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Memories of a haunted boyhood

Monday, January 07, 2013

The Skinning Tree by SriKumar Sen is a rare memoir, and a very riveting one, viewed through the eyes and mind of a nine-year-old boy. Sabby is in school in Calcutta, the brutal Japanese, after overrunning  Singapore, Burma, and approaching Imphal and Kohima, are ranged for a final thrust across the Indian border. The British, in the wake of the Japanese call to Indians to rise up and hand over the British to them, and the chance of an attack from Diamond Harbour, are all set to abandon Calcutta.

Sabby’s parents, like so many others, decide to relocate their child away from potential harm and send him off to Gaddipahar, located far to the north west of the country, in arid and deserted Rajasthan. The announcement of his being sent off too comes very casually ‘on one of his mother’s bridge days and in front of the bridge ladies.’

Reality strikes only later as the long train journey winds up to a halt and the family he is accompanying  moves on, leaving him alone on a platform. The regimen and the strictness of the boarding school soon take over with the Brothers wielding canes and straps and using them freely to discipline the boys. Within these brutal confines, murder becomes a common pre-occupation. The skinning tree was a cactus growing on the slope behind the complex, where birds, squirrels, bloodsucker, monitor lizards, a vulture and snakes mutilated and killed by the boys would be thrown to get impaled by the thorns.  This book won the Tibor Jones South Asia Prize, 2012.

The Skinning Tree
by SriKumar Sen
Pan Macmillan

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