Only partly is this the story of newly married Mayura and her headlong dash away from the home of her husband in Bombay back to the family home in Madras. Each member of the family knows exactly why she ran away, offended by her husband's lusty sexual appetite and his sharing of stories about their sex life with his friends. Each of them is impelled by her presence to relive his or her own sexual history, filled with joys and humiliations. Every chapter is a different person's story. They are unforgettable, especially the heartbreaking tale of Saveri, a Savitri unable to bring her husband back from the deathlike state of impenetrable disdain.
Central to the book as much as the spreading compound is Mayura's grandfather, Judge Ramakrishna Iyer, who built it all. A British educated Brahman patriarch, founder of the family fortune, a man of exalted sensibilities and discretion, he refuses to order Mayura back to her husband, but waits throughout her crisis for her to discover for herself that she is willing to go back. He is usually found in his library, lined with leather-bound classics of English literature, writing memos to himself. His memories plunge even deeper into the historical past and its sexual mores, bygone but haunting.
But there's also the tense historical present moment of the book, and its crisis with Pakistan, stoking readiness to fight for India in one way or another, which became unnecessary as the crisis was resolved. There's the story of Brahman flight from South India to other countries as a result of the political successes of the anti-Brahman movement. People in the novel who are left behind flail in the wake of disappointment and an inability to flourish on their own, holding them in the grip of the compound and its patriarch, gentle though his grip may be. The way in which these historical dramas impact the possibility or impossibility of love for the characters is enthralling.
Having the thread of Mayura's dilemma holding the book together perhaps leaves a question mark over the premise. It's not clear why this high-born family would have arranged her marriage with the particular partner in question: an orphan, probably successful in his occupation but rather brash, living away from his home territory. Does this suggest that Judge Iyer and the well-employed son who is Mayura's father had few candidates to look at who were more refined, or well-rooted in a big family like their own? Is this another aspect of the historicity of this elegaic story of Madras in the 1960s?
The novel has a richness of texture, multitude of perspectives, and beauty of writing style that make it rewarding, leaving swirling echoes in the mind long after it's been put aside.
Book Description: It is a tense autumn the year Mayura comes away from her husband, saying she will never return to the uncouth, lustful monster. Everyone in the family isaffectedby her arrival. A senseof collective guilt emascu- lates the men evenastheylectureheronthemoral dutyof returning toherwedded husband. A sense of outrage mingled with secret sorrow overcomes the women. No one knows what to make of Mayura. Meanwhile she behaves as though nothing and nobody can touch her. Using a deceptively simple and intimate style, Parameswaran explores the subtleties of love, marriage, sex, and family life in a changing South Indian environment.
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