The Last Nautch Girl by C.Phillip (pseudonym) is a fictional story that takes place in Kolkata in the Victorian period.
It is a debut novel. A fictional novel of crime, romance and suspense. It can also be called historical as the period mentioned in the novel is before world war and concerned about British activities in India. It is a thriller also. Initial descriptions are not that captivating, but after the middle it soars into new heights.
In the preface, the author talks about writer’s block up to 5 years after completing the first half of the story. And also admits that on 16th attempt the novel has been finished. We have to appreciate the tenacity of the author in the completion of the novel but the admission may cause disinterest in non-discerning readers. The setting is on Sonabari or gold house which is a brothel and most of the series of events are happening there or connected with it. The character and point of view is about Nautch Girls and their customers. The theme is a mixed one, in between comes the quest for freedom and fight against Tyranny and longing for independence. In question is also victorian morality and culture which is deceptive. Prostitution was rampant in the victorian era.
Sonabari is a well-guarded government secret. Colonel Marsh, the villain is the real owner. In this connection you have to note that prostitution is illegal and the law keepers are involved in the same. The British have to keep up their reputation at any cost and so no evidence or proof is left when crimes are committed by their officers or folk. They will accord martyrdom even to native people who collaborate with them. They will hurt their own honest and just officers like Captain White the Hero and his Lieutenant Jones.
What makes Mrinalini (Mina Di) the Heroine to stand up to Kalyani Devi (Moushi) and Colonel Marsh is the pitiable condition of the Nautch Girls. She is also involved in young revolutionary movements who are fighting for independence under the leadership of Bhanu. She supports them with food, money and hiding place. Colonel Marsh killed Kiran the Nautch Girl and from that day Mrinalini and the Colonel became enemies.
The love affair between Rahim and Payal, objection of the revolutionary group to that, the planning to kill Captain James are the Major rifts in the group. The Captain’s visit to Sonabari to get proof and evidence of the murder of Major Armitage is not liked by the Colonel and also his subordinate the Major. The Captain was forced to release Two arrested men, Saajan and the bodyguard. Both Mrinalini and the Captain are attracted to each other, but both suspected other’s intentions.
The chain of events in the story is successive. One Lead leads to another. There are many suspense like Revolutionary hideout, entrance for the same from Sonabari, the hidden nature of the information to the owner and occupants of the house except to Mrinalini and Saajan. and also the actual cause of the death of Major Armitage.
Arghya started newspaper to free his country not only from the British Raj but also from the shackles of tradition. He is not expecting justice for the common man from the British courts. Colonel Marsh the villain of villains controlled the administration. He has killed those who had come in his way. He poisoned Major Harold through his wife putting arsenic in tea, by informing his visit to Sonabari. He killed Raghubeer, the merchant who tried to blackmail him, and the informer. He controlled the activities of Sonabari through Kalyani Devi, the pimp and mistress of the house.
Captain James the Hero, gets the vital clue, of the visit of Major Armitage to Sonabari, from his wife. The Foreshadowing happens in the first chapter itself. He gets the clue of intoxication from the Rickshaw puller, the clue of poisoning from the crematorium keeper. Bahadur, the Ex-convict from Patna, the bodyguard protects the Nautch Girls from aggressive customers. He smuggles Rahim and Payal from the gold house. The following events are important to the storyline. Meeting of Arghya and Mrinalini, Arun the brother of Mrinalini meeting her, Pushpalatha wife of Arghya accepting Arun as her lost son, Sudipta the newspaper assistant’s escapade with the Hunter to Sonabari. The invitation to the Captain to Sonabari for his liquidation, the sudden arrival of Colonel Marsh with his henchmen before the arrival of Captain, subsequent fight of Colonel and his men with Mina’s men, the tragic end of people like Narendra, Moushi, the accountant, the Colonel and his men.
The action-packed end of the story is enthralling. Twists and turns are there throughout the story. It was befitting that the Colonel became a prey to the wounded Bengal tiger. It was god’s justice to the perpetrator of atrocities.
The book ends in a happy note of the Nautch Girls settling themselves, the Captain and Lieutenant transferred back to England, settling of all cases, the Colonel and his four men getting martyrdom, Arun settling with Arghya’s family and no whereabouts of the freedom fighters. Lastly Sonabari was completely razed to the ground by the administration.
This book is an enjoyable reading.
Book Reviewed by Vathukkat Krishnan Kutty.