Book Review: Tabula Rasa by Jayanthi Sankar

Book Title: Tabula Rasa

Author: Jayanthi Sankar

Publisher: Zero degree Publishers

Year: 2021

Price: INR 470

ISBN: 978-81-949734-9-2

About the Author

Born and brought up in India, Jayanthi Sankar living in Singapore since 1990, and has been creatively active since 1995. Critically acclaimed short stories collection – Dangling Gandhi was the winner out of the seven finalists in the category of fiction: short story in 2020 International Book Award American book fest.  Literary Titan award is another international award it was bestowed with apart from a few nominations like NE8x 2020, The Indian Awaz-Guwahati2020, Voice of words-Dehradun.

She’s been published in several magazines and ezines like the Indian Ruminations, MuseIndia, The Wagon, inOpinion. Her short stories have found places in various anthologies including ‘the other’. She has been invited to participate in the panels of literary festivals such as (Asia Pacific Writers & Translators) APWT 2018 at Gold coast, Singapore Writers Festival, Seemanchal International Literary festival, ASEAN – India Pravasi Bharatiya Divas Writers Festival.  Also a watercolor artist, she has been a freelancer for more than a decade and a half, with three years of experience in journalism. 

Tabula Rasa by Jayanthi Sankar book cover
Tabula Rasa by Jayanthi Sankar Book Cover

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Book Review:

Jayanthi Sankar has yet again experimented with newer ways of story-telling with this historical novel, bringing us a delightful read of the history and origin of the fine island of Singapore from ancient to modern times. It is a very intense and interesting account of various aspects of the fabric of its life, from its dockyards, the shipbuilding industries, the life of contractors, immigrant laborers, their psychological and practical life challenges, the attitudes, aspirations, dreams, successes, and failures of the characters all interwoven in a colorful tapestry of visuals and sounds of past and present Singapore.

A must-read to know what this little island has been and is about. The novel shatters some misconceptions around the world and prejudices that abound knowingly and unknowingly of its inhabitants, their origins, and histories.

Tabula Rasa sets out to naturally demystify in the minds of the readers from where the original inhabitants came. The circumstances that led to the name of the island, the old kings who ruled this land wisely, or otherwise, the immigrant population from different surrounding parts of the world, China, Bangladesh, India, especially the Tamils.

They each contributed to enriching the fabric of Singapore’s society and how this land of immigrants with its multifaceted multicultural multi-ethnic and interracial connections. The newly evolved communities have their unique perspectives on life as well as created new outlooks to hold and nurture in their newfound land.

The author of Tabula Rasa proves once again how a good storyteller can bring together different seemingly disjointed threads of stories together, in the end, to fit them like a jigsaw puzzle that creates a beautiful picture. The characters are varied in how she has created them with their idiosyncrasies, quirks, peculiarities, and yet typical representatives of the class they belonged to in the society that the author helps hold the mirror high up to reflect.

She had built an intricate castle of the past and present through the ages helping us see the two main British colonial formative forefathers, the political systems they contributed to, the social and educational reforms introduced, how the current systems developed over the years to be what Singapore is today, the tiny well-administered perfect island with its skyscrapers and thriving economy. Each window and door open to different time segments, different sets of people, yet in the end, the castle reveals the beauty of all these cells coming together to form the final large organism.

The people who populate the book are genuinely human characters from various walks of life, Li Wei, Muthu, Li Xiu Ying, Adnan and Ali, Rose and Lily, Albert and Senior, Shanti and Rani and Kavitha, Meena and Suresh, each with their unique life challenges. The pages where Li Wei and his mother Rose communicate tersely and curtly say a lot about the psychological workings of the two characters’ minds.

There’s much to learn about Raffles, Hastings, the Javanese influence, the way people from China, the Indian subcontinent from the current Bengal, and Southern India influenced the shaping of Singapore. There is an abundance of information to learn about the workings of different systems in the society of Singapore, the past and present, and their relevance that sheds light on many important aspects of how a nation came to be what it is today.

One cannot but be awed by the enormity of research and the careful weaving of facts with fictional characters that Jayanthi Sankar has again masterfully executed, just as in her last novel ‘Misplaced Heads’.

Final Verdict:

A Demystyfying novel.

(Reviewed by Usha Nagasamy)

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