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Of Ordinary Lives/Ordinary Times

G.J.V. Prasad

By Anjali Sharma
Harper Collins India, 2010, pp. 261, Rs. 399.00


I started reading Saraswati Park because it was shortlisted for a prize, which, as we know now, it didnt win. The loss means nothing. Having been on one of the early juries for another prize, I should not have too many issues with literary prizes but I do feel that such prizes force people to compare books which are quite different from each other. Having said that, the buzz about literary prizes does get at least some people to go out and buy books and others to know about them.   This is a Mumbai novel, written by someone who misses (or missed when she was writing) Mumbai and its rhythms of life and its colours and its seasons and its people and its flavours almost viscerally. This is a writer who has a great visual recollect, almost like a painter. The way she lovingly recreates pictures of her beloved city and its inhabitants and their lives, most people will tend to think that this is, oh my god, another novel written for a firang audience, another diasporic spam. But Saraswati Park is more than thatit has the feel of a book written for the writer herself, a quiet contemplation of the city and the lives that it harbours, ignores and sometimes ejects, of the inexplicable angst of growing up (and not just in this city), of talents and ambitions and achievements and frustrations, of the nature of education that leaves us mostly untouched, and of the nature of relationships with tensions and hostilities and sadness just below the surface of calm and seeming contentment.   Saraswati Park tells us the story of Mohan Karekar, an almost vestigial professional letter writer who practices his craft at the GPO near the VT station in Bombay (Mumbai), a man who didnt complete his studies but loves books, and who lives in a suburban flat with his wife Lakshmi. Their children have grown up and left home to where middle class India headsthe USA and an Indian tech city. Their routine life is interrupted by the arrival of Mohans nephew Ashish who has to repeat his final year of BA. The growing distance in Mohan and Lakshmis marriage is not bridged by this intervention but is reinforced because Ashish encourages Mohan to write, an activity which makes Mohan have even less time for Lakshmi. Lakshmis life has been one of possibilities and unarticulated frustrationsthe life ...

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