There are suspense and thriller tales that hardly ever let the adrenalin rush subside, those where calculated risks abound and then yet others where the power of the narrative scores. ‘The curse of Kuldhara’ by Richa S Mukherjee has all of these in scattered evenly and, in addition, is also like a delectable mix of dal baati, churma, gatte and guar ki sabzi, imarti, gulgule and laddoos, if I may be allowed to pick a few culinary nuances from the book without putting them in quotes, and I say this because of the Kanpuriya factor that has been driven hundreds of miles to the cursed village of Kuldhara on the outskirts of Jaisalmer. Many readers will be pleased to find Prachand Tripathi, the detective, as sharp as expected, had given his ‘consent only after being thoroughly convinced that it’s the best thing to happen to us since dhaniya ke aloo’. His wife and partner in all things cerebral that often happen to detectives, is at her best and still ‘possessing bargaining and haggling prowess that could put seasoned negotiations to shame’. The diversity of characters in the book means that we step beyond the confines of Gwaltoli in Kanpur where Prachand lives and gut up our loins to walk trembling in a locale where ‘archways, pillars, chabootaras, every crevice and corner seemed to have become the uninhibited kingdom of pigeons and decay’… and I write this because the queue of characters in this tale is not limited to the antics of Chachu Dinanath Tripathi carrying with him bottles of gau mutra but includes a few vital ones from a film crew as well. And besides humans, there are those that give us goosebumps!

Book review - The curse of Kuldhara - Richa S Mukherjee - Harper Collins
Book review – The curse of Kuldhara – Richa S Mukherjee – Harper Collins

These goosebumps, I must admit here, seemed somewhat placid and tame and might work better with the right background music of winds blowing incessantly, flickering lights, strange apparitions appearing and disappearing, and… well, a murder. Our protagonist, who is a detective, would otherwise have nothing much to do. Those readers who go on with their lives unaccompanied by an overdose of imagination and depend entirely on the way words are arranged to give them a spooky demeaner, might feel a tad disappointed. But let me add that despite this the narrative moves on at a clipping pace, dialogues have sharpened edges, and adding a bit of creepy and chilling lore creates the right medium that eggs readers to go on.

The Kuldhara lore does exist and at some point, while reading this book, I browsed the internet and found that this small ghost town is just as known as Bhangarh is and has lived with its ominous footnote for more than 300 years. This was where the Paliwal brahmins once lived and were troubled by the sexual demands of Salim Singh, the debauched prime minister of Jaisalmer State. As a result, everyone from 85 villages in the vicinity decided to leave their ancestral home and they simply vanished. They also put a curse on the villages and ever since, these villages have remained barren… and those who attempted to stay at night, were chased away by strange paranormal activity. This made the book sound rather enticing because we have a naughty and not-so-ethical romantic dalliance crossing its path with a plot with murderous intent. This region where ‘reason and faith are in constant battle’ are enough to make the narrative scream hysterically between what is real and what’s not.

The story, like the legend itself, has a fair number of characters harvesting ghostly curses and the overall jovial ambience of the earlier novel where Prachand makes his appearance, fast escalates into ‘a phenomenon as rare as a street devoid of a cow, goat or a shop selling chaat in Gwaltoli’ and we are left with no choice but to quench our curiosity when one of the characters is found dead. The whodunnit narrative has a fair bit of intrigue meandering through the pages though there were places where even the spooks and the spookiness of the region huffed and sat down wherever they were and decided not to show but tell. Thus, we have everyone form Padmini ji to Karamveer itching to bitch about others which is, in some ways, good because spooky intrigues can get a bit mind-boggling sometimes.

Travel enthusiasts, and these days most of us are fond of visiting off-beat destinations, will find the book as being just right to give that decisive push to plan a trip to the eerie region around Jaisalmer. Definitely good for Rajasthan tourism. Those who love reading somewhat different jasoosi novels will also love this book. Though I’m not sure if they will ever find the Naveli haveli in the book or bump into Bhutaari baba with a chillum… but one never can tell the things that ghosts can come up with.

Book details:

Title: The curse of Kuldhara
Author: Richa S Mukherjee
Publisher: Harper Collins
ISBN: 978-93-9440-720-6




Arvind Passey
18 August 2022