Saturday, January 04, 2014

Mohyna Srinivasan - The House on Mall Road

Published by : Penguin
Borrowed @ Central State Library, Chandigarh.

I picked this book up at the library. It had a complimentary blurb by none other than Pico Iyer, "What a rich and wonderfully accomplished debut! I'm envious".

The debut is good, very good.  Not enough to warrant envy on the part of Pico Iyer who has books like "Falling off the map" and "The Lady and the Monk" under his belt.

Yet.

I was charmed immediately by the book.  It starts on a poetic, languorous note, as the narrator of the story describes the house she lived in as child. The house was in Ambala Cantt where her father was stationed at the time. A great tragedy befell Parvati Rana there. During an air raid in the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war, her house was bombed.  Her mother and her grandmother perished in the bombing.  Parvati, a child of 7 then, survived because she was sheltering in a trench at the time with her nurse and an old servant. Her father went missing in action the same day in Kargil region.

Parvati has swept the emotions of the time aside for twenty years.  An encounter with an old friend of her father's brings the old memories alive.  She decides to revisit her house in Ambala once more.  The visit triggers a chain of events that turns Parvati's life topsy turvy.  The young Captain who is assigned to help her, Pratap becomes special for her.  But is she ready to let love into her life?

For a while the story seems to meander aimlessly, especially during the middle part.  But it picks up dramatically towards the end and contrary to its poetic, languorous start, trots smartly and rather melodramatically to a finale.  I did like the last chapter of the book a lot.  The protagonist grows up, and shows a lot of maturity.  There are no convenient endings. I liked that too.  The language is spare and fairly elegant. At the start, the protagonist is reeling from emotional turmoil but there is no attempt at embellishing her pain. Even at the end when a lot is happening, the emotions are kept quite in check.

The love angle is not allowed to flourish much.  Even though we are given to understand that the heroine likes the Captain, their romance does not get center-stage.  Fair enough, as the story lies elsewhere.  Even though his vanishing from the story for long stretches towards the end was not a good move.

Parvati keeps going into flashback throughout the novel, this helps the story to unravel gradually.  There were some episodes that I could not quite understand.  What were Parvati's feelings towards Badri Nath.  Was she attracted to him?

At places the pace of the story flags.  At places it seems a bit too melodramatic.

Yet, in all, it is an unusual and a very interesting book.  One of those rare instances when I was turning pages and unable to put it down.

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