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Two Deaths and Their Aftermath

Amla Gandhi

By Priya Vasudevan
Niyogi Books, New Delhi, 2011, pp. 303, 395.00

VOLUME XXXV NUMBER 12 December 2011

The novel Middle Time by Priya Vasudevan is a fascinating work of fiction with a dreamlike quality. The plot has two distinct stories set apart by time, place, history, prevalent customs and traditions. The parallel narration of two tales, one set in Hampi and the other in modern-day Chennai and the chronological timeframe-one of 1535 and the other of 1996 creates a superficial sense of difference. The difference is merely in framework, the spirit of the stories is essentially the same. Both the stories begin with the mysterious death/murder of two women bearing similar names- Thulasi (1535) and Tulsi (1996). The advancement of the suicide theory as the cause of their death and their children Manju and Shibani's complete rejection of it gives a dramatic turn to the plot. The children, though, minors display a deep sense of intuitive knowledge, almost amounting to prophecy, about their respective mothers. Shibani's (1996) words to Maya, the lawyer: 'Aunty, Mummy was going to bake a cake. How could this happen? She loved me,' Manjunath's (1535) anguished cry at his mother's death: 'My mother's spirit has no peace. Her ashes flow in the river but her spirit is still unquiet'. Both Thulasi and Tulsi are comparable in their violation of the social code and the ensuing scandal by which they both remain unaffected. Their cup of life is brimful and so is their enjoyment. The murder obviously leads to various lines of investigation, more formal and legal in the modern day Chennai and informal and by word-of mouth in medieval India. Gradually, the canvas becomes larger, transforms into a society, a kingdom in turmoil with its political developments, conspiracies, intrigues, vested interests and powerful land-mafia. As the plot unfolds and moves forward, the focus does not remain merely on the dead/murdered women, Thulasi and Tulsi, but includes in its gambit the lives of a wide array of characters. The life of Achale, a Devadasi of Virupaksheshwara Temple at Hampi, who informally assumes the role of investigative agency and wants to pursue the case to its conclusive end, comes alive with the devadasi customs and traditions and also the violations of it. She is a devadasi in one sense and not so in the other. Her free-spirit, non-committal sexual behaviour, desire to live life on her own terms finds replication in Maya, Tulsi's lawyer. If Tulsi seems a reincarnation of Thulasi so does Maya of Achale. The two ...

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