Mysore Today: The Smoke Is Rising

July 3, 2014
Author: Mahesh Rao
Publisher: Random House India
Year: 2014
ISBN: 9788184005189
Rating: ★★★☆☆
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Set in Mysore, this book has parallel stories running together in today’s world where this city is undergoing a transformation. While the quiet Mysore is expected to get Heritage Land, Asia’s largest theme park, somewhere nearer, a group of farmers are feeling discontent and betrayed as their lands have been taken away. The clash between the farmers and the developers is taken to court, where the farmers lose. On D-day, there is a huge showdown, leaving behind bloodied clothes, mutilated bodies and smoke from the burning buildings.

Mala, a dark skinned woman, perceived to be ‘unmarriable’ by society is,with great difficulty, married to a man much older to her. She embarks on her marital journey with hopes and dreams, just like every woman. In reality, she gets beatings and humiliation from her outrageous husband. After living in constant fear of being beaten or insulted by her husband, after three years, she gathers the courage to walk out of her marriage. Pretty soon, people conclude that she was suffering from a mental illness and that her husband left her – yet another ironic side of the ‘transforming’ society.

Susheela, an elderly widow, is living alone and is expected by society to dedicate the rest of her life to spirituality. She, however, meets Jaydev in the midst of a riot. This gives birth to a new friendship and they start enjoying each other’s company. Their loneliness vanishes as they both enjoy new found energy, outings, meetings and long phone calls. Soon, all this comes to an abrupt halt as it is deemed immoral by Susheela’s friend, who seems to be voicing societal views. This story depicts the loneliness of older life and how our hypocritical society sees it.

Uma, a single lonely slum dweller, finds a friend in Janaki, a beautiful woman belonging to a good family and Shankar, a husband who loves her to the core. As Janaki is away at her parent’s house during the last days of her pregnancy, Shankar and Uma cheat on Janaki. This, of course, has repercussions.


Mahesh has very finely written about the behaviour, thoughts, lifestyle and thinking pattern of the people in Mysore, the society as a whole and its culture. His observations are impeccable, satirical and acute. It is comic on several occasions and the detailing in each character is almost superb. His writing style and usage of words and prose is old and reminds me of the British writers.

Though his detailing of the character and descriptive situations are good, it kind of becomes boring after some point. The detailing is too much, and at one point I felt like he would never come to the point! The stories move at an extremely slow pace and you need a lot of patience to read this 300+ pages book.

Check out what the author has to say about The Smoke Is Rising and Mysore on his Facebook page!

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