A Rag Doll after my Heart, is written by Anuradha Vaidya and translated into English from the original Marathi by Shruti Nargundkar.
The story is told in verses and hence the description as a ‘poetic novel.’ It is a straightforward story of a mother’s relationship with her daughter, who is fashioned out of rag clothes, since her mother was not bestowed with a child like the others. The nosy Indian society of course maliciously points fingers at this anomaly of a daughter, even accusing the mother of trying to act like God by creating a daughter/doll from rags. Only God can create, so why have you as well?
With this Frankensteinesque beginning, also begins their odd journey embedded within a larger metaphor of life as a game, with its set rules, that doles out the fates/destinies to all the people. The writer has used this overarching metaphor and within it several others to refer to their bond or the daughter’s journey such as the most important one that of the doll and daughter, or a bird or a fish or even horticultural metaphors. These metaphors within metaphors beautifully encapsulates the emotions of mother and daughter but the larger metaphor is a tad bit overused and can wear out the reader.
However, the push and pull or the give and take of their relationship is clearly etched out through those metaphors. The daughter feels bereft, without a concrete identity or ancestry. This leads her mother to herself grapple with thoughts of incompetence in bringing up her daughter and failing to instill a sense of belonging in her rag doll daughter.
While their bond is tenuous and needs constant reinforcement from both sides, the mother and her playmate’s (the word used for the partner or husband in this poetic novel, reflecting perhaps the metaphor of life being a ‘game’) desire for their daughter to get married into a good home and the efforts they expend for that and even their regressive action of trying to convince the groom’s side to accept her (and this is after the daughter complained of feeling out of sync emotionally with the family) are plot lines that are hard to swallow. Even the ending which shows the supreme happiness her mother feels toward her daughter’s pregnancy engages a conventional trope of how marriage and then pregnancy for an Indian girl is the ultimate goal for her to be happy and bring happiness to her in-laws and parents. While this poetic novel does touch upon ideas of infertility and adoption which are relevant even today in India, where both a barren woman and adoption is disapproved of, its portrayal of typical patriarchal roles for a mother and a daughter reeks of attitudes that should be done away with in the 21st century (although this book was not published in the 21st century but in 1966).
The English translation does bring out the beauty of the bond and its myriad well wrought metaphors, albeit a few awkward sentences remain but they can hardly be criticised. One can read the novel for its beauty in language and its maze of metaphors. A Rag doll for my Heart is a breezy read but beware of its entrenched patriarchal ideas regarding women.