My mother died when she was 55. I heard my grandmother who was 75, moan the passing of a child before her own end. And it came to me, that it must be a terrible thing to see your child die; to see the body lie perfectly still, to see ‘her’ become an ‘it’ to be taken away for ever.
I don’t know if one can truly understand the emotion from the outside. Shashi Deshpande tells one how it can be in Small Remedies. To lose a beloved child; one who was the centre of existence and then to deal with the guilt and the nothingness thereafter.
Small remedies are the remedies we try so hopefully and routinely and sometimes desperately to stave off bad luck and invite some good. The mango thoranams, the rituals to ward off the evil eye, the prayers and offerings to gods and saints, the fasts.
But they can’t keep the big troubles at bay, can they?
Madhu, the protagonist of the book tries hard. Like the hero of Joseph Heller’s Something Happened, she knows something is going to happen and tries all the Small Remedies she can to keep it at bay.
She embraces marriage and motherhood wholeheartedly only to be bereaved of both roles suddenly. How she recuperates slowly in the house of a young couple watching their love and writing the story of a legendary singer is the thread of the book.
There are many rooms in the mind of the protagonist, Madhu. She lifts the curtain to one room, gives us a glimpse and skips to the next coming back to the first only later. There are many unexpected corners to turn and rooms to explore .We get the story in little glimpses that keep us enthralled and immersed. A story teller who is not linear but who narrates in colorful kaleidoscope allowing the reader to put the story together in her own mind.
Madhu traces the stories of two greats - each so different from the other. One, a singer who steps across a conservative threshold to make her way in the world of music to die a legend; while the other, her aunt, is a social worker and union leader who finds love in an unlikely person. Women who strive to break the invisible barriers and what they each give up to get what they want.
Shashi Desphande is a woman writer writing of women and their lives. Of their thoughts and their relationships with people. In so many intimate, telling flashes, that you think, this is so true.
There are many females in her books. And you almost always recognise each one of them as someone you know. Sometimes you see a bit of each in yourself.
Each character is etched out in the way they speak and behave. Clothes are hardly mentioned, appearances almost never except where necessary; as of the beautiful singer who has to be beautiful to hold the stage and men. She doesn’t judge but portrays them in completeness even though they may appear as glimpses.
Food is incidental except for the occasional hot ginger chai drunk in rain while trees and young growing things are mentioned with passion
The relationships within couples which keep changing - between Som and Madhu – Tony and Rekha – Latha and Hari - Leela and Joe teach us life can never be static between two people. The one that stays nebulous is between the singer and her tabla player. But then, the singer never does become real.
The nuances of life keep turning up in unexpected ways – ‘thin white limbs as Munni runs to relieve herself behind a bush ‘; Hari studying the problem of where to place a bucket when it starts raining to catch the drips - so many little glimpses of life that ring true.
The story holds you and slowly leads you on. It is a book to be sipped slowly and relished, not to be read in one gulp to get to the end. Because you know this is a picture of a slice of life and its not going anywhere.
Some books match our mood of life at the moment. And this one met mine.
posted on zine5 on Nov 29, 2007