Indrani Ganguly ‘The Rose and The Thorn’ Book Review

Author Indrani Ganguly based her historical novel in Lucknow, India, a city renowned as the most refined of the Muslim kingdoms where she, her mother and grandmother were born.  In 1857 the Siege of Lucknow was also the scene of some of the most brutal fighting during the country’s uprisings.

Lucknow India 002

Indrani Ganguly’s novel is an illuminating blend of fact and fiction.  Twins Mukti and Lila Chatterjee—the eponymous rose and thorn compared to a black rose in their garden—are the heart and soul of the story.  Ganguly’s research is comprehensive thanks to an academic background, and her foreword mentions some family memories.  She explains the book is not a personal history of her family, although I think there are insights which add to the charm of the narrative.

Two parallel movements emerged in India in the 19th and 20th centuries, the national movement of Independence and the social reform to uplift the most vulnerable sections of society.  During this time of national and social upheaval, the role of Indian women makes enlightening reading.

India Father and Children 1930sLucknow Rose and Thorn

There are six families in “The Rose and The Thorn”.  The main characters are Jai Chatterjee, history professor, his wife Shanti and their twin daughters Mukti and Lila.  Then follows The Mukherjees, The Alis, The Johnsons, The Banerjees, and The Maharajas.  It is easy to keep track as the years unfold, events develop in clear progression and the tension builds.

Young Mukti innocently reads the signs of civil unrest in a 1922 pamphlet calling for a boycott on foreign clothing, and the event is witnessed by her British friend Elizabeth and father Alan when riding in a tanga (horse-drawn transport).  Protesters burn clothes on a huge bonfire, quickly followed by police aggression.  One of the police inspectors, Anil, is a Chatterjee family member.

India horse-drawn Tanga

India Mahatma GandhiAround this time, non-violent resistance advocate Mahatma Gandhi is arrested and imprisoned for two years for publishing seditious material.

The twins Lila and Mukti grow up, marriages are arranged and their resilient personalities emerge to deal with life; the loss of loved ones, writing for radical newspaper Chandpur Barta, social work at a women’s centre, and an eventful protest march for women’s rights.

As a young woman in 1970s I was woven into the women’s liberation movement but did not realise how long Indian women had faced their own battles.  They were invisible, they survived as long as they had a man, otherwise they were classed as nothing.  From a 21st century stance, I find it difficult to comprehend the household dictates of that time and the shocking treatment of widows.

The character portrayals of the men and women in the story are strong, and they have firm opinions on the subjects of politics and political activism—handsome Rashid Ali spices things up!  His mother Ruksana is also a driving force.  Mosquito-hating Krishna Banerjee and the Maharaja are men not to be underestimated.  Societal revolutions are brewing but the big question is ‘Will Congress win?’  If women had the vote things may have been different.

Lucknow India 001

I was interested in the chapters dated March 1923 because that was the year my mother was born.  As my mother grew up, I wonder how much she and her Australian contemporaries knew of the Partition turmoil in India?  I knew India was part of the British Commonwealth but certainly didn’t learn about their struggles.  To quote the prologue “There are no martyrs’ monuments or eternal burning flames…” for the ordinary women who led extraordinary lives.

On a lighter note, Chapter 25, March 1923 “The Governor’s Ball” has an outrageous encounter with the Governor’s wife.  And during a family visit to the Taj Mahal, a wandering minstrel strolls by, strumming his ektara (traditional one-stringed musical instrument) singing a saucy song:

There was a rose and a thorn in my life
One was my lover and one was my wife.
Which was which I could not tell
It changed day-by-day and as night fell . . .

. . . I don’t want to give too much away, dear reader, but I will say there is a secret.

Author Ganguly explains that representing the dialogue in English was a challenge.  The two languages used in the book are Hindi and Bengali which have very different grammar syntax.  She overcame this and the result is flowing dialogue containing a smattering of Indian words which enhance the story.

India Food Luchi Eggplant 01The woven cloth khadi, and sweet and savoury food references enticed me to look for translations.  I found a recipe for Mukti’s favourite dish, freshly fried luchi and eggplant.

