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Step into the world of leukoderma and understand it complexity, problem and the various Indian superstitions revolving around it. Before you groan and go away, let me tell you that this isn’t a book a la ‘Emperor Of Maladies'(though I am told it is a fascinating book) but rather a fictional story of the struggles that a woman suffering leukoderma faces. ‘Mahashweta‘ by Sudha Murthy, from the synopsis at the back and the glittering praise from well established newspapers, promises to be a unique read that delves into the suffering of a disease that afflicts many but doesn’t find its way in the stories. Unfortunately, the novel fails to live up to those promises for which there are many reasons to which we will get back to later on.
‘Mahashweta‘ is aptly dedicated to women suffering from leukoderma and urges them to fight and not be oppressed by their disease. The story begins on a congratulatory note with the birth of a girl child which is a means to establish the single status of Dr. Anand-the successful, handsome and rich doctor- who helped give birth to the baby girl. Later while at his work, Anand is coaxed into buying a Rs. 1000 ticker for a play he has no idea about by the ‘incomparable’ Anupama. The play is a love story between Mahashweta and Pundalik and is part of the book ‘Kadambari’ written by Bhana Bhatta. Anupama plays the heroine and as expected Dr. Anand is mesmerized by her beauty and acting skills. After a few irrelevant incidents, they both get married(how predictable!) despite the difference in their economic status. It is only after marriage that Anupama develops a white patch and it begins to spread despite her clandestine treatment. When her mother-in-law realises this, all hell breaks loose. She accuses Anupama of having tricked her son into marrying him and begins to consider her inauspicious because of leukoderma. She eventually returns to her father’s house, disgraced. Her evil stepmother’s taunts and ill treatment just worsens the situation. To top it all, Dr. Anand- being a doctor at least should know that leukoderma is nothing but a disease and not something that turns a person inauspicious-also does not support Anupama and abandons her when she needed him the most. Anupama, however, does not let the circumstances get the better of her. She bravely decides to go to Mumbai, away from her callous family and in-laws, to eke out a living and carve a place of her own free from any pain, stigma and stereotypes. She is quite successful is achieving her dreams and standing proudly on her own two feet.
‘Mahashweta‘ is a conventional story of the suffering bravely overcoming their difficult trials and tribulations. The only redeeming aspect of the story comes at the end when Anupama decides to remain her own master and be economically independent rather than being bound by someone else’s rules and regulations. Other than this, the novel as a whole is marred by a fragmented narrative, dollops of stereotypes, amateurish writing, no smooth narration and a very soap operatic treatment of the entire story. In fact, I wouldn’t be wrong in saying that ‘Mahashweta‘ is a soap opera in prose style as it has all the prerequisites of one-the constant preoccupation with marriage, the evil mother-in-law and sister-in-law twist, the evil stepmother convention, the too good to be true daughter-in-law who suffers silently, the narrow minded and religious focus of the story at time and the list is endless.
While Sudha Murthy does take up a relatively lesser known disease to tell her story, she does not break any new ground on it as the entire novel is steeped in too many stereotypes particularly about girls and marriage. For eg, on the first page itself, the nurse who assisted in the birth of the girl ponders over how the female child is stronger at birth than the male but later on becomes the one who suffers. The nurse attributes this as being ‘a fact of life’ which is not really true because being feminine or masculine is not a fact of life but rather a cultural construct. The system of patriarchy conditions women to expect suffering in their life. Anything that is exploited or oppressed is associated with the female sex. For eg. it is ‘mother’ earth and never ‘father’ earth. The novel is replete with such redundant stereotypes. Murthy may have wished to challenge them but she does not do a good job as she merely states them with no attempts at challenging them much like any commonplace Indian soap opera.
Moreover,her writing does not have the emotional depth that is perhaps required in such a sensitive story. Most of her attempts at philosophy(through Anupama) are also blunt and shallow.
Although, ‘Mahashweta‘ educates the reader about leukoderma and the debilitating superstitions that even ‘educated’ Indians follow, the novel becomes a drag to read. It reveals the hypocrisy of the Indian society in their attitudes to leukoderma but does not do so in a profound, erudite and personal manner.
Final Verdict: It is best to skip ‘Mahashweta‘ altogether. If you really want to know more about leukoderma, then contact you nearest dermatologist. Or if you don’t have the time, then just click here to know more!
Short stories are usually good,easy read proffering an anecdote,a glimpse into someone’s life, drawing you in that story and leaving you satisfied of having dabbled in their life. ‘Window Seat‘ by Janhavi Acharekar is a collection of short stories that have the same effect on the reader. There are 30 short stories-each revealing a different side of human nature, emotions, of India, of Mumbai and each is well crafted, well written and always ending with a concrete resolution-absent in many other short stories that often mar the story’s charm. But not Acharekar-she is one brilliant writer, way better than the popular Chetan Bhagat or any other IIT/IIM students turned writers we see today in India.
Each of her short story explores a new idea, divulges the good, the bad and the ugly of Mumbai city. And none are cliched. They are simple, realistic, displaying the daily lives of many common folks of the city-their struggles, their fights, their dreams, their feelings, their worries, their happiness-almost everything under the sun. It is this portrayal of the daily, everyday, mundane aspect of people’s lives polished with Acharekar’s fine, creative imagination, that makes each story is distinctive and unique. The readers will connect to atleast one short story because Janhavi Acharekar covers everything-from the slum life, to the middle class worries to the high class celebrity to the party life-everything that together comprises the reader’s perception of Mumbai.
