Lost in the City

The life and har­row­ing times of a woman trapped in Cal­cutta

India Today - - LEISURE - By Bunny Su­raiya

The iron weights on the wings of Sub­hashini Dinesh’s feisty hero­ine, Maya Srini­vasan, are her bul­ly­ing, snarling Appa— a fa­ther from hell— who shows nei­ther her nor her long- suf­fer­ing mother an iota of af­fec­tion; the crum­bling, cock­roach- in­fested house near the Lakes in south Cal­cutta which her fam­ily has rented for 52 years and which is a mon­u­ment to de­crepi­tude; the un­end­ing treks to Madras that she must un­der­take to be seen by prospec­tive grooms only to bear the re­peated hu­mil­i­a­tion of re­jec­tion; the lech­er­ous ad­vances of her Mani Un­cle, de­spoiler of young girls in that com­plic­ity that per­mits the out­rage of in­no­cence in In­dian fam­i­lies… the grue­some list of what it is to be a young woman in In­dia could go on. The only sav­ing graces for Maya in her vir­tu­ally un­en­durable life are the love of her grand­mother, Paati, the furtively dis­played af­fec­tion of her Amma, the sup­port of her younger brother and sis­ter— and most of all, her in­de­pen­dent na­ture and fine mind which pro­pel her up the cor­po­rate lad­der to be­come the News Ed­i­tor of the Cal­cutta Mail— The Tele­graph thinly dis­guised.

The story starts when Maya is twenty- nine, so it is with a ma­ture per­spec­tive that she re­counts the or­deal of ar­ranged mar­riage pro­to­cols, the pa­tience with which an in­tel­li­gent woman must bear the scru­tiny of a string of abysmal mummy’s boys in “this cat­tle- show cul­ture which was com­pletely loaded against the girl”. De­scrip­tions of life in Cal­cutta in the 90s are lively and evoca­tive. Such as the in­fa­mous Cal­cutta bandhs, lu­di­crously called by the gov­ern­ment in power merely in or­der “to re­tain the mil­i­tant or­der of their cadre”, the plea­sures of eat­ing puchkas sold by a road­side ven­dor, the magic of Park Street at Christ­mas. The chang­ing world of the news­pa­per in­dus­try is in­sight­fully por­trayed as Maya’s pa­per is sexed up and dumbed down in or­der to fight both, tele­vi­sion and a new player in the city ( read Times of In­dia) noted for its strong- arm in­tro­duc­tory tac­tics. A di­gres­sion wor­thy of com­par­i­son with Vikram Seth’s dis­ser­ta­tion on the mo­hua tree takes the reader on an en­ter­tain­ing train- ride from Cal­cutta to Madras— re­plete with the sights, sounds and evoca­tive food- smells of ev­ery way­side halt.

Dinesh’s novel is a voy­age of dis­cov­ery in which Maya finds her­self and the reader finds much to en­joy.

MY IRON WINGS

by Sub­hashini Dinesh Palimpsest Price: RS 599 Pages: 404

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