Shashi Tharoor’s fast paced ‘Riot- A Novel’ is an exciting mix of love, hate, hope and despair in a society desperately trying to throw off the shackles of religious orthodoxy and cultural barriers, yet firmly clinging on to them. The story is set in 1989 in Zalilgarh, a small town in U.P where an American student Priscilla Hart becomes victim of a Hindu-Muslim riot that breaks out over a religious controversy.
Riot narrates the story through the varied media of journals, transcripts, letters exchanged between the main characters, as well as extracts from their personal diaries and scrapbooks, thus succeeding in avoiding a regular, stereotyped pattern. The novel begins with a death, which is shrouded in mystery. The accounts collected from some of the characters in the story reveal that each of them gives a different version of the circumstances that led to the murder.
The author has placed his strong arguments in a very simple and eloquent manner. Though violence is a central theme in the book, it is subtly handled and beautifully crafted. Simultaneously, Tharoor builds up a tender love story in ‘Riot’. The taste of ephemeral love, the constant clash between reality and fantasy that cause turmoil in the lives of Priscilla Hart and her married Indian lover Lakshman, their undying faith in a hopeless relationship- establishes Tharoor as a prolific novelist yet again. ‘Riot’ may not be as rich in literary content as his ‘Reasons Of State’, but brings out his passion to deliver something different. While accounting for Hart’s ethereal beauty, Tharoor comes out as natural and spontaneous. Her uneasy observations about her childhood that she shares with Lakshman, her blatant confessions about her love life and the reactions that they generate within Lakshman are warmly portrayed.
‘Riot’ reflects Tharoor’s zeal to build a peaceful society as a responsible diplomat of the U.N Department of Public Information. It also brings out the author’s genuine love for his homeland. The book makes the reader curl up with it and finish it at one go.