Saturday, 21 February 2015

Shashi Deshpande’s Shadow Play/ Aleph Book Company

Reviews, Vol. I, Issue III

Shortlisted for The Hindu Literary Prize, 2014.
A Filigree of Relationships 
Shashi Deshpande while articulating about the double position of being a writer and a woman shares: “I have managed to give the main, not the supporting roles to women, erasing from my own mind the belief that they were doomed to be forever in the wings, or backstage.”

Shadow Play is no exception to the rule with its squad of female protagonists occupying positions of eminence in the novel. Be it Kalyani and Aru who amalgamate tradition and modernity to lead dynamic and wholesome lives or Seema who embraces an avant-garde career like modelling to earn creative and professional gratification. Kasturi, the beatnik comes along as the ‘New Woman’ who flouts all the outdated norms of this degenerate society. What she resents is the falsehood; she rather chooses to be truthful to herself and loyal to friends who helped her regain the lost ground. After enduring extreme cruelty in a nuptial relationship that is imposed on her, Kasturi’s resilience finally entrusts her not only emotional conciliation but professional fruition too.

The immediate world of Aru and Rohit, a lawyer-architect couple orbits around Aru’s younger sisters, Charu and Seema. Presiding over the family is the grande dame Kalyani who succors Gopal- their dad, Premi and Devaki- the maternal aunts and Aru- the eldest amongst the siblings in holding together the family after the tragic death of Sumi, the girls’ mother in a road accident. Kalyani is monumental in bringing Gopal back to the family, and its she who segues his changeover from a ‘deserter dad’ to a ‘dad dependable.’ The large extended ménage weathers all emotional tempests with panache and aplomb:
“Everyone had tried to plug the gaps, not only of those who had gone, but even of those who had never been. For Premi’s son Nikhil, to take on the role of Aru’s brother, since Aru has no brother, was easily and naturally done.”

After Kalyani’s demise, Aru engages herself with greater reason in enhancing not only the luxuriance of Kalyani’s trees and garden but also oxygenate the bonds that conjoin the human souls at ‘Vishwas’- their new house. The new house which has been built according to Kalyani’s desire for Sumi’s three daughters retains its original name. Aru envisages it to be her prerogative to guard the trust that holds the natives (resident as well as visiting) of that house together. For that she doesn’t even mind counteracting her own conduct in the past:
 “She looks after them the way Kalyani did, assiduously anointing the tree trunks with hing and watering them with buttermilk, something which she and Charu had laughed at earlier. ‘Feeding the curry-leaf trees,’ they had called it.”

Shashi Deshpande in a deviance from radical feminists gives credence to male involvement in the feminist movement. The character of Gopal is etched on the lines that men need to be coerced to assume responsibility for transforming their consciousness and the consciousness of society at large. Gopal who abandoned his family twice to seek solace in the serene Himalayas speaks of: “Paschatap and prayaschitta: remorse and atonement, they go together, one follows the other.” Shashi Deshpande gives ample space of as many as six chapters for Gopal to co-narrate the tale from his perspective, and to share his afflictions, malaise and ecstasies with the readers. The author welcomes Gopal and Kasturi uncovering a new face of love in each other in their sunset years, bereft of any guilt or contrition:
“At our ages, Kasturi’s and mine, there can no longer be thunder and lightning, no more a rush of blood to the head, no sudden savage arousal. And yet I have a sense of excitement when I am with Kasturi. She has awakened something in me. I like to be with her, I like to see her smile...feel the skin of her cheek against my palm.”

Shadow Play, a sequel to an earlier novel of Shashi Deshpande, A Matter of Time (1996) is truly about the delicacy of relationships that give life its meaning. The novel lays bare the “many selves” of the horde of characters that throng it. Howbeit, the personal memoirs are entwined around the insensitive realities of the cruel world we inhabit, the senseless and devastating acts of terrorism, atrocities against women be it domestic violence or violations evinced on their bodies in the savage gang rapes and callous marital rapes. Even tangles around the surrogacy issues and adoption find a mention in the novel as Aru and Rohit languish for a child of their own.

All these and many other concerns of the modern world are brought in precedence. The South Asian Diasporic experience post 9/11 is not bypassed too, Shashi Deshpande takes a dig at ‘the racialization of religion and xenophobia’ and considers them playing a spoil sport to many an émigré hopes and, to newer concepts of borderless world and ‘World Aborigines’:
“The two planes that sliced through the twin towers have sliced the country, indeed the world, into two, leaving Charu and Hrishi asking themselves: where do we belong? We don’t belong to the faith that terrorists claim they belong to, but the colour of our skin, our country, the part of the world we come from, mark us and make people- some of them at least –look at us with suspicion.”     

Apropos the language of the novel, it can only be said that Shashi Deshpande has proficiency with words, and of course she requisitely flavours her language with Sanskrit and Kannada words without dissipating the pristine touch of English. Her inimitable style has few equals as far as Indian writing in English is concerned. Her unique expression skills and lucid prose engages and enchants the readers.

Reviewed by Manjinder Kaur Wratch
Recipient of Maulana Azad National Fellowship, she is pursuing her doctorate degree in English Literature from University of Jammu on the topic of Partition Literature. Her M.Phil dissertation was on the translated in English works of legendary Punjabi writer Amrita Pritam. Earlier she has served as Faculty English Language and Literature in various leading institutes of the country. She has made many presentations in various national and international conferences and has many published articles to her credit.

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