Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Rice Without Rain - Minfong Ho

Four young students from the university arrives at a village during their summer holidays, wanting to spend their time with the farmers and to understand their life. The year had been bad, as draught hit the farmers with another low harvest. The livelihood has been on few roots picked up the nearby hills. There isn't the usual happiness around the harvest as they will be left with almost nothing after the rents are paid. The arrival of students with rice and fish, had been a welcome change at least to a few households.

Jinda, the daughter of the village henchman Inthorn, did not anticipate the changes that are about to happen in her life post the arrival of the students. Students won the trust of the villagers against their fear of them being communists, manages to put across their idea of social reform and democracy. So much was the effect, the villagers refused to pay the normal rent, which is 50% of the harvest. Inthorn, the headman, was arrested and was subjected to torture and humiliation in the town jail.

Its now left to Jinda to try for the release of her father. Only support she seems to have is Ned, with whom she, by now, develop a close friendship. Its on his invite she moves to the town, with a hope of seeing her father. Her sister, discarded by her husband, now moves in with the rent collector. However, the situation in Bangkok is very intense. Students are rebelling against the government and is demanding further democracy. Jinda, now show cased as the daughter of farmers resistance leader, gets into the group of activists planning the agitation under Ned. The preparation was in full swing, but the event turns a catastrophe, as the police starts fire as soon as Jinda starts her speech. Jinda is estranged and had to flee, Ned is overseeing the rescue operations, he himself injured. The death of her father, greets her on return. Dejected and lost, she returns back to her life back in village, to take care of the last rites of her father.

The story line is promising, but the writing and language is not powerful enough and is too disjointed. Somewhere , it reduces itself to an ordinary story, not elevating the readers to the level of literary excitement. May be it was addressed to the 'young-adult' ( as per amazon.com catalogue) and I am too old for that.

Her wiki entry says, Minfong Ho spent two years in Thailand and this novel is the result of her experience with the villagers she had worked with.

She left two years later for Chiang Mai University in Thailand, where she worked as a lecturer in English. The subsequent two years she was going to spend in Chiang Mai had a deep impact on her. Together with her students and colleagues, Ho spent several periods living and working in nearby villages, as part of the ongoing student movement to alleviate rural poverty. While the student leaders were preoccupied with organizing the peasants into a political group in their search for democracy, Ho became more aware of the emotional world of the women and children there. She later commented that there was "so much beauty and so much pain in the world" around her that she wanted to write about.

I haven't read any other works of her, but going by this book, I am not too impressed. As I said earlier, this might not have been addressed to my kind of a reader.

Rice Without Rain ( 1986)

Minfong Ho

Andre Deutsch

184 Pages


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