Magic and history collide in this revenge fantasy in which a grandmother encounters a brutal colonial empire and responds with the only power she has.
‘A slight frown creases her brow as she watches him; his eagerness for everything doll-related is a bittersweet reminder of what used to be. Where once it was common for children to gather gawking at her while she worked, or for villagers to stop by the house and ask her about taking on so-and-so as an apprentice, it’s now been years since anyone has. Today’s young people have other things they want to do with their lives, things that do not require them to spend decades hunched over with needle in hand, nor pay ever-increasing levies and taxes.’http://strangehorizons.com/fiction/and-now-his-lordship-is-laughing/
There is a timeless aspect to the story that matches the central character’s role as a matriarch tied to tradition, experience, skill and wisdom. Apa turns the ever versatile jute into wonderful (and magical) dolls, working even in the twilight despite her age. The dolls are so wonderful that the regional lord of the colonial empire covets one of Apa’s dolls as a gift for his wife.
But this is not any time nor any empire. It is Bengal in 1943, the world is at war and a horrific famine is descending on the region. Systemic colonial mismanagement had undermined the capacity of the region to feed itself and the economic impact of World War led to further food shortages and inflation. An intentional military policy of depleting or destroying rice reserves to deprive a potential invading Japanese army also helped set the stage for a devastating famine. When the famine hit, millions died across Bengal from starvation and disease. (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bengal_famine_of_1943 )
‘Despite what Apa had always thought starvation would be like, the hunger isn’t even the worst part. The pangs don’t last as long as one would imagine; by the fourth day they’re almost entirely gone. It isn’t even the weakness, terrible as that is. No, it’s the lethargy, the constant feeling that nothing matters, not food, not movement, not brushing away the flies circling overhead and settling on one, unwilling to even afford one the dignity of being truly dead before they move in. It’s the sense of lying there, waiting to shut down, but being unable to do even that, as the mind refuses to accept what the body is telling it, that this journey has come to an end.’http://strangehorizons.com/fiction/and-now-his-lordship-is-laughing/
The very real horror of history shifts in the story to a story about an old woman taking what power she has and using it to enact a more specific horror of her own and those who have abused their position and authority.
At turns lyrical, horrific and melancholy, the story follows an inevitable arc as Apa experiences heart-wrenching loss and social destruction. Harrowing but also elegantly written, the story itself has an uncomplex narrative that enables the emotional impact to be centred. I haven’t read anything before by Shiv Ramdas but I’m very eager to.