The Witch in the Peepul Tree

by Chandra Sundeep
Cover picture of The Witch in the Peepul Tree by Arefa Tehsin

Reading The Witch in the Peepul Tree by Arefa Tehsin is akin to attending a master class in the art of story writing. This is one of those books that I enjoyed both as a reader and a writer. Set in 1950, on the day of Makar Sankranti, the entire story unfolds over a single day. 

Dada Bhai, a businessman of Bohrawadi, Udaipur, lives with his beautiful wife, Mena Bai, mother Sugra Bai, and children in their multi-storeyed home. Respected by both aristocracy and commoners, he is a remarkable public figure. Alas, all is not well on the financial front for Dada Bhai. He is a proponent of equality amongst all, and his wife is a strong advocate for women’s education. While he has many friends, there are enough people waiting to witness his downfall. And to add to their troubles, there’s a jeevti dakkan living on the peepul tree in their garden. 

On Makar Sankranti day, Sanaz, Dada Bhai’s daughter, is found dead in her room. The mystery surrounding her sudden demise is intriguing and full of suspense.

Tehsin’s writing is fabulous. This is the first time I am reading a book by this author, and have become a fan! I loved the manner in which she introduces the characters, and how each character has its own distinct voice, quirks, and mannerisms. The narration flows with no hindrance despite the large number of characters. 

She has used vernacular language copiously. Though readers unfamiliar with the language might find it difficult, I feel it added immense value in creating an authentic connection.

The setting is absolutely authentic, and she has done a fabulous job of depicting the socio-political climate, caste disparities, changing ideologies, and impact of British rule and independence on the rich and poor. 

The title creates an illusion that a supernatural element is central to the story. However, the reference to the witch is metaphorical‌. 

Though the mystery surrounding the death, and the jeevti dakkan, are important to the story, their impact is lost underneath the multitude of characters and layers. The actual investigation into the death begins very late in the story. 

I enjoyed being transported to a time decades into history. Navigating through the streets of Udaipur, witnessing the lives of upper and lower castes, and the religious differences, has been a memorable experience.

I would recommend The Witch in the Peepul Tree to readers who enjoy slow-paced historical fiction. 

This review is powered by the Blogchatter Book Review Program.

Wordsopedia Rating 4.25/5

Title: The Witch in the Peepul Tree Author: Arefa Tehsin
Publisher: HarperCollins India Publication date: May 16, 2023
Genre: Fiction—Historical Format: Paperback
ISBN‏: ‎ 9780008527600 No. of Pages: 334

Buy your copy here on Amazon

About the author

Arefa Tehsin is the author of several fiction and non-fiction books, both for children and adults, and contributes columns, features and travel articles to various publications like The Indian Express, The Hindu, Deccan Herald, Outlook Money and TerraGreen. Her book The Chirmi Chasers was shortlisted for Neev Book Award 2021. The fantasy book ‘Iora and the Quest of Five’ was released in the U.S. and U.K. in 2022. ‘Witch on the Peepul Tree’, her first novel for adults, was published by HarperCollins in June, 2023. Daughter of the renowned naturalist Dr. Raza H. Tehsin, Arefa has spent her childhood days treading jungles with her father, exploring caves and handling snakes. She was appointed as the Honorary Wildlife Warden of Udaipur district and has pursued nature conservation through her writings and columns.

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