Mohan Timmaraju’s debut novel Janardhan Talbot had been a curious case for me until I read it recently – the past week. It a voluminous novel when you are reading it in a Kindle format and it will take a little time. Therefore, one has to be patient enough to let the chapters move and comprehend the story which is very interesting and full of surprises – sometimes expected and sometimes unwarranted. It is a case of mistaken identity in the traditional literary lexicon but of assumed identity in the literal sense. It all begins here:
“The boy looked at him with surprise. He examined Janardhan from head to toe. They were both the same age, and their physical structure and facial features were identical. So was their copper-coloured hair, which shone in the bright sunlight. If they stood beside each other, they could quite easily be mistaken for twins.”
One is Jonathan Talbot and another is Janardhan Rao. They meet in Madras in 1839 and they become very good friends. Janardhan, at that time, was running away from the British as he was supposed to be caught and maybe murdered because he not only misbehaved but their men in a rage after his father was bullied by the English soldiers. However, he gets a good education and learns more about the English lifestyle in India as Jonathan and his family become close to Janardhan.
Janardhan Rao, the protagonist, comes directly from the thoughts and imaginations of Mohan Timmaraju. Mohan himself comes from South India and from a family of freedom fighters and patriots who fought for India’s independence. However, Mohan takes his learnings and childhood stories to another level with the character Janardhan Rao.
After a series of events, Janardhan assumes the identity of his friend (deceased) Jonathan Talbot and tours with the British to the distant islands, countries, continents and collect wealth, friends, enemies and memories with women all the way. However, deep down, he feels there is something that calls him back to his motherland – love for Manga? Love for country’s freedom? A hiss against the British who are racist and brutal to the Indians?
“… After thirty hours of sailing, Captain Sharp reported, “Mr. Talbot, we have passed Mombasa and we will reach our destination in about twenty-five hours. Starting tomorrow morning, we request that you remain on deck, as only you can recognize the place.”
When mulling about his life and his luck with women, Janardhan thinks about the coming destination – England. He has been long thinking about being in England and he is finally reaching there. However, between his reaching to England and leaving India on the boat with the British as Jonathan Talbot, many things happen – youthful, physical, beautiful, emotional and also racial, hatred, demeaning…
Mohan has wonderfully utilised the theme of first freedom movement and the build-up to that. I am quite impressed by his art of creating the narrative and also meeting it with the likewise language and plot. However, at times, readers with casual reading habits can feel that the novel is too lengthy. I am sure this novel will be liked and appreciated by the young readers as well as the experienced and regular readers of Indian fiction. It certainly raises the bar!
You can get a copy from Amazon India:
Janardhan Talbot Vol 1
A complete novel… after many days, a novel that has a serious theme and an equally meeting plot with adequate language. A must read for all those who love reading serious fiction!