Review: The Last Devadasi: Challenging Age-Old Customs In A Changing India

Review: The Last Devadasi: Challenging Age-Old Customs In A Changing India

Seen through a narrow looking glass, an Indian temple dancer and mistress of men paid a final tribute to an ancient tradition. This character-driven tale followed the courage of an outspoken Indian woman during the 1970s looking to break a stranglehold from her place in society. The crisp tone of the narrative hinted that of a native Indian speaker with English as a second language; it cleverly drew me into the storyline. A half world away, I was delivered unto the streets of India.

The Last Devadasi: A Novel by Barbara L. Baer

The storyline kicked off in 1957 when a baby was left abandoned on the steps outside a convent in Madras, India. The monastery was a depository for unwanted children. In short order, she was taken in, baptized and blessed with a name.

Eighteen years later, now a young adult, Celeste caught the admiration of a couple of clients at her place of employment in a salon. One of them, Jules, asked of her to spend time with his ailing wife, Angela, recovering from Dengue fever. The other, Kamala Kumari, a celebrated devadasi dancer and movie starlet recruited Celeste to assist at performances. It was all part of the performer’s plan.

Up till then, devadasis had flourished in India for a millennium. No one dared to break the mold until Kamala came along. With the invaluable assistance of a chosen few, she was the first of her generation who was daring enough to drive a wedge into the age-old custom.

Paul Falk
Paul Falk

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