Via Sree Sreenivasan
Githa Hariharan was educated in Bombay, Manila and the United States. She has written a number of novels, including the winner of the Commonwealth Writers Prize, The Thousand Faces of Night, and a collection of short stories. In Times of Siege is her first novel to be published in the United States. She has also been included in several collections and anthologies, such as Salman Rushdie’s Mirrorwork: 50 Years of Indian Writing 1947-1997. Hariharan lives in New Delhi where she works as a freelance editor, and is an active participant in movements for communal harmony and women’s equality.
IN TIMES OF SIEGE (Pantheon Books/August 10, 2003/ $22.00), Githa Hariharan’s first novel to be published in the United States, is a vivid and critical portrait of contemporary India and of the choices an individual must make when confronted with extremism, ignorance and prejudice.
Shiv Murthy is a meek, middle-aged history professor in New Delhi. When a friend’s passionate and outspoken daughter, Meena, breaks her leg, she moves into his house, even though they barely know each other and his wife is visiting his daughter in Seattle. Taking care of Meena, and struggling with the feelings this young woman stirs in him, Shiv’s life is thrown
into further turmoil when one of his medieval Indian history lessons-an essay on a 12th century reformer-poet who created “a new community, a new ethos, that provoked people to dare to experiment”-is challenged by a group of religious Hindu fundamentalists. The university responds by asking Shiv to apologize publicly.
Shiv asks himself, “Why pretend you are a professor if you can’t stand up to someone telling you what to think? How to think? … Do you imagine an ordinary man cannot be a hero?” Influenced by Meena and her political convictions, Shiv responds by taking an entirely unexpected and uncharacteristic plunge into the political world: he defies the university and the extremists. Though not confident he has the courage or strength, Shiv does speak up in times of siege, against a world that knows only black and white, us or them.