The theme of the book is destruction and demolition as the author begins by saying that though demolition is not painful but the process of destruction is. ?To see the end of anything is painful.? Isn'tlife an endless cycle of creation and destruction? Both birth and death make you take your eyes off the clock. Time comes to a standstill; the hands of the clock cease to move. For some it is a spring of happiness and for others it is the winter of sorrow. In the novel, the author says, ?For Savi it was the birth of her two children; for me my mother'sdying. Two years when I did nothing but watch her struggle to breathe, fearful that at any moment she would stop and it would be over. It had cut me off from everything else.?
This is the story of love and betrayal. A young unmarried woman named Devayani lives alone at Rajnur in Karnataka, recovering from the loss of her mother and starting afresh, as is symbolised by the demolition of the ancestral home and the building of a modern house. It also symbolises Devayani shedding off her conservative outlook on life along with her inhibitions. Ignoring the commonly voiced disapproval of her family and friends, she begins teaching English, creating a life for herself after making friends with Rani, a former actress who comes and settles in the town with her husband and three children.
Devayani'speaceful and tranquil life gets disturbed when Ashok Chinappa, the new District Superintendent of Police pursues her and she finds herself falling in love despite him being older, married and a father. Both painfully acknowledge initially itself that it is a futile relationship without a future, but neither is able to control his or her feelings for the other.
The rest of the novel focuses on the sufferings, evasions, escapism of the two protagonists, with both caught in the web of subterfuge. The novel ends very tamely with the DSP leaving the town after scarring Devayani'slife.
Devayani'scharacter is well sketched as a generous, long-suffering and patient woman suffering calamities thrown her way. What somewhat fails to get with the rest of the text is Devayani, who seems so strong and independent in the beginning, could give in so easily to temptation. Ashok appears to be a weak and selfish person who tells her that he cannot leave his daughter, come what may. Savi, the sister, Sindhu, the aunt are all weak and listless. The story is narrated in the first person and the dialogues as also the letters exchanged by Devayani with others are stilted and weak and do nothing to enhance the narrative. The author begins with assurance but gets confused as she proceeds and brings the novel to a sudden end with none of the characters emerging as victor or loser.
Shashil Deshpande is known for writing about human relationships, particularly marital rape, loveless marriages and nervous breakdowns which are rather gloomy subjects to tackle. The book under review initially showed promise but slowly fizzled out leaving the reader dissatisfied.
(Penguin Books India Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110 017.)