Book Title: The illuminated
Author: Anindita Ghose
‘The Illuminated’ is an engaging tale of separate, but parallel, journeys of self-discovery of Shashi and Tara — a mother-daughter duo — as their lives are torn asunder by the extenuating circumstances that they suddenly find themselves in. With very little and a rather anti-climatic direct interaction between the two ladies, the common thread binding them is the emotional upheaval caused by the loss of the family’s anchor: the gigantic patriarch Robi Mallick.
The author, Anindita Ghose, manages to keep Robi, the highly successful architect, in the shadows as she brilliantly shines light on the evolution of the very ordinary, but strong-minded and passionate, female characters that populate her novel. Even the other macho male character, AD, pales into insignificance despite Tara being totally consumed by his love.
Keeping the reader pinned is the insightful delineation of the curve as the characters are inexorably drawn to paths less travelled. This is no mean achievement for an author’s first work of fiction.
Their inner turmoil arises from views conflicting not with just one another but also the world. It leads them to that decisive ‘illuminating’ moment — when enlightenment dawns of the importance of living the one known life that they have in the manner that the each of them deems best for herself, shorn of pretence or societal expectations.
The streak of independence and of cleaving off the regressively patriarchal social norms is best depicted in the unconventional career choices that Shashi and Tara pursue. Not for them the easy and magnetic option of a luxurious, carefree existence, off their opulent inheritance. Like Shashi says: “When your Baba died, I realised I had given no thought to what I want to achieve while I’m alive. I always thought it was too late, but then I spent decades in that feeling.”
The portrayal of Tara’s professional pursuits — which get interwoven with the complicated matters of her heart — is painted with Ghose’s deep research into Sanskrit literature, providing the reader with glimpses of literary gems from the classics.
The book is adorned with the writer’s interpretations of nayikas and apsaras as they carve their own niche in the worlds of powerful sages and kings. That the scientific grammar and semantics of Sanskrit lends the language to easy technological interventions makes an interesting link of the timeless ancient wisdom to the computer-driven academia of the modern world.
A nugget: “The women in the ‘Mahabharata’ cherished their autonomy, argued for their rights. This was part of the reason she despised Kalidasa’s singular popularity. In his version he had altered the story of Shakuntala for the purpose of dramaturgy, changed genres, demoted her from a heroine of kavya to a heroine of nataka.”
Interestingly, the protagonists’ conflict with the worldview jolts the reader too into self-introspection as the tale is set in the contemporary right-leaning political and social scenario marked by religious fundamentalism. Rather than thrusting the oppressive norms in your face, the author casually juxtaposes them into the story along with the sub plot of an ideologically opposing rival figure — a leader driving women to abandon their natural roles. If there is an army of politically patronised Mahalakshmi Seva Sangh trying to impose codes of behaviour, dress and jobs for women at one end of the spectrum, at the other end is the feisty fisherwoman KC Meenakshi who goes on to become the Chief Minister of a new progressive state.
And, one finally comprehends the deep quote invoked in the beginning of the book: “It is the moon that is drunk with its own light, but the world that is confused.” Bhasa, 3rd-4th century CE.