One of India’s most celebrated writers, Anita Desai visited Delhi on 1st December 2007. Taking part in the brief talk on her novels, Anita Desai made a rare appearance amidst enthusiastic fans and readers thanks to the well organized function that was put together by Random House. As most of us already know, her name was nominated thrice for Booker Price but it happened that her daughter Kiran Desai won it for the book Inheritance of Loss in the year 2006.
But coming back to Anita Desai, it has been a long, interesting journey for her because she recalled how it felt to be a writer in early post colonial India. When her American publishers asked her how it felt to be a writer in India, she recalls telling them, “It is like writing in a cave.” The reason, she explained, was that she kept on writing and writing but didn’t get feedback on her writings for several years. It pained her that while her novels were studied in Universities abroad, it hadn’t been the same in her own country, India, during those early days of writing. Her understanding of the current exposure that young writers get through media and publicity was quite precise but she has no regrets of missing the media phase as she felt that her literary evolution had traveled a long, mature way.
With an intensity and elegance that matches the tenor of her novels and the depth with which her characters relate to one another, it is a sheer pleasure to read Anita Desai’s earliest novels to her most recent books. Having commanded no media glares for her books, she stands apart from the new breed of writers who constantly seek the limelight of media rather than focus on the quality of what they create.
Most of her novels provide a realistic peek into the feminine perspective while highlighting a woman’s desperate desire to create a distinct identity although shackled by the confines of the societal norms as prevalent in India.
Her first novel, Cry, the Peacock, is about the suicide of a young Delhi housewife called Maya. Feeling trapped by the suffocating walls of a loveless, empty, arranged marriage to the much older lawyer, Gautama, the novel communicates the chaotic thoughts of an unhappy woman who is constantly thinking and talking of death.
Another of my favorite Anita Desai novels is set in the late 1950s, Voices in the City where the journey of three young adults begins in search of a better future in the city and depicts the reality and somberness of the Indian society which was still undergoing a disturbing state of transition.
Yet another favorite of mine is Bye-Bye, Blackbird, which is Anita Desai’s first literary coverage of a country beyond the Indian boundaries as she explores London that was flooded with commonwealth immigration during 1950s and 1960s. Dev, the main protagonist, a young man from Calcutta, arrives in England to study at the London School of Economics. He stays with two old friends, Adit and Sarah, an Indian-English interracial couple. The way in which the young, patriotic Indian man begins to see the beauty of the country he had once hated is a beautiful transition that the author achieves because her protagonist experiences the good and the bad in a foreign land, an aspect that most of us can relate with, till Dev becomes completely enamoured with the English way of life.
Another of my early favorites is,Where Shall We Go This Summer? (1975) which is focused on a desperate Indian wife who thinks up ways to escape her marriage by visiting her home island of Manori. With two of her four children, she travels all the way to this island while she is in the third trimester of yet another pregnancy. There are few women who hate to return to the roots where they first grew aware of life and its woes because that is their first experience of the fleeting world and its fleeting relationships. Sita recalls the powerful presence of her father, a great leader on the island and takes the respect of all the islanders as something that is rightfully hers because she believes that there is some magic around the island that can safely bring an end to her woes and her hopeless marriage.
A novel that won great critical reception, Fasting, Feasting relates to the woeful life of an Indian daughter who always took second place to their beloved son. Her parents view her as a glorified servant and nothing more because their whole existence revolves around the whims and fancies of their only son. What the Indian daughter goes through and her deep longing to attain independence without marriage is the focus of this highly illuminating novel.
There is no doubt that the psychological development of most of the female protagonists who are represented within the rigid societal norms of Indian family culture has provide uniquely illuminating glimpses of how hopeless and lonely the real world is for these women because they are shackled by their own inability to understand or face the world boldly. The complexity of the family relationships that are beautifully represented in Anita Desai's novels represents a treasury of this novelist’s ability to keenly observe and bring to life all that is happening around her with a realistic vision.