Friday, November 27, 2009

After the Fall

This is a longer version of a piece I wrote for the Indian Express. You can see the on-line version here.

The Bible of my childhood was beautiful: covered in maroon leather, gold tooled, gilt edged, and illustrated with magnificent colour plates. Did it have marbled end pages? Possibly. There definitely were pages for recording the happenings of many generations of family life—births, marriages, deaths. We, a family displaced and dispossessed, were too abashed to touch these pages. I read through all the other pages—the glorious and the gory, the ones that made me weep and the ones that made me squirm. I was nine then, and ten when we moved and lost the Bible. With the passing years the memory of the actual book grew grander in an effort to keep up with the resonant power of the stories contained within.

Recently I have been reading aloud from the Books of Samuel and Kings to my seven, nine and eleven year olds. The emotions contained within are unparalleled in any other work of literature. We have King Saul’s love of the young David, followed by his jealous rage when David surpasses him in the people’s eyes. Saul chases David into fields, David chases Saul into caves. In the crucial moment, neither can bear to kill the other. The plot thickens as David is rescued by Saul’s son Jonathan, who loves David ‘as if his life depended on him; he loved him as he loved himself.’

Many chapters and stories later when David is king over all of Israel and Saul and Jonathan are cruelly dead, when David is done sending Uriah to certain death so he can take Uriah’s wife Bathsheba to bed, when his son Amnon rapes his daughter Tamar, and when another son Absalom, brother of Tamar, kills Amnon, and turns on David, the text grows silent as David’s tens of thousands march against Absalom. There is no carnage written into the pages, just David’s grief, the grief of a man who lost his first love so many years before, betrayed and killed many others, and now hearing the news of his son’s death weeps: ‘My son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you, Absalom, my son, my son!’ As a writer I can see the value of where the narrative slips underground to emerge further on in the story, with a roar.


  1. This is quite beautifully written.

  2. Ah! How well you tell the story yourself. Almost as well as my grandmother telling it to me when I was a child. Samuel and Kings continue to be my favourite books in the Bible, perhaps for the sheer humaness of the characters in it.