My curiosity was piqued by the influential roles of India’s royals, the Maharaja and Maharani, in the story.  I read a quote from modern-day Princess Shivranjani of Jodhpur who doesn’t have a problem with only male heirs inheriting but aptly retorts “If you say a boy is everything and a girl is nothing, well, I have a problem with that!”

Indian Goddess Maa Durga Devi 03Powerful Goddess Durga, whose name is spoken several times in the book, also got me researching.  “Durga” in Sanskrit means “invincible” and numerous Mantras are chanted for her throughout the year.

The era of Indian history from 1916 to 1947 is brought alive by Indrani Ganguly through the eyes of Mukti and Lila, and the wise and courageous women who supported them.  While I did not choose a favourite between the rose and the thorn, I enjoyed their journey and learned a lot about the faith and endurance of families in India during those turbulent times.

The epilogue narrator says “I myself travelled many different paths till I joined my father in Delhi but that is another story.”  I look forward to reading it!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward



AUTHOR PROFILE

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Author Indrani Ganguly

Indrani Ganguly was born of Bengali parents in Lucknow, India.  Her parents imbued her with a strong sense of Indian and world history and culture, and a great appreciation of  diversity in all its forms.  Indrani studied English Honours and sociology in India and did her PhD on the impact of British occupation on revolution and reform in West Bengal from the Australian National University.  In 1990, Indrani married an Australian with whom she now lives in Brisbane, Queensland.  They have a son, daughter and grandson.
Indrani’s website: https://indraniganguly139.wordpress.com/blog/

Published by Boolarong Press
https://www.boolarongpress.com.au/product/the-rose-and-the-thorn/
NOTE General photographs (above) are for illustration purposes only.

Here is the YouTube link to BBC’s Great Indian Railway Journeys video which documents the history and scenes of Lucknow, and shows the buildings which Indrani Ganguly writes about in her book.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CckjZafH0vI

Quotation from Cesare Pavese

Cesare Pavese was an Italian novelist, poet and translator, and an outspoken literary and political critic.

Not well-known outside Italy, Pavese is numbered highly among the important 20th century authors in his home country.

Born in rural Santo Stefano Belbo, he often returned to the area, enjoying the solitude away from his turbulent career and heartbroken love life.  Pavese was not destined to live long, he died just before his 42 birthday.

Cesare_Pavese_Italian_Novelist_Poet_1930
Cesare Pavese (1930) rocking his Harry Potter glasses.

✨ Website Biography and Book Review

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/cesare-pavese
https://1streading.wordpress.com/2018/06/24/the-beautiful-summer/

✨ Cesare Pavese Poems

  1. The Cats Will Know
  2. Ancestors
  3. Habits
  4. You Have A Face Of Carved Stone
  5. Death Will Come With Your Eyes
  6. In The Morning You Always Come Backmy favourite
  7. Passion For Solitude from ‘Disaffections: Complete Poems 1930-1950’.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

What is Bureau of Meteoranxiety?

As I read the posters on the Degraves Street subway wall, I wondered if BoMa is fact or fiction.  You see, I may have hot weather meteoranxiety.  Then I discovered that Perth-based multimedia artists Olivia Tartaglia and Alex Tate ran their ‘public wellness program trial’ at Blindside Gallery, Melbourne––so possibly both fact and fiction.

Incorporating clever posters and cutting-edge technologies including a virtual forest, an immersive storm simulation and an AI counsellor named Gail (developed by Howard Melbyczuk), BoMa offered its meteoranxious clients a means to manage their ‘symptoms’.

The Bureau of Meteoranxiety program ran from 10 - 19 May 2018 at Blindside Gallery as part of Next Wave Festival and unProjects.

Image 04: Olivia Tartaglia and Alex Tate, Bureau of Meteoranxiety (propaganda posters) 2018, A3 posters. Photo credit: Jess Cockerill.

