Mother and daughter are like nail and flesh. There were so many sayings about a mother’s love for her son , a son’s love for his mother . So little about mother and daughter. Was it because it was men who chronicled these proverbs ?The Illuminated, Anindita Ghose
Anindita in her debut novel “The Illuminated” writes about two women Shashi and Tara, a mother and daughter grieving over the loss of Robi( Shashi’s husband, Tara’s father) , the common man in their life. The book opens with Shashi in her son’s apartment in New Jersey ,after her husband Robi’s last rites were completed without light of his eyes, Nayan Tara, their daughter, who is not reachable. The rest of the book is how Shashi and Tara overcome the void created by Robi’s absence and how they let go things for their good.
Shashi and Tara are pivotal to the book and they are poles apart. Shashi is a woman who teaches juveniles in Delhi . She who once had been around her award winning husband Robi is now handling the paperwork of her husband’s demise, attending to friends and relatives who visit her with flowers and fruits baskets.
Tara grows up as a kid who hears “No” to practically nothing ,chooses to study Sanskrit and goes heart broken in a relationship with an elderly man. There are few other characters that come to brace them along. Poornima is Shashi’s domestic help who is uneducated and is on her own serving Shashi’s family for over 30 years. Bibek is Robi’s friend who has chosen a simple life in a commune in Kanyakumari, comes in to help Shashi hearing Robi’s demise. Amitabh Dhar is a Sanskrit professor who is revered for his academic stature who is involved with Tara in a relationship.
Interestingly, names of the characters are inclined towards the celestial bodies and the chapters are named after the lunar pattern. While the women in the book take their names after the moon, the men’s symbolize Sun . A look at the table of contents will hint you that how the central characters thread from darkness created by the sun of their life and how their life sees light – The last quarter, waxing crescent ,new moon, half moon, waxing gibbous, eclipse, illuminated. Another lunar motif associated with his book – the cover page!
I have always loved books written by Bengali writers . They have a thing to beautifully narrate melancholy that would be raw and draw you deep into the realities. The hungry tides by Amitav Gosh and All the lives we never lived by Anuradha Roy are a few to mention. I personally felt this book lacked that sort of intensity that leaves you live with the character for days after finishing the book. And when it comes to portraying a young woman who is bold, she is made to be seen through the urban lens who lives alone, detached from family, sleeps with random men , travels solo to the mountains? But why so stereotypical?
Major part of the book deals with how mother and daughter come in terms with the reality of life and preparing themselves to deal with , their personal journey towards light takes a change ,veering off the course and ends up politically. Bridging the gap between themselves, I am glad that the two women emerged strong from their volatile situation, not succumbing to the patriarchy, but establishing a life they desire.
With a good amount of references to proverbs and some good amount of sentences worth noting sprinkled though out, The Illuminated makes a fairly good read.