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The Cool Water Well Junction

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The Cool Water Well Junction by Aravind Adiga

“Lonely Planet’s mission,” so it is written on the cover of each of the publishing house’s travel guides, “is to enable curious travelers to experience the world and to truly get to the heart of the places where they travel.” The short stories collection “Between the Assassinations,” from which the following story is taken, plays a cruel and ironic game with this declaration, which stands at the heart of every modern travel guide, while it intentionally masks, of course, the very same “truisms” that might hinder the touristic experience. Aravind Adiga worked on this collection while he wrote the novel “The White Tiger,” which earned him the 2008 Man Booker Prize. These two assassinations are that of the former Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, in 1984, and that of her son, Rajiv, who also served as a prime minister, in 1991. Between these two political assassinations, both by minorities that rose against the controversial political dynasty, which also led to oppression and substantial divisiveness in the country, Adiga brings forth the lives of residents of the town of Kittur. Kittur is a fictional town located on the coast of South India, between Goa and Calicut (nowadays Kozhikode), and this wonderful collection of stories is in fact a mock travel guide for the tourist visiting the town. The residents of the town, much like the two children beggars and their parents in the sad story before us, are trapped in a harsh reality that sentences them to perpetual disappointment even from those closest to them. With immense sensitivity and heart rending descriptions, Adiga bestows upon these disadvantaged characters a human face, and weaves a delicate thread between the heart of the reader, who is but a tourist, a temporary visitor, and the locals who are indeed so distant from him. It is Adiga’s ironic game, of all things, that succeeds in truly fulfilling the promise Lonely Planet makes to his readers: “to experience the world and to truly get to the heart of the places.” The name of the story, “The Cool Water Well Junction,” is yet another move in this game—the exotic name, which is supposed to signify a tourist site, is actually the name of a bustling intersection in the slums, a landmark for the girl who’s sent to score a hit for her father. Adiga brings back to the picture all that’s been spared of those who seek exotic experiences in the subcontinent, everything that’s damaged and desperate and crying out. Reading his stories leads the reader down paths that are shaky and uncertain, and yet honest and powerful at the same time.