Interviewer Jess Cockerill asks “Are you worried about the weather? Feel like the seasons are out of sync? Fretting about longer summers, strange storms or rising sea levels?  Fear not; the Bureau of Meteoranxiety (or BoMa) may have the appropriate therapy to calm your climate concerns”.  Read on––

Jess Cockerill
How did the Bureau of Meteoranxiety come about?
Alex Tate
Our original idea was definitely set more in the future, where climate change has happened, it’s devastated earth. But as we went through Next Wave’s artist development program, sincerity became more important, particularly present-day sincerity.
Olivia Tartaglia
We were thinking about how we deal with this thing that’s already upon us. You could talk about so many different ways of how it will happen, but we thought it could be more interesting to look at how it is happening right now, and how we’re dealing with that, which, in some respects, is not very well.
JC
I am curious about your choice of terminology: why meteoranxiety, and not ecoanxiety?
OT
Ecoanxiety was a starting point. We were doing a lot of research and we discovered Glenn Albrecht, who is a Western Australian ecophilosopher, and he coined the term meteoranxiety … it just seemed like a more specific definition.

It’s the feeling of being anxious about weird weather, or suddenly-changing weather, due to climate change. Glenn Albrecht talks about it as an anxiety we have but we wouldn’t necessarily know that we’re feeling it. The main point of the work is to make people aware of what they’re feeling, to put a word to the feeling.

AT
The feeling of ecoanxiety is much more closely linked to climate change, whereas with meteoranxiety, even if climate change is real or not, you still feel it. The media will just say ‘weird weather!’ ‘strange weather event!’ ‘record temperatures!’. They avoid saying climate change, because they don’t want to politically-charge these articles, but they still want to get the clicks.

And of course, it’s a play on the Bureau of Meteorology. People already have that association with bureaucracy and government policy.

JC
What are some instances where you have felt meteoranxiety?
AT
I see it in the day-to-day. You see bananas on special because there’s a bumper crop, because of unusual weather. We just moved into a new place and watched the tree at the park shed its leaves three months early.

I think we’re hypersensitive to it now we’ve done this project. We were looking for articles and research to source material, so I kinda see it in everything.

JC
To what extent do you feel growing up in Western Australia has informed this work?
OT
I always would go down south WA, once a year or even more, and I think that’s why we featured the Boranup Karri Forest in the Virtual Reality, because it’s so beautiful. We both love it there and have such a connection to that space; we want people to experience it.
AT
In Western Australia we have the Fremantle Doctor, and all these other features in our weather, that it was a given they’d be a part of BoMa.1 And in the southwest of WA, there’s so many unique plants and animals that rely on consistency, and exist because of it, that are at risk due to the weather.

We live on that point of the earth where we feel it. It will hit us closer to home sooner than other states, except probably the Northern Territory. When we get a 40°c day in autumn, I notice it, other people notice it.

OT
It’s everywhere! On the news, social media, you talk about it to like five people you see, you can’t escape it.
JC
Having created this work, what do you think: do we need to just accept these changes and adapt? Or should we still be pushing against it?
OT
Of course we need to stop climate change but I also don’t think that’s going to happen. I think people are just going to try again and again to adapt.
AT
The heavy use of technology in the work is a way of bringing up the common notion that technology will save us, that we can just use technology to solve the problem. It’s kind of a really sad waiting game, where something really terrible seems to have to happen before the government will do anything. And there’s an anxiety in that. But even once that happens, maybe it’ll be passed off as just an anomaly, just weird weather. Or even just a condition we can manage using technology.

But I really hope that BoMa serves as a starting point for people thinking about the real world … if the Bureau of Meteoranxiety fails in one aspect – which it will, because these therapies are not real – and they don’t feel that it meets their requirements, then maybe they can relate it to our real government not meeting their needs, and see the connection there.

Interview by Jess Cockerill

Image 06: as above.

Image: Olivia Tartaglia and Alex Tate, Bureau of Meteoranxiety 2018, multimedia. Photo credit: Michael Tartaglia.


  1. The ‘Fremantle Doctor’ is local Western Australian slang for the cool afternoon sea breeze that occurs during summer in the south-west of the state.
  2. Read the full BoMa article with images and credits here
  3. Review by Hannah Francis of The Age newspaper.
  4. Quote “Perhaps a future treatment for Facebookfomophobia” GBW.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward