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The Creative and the Critical

G.J.V. Prasad

By Shashi Deshpande
Viking/Penguin, New Delhi, 2003, pp. 252, Rs. 395.00

By Shashi Deshpande
Penguin Books, Delhi, 2004, pp. 245, Rs. 250.00


Shashi Deshpande is one of the major voices of our times and it is apt that I should be reviewing her collection of short stories along with her book of non-fiction writings. It is the same writer who is expressing similar views in the two collections, her non-fiction writings growing out of her fiction as well as leading to it. The creative and the critical are twins after all. In both you find the Indian English writer exploring what the language allows her to do, and trying to carve out her own writerly territory. What a writer knows or can imagine with intimacy and/or passion, what a writer feels able to write about, how a writer uses her language and what liberties she takes with it and what space it allows her—these are some of the concerns of Shashi Deshpande the non-fiction writer, and her answers stem largely from her own creative work and, perhaps, motivate some of it. When you read the two together, you have no hesitation in saying why it is that Shashi Deshpande touches a chord in so many people even as she irritates quite a few.   To put it simply, it is because she is herself. Daughter of a famous Kannada writer (and there is poignant essay on him in the collection), seeing herself as heir to the tradition even if she herself doesn’t write in the language, Shashi Deshpande is completely at home in the contradictions that characterize life in India. This is not a fashionable rebellious writer, not a radical feminist, or a post-feminist, not even a conservative right-wing writer. She is simply Shashi Deshpande, an Indian writer who is a woman brought up with (South) Indian middle class values, full of questions, doubts, and contradictions, staying within the fold even as she questions its worldview, a writer who often finds the strength to question from within the tradition itself. The writer is very much part of the world that she writes about and has complete sympathy and understanding for the characters who chart out their lives and deaths to the best of their abilities within the terrain made available to them. Each of her characters is heroic even when, or should I say because of, leading the average life of the un-heroic—the heroism lies in living with the knowledge of the inadequacy of life. Heroism is possible to ...

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