Young love is more often than not foolish, spurred by a rebellion against presets and perceived injustices. It sometimes comes to fruition in the worst of circumstances, and circumventing it while still holding onto the harsh realities of life is difficult, as the protagonists in Red Blooms in the Forest soon find out.
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As readers, we are accustomed to reading about love pangs that feature a mainstream cast, of relatable middle-class lovers who must strive to convince their families of the sincerity of their feelings.
But our heroes, Champa and Vijay face no such barriers, just the perpetual fear of losing each other to a shootout or a botched mission. The two are well-matched, victims of fate despite their staggeringly different backgrounds.
Champa is a young village girl who was deprived of the opportunity to continue her education past the eighth grade, forced to take an extreme step and join the Naxalite army to protect herself from falling into the hands of a corrupt policeman who bribes her stepmother into selling her.
Vijay, on the other hand, is a well-educated young man, who comes from a relatively rich family, driven to penury by his relatives to deprive him of his share in the property, which leads him to steer away from his civil service prospects and join the Naxalite movement in the hopes of fighting for the little guy.
The central plot is set in a situation that is filled with strife and violence, a camp deep in the woods of Jharkhand where men and women, including youngsters, prepare to overthrow the government and right their wrongs, to ensure better treatment for the poor through any means necessary.
Nilima Sinha does a stellar job of unravelling the demonisation that is often associated with this group. They are labelled insurgents and cold, ruthless killers who use violence as a means of instilling fear and dread in people’s hearts.
Red Blooms in the Forest shows us a different side to these seemingly evil people, as people who love, hurt and die for what they believe in. Commander, Vijay and Champa are victims of circumstance, disappointed by the justice system, who eventually take agency of their own fates and join the radical groups.
Sinha’s portrayal of life in these camps is well-researched and successfully drops a kernel of doubt in the reader as well. While we live our lives comfortably, encased in luxury, we are blind to the plight of those around us. She urges us to awaken our own dormant kindness and humanity and look past our own needs.
The trials of young love
Romantic entanglements make up an important part of the storyline. Not only does it humanise the characters but it also serves as a catalyst for some very important events in the narrative. As a reader, I found myself rooting for Champa and Vijay from the beginning, which is a testament to Sinha’s skill as a writer. Both protagonists are likeable people, with an innocent charm that often accompanies young love, their feelings obvious to those around them as well from the get-go.
But the arrival of a new character into the mix, causes a number of uncertainties to surface within their relationship as they realise that they no longer agree on the methods adopted by their leader. As Champa begins to question her beliefs and her willingness to take a life, Vijay finds himself getting further entrenched in the ways of the Naxalites despite his own doubts. Mourning the loss of their friends further widens the gap between the two.
Undoing the conditioning
Through the journey of the protagonists in the book, we see the gradual breakdown of social conditioning. The Commander (Bhaskar Reddy) in the book does a convincing job of turning many impressionable youngsters into their cause. He casually quotes the likes of Mao and Marx and impresses many people including Vijay, an educated college youth into taking up arms. Many follow his instructions blindly, willing to kill for the cause, irrespective of their own beliefs. Champa surprisingly is not one of them.
Not only does she not understand the need for unnecessary violence as a method required to “free the people,” upon the arrival of Manas Gupta, a scholarly youth with his own set of ideals, she finds herself paying attention when he questions Commander Bhaskar Reddy’s heedless violence. Using Manas as a mouthpiece, the author questions the authenticity and sense of altruism behind the radical group’s movement and if there is truly a need for violence in their methodology.
Red Blooms in the Forest is a beautiful coming-of-age story that relies greatly on euphemism to get its message across. Champa and Vijay’s love makes for an intriguing read and sheds light on the capricious nature of young love, but I still found myself hoping for a happy ending until the very end.
Final Verdict: A beautifully woven novel that provides an immersive experience with plenty of action and romance! It made for a great weekend read.