Between the Assassinations Summary

Aravind Adiga

Between the Assassinations

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Between the Assassinations Summary

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Between the Assassinations is a collection of connected short stories published by Indian author Aravind Adiga in 2008. Although the book is broken into a series of standalone stories, the characters and incidents in the stories are referenced throughout, linking them into a larger narrative. All of the stories are set in the town of Kittur, located in southern India. As the title suggests, the events in the stories all occur between the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984 and the assassination of her son, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, in 1991. The book is structured as a guidebook to the town, with the stories broken out into sections modeled on a guidebook, such as “Arriving in Kittur,” “How the Town is Laid Out,” and “The History of Kittur.”

In the first story, Adiga explores ethnic strife when a Muslim boy named Ziauddin arrives in Kittur seeking work. His status as an ethnic outsider leads him to take work with a man who initially treats him with respect and kindness. Ziauddin discovers the man is planning a terrorist attack on Indian soldiers. However, in working with the man, Ziauddin becomes disgusted and eventually decides to leave town and return to his former life.

The next story delves into the corruption often seen as simply part of life in modern India. A Muslim man, Abbasi, had closed his factory down because the women he employed were going blind from the work, but he needs to make a living and so seeks to bribe officials into granting him a license to re-open, which also requires him to behave in a way that he abhors.

The third story explores poverty and attitudes towards law and order, focusing on a man known as Xerox, who makes a living selling illegally copied books to schoolchildren. He is frequently arrested but doesn’t mind very much, and even when he is beaten by the police for selling a banned book, he accepts it as simply part of life.

Adiga explores the caste system and the harm it does, telling the story of Shankara, a young boy who is part Brahmin and part Hoyka, who finds himself an outsider in both castes. He builds and detonates a bomb in his chemistry class in order to feel some measure of control and revenge.

In the fifth story, the Assistant Headmaster at the same school examines societal corruption again. Mr. D’Mello has taken an interest in a bright young boy named Girish. But Mr. D’Mello’s interest is due to his own ambitions, pushing the boy to win contests in order to be known as the man who oversaw his education. His attempts to protect Girish from corrupting influences are doomed, however.

Adiga turns his attention to the criminal underground that often serves as the last resort of the poor and unfortunate in India, telling the story of Keshava, who sleeps in an alley working for a relative. He catches the eye of a local gangster and slowly rises through the ranks—but his fame and success come at a terrible price, as he is literally mute by the end.

The seventh story is about a journalist who is initially proud of his writing about Muslim-Hindu strife in the city but is broken when he discovers that his sources are plants and his work has been manipulated by a local politician. His slide into despair and insanity is an examination of the rot Adiga sees at the roots of Indian society.

Poverty is the theme of the eighth story, in which a cart driver named Chanayya is painfully aware that his work is literally killing him. He rages against the rich and his fellow impoverished drivers, trying several ways to break out of the trap, but finally resigns himself to slowly fading away as he works himself to death.

The ninth story examines family ties, following a pair of young siblings as they beg for money and purchase drugs for their addict father. Their horrific day’s journey witnesses many terrible things, but they persevere for their common good—until a betrayal at the very end demonstrates how violence is handed down from generation to generation.

Adiga returns to the caste system and the harm it does in the tenth story, where an old Brahmin woman hates her work caring for the spoiled children of the rich, but ultimately finds herself unable to change her life because her faith in the caste system traps her.

The next story underscores economic instability, following a brother and sister who hit a stroke of luck and secure good work in a rich woman’s household. The two become a steady presence and do well until a simple mistake ruins everything, and they find themselves right back where they began.

The twelfth story is about Ratna, a man who makes his living selling fake medicine to men who have venereal diseases. The boy he chooses to marry his daughter turns out to be infected, and while Ratna is able to call off the wedding, he feels the first qualms of conscience.

The thirteenth story revisits the harm of the caste system, focusing on a Brahmin couple. Childless, they throw frequent dinner parties as part of the Brahmin tradition of courtesy. The parties have themes that are considered taboo, however, causing their friends to speculate unkindly about their relationship.

The final story sums up Adiga’s vision: An aging man, a member of the communist party, becomes obsessed with a young woman. Reminded of his idealistic youth, he decides to help her and her mother. When his efforts are rejected, however, he quickly abandons his ideals and turns to the corruption and violence of modern India to achieve his goals.

Between the Assassinations weaves together aspects of Indian society. The linked short-story structure of the book is an ideal metaphor for the patchwork of viewpoints and cultures in the country itself.