Song of the Golden Sparrow

Book Review by Rakhi Dalal

Title: Song of the Golden Sparrow – A Novel History of Free India

Author: Nilanjan P. Choudhary

Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books

Song of the Golden Sparrow by Nilanjan P.Choudhary is a defiant and gripping novel set in independent India, of its many successes and failures, and of its spirit – often battered by its own people.  Choudhury is a new voice from the Northeast. His most recent book, Shillong Times, has been widely acclaimed. His debut novel, a mythological thriller entitled Bali and the Ocean of Milk, was a best-seller.

Placed within the period 1947 to 2022, the Song of the Golden Sparrow sets out to chronicle the history of India as witnessed by a sparrow named Prem Chandra Guha, who is actually a yaksha banished from the kingdom of Alaka by Lord Kubera and punished with the task of writing the history of India. The yaksha, a shape-shifter, finds it convenient to take the form a sparrow, a little bird for the task. Exactly when India enters its tryst with destiny, this sparrow reaches the small town of Netrahat near the forests of Chhota Nagpur and meets Manhoos and Mary. As the fates of Manhoos and Mary take them to various places across India, the sparrow follows too, covering in its wake the important events from their lives; events intertwined with the fate of independent India itself.

Manhoos is an illiterate and orphaned boy, working at a garage. Mary is a spirited tribal girl from a nearby Santhal village. Both are good friends and almost meet every day until they are separated by circumstances. Taken in by a Prince, Manhoos, later Manu, moves to the city of Calcutta from Netrahat, where he learns to read and write and takes on enterprises with the motive to earn money. Mary’s village, on the other hand, is destroyed by the government to make way for land mines. Time brings them together again and they make efforts to stay together. Their lives, however, knotted by various events taking place in the country, diverge to different paths.

The yakhsha or sparrow, who is their constant companion, observes the turns in their lives brought about and affected by larger events like industrialisation, liberation of Bangladesh, rise of Naxal movement[1], imposition of emergency, birth of Jana Sangh, chipko andolan[2], fall of a mosque, liberalisation of economy, IT boom, development of Silicon Valley of India, 2002 Gujrat, upheaval of 2014 and pandemic of 2020.

Choudhary employs the tools of magical realism to blend the historical facts with mythology and satire, creating a narrative that not only lets us imagine the lives of ordinary people, carving their own way after independence but also to visualise the many complexities and contradictions which were not only inherited but also turned inevitable as India marched on to the path of progress after attaining freedom from colonial rule. 

Figuratively, Manu and Mary represent two distinct facets of independent India which has co-existed amid the incongruities brought about by the political and economic events and has largely shaped the realities of everyday life of common people. Whereas Manu symbolises the progressive, liberal and democratic spirit of the country which desires to advance, to progress and become wealthier by taking every opportunity that arises, Mary is the voice of oppressed people. Manu belongs to the India which made advancement through industrialisation, IT or real estate and cashed on the economic boom brought about by liberalisation of economy. Mary belongs to the India which keeps fighting the system that continues exploiting them whether by displacing them from their homes, their forests, their lands or by not giving them due share in the profits of development whose wheels are turned by them. Their final separation signifies the divide which overtime became even more difficult to address and heal.

The progressive Manu becomes disenchanted with wealth after his wife Sayoni is brutally killed during 2002 Gujrat riots. He returns to his roots and tries to make a meaningful life by devoting himself to the preservation of forests of his homeland. He adopts Ismail, an orphan like him, who is a brilliant young boy and has dreams of pursuing higher education. In 2016, Ismail is heckled to death on the suspicions of cow smuggling. This leaves Manu shattered. And he dies soon afterward.

Through the portrayal of disenchantment and despair of Manu, the author sketches the gloom which has shrouded the country in the last decade. Towards the end, the yaksha sparrow also experience anguish on having to observe and chronicle events which have bloodied the land and the spirit of the country over and over again. As a historian, despite all this, his task is far from over. For he has to keep recording all the incidents for the posterity. It is a tale that asks to be read.

[1] Maoist insurgency in India

[2] The Chipko andolan was a non-violent social and ecological movement by villagers, particularly women, in India in the 1970s, to protect trees and forests slated for government-backed logging.


Rakhi Dalal is an educator by profession. When not working, she can usually be found reading books or writing about reading them. She writes at .



Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles

Click here to access Monalisa No Longer Smiles on Kindle Amazon International

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