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Shadow Play [Book Review]

Posted: June 5, 2014

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Shadow Play, by Shashi Deshpande, is a serene read about what makes people human – by exploring relationships, families, and the lives of women.

shadow-playShadow Play is a story about ordinary people going about their lives, in a city in Karnataka. It could be Bangalore or Mysore: it is  just ‘the growing city’. They are nice people, good people. They go to work, come home, eat, sleep, and deal with each other. There are births, deaths, silences, irrational acts, talk, and more than their share of tragedy, with which they seem to cope rather well. The writing is Deshpande at her serene best. No labored  descriptions of landscapes or the  outsides of people. No details of food, or spices, or even complicated thoughts.  A gentle flow which pulls you in.

The story is about relationships – the characters’ thoughts about each other, a little about themselves. About lives unfolding.

There is a grandmother, a grandfather who stops speaking to his wife for many years over a tragic incident, a sensitive father, aunts, sisters, cousins, and the younger generation. The family is Brahmin – with slokas and learning in their blood. The story  details  three generations of the family, and how even when one generation has passed on, they continue to throw shadows on the lives of those still living.

Each character is finely etched and very real. They may be lawyers, politicians, TV writers, architects, teachers, model, photographers; but everything is only a background to the living person.  The lives of an Anglo-Indian family have been woven in, and there is a little bit of politics. But the book, the writing, is about human beings being human.

It is about people eyes’ meeting in laughter, the barriers that rise however much they love each other, small quarrels between husband and wife, father and daughter, mother and son, niece and aunt. The strong bonds that tie together a family of sisters that sometimes make husbands feel shut out. It is about the bonding between women in a family, and how important these strands are to hold the family together. It is about women who battle a hundred internal confusions but carry on bravely.

 It is about the bonding between women in a family, and how important these strands are to hold the family together. It is about women who battle a hundred internal confusions but carry on bravely.

Like most of Shashi Deshpande’s  books, this one is about women, too. It is a sequel to ‘A Matter of Time’. Kalyani is the heroine of the saga.  Though dead, she lives on in her daughters and granddaughters, and in the house she leaves to them. She loses her son, and so her husband. She leads a miserable life yet finds succor in her sister, and later on, among her daughters and their daughters.

Gopal, the father of three daughters, is a sensitive soul and loves his family deeply. Yet, he walks out on his family to wrestle with his own demons and do some soul-searching after the politics of academic life sears him. The resentment and insecurity that this act creates in his daughter (who never quite accepts him when he comes back), is one thread of the story. Love blossoms in his life gently, slowly.  One day they will grow into it, he feels – and there is no rush.  His daughters view this development with wonder and resentment, batting their own thoughts, and trying to accept the situation. Yet, there is diffidence towards the older people – a very natural outcome.

‘Shadow Play’ is a world of good people and you want to continue looking on – become friends with these people, visit Aru and Rohit, know the details of their lives, go upstairs  to visit Gopal and Kasturi, bask in Seema’s ads, wander around  Rohit’s houses, stay with them, and linger on. That is the magic of the writer – the characters come alive in your mind. You want to be part of the family.

Publisher: Aleph book company

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About the Author: Kalyani Chidambaranathan is a homemaker, gardener, blogger, and enthusiastic about life. Arising from a large love for books, she runs a library for underprivileged children at Ooty, where she lives.

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