Shiv now asks himself (or his father): What makes a fanatic? A fundamentalist? What makes communities that have lived together for years suddenly discover a latent hatred for each other?
Githa Hariharan's novel about contemporary India deals with themes and issues that can be applied to almost anywhere in the world. How do the power politics of a society affect the lives of individual people? What can one person do about it: how do you make a difference when faced with a larger force both powerful and intangible?
In Times of Siege explores a clash between the secular, plural version of Indian history and the more black-and-white version offered by religious Hindu extremists. This clash is most severely felt by the somewhat boring character of Shiv Murthy, an ageing Professor of History in New Delhi, whose lesson on one of the heroes of Indian mythology causes unexpected controversy among the more traditional circles of Indian society. Shiv, with the help of the radical young Meena, who is staying with him while her broken leg is healing, has to explain himself first to the university, then to the scoop-hunting media, and has to finally deal with the religious fundamentalists themselves.
The novel's tedious plot failed to keep me interested for most of the way, and some events were completely unrealistic (e.g. Shiv's and Meena's growing attraction for each other). However, the topic of the novel is topical and universal: to what extent can history be rewritten and reinterpreted from different points of view? Whose view dominates and whose is "correct" - and what happens when these two do not converge?
Githa Hariharan: In Times of Siege. Vintage. 2003.
Random House: In Times of Siege
The Asian Review of Books: In Times of Siege
Wikipedia: Githa Hariharan