Book Review: ‘Fire on the Ganges’ by Radhika Iyengar

Illuminating the Untold Lives of Banaras' Doms

Book Title: Fire on the Ganges: Life Among the Dead in Banaras
Author: Radhika Iyengar
Publisher: Fourth Estate India
Number of Pages: 352
ISBN: 978-9356994676
Date Published: Sept. 29, 2023
Price: INR 429

Fire on the Ganges by Radhika Iyengar Book Cover

Book Review

Radhika Iyengar’s debut, “Fire on the Ganges,” delves into the intricate realities of the Doms in Banaras, offering a poignant exploration of their lives amid the city’s legacy of death. The narrative unfolds the challenges faced by this community, intricately woven into the cultural fabric of Banaras, where their profession holds immense religious significance. Iyengar vividly captures the struggles and aspirations of individuals challenging societal norms, and carving their paths through education, entrepreneurship, and alternative pursuits.

The book navigates the complexities of caste dynamics, shedding light on the paradox of the Doms being revered for their crucial role in Hindu funeral rituals yet relegated to the peripheries of society. The author skillfully intertwines personal stories, unveiling characters like Dolly, Lakshya, Komal, and Bhola, whose journeys evoke empathy and engage readers in the vibrancy of Banaras’s Chand ghat. Iyengar’s narrative style seamlessly blends historical context, societal nuances, and intimate case studies, offering a vivid portrayal of life within the basti.

Fire on the Ganges” transcends the bounds of a typical socio-cultural exploration; it’s a heartfelt journey that delves into the human experience, addressing themes of love, loss, ambition, and the pursuit of education against societal prejudices. The book serves as a powerful lens, exposing the deeply entrenched caste disparities that persist in contemporary India, and urging readers to confront the stark realities faced by marginalized communities.

Check out our Latest Book Reviews

Iyengar’s exemplary storytelling captures the essence of Banaras, portraying the city’s winding alleys, legendary ghats, and its role as a sacred space for moksha. As the narrative unfolds, the author paints a vivid picture of the Doms’ resourcefulness, from reclaiming valuables in the ashes to repurposing shrouds, highlighting their resilience in making a livelihood. “Fire on the Ganges” serves as an essential read, offering readers a profound and compassionate insight into the lives of those often overlooked in the grandeur of Banaras’s spiritual landscape.

Get a copy now!