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Book set in INDIA (death and dying in the deep south)

5th March 2014

The Last Hangman by Shashi Warrier, book set in India.

IMG_1090This novella is set in Travancore, which has long been subsumed into the areas of India’s hot and dusty, deep south, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. It is a fascinating and at the same time repelling fictionalised account of the last hangman of Travancore – who was active between the 1940s and 1970s – writing his memoirs, cajoled and supported by a writer who wants to record his story.

Janaradhanan, now in old age, has a minefield of stored feelings and repressed thoughts, having never had the opportunity to be cathartic and share some of the abominable experiences only he has had. His has been an extremely dark life, brought to full consciousness in the present, as he now struggles to set down his memories. His memories intensely re-awaken as he trawls through his life, igniting horrific nightmares . What did it really mean to be the person who witnessed the final moments of a dying man’s breath? How did his family cope themselves with his job, he hasn’t given that much thought until now? What of his wife Chellammal, what of his children?

As Janaradhanan looks back over his life, he recalls the tinniest details of his life as he despatches criminals to their death. From the knot sitting tightly just below the ear, to facilitate a quick death, to details of how the cord used for the noose was made, vignettes of terror, some of the intricate procedures and the final fall are all described as a stream of consciousness by an old man who is trying to make sense of his life.

The family, originally tasked with this bleak job, plundered all the assets at the outset, that went with the job, and then farmed it out to a distant relative, who received little remuneration for his task of hangman. Janaradhanan is that hangman’s son. And this is his story.

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If you enjoy this book set in India, then you might also enjoy Spilt Milk, a novella set in Brazil: Centenarian Eulalio Assumpcao has reached the end of his long life. From his modest bed in a Rio public hospital, as his mind falters, he grandly recounts his past to passing nurses, his visiting daughter and the whitewashed ceiling. His eccentric stories are seemingly nothing more than the ramblings of a dying man, yet as he overlaps each confused memory, they begin to coalesce into a brilliant and bitter eulogy for himself and for Brazil.

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