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Of Changing Landscapes

Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee

By Suruchi Mohan
Orient Publishing, New Delhi, 2009, pp.256, Rs. 240.00


It is rarely that one comes across a full fiction based on music. In Indian Bhasha literature, one immediately remembers S.L. Bhyrappa's Saraswati Samman winning Kannada novel Mandra and Bani Basu's Bengali novel Gandharvi. So far as English fiction by an Indian writer is concerned we have Amit Chaudhuri's Afternoon Raga and Vikram Seth's An Equal Music, where Seth brilliantly conveys the intense and complex interplay of chamber musicians-an odd, obsessed, introspective, separatist breed-both in rehearsal and in per-formance. Suruchi Mohan's debut novel Divine Music is the latest addition to this short list. The novel is a complex, sophisticated, elegant investigation of trauma and desire-like a white hot flame. It traces a gifted young girl Sarika's passionate struggle to realize her talents as a singer, in a North Indian bourgeois society where the mother sits through the session when a male teacher gives private tui-tion to a girl student. It is also the coming-of-age tale of Sarika in the sense that she falls for the charm of her revered guru Kirana Saheb who not only recognizes her great potential but nurtures it towards blossoming and recogni-tion. Sarika's journey takes her further, but the price of recognition, when it finally comes, is steep. Presumably based on some fragments of a real life story, the achingly beautiful prose depicts the search for an artistic voice. As far as I know, this is the first all out portrait of an artist as a young woman. The story begins on the day of the demise of Sarika's beloved grandmother when she is just sixteen. Three days later when the prayer meeting is taking place, Kirana Saheb comes to her room upstairs and kisses her for the first time declaring his love for her. From then on-ward the story unfolds through Sarika's vision in flashback-a story of longing and intrigue, half-told truths and toxic lies-till the climax of her physical union with the guru and subsequent discovery of her pregnancy. Parallel runs the story of Swati, a poor but talented girl from the North East in whose story the author explores the way the experience of artistic transcendence can destroy a life. Swati's suicide is an act de-monstrating her failure to find her own unique and autonomous being. Both Sarika and Swati fall for the easier path of carnality. The only difference between their situations is that there is no one to protect Swati, ...

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