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The Boy From Shenkottai

The Boy From Shenkottai

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Vanchi lives in Shenkottai, a small town in south India, where he absorbs lore from his herbalist grandfather. Defying his father, he goes far away to attend college, but not before he is married to a fifteen-year-old stranger. At college, he is introduced to radical politics but remains a diffident bystander. At the same time,
Robert Ashe, a British officer, is posted to Tinnevelly, a town near Shenkottai. Ashe earns the ire of the anti-colonial movement when he supresses a riot and jails its leader.
Having witnessed the riot, Vanchi’s joins a secret revolutionary cell and takes a blood oath ‘to kill white people.’ The secret cell sends a threatening letter to Ashe, who buries the letter and convinces himself that he is not in danger.
Vanchi is summoned to Pondicherry, a French colonial town near Madras, where he is transformed into an assassin and sent back to Shenkottai.
Using coded telegrams, the assassination plot is fixed. The only unknown is the date when Ashe will travel by train. The plotters bribe Ashe’s clerk, who reveals the day that he will go with his wife to visit their children. The train will halt for ten minutes at an isolated station, giving Vanchi his window of opportunity. On that day, Vanchi leaps into Ashe’s compartment and shoots him dead in front of his wife. He then turns the gun on himself because he knows that, when captured and tortured, he will reveal details of the revolutionary group.
After the police mount a manhunt for accomplices, several are caught, tried and convicted. Memorials are erected to the memory of Ashe, while Vanchi’s family refuses to attend his cremation. Decades later, after Indian independence, Vanchi is celebrated by some as a national hero.

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fiction / indian / Stuart Blackburn /