India Today - - LEISURE -

ONE FOOT ON THE GROUND A Life Told Through the Body by Shanta Gokhale SPEAK­ING TIGER `399; 264 pages

Ihave sel­dom read an au­to­bi­og­ra­phy as in­ter­est­ing or as hon­est as this. For sure, there are some that inspire re­spect for the life por­trayed, but Gokhale’s life is drawn on a grid never at­tempted. She maps her body parts to record all her sig­nif­i­cant mem­o­ries, so that the story of her life pro­vides the reader with a head-to-toe pic­ture that is noth­ing less than a lit­er­ary MRI scan.

Start­ing with her birth in 1939 to the funny and sad sto­ries that are con­nected with each part of her body—from teeth and hair, to the bunions on her toes—this is a jour­ney re­counted with such wit and verve that self-pity is res­o­lutely barred from en­ter­ing it. By the time one reaches the fi­nal chap­ter, one is sure that Gokhale has shared her­self with the reader as com­pletely as is pos­si­ble for any writer. And that, as far as I am con­cerned, is the true test of a good au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. This is not to say that there are no in­ti­mate ac­counts of the hu­man re­la­tion­ships out­side her own body, for she in­tro­duces us to many re­mark­able men and women she has en­coun­tered and forged re­la­tion­ships with. Th­ese mem­o­ries in­clude the pain of bro­ken mar­riages, the dif­fi­cul­ties of sin­gle par­ent­hood and an un­ful­filled li­ai­son with a fel­low stu­dent in Bris­tol. How­ever, th­ese are pre­sented as the mus­cle and nerve tis­sue of her tough skeleton.

Gokhale, one of the finest trans­la­tors of Kan­nada and Marathi writ­ing, switches seam­lessly from one id­iom to an­other as she records con­ver­sa­tions with her Marathis­peak­ing child­hood friends and her mother. And hid­den un­der­neath the del­i­cately drawn por­traits is a mov­ing homage to her par­ents, who gave her the lib­eral val­ues that fash­ioned her, as much as her teeth and hair. Her ed­u­ca­tion in the UK at a time when stu­dents trav­elled on ships rather than in planes, the mis­ery of the English win­ter and her deep grat­i­tude to her father who was de­ter­mined to give his daugh­ters the best ed­u­ca­tion he could (not) af­ford, are all laid out on the grid of Gokhale’s body. As a de­vice to map her life, this lib­er­ates her story from be­com­ing a maudlin ac­count of a dif­fi­cult life.

So, by keep­ing one foot on the ground, Gokhale re­tains her bal­ance per­fectly through­out. A great read. ■

—Ira Pande

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