Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Book Summary – Mahashweta by Sudha Murty
2007, 154 pp, Rs. 175/- India
This novel deals with the stigma of leukoderma, a skin disease which makes the patient’s skin colour turn pale white.
The novel has its links with the character of Mahashweta in Banabhatta’s classic work, ‘Kadambari’. While Banabhatta made it a happy ending, life doesn’t always give one a ‘lived happily ever after’ type of ending. While the Mahashweta of Kadambari wears white to get her beloved, Pundarika, back to life, the Mahashweta of this novel turns white. The link is just in the white colour.
Anupama is a beautiful college student who is also rich in histrionics. She’s from a humble background, but organises plays to raise funds for charitable purposes. Dr. Anand, a handsome person, is bewitched by her beauty.
Anand is a rich man, his widowed mother, Radhakka, is shrewd. His sister is Girija. On the contrary, Anu has a poor teacher-father, a nasty step mother and two step-sisters.
Even as Sabakka, Anu’s step-mother, wants to get her (and not her own daughter) married off to her brother, Anand’s proposal comes up. Radhakka agrees to this ‘below status’ proposal as she prefers to get one from the same community rather than be choosy and have a daughter-in-law from some other community imposed on her.
When the boy ‘officially’ sees the girl, the girl’s father, Shamanna, and Radhakka, the groom’s mother become aware of his monetary limitations, and Girija now thinks she has a competitor for Anand’s affections.
The grand wedding (at the groom’s cost) makes Shamanna and Anu happy, while it is an eyesore to Sabakka and her daughters. But, as is the nature of the heroines in Sudha Murty’s novels, this one also thinks of her husband as her most precious jewel.
The time comes for Anand to pursue his higher studies in
. Radhakka desires that her daughter-in-law do
the worship of the Goddess of Wealth for Deepavali which is just two months
away, before joining her husband. England
Life is now lonely for Anu, as Girija hangs out with her own friends and the former is too scared of her mother-in-law to be friends with her.
As if loneliness were not enough, she accidentally discovers the amorous nature of Girija (who carries contraceptives in her purse); her efforts to counsel the sister-in-law are only an invitation for a scolding from the mother-in-law (who invariably trusts her daughter).
During Deepavali, a lump of hot coal falls on Anu’s foot and the white spot caused by it doesn’t heal. Given her lowly position in the family, Anu doesn’t dare to discuss it with her in-laws, but visits the skin specialist secretly. He confirms leukoderma or vitiligo, tells her that the burning of the skin was only a coincidence and that the belief that it was hereditary was medically not yet established. He gives her some medication, stating that it was his best effort, and the guarantee of cure or the time taken for cure were both beyond anyone’s control. She is hesitant about informing Anand.
Unfortunately, the disease doesn’t get cured, and, on her next visit to the dermatologist, she is seen by Radhakka, who, with all her ignorance, thinks of those visiting skin specialists, as doing it to get treated for venereal diseases / sexually transmitted diseases. The secrecy of Anupama’s visit almost confirms Radhakka’s suspicion, before Anu rolls down the stairs, an event which exposes her ‘inauspicious’ white patch.
From now on, Anupama is taunted and insulted in various ways, and becomes an unspeakable and untouchable person. Before she can join Anand, she is forced to go to her parental home by Radhakka. Obviously, there’s no one to console her there as well. Moreover, Sabakka considered Anu’s presence in their home after marriage could repel prospective grooms for her daughters.
Ignorant villagers circulate malicious rumours about her. Anand does not respond to her letters. Step- sister Nanda’s wedding preparations show the partiality of Sabakka but its cancellation brings woe on Anu. More sorrow overwhelms Anu when she realises that Anand chose not to reply to her letters. They have a change of village caused by Shamanna’s transfer. On the advice of the school ayah, Anu visits the temple of the village Goddess only to hear about the proverbial ‘last straw’ - a conversation that Radhakka was looking for a girl from her ‘own circle’, so that she’s not ‘cheated’ unlike the last time. What an irony!
The girl who acted in plays which had only happy endings, has her rendezvous with tragedy, that too in real life. The further talk about Anand’s being in
for his sister’s wedding to a
rich person, and not looking for her, brings her world down, making her
contemplate suicide from a ledge on the hillock of the temple of the
Goddess. But, better sense prevails on
her – if Girija, with her own set of ‘morals’ can get married into a rich
family and become ‘respectable’, why not she, who is such a wonderful and
well-behaved individual? India
Anu regrets her implusive decision and returns home, only to leave it and go to
, where her
room-mate of college days, Sumithra, stays with her husband, Hari Prasad. Bombay
The couple welcome her, despite her white patch. Despite his ‘worshipful’ first look, Hari treats her as his own sister and looks for a job for Anu.
