Title: The Witch In The Peepul Tree
Author: Arefa Tehsin
Publisher: HarperCollins India
No of Pages: 323
Price: Rs 325 /-
Link To purchase: The Witch In The Peepul Tree
The story is about a murder that occurs in a traditional Muslim household of the fifties. Who murdered the daughter of the house, Sanaz? Further, how come the door of the room where the murdered girl is found, bolted from inside? The windows are barred and there is no way of getting out of the room. The author manages to maintain the suspense right till the end of the book. The book is divided into four parts and each part revels in mystery and suspense.
The characters are sketched distinctly and leave an impression on the reader’s mind long after he/she finishes reading the book. There is the murdered girl’s grandmother Sugra who is an embittered soul and who leaves a powerful impression on the reader’s mind.
Then we have her children Khadija, Dada Bhai and several others. Five of Sugra’s daughters have settled in Pakistan. Dada Bhai is the regal Muslim aristocrat and Mena Bai is his beautiful wife. Sanaz, the murdered girl is his daughter. Then we have the scheming Hariharan who possesses what the author refers to as a mental ledger in which he jots down points to be used in his dealings as a schemer and fixer of deals.
There are the Bhils Nathu and Doonga. There is the night soil worker Parijat and her husband Bhola. Then we have Tapan Singh, the tanedar, Madho singh the daroga, and Haider the constable who is ever ready with his lathi, to be used only and especially on people of lower castes and untouchables. Another person who plays a major role in the story is Rao Sahib, the Zamindar. Then there is Ismail the helper and Badi Bi the child widow and house keeper.
The motive that instigates the murder of Sanaz is also revealed at the end, and though it is a cliched one, the way it is revealed hits us right between the eyes. Not only is the book a good suspense thriller, but the author has also done a great job of adapting the story to the caste-ridden Indian society of the fifties. We get a very good peek into the pathetically poor condition of India’s lower castes and untouchables during those times.
The book is an enchanting whodunit and does keep the reader hooked to the pages. There is also a witch referred to as the Jeevti Dakkan who is supposed to reside in the Peepul tree outside Dada Bhai’s house. The witch haunts the house during dark nights. This adds an additional layer of spookiness to the story.
There is a well known axiom for authors which all writers are familiar with. An author is expected to ‘Show but not tell’ in order to come up with good descriptive writing. This is definitely a very very valid point, but one can have only have so much of a good thing. There are very few instances of telling in this book.
With the result, the book is so full of showing that I for one started aching to read something written straightforwardly instead of being shown through some analogy or occurrence. Showing and not telling requires a phenomenal amount of skill. But if overused, the reader finds himself plodding through the pages. I would definitely have liked a little more pace and directness in the narrative.
This book is definitely an excellently plotted and meticulously crafted thriller and I recommend it highly.
I am going with a 4/5 for Arefa Tehsin’s thriller fiction book The Witch In The Peepul Tree. It is good book. Do pick it up if you like thrillers that stay in your mind long after you have finished reading them.
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