The stories have varied themes, ranging from a couple searching for the perfect flat/home in Mumbai, a freedom fighter’s popularity in his Girgaum neighbourhood, a unique event at Mumbai Central Station, the cause of a riot, a teacher’s wistful memories of her old school days, a cyberspace love relationship, an art preview, four women’s lives in Mumbai’s lifeline-the local train and so many more. Giving a full detailed description of each story would kill the joy of reading it on one’s own.
Now you might ask, why would one want to read about the daily life of Mumbaikars? Simply because, one can connect with them and also because, the writer plainly, economically, straightforwardly puts her story across, accessing our hearts and moving us too!
The book, ‘Window Seat‘ is divided into 2 parts. While the first part has unconnected stories, the second part is further subdivided into 3 parts and the stories in each of the 3 parts are connected to each other in terms of their setting and characters and not necessarily continuity.
There are a few disheartening aspects of the book as well. Firstly, some stories go back in time, see Mumbai nostalgically and not con temporarily which is good in a few stories but not always. Also, some stories are not even set in the 21st century. They have an old world charm to it which again is not necessarily a bad thing but a more contemporary setting would do better with many newcomers to the city and other too. Besides there are far too many Mumbai novels that nostalgically always stay in a bygone Mumbai that will definitely never come back again. So why bother writing pages and pages if so much has already been written about it? Secondly, some stories tilt only towards South Mumbai not bothering to explore North and Navi Mumbai. Thirdly,the title, ‘Window Seat‘ is also misleading suggesting that the book has stories set in the Mumbai locals, when in fact there are myriad settings to each story.
Besides those few points, ‘Window Seat‘ is a marvellous novel the keeps you wanting for more. Acharekar’s lucid writing, her non-romanticized notions of Mumbai and her brilliant story telling ability make the book worth reading it. Wish she writes more such books and hopes she becomes more popular and widely read because a good writer like her definitely deserves it!
Here’s a toast to good contemporary Indian English writing!
‘Such A Long Journey‘, the debut novel of Rohinton Mistry was in the news due to it being banned by the esteemed vice chancellor of Mumbai University. Leaving aside all the political crap raked up by the Shiv Sena, the book is an exceptional work of literature and no one should be denied the right to read such a fantastic book.
‘Such A Long Journey‘ in general is a story of a Parsi man, Gustad Noble, livng in the then Bombay in a Parsi Khodadad Building. It is set during 1971 when East Pakistan was at war with West Pakistan and millions of refugees poured into India, particularly Bengal, due to unspeakable crimes committed on them by brute forces of West Pakistan.
Gustad is a bank clerk whose eldest son, Sohrab, gets into IIT but wants to continue his BA much to the dismay of Gustad, his other son, Darius is a sort of a body builder while his daughter, Roshan, falls ill constantly with bouts of fever and diarrhea. Gustad had known better times, more prosperous times. If his family troubles weren’t enough, his old friend Jimmy Bilimoria sends a letter asking him to help out in a preposterous, somewhat heroic, somewhat illegal manner.
In between all these happenings of Gustad’s life, Mistry exposes the reader to an assorted motley of characters whose lives are entwined with Gustad’s. For eg, his homely , superstitious wife-Dilnavaz,the fumbling, handicapped-Tehmul, the bipolar Ghulam Mohammad, the philosophical pavement artist, his college friend-Malcolm etc. The best thing about Mistry’s novel is the apart from the realistic and episodic descriptions of the main character’s lives, he also imbues even the most trivial and seemingly unimportant character with stark and singular qualities that immediately make them memorable. He is skilled in the way of characterization.
Mistry provides the reader with a glimpse of the way of life at that time, gives fleeting images and vast descriptions of certain peculiar aspects of Bombay like the House Of Cages, Mount Mary Church and most importantly, a middle class Parsi way of life in Bombay.
‘Such A Long Journey‘ has no clear cut divisions, like many other novels, of prologue, climax, epilogue or conclusion. The story goes on with a smooth flow, carrying the reader through Gustad’s and others’ lives. There is no obvious climax, no resolute conclusion. In fact, the end of the book suffuses one with a sweet lingering feeling of nostalgic happiness and sadness. There are no shades of excitement in the book except for parts when Gustad is engaged in helping out Jimmy. There are flecks of suspense in those parts. Other then that, ‘Such A Long Journey’ has no proper plot, no climax, no thrills and frills. This is not a disadvantage but for those who prefer the above aspects may find the book largely monotonous. ‘Such A Long Journey’ depicts Gustad’s life. It portrays it realistically and it is as if the reader is being taken through his life. And in real life, there are hardly any clear distinctions of plot and climax and such stuff. Thus the story tries to mimic this aspect and Mistry has thus created a unique novel.
The rest can easily pick up the book, sit cozily on an armchair, cuddle up and let Mistry draw you into the ups and downs, highs and lows of Gustad’s life. Let yourself journey through ‘Noble’ Bombay.