At the interview, noticing the receptionist, Dolly, touch up her lipstick, Anu remembers that she had never used lipstick. Since she’s anyway overqualified, she lands a clerical job, commutes a long distance and makes friends among the women – colleagues who are unconcerned with her affliction or her past, and lives happy and confident.
Dolly’s accident and Anu’s donation of blood hint the reader that leukoderma is no bar for blood donation (of course, the blood transfusion is direct and immediate, like in Indian films. In reality however, blood is picked up from a blood bank, after ‘cross matching’ by donating replacement blood – and this is independent of the blood groups of the donor and receiver). Anyway, Anu assists Dolly during her hospitalisation.
One day Anu realises that Hari has evil intentions towards her, so without revealing this to anyone, she has to move out of Sumi’s home. Dolly advises her to stay with them, but with the requirement of having to cook her own food, since Anu is a strict vegetarian.
At Dolly’s suggestion, Anu takes up the job of Lecturer in Sanskrit in a local college. And, she’s more than eager to nurture the histrionics of her pupils, too.
Dolly gets married, and moves over to
leaving Anu with the responsibility of looking after her home, and without the
need for paying rent. Australia
One day, Anu meets with an accident and is taken to a hospital where a post-graduate doctor, Dr. Vasant, a Kannadiga, treats her. He is the son of a Sanskrit teacher so his love for the language increases his familiarity with Anu. His colleague and room-mate, Dr. Satya, dates another colleague, Dr. Vidya.
The reader is introduced to Vasant’s seriousness vis-à-vis Satya’s happy-go-lucky nature. The latter’s jovial behaviour is not meant to last, as Vidya dumps him to get married to a ‘more eligible’ fellow. His sorrow is accentuated by jaundice, which itself was caused by eating outside food. Anu offers to cook for him and nurse him back to health. During his stay, Satya changes his opinion of her from that of an unfortunate woman to that of a person looked beyond her imperfection. After he’s well, he thanks her for helping him as ‘a sister’ would have done – and she objects strongly, for obvious reasons.
On the last day of his stay, when Satya talks about not marrying the person one loves, Anu relates her story to him and tells him that occasional failure makes an individual more mature. She likens herself to a tree, which does not keep its fruits to itself, and, at the same time, finds fulfilment in this act of selflessness.
The reader is also told about the progress (on whatever) in Anand’s life. He is so fond of beauty that he is willing to dump his wife. He doesn’t, however, succumb to physical temptations. One day, in
when he comes across a husband who cares for his crippled wife, he is overcome
by guilt. He returns to England and sets
up a practice in his sprawling mansion.
He is uncomfortable in his own room, so moves into Girija’s. There, he finds a love letter from her lover
(or whatever she considered him as) and realises his folly. He is aghast when he learns that his mother
was aware of the affair all through but brushed it under the carpet. While the society had shunned Anu for a
patch, Girija is respected! He sets out
to find Anu. India
Meanwhile, Shamanna is dead; Anu sends money for the rites. The same step mother who considered her as bad omen now writes sweetly to her, only because she wants Anu’s monetary support.
Vasant’s parents are long gone, but wants to practice in his village to help the locals fight diseases. He has refined sense of beauty – of the permanence of nature’s beauty, and of one which resides in a good human being. He is interested in Anupama, and requests her to be a part of realising his dream.
Anand goes in search of Anu from village to village but reaches a dead end. It is a dead end in the end for him, but not yet. At the International Medical Conference, Anu, with Vasant’s help, gets her theatre group to perform Swapna Vasavadatta, with a commentary in English. At his friend’s insistence, Anand attends the play where he beholds Anu as the director of the play (he already recognises the voice, though). After quite an effort, he gets her contact address and meets her. She makes her decision clear that their relationship is over.
The book is just five pages away from the close, and the reader expects (or hopes!) that she’ll accept the genuine love of Vasant’s, but in vain. She does not want to go back to the village and face prejudice or get into the circle of family at all. The novel ends with Anu’s students deciding on their next play – Mahashweta.
The play that began the novel ends it, too, causing tears to flow out of the reader’s eyes.
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