Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Myth Making

This is from the latest issue of TimeOut Mumbai.


In his The Elephanta Suite, Paul Theroux had some uncomplimentary things to say about Indian novelists who wrote family sagas, implying that they were out of touch with the nation’s everyday realities. Well, he’s not going to like Manil Suri’s The Age of Shiva very much. This is the story of Meera Sawhney, which begins in Delhi on Republic Day 1955 when she meets the man she will marry. It continues through her married life in Delhi to her move to Bombay with her husband, till the present day, when she gains a deeper understanding of what to do with the rest of her life.

The form of the novel is that of Meera narrating her tale to her son, Ashvin, and Suri is remarkably candid about the powerful yet rocky relationship between the two, not shying away from erotic overtones. Ashvin apart, Meera’s tale has to do with her efforts to gain independence from the men who try to take charge of her life: her secular, erudite, yet controlling father; her weak, philandering husband who squanders his life in dreams of becoming a playback singer in Bombay; and her rapacious brother-in-law, who rises to become a senior official of a right-wing nationalist party.

As with the earlier The Death of Vishnu, Suri’s prose is quiet and plain, yet imbued with telling, quotidian detail that bring characters and situations to life. His evocations of the Shiva-Parvati-Ganesh myths and their linkages with the present are also effective.

It must be added, though, that in parts the book is too elaborately plotted -- in particular, some attempts to yoke the events of contemporary Indian history to Meera’s life are forced. Leading one to conclude that had the book pivoted more on the mythological than the historical, it would have emerged the stronger for it.

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