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Deepti Bhardwaj

MEANWHILE, UPRIVER
By Chatura Rao
Penguin, Delhi, 2008, pp. 206, Rs. 250.00

VOLUME XXXIII NUMBER 6 June 2009

Chatura Rao’s Meanwhile, Upriver strikes us with its cryptic and yet engaging book cover. An expansive blue backdrop with a suggestive landscape, a monkey man crouching at one end, a fat woman clad in red, floating in the air at the other and both facing each other as if awaiting their meeting, duly summarizes the book.   The novel is written in an episodic style with two different narratives merging at the end. It ties up for us a set of scenarios that are an integral part of Indian society. Rao successfully puts together the Indian and the universal, the adult and the young world, the literary/past and the dramatic/present, juxtaposing world-views and perceptions for a modern day readership.   The epigraph to the book from Jeanette Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry defines the scope of the work. It is this story of a ‘grotesque’ and hideous mother called the ‘dog woman’ and her son who is proud of her, journeying across seas, across time searching the ‘self’ that marks the sphere of the present work. The story narrated to us in retrospect is bracketed with a prologue and an epilogue that run in continuation except that the epilogue almost echoes the contents of prologue with slight additions and a better understanding since the plot has unfolded. The three sections called ‘Once Upon a River’, ‘Season Of Love And Play’ and ‘Lila’ take us deep into the two ‘stories’ that run mutually exclusive till the end chapters.   A motherless daughter, Yamini is never liked by her extended family. Her candidness, her obesity and her scarred face literally become a burden for her father and his paralysis becomes just a physical representation of it. She is pushed into several realizations: about her ugliness by young boys, her need to be a support for her father by her relatives and her fate to be a loner by her neighbours’, constant jibes. She emerges stronger with every attack and every jibe. She works to make life better for other helpless children without making them dependent. She compartmentalizes her life neatly dividing it among her teaching in school, her father, her tuition work, her work at the dog shed and her general sensitivity to wrongs like the ones done to Chusti and later to Shiva and Shantanu.   Chatura Rao delves into the problems of a young woman slipping into middle age without making ...


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