Lost in the City
The life and harrowing times of a woman trapped in Calcutta
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