This unusual saga of two women, mother and daughter, finding their place in the world is reflective and lyrical but not without its problems for the reader, mostly around issues of language.
The story of mother Shashi and daughter Tara begins as Shashi’s husband Robi suffers a fatal stroke while the couple are visiting their son in New York. In accordance with Hindu tradition, Robi’s body must be cremated without delay.
Their daughter Tara is on retreat in the Tibetan settlement in Dharamsala and cannot be reached. Shashi is back home in Delhi with Robi’s ashes by the time Tara gets the news. Both women are devastated. Robi was a good husband, a good father and was much loved.
Shashi, having devoted her life to being wife and mother, now has to find her place in the world as an independent (and wealthy) woman. Tara, still reeling from the shock, takes longer to accept her loss.
She’s a PhD student of Sanskrit, still recovering from an affair with her professor, a much older married man who did what men like him do: took advantage and then bolted.
But Tara is no shrinking violet. She is extremely immature for her 25 years, an arrogant and petulant daddy’s girl who is disliked by her fellow students.
In the background rumbles the fictional MSS, a growing organisation whose sole purpose is the subjugation of women. India, like the rest of the world, has its own vociferous far-right and as we witness what’s happening to women in Afghanistan and Iran, we realise MSS doesn’t seem such an unlikely prospect.
The only antidote to the MSS invasion of society, it seems, is to establish an independent Indian feminist state…
This is an enjoyable novel, not least for its descriptive meanderings and depiction of the stark differences in both women. But the text is very liberally sprinkled with allusions to Indian arts and culture. They are everywhere, and for a European with limited knowledge of both it was a challenge to keep up.
Who wants to be interrupting their enjoyment of a fine novel by constantly googling? A glossary of some sort would not have gone amiss here. That said, it’s an extremely elegant work, an interesting take on the universality of feminism from a uniquely Indian perspective.
‘The Illuminated’ by Anindita Ghose, Head of Zeus, €19.99