The Tyre – C.J. Dubois, E.C. Huntley
The Tyre is one of those extremely evocative stories that deal with the multiple and diverse elements at play in the rigid caste system in India. It is also a story of a family’s good luck and misfortune, how hopes are created and dashed, how survival is a struggle, and the ambition to save enough to buy a second-hand bike is a dream. A dream not for leisure but to work harder.
The caste system defines everything in Indian society – how men and women are treated, what opportunities will be open to them and what lifestyle they can hope to achieve. Ranji is a lowly Dalit (an untouchable), at the bottom of the class system and living below the poverty line. He lives in a hut at the side of the road with his wife Meena, son Santosh and daughter Surya. Ranji and his wife are illiterate but have been putting every rupee into educating their children. Santosh has reached a level where he can read and write but must now leave education to get a job in Thanjavur.
Ranji, as his daily routine goes, is foraging along the road-side for sticks and bits of wood to sell, when he finds a large, brand new, tyre – ‘Apollo Acelere M385 / R80’. Shortly after, he meets a Sadhu (holy man) who lets him know the tyre typically costs 5000 rupees (over 100 times more than he currently makes per day). The Sadhu also has this advice:
“But what you do not see, because you are already imagining how the sale of the tyre can change your life, is that this could be the start of problems for you. You will be afraid it will be stolen. You will strive constantly to find a buyer, you will feel acrimony and disillusionment. Until now you were content with your life, but now your contentment will be overturned and upset. Maybe one day you will regret having stumbled upon this heavy lump of rubber!”
This prophetic advice underpins the story as Ranji and Meena see things slightly differently and the tyre becomes the catalyst for an examination of their relationship, how they become distant even critical of each other and every moment of hope and despair is attributed to the tyre. The story is enthralling as we watch Ranji and Meena deal with various adventures, issues and obsessions, and when the seasonal flooding comes they must come together along with friends and community in their hours of need.
A special book that looks at life’s struggles for an “untouchable” family and how they strive to overcome discrimination and prejudices to create the best quality of life they can. Be careful, because sometimes hardship can be disguised as opportunity.
Many thanks to Thistle Publishing and NetGalley, for an ARC version of the book in return for an honest review.