Monthly Archives: September 2012

Fractured!

Fractured Legend by Kranthi Askani is the story of 3 women; Priyambada, a slave in a temple. But she is no ordinary slave; she is a stone sculpture that comes alive only at night. She is immortal in this form but she chooses to lead a mortal life; Nandhini, an assassin who was married once and has a son from this marriage. She is in search of a mysterious manuscript.  And Pravalli, Priyambada’s daughter, who is struggling to come to terms with her mother’s past.

The description on the back promises an intriguing tale of magic and fantasy. And there is no lack of imagination in the book. Unfortunately the writing is not up to the mark. The narrative is peppered with typos; missing articles; tenses used incorrectly, some sentences which are completely bizarre even for the magical realism genre.

Apart from the technical issues, the author uses made up words like tissue-wiped, fist-tapping, finger –prodded, check -shirted etc which might be a stylistic quirk but it is over used. I cringed every time I read a line with one of these creations. They took away the impact of a well-written sentence.  Consider this, “I slapped water on my face and tissue-wiped; patted my cheeks and flexed my neck, villainous style flex”.  All of this made it extremely tedious to read this book.

Though I must admit, there were occasional flashes of brilliance which helped break the tedium. Two bits in particular come to mind. One was when Nandhini reminisces about a shopping trip with her husband and she is unsure if she remembers another couple sitting across from them or is it some ghost her mind created. Here the author captures the complications that arise when you recreate the past. The way we sometimes mix up & make up images so we are not sure if it is a real memory or just our imagination. The other was when Pravalli explains Harshita’s need to only consider a suitor who is associated with one of her friends by comparing it to the ease of memorizing a new word from a dictionary, if it is associated with a word we are already familiar with. This comparison is simple yet clever, it made me smile.

Despite this, the story did not quite work for me. There were elements which irked.  For me the major one was that the two most intriguing characters in the book,  Aardya & the queen of the temple in which Priyambada lived are barely explored. Even though Aardya is weaved into the whole story, we don’t really get to know much about her. In fact I would have preferred if Nandhini’s story was not included in this book and instead I could have read more about Aardya. Nandhini’s narrative was the weakest of all the 3 stories and it ended abruptly. I didn’t see the purpose it served or any strong connection between Nandhini and the other two women, the one with the manuscript was flimsy at best.  The other issue is the lack of dialogue in the book. It would have gone a long way in breathing life into the characters because most of them, (eg- Priyambada’s husband, Annapurna, Pravalli as a child etc) remain lifeless, mere words on paper.

In conclusion, I would say that the author had a lovely idea. The story had the potential to soar in the sky, if not for the above mentioned problems, which did the work of wing clippers, banishing it to an obscure dark corner.

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The First Indian Novel- Durgeshnandini

Durgesh Nandini, translated literally it means, “ Daughter (Nandini) of the lord of the fort (Durgesh). It is considered by many as the “First Indian Novel”. It was written by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay,  the writer of the Indian national song “Vande Mataram. Durgeshnandini is the second novel he wrote, but his first in Bengali.

I read the 2010 English translation by Arunava Singh with an Introduction by Shirshendu Chakrabarti, Professor of English at Delhi University, a poet and critic in Bengali. In this review, I merely express my views of the novel, for more academic & historical analysis, you may refer to this link, http://rinistudytable.blogspot.in/2012/08/durgeshnandini-as-novel.html,  or  Wikipedia.

The plot of this novel is familiar, Jagat Singh(the Mughal General & Prince), boy sees girl, Tilottama (Virendrasingh’s daughter), it is love at first sight, the all consuming, passionate kind of love. They have to overcome many obstacles to be together, which they do, despite everything and there is a happy ending, at least for Jagatsingh & Tilottama.

This novel is set apart mainly because; it was published in 1865; long before these types of plots became a dime a dozen and its historical setting; the conflict between the Pathans & the Mughals in Bengal in the late 1500s.

Not to mention the poetic language the author employs to describe his 3 main female characters. He distinguishes each one’s beauty from the other and brings each of them alive. All three are distinct yet stunning.                                                      Of Tilottama he says, “O reader! Have you ever beheld in your youth, with light of love in your eyes, a serene, soft-hearted young girl flowering into womanhood? Have you ever seen a young woman whom you have not been able to forget all your life even though you glanced at her but once- an enchanting figure who treads your memory over and over again like a dream, through adolescence youth and maturity, and yet does not provoke a tainting desire? Only if you have will Tilottama’s true image come to life in your mind’s eye”. Bimala, he describes as an aging beauty, “Her appearance suggested that she had been exceptionally beautiful in her younger days. Like the moon that sets only after the sun dawns, the glow of that loveliness was visible even at this age.” And Ayesha, who enters the story in the second part, is “Exquisitely beautiful, but hers was a beauty that is impossible to capture adequately in three or four adjectives. Ayesha’s beauty is like that of a water -lily which comes to life under the rays of the morning sun; fully bloomed, fragrant, honeyed, sun-soaked, neither wilted nor drying up, delicate yet radiant.”

Also, a number of times in the novel, the 2nd person narration is used.  Mr. Chattopadhayay addresses the reader directly, which usually ruins the rhythm of the story for me, but here the author does it with a sense of humor and to great effect. Like this bit in Chapter 3, when the author counsels patience and requests the reader not to skip the chapter, “Impatient readers may abandon these accounts, but the author’s opinion is that impatience is not advisable.”

The other interesting element in the book is the character of Vidya Diggaj, the learned Brahmin who is an excellent example of someone academically brilliant but not too well versed with the ways of the world. When Bimala needs a safe companion to accompany her to meet Prince Jagat Singh she decides to take Diggaj with her because as she puts it, “I trust the foolish Brahmin completely. Just as the blind man cannot tell day apart from night, he too will understand nothing.”

In conclusion, I think this novel makes an interesting read, not only for its historical significance but also for its depiction of  love before marriage, passion, marriage itself and its women, all of which are far ahead of their times.

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