Book Review: ‘One Small Voice’ by Santanu Bhattacharya

Emotional and eye-opening story!

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Book Title: One Small Voice
Author: Santanu Bhattacharya
Publisher: Fig Tree
Number of Pages: 304
ISBN: 978-0241582336
Date Published: Mar. 07, 2023
Price: INR 444

One Small Voice by Santanu Bhattacharya Book Cover

Book Review

Set in the aftermath of the 1992 riots that followed the destruction of the Babri Masjid, “One Small Voice” beautifully intertwines Shubhankar Trivedi’s (Shabby) coming-of-age adventure with the backdrop of communal violence that dramatically impacts his life. The readers follow the story of Shubhankar, a 10-year-old boy who witnesses a heinous act of violence in Lucknow in which a man from a minority community is immolated, leaving him traumatized by his family’s silence in the face of such cruelty. The story alternates between two eras, beginning with Shabby as a little child unable to pronounce his tongue-twister of a name.

Shabby, who comes from a family that straddles the shaky middle-class and Brahmin position, seeks to remove himself from his family and takes the moniker “Shabby.” His parents work hard to provide him and his brother with a decent education, exposing him to diverse cultures through encounters at a Christian school and with local Muslims. His life is turned upside down as he sees another tragic act of communal violence against Muslims in Gujarat. This tragedy profoundly impacts his vision of others around him, and he finds it challenging to convey what he witnessed with his parents, who are struggling with shame and self-blame while attempting to fathom the culpability of individuals they respect.

As an adult living in Mumbai, Shabby is involved in yet another heinous violence that results in life-altering injuries. “One Small Voice” depicts family relationships nicely while examining the issue of community violence. Shabby’s struggle to reconcile his parents’ expectations with the quickly changing culture is at the center of the narrative. The story reveals the reality of India in the early 1990s when the country was battling with its past while embracing modernity and when compassion and prejudice coexisted. Mumbai is regarded as both chaotic and magical, and characters Shruti, Syed, and Mangesh reflect the city’s extremes. Shabby’s adult life in Mumbai looks to be more unfettered than his parents, but it is overshadowed by a gloomy political backdrop that restricts their existence.

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Santanu Bhattacharya’s “One Small Voice” digs into communal violence, family life’s nuances, and the difficulty of managing evolving cultural dynamics in such violence. The story raises serious concerns about democracy and the persistence of communalism even after many years of independence. It provides remarkable insights into the emergence of religious nationalism and significant political events between 1990 and 2000 when technology and globalization are gaining traction. The lucid language evokes a strong sense of empathy, demonstrating how religion is firmly embedded in the country’s culture while being used for power by unscrupulous politicians.

In essence, “One Small Voice” is more than simply a story of one man’s pain and rehabilitation; it’s also a realistic depiction of his environment, packed with the expectations to achieve and the coping strategies, or lack thereof, that define Shabby and his classmates’ lives. It is a novel that leaves an indelible mark on its readers.