Sunday, 21 December 2008

In the Convent of Little Flowers - Book Review

A truly great novel not only has a gripping plot but is also crafted with such skill that it swallows the reader into its soul. Indeed a difficult mission, but a range of characters and 300 sheaves of pages make the task somewhat simpler. Thus creating enthralling short stories with a single or at most three characters and a time line of only twenty paper leaves is almost impossible. Indu Sunderasan’s latest masterpiece – In the Convent of Little Flowers - is like an oasis in this desert of short story novels.

The nine stories are each distinct in their narration, characterization and emotion. At the end of every story I was left with a unique twang which I had experienced neither in any of my recent reads (outside of In the Convent of Little Flowers) nor in the short tales of this book. It is needless to say that I did not want the collection to come to an end.

Payal and Kamala are two characters that I personally was drawn to the most. The tale of the two sisters’ affection and separation is written with remarkable tenderness, angst and rage. The prose had me feeling helpless and then angry. The words poured with such force that it was difficult to read with calm. The plight of rural India was brought alive by this meeting between a grandmother and a granddaughter. But then the story of Parvati and Nathan brought over immense stillness and at the end of this piece there was a warm smile on my face. The innocence of a child is capable of miracles and Indu Sundaresan’s magical words created that very sensation.

There are other characters worthy of note in this book and the next deserving mention is that of Meha and Chandar. These two characters depict all the values and love that Indian parents stand for. Meha to me is the ideal Indian woman, though a little weak. However, given the generation of her character, I would like to argue that her perceived weakness is what makes her an immortal mother. And then there is Nitu – a mother and a wife. Another portrayal of an Indian woman immersed in the love and well being of her family, but a contemporary Indian woman, she unlike Meha does not suffer her fate in silence. She makes her choice, unconventional though it may be. This strength has no hidden weakness but only courage that is worth applause.

The other five stories also take on Indian women from varied economic and cultural backgrounds of the country and bring out the complexity of relationships with immense dexterity. Together the nine stories are like different flowers in a vase that create a picturesque moment worthy of cherishing for a long time to come.

Not only is “in the Convent of Little Flowers” a thoroughly enjoyable read but it is also a thought provoking book. It does make us realise that while India has progressed, there are some pockets where the era of reforms and development has still not dawned. From an author who made her mark with historical fiction works, this set of contemporary stories is very refreshing and highlights her in-depth understanding of the Indian culture and society – past and present.

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