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A strong lead character, trying circumstances, harsh landscape; if a gritty read is your cup of tea, then Lifescape definitely fits the bill.
Debamita Chakraborty’s debut novel, Lifescape, mirrors the truths and travails blanketing a rural area of Gujarat. Governed by customs, traditions, and patriarchal norms, the inhabitants of Moti Chirai are also at the mercy of Nature, which is not always benevolent. Can the community overcome the obstacles that make their path a rugged one?
Misfortune comes in waves. A storm mercilessly takes away precious human lives and uproots many from their homes. The natural disaster that engulfs the village is also the precursor of a crisis that befalls the protagonist and defines her destiny.
Gulaali is the main character in Lifescape, and the novel unfolds her journey from innocence to experience. Shielded by her father from the harsh realities of life, she comes to terms with a world that is cruel. Brutally raped by a member of the rich upper class, Gulaali faces the abuse of a harsh society that ostracises her.
She battles against all odds to fend for herself and Talli, the daughter who is the outcome of the rape. It’s a tireless quest for Gulaali as she faces the ordeal of carving out her individuality. But can she succeed in the even more daunting task of establishing an identity for her child? Thanks to the indifference and lack of compassion of those who surround her, Talli bears the stigma of an offspring born out of wedlock.
Lifescape does not simply chronicle Gulaali’s tireless odyssey. It also encapsulates in its mould the themes of class division, hypocrisy, and double standards that plague society.
What looms large in the novel is the paradigm of honesty that Gulaali embodies. As much as she wants to bury the demons from her past and move ahead, she does not want to lead a life of lies and deceit. She emerges as the woman with high moral scruples when she urges Talli not to hide the story of her birth from the man she loves.
As mentioned in the notes at the end of the novel, the idea for the book came to the author while she was teaching in Tolani College in Gandhidham, Gujarat. Having seen the day-to-day lives of the people settled in the Kutch, she was at home to incorporate into this fictional tale elements from reality. Her personal observations of the way of life, the traditions, the customs, and the mindset of the people help in making the setting and the characters of the novel life-like.
For instance, one of the chapters (“The Vivid Shades of Life”) opens a window into the rich heritage of Kutch embroidery as Gulaali seeks to learn the traditional designs of pakko, katri, and kambira. Again, in another chapter (“A Plethora Of Varied Hues”), there is a vivid description of the kite festival Uttarayan which is celebrated with great pomp during Makar Sankranti. Throughout the novel, one is introduced to the ethnic norms that are at the core and build the fabric of that region.
I would like to recommend Lifescape because of the ray of optimism shining in the story. A message surfaces that there is hope, despite the unfortunate events that threaten life’s continuity.
Lifescape explores the varied nuances of human behaviour. Certain actions of people around us break our trust in human beings, but there are also those good Samaritans that restore our faith in humanity. Chakraborty reinforces this idea in her novel.
The elderly, unlettered Boorabhai Rawabhai Changa is presented as a pivotal force in the narrative. With his wisdom, his kindness, and his concern for his fellowmen, he stands out as an epitome of generosity and selfless love.
The novel provides glimpses of camaraderie that exists perennially on an intricate level between some of the characters. They are not related by blood, but linked by the humane feelings of empathy and trust.
Life must go on, even with the trials and tribulations. True champion is one who does not break down but instead, rises from the ruins to emerge a victor. Lifescape celebrates the indomitable spirit, resilience, and fortitude of one such victor, Gulaali, who builds her path to emancipation and stands tall as an emblem of women’s empowerment.
Image credit: Rajeev Jain from Pixahive
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Born in India, Rashmi Bora Das moved to the United States in the early nineties.
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