these.
Budhini by Sarah Joseph revives a character that was believed to be dead both literally and metaphorically. It speaks to us in volume about the submerged history of people and places conveniently forgotten over time. In the wake of recent deluge in Kerala and other states in the country Budhni, calls for cleansing the ignorance and the unthoughtful framework involved in laying the road towards development.
Author in Focus, a brand new initiative by DC Books highlights and revives the work of the celebrated and loved authors in Malayalam literature. Budhini is a recent novel by Sarah Joseph, published by DC Books.