I just turned the acknowledgements page of Manil Suri’s ‘The Age of Shiva’. It took me a week to finish this one. I have not read his earlier book ‘The Death of Vishnu’ which I am aware met with decent success.
Suri shows promise as a story teller as he tries to fuse several characters and their idiosyncracies. The story is about Meera the daughter of a rich Punjabi business man and her experiences as she traverses across roles as daughter, sister, wife and mother. It may seem highly simplistic to say this but her character is strongly remniscent of the children’s ‘Ugly Duckling’ fairy tale; Meera is the duckling who does not blossom till the end, at times flattering to deceive. Throughout the novel she lives under the shadows of Paji, her sister Roopa, her husband Dev and Ashvin her son. There is also the strong theme of sibling rivalry Roopa vs Meera, Dev vs. Arya. Roopa is the prickly sister who despite nature lands a good life, while Meera despite being a better person is always struggling. Dev is the romantic and he gets the rich Meera, while Arya the activist is constantly living the life of pretence. Paji is the master puppeteer controlling his family’s destinies.
There also the strong element of sexuality. The affair between Roopa and Dev, the constant lusting by Arya for Meera, the subtle lesbain relationship between Sandhya and Meera and finally the Oedipal relationship between Meera and Ashvin. The mother-son relationship is sometimes too stark with eroticism (not recommended for the squeamish). The other theme of politics is loose and hangs loosely. It is not as strongly embedded as in Rohinton Mistry’s ‘A Fine Balance’.
Technically the book has a few flaws. The narrative is in second person, Meera is narrating the story to Ashvin. The problem with that is that it is awkward and unnatural, especially the sex episodes. Also the narrative is not crisp and meanders along drearily without adding anything of substance to the plot. At times I had to flip the pages to get a move on.
A decent read, provided you have the patience to plod through almost 450 pages.