Tag Archives: anita desai

Cry, The Peacock by Anita Desai

Cry, The Peacock by Anita Desai

Title: Cry, The Peacock
Author: Anita Desai
Publisher: Orient Paperbacks
ISBN: 978-8122200850
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 184
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

The beauty of an Anita Desai novel is that it is. It exists. It takes its time to breathe, to soak in, for readers to discover it, and then work its way into their minds and hearts. That is what an Anita Desai novel looks like, feels like, and well, is.

Her books aren’t easy reads. Perhaps nothing happens in them on every page or even every couple of pages, but that’s how it is, and as a reader over the years of reading her again and again, I have learned to admire what I see before me. Yes, I shall sing praises and yes, I shall gush because I don’t see enough people doing that.

Cry, the Peacock is the first novel of hers. Published in 1963, a story of a young woman Maya, who is obsessed by a childhood prophecy of disaster. She lives life on the precipice of it coming true in her head and how it all plays out one Indian Summer with her husband Gautama who is radically different from her.

Anita Desai’s characters have set motives most of the time, and when they don’t is when you’re flummoxed but you’re in for the ride anyway – for the writing that gingerly sneaks up on you and takes you by the horns. The book is full of metaphors and expectations. Expectations that one has from life, and people in it. It is about what you start with and how it all ends (or so it seems at that time).

Cry, the Peacock is a book about so much longing and sensitivity that it is surprising that it doesn’t become sentimental or maudlin at all. Anita Desai’s prose is imaginary, reckless, cautious, and also extremely precise. In less than 200 pages or so she says what she has to, her characters charm and equally annoy you, and her writing mesmerises you. One must read Anita Desai with a lot of time on hand, and when you aren’t rushed to read. Her books demand that time and attention, forever oscillating between hope and hopelessness.

387 Short Stories: Day 25: Story 25: The Rooftop Dwellers by Anita Desai

Diamond Dust and Other Stories by Anita Desai Title: The Rooftop Dwellers
Author: Anita Desai
Taken from the Collection: Diamond Dust and Other Stories

One needs a lot of patience and time on hand to read Anita Desai’s books. Not because they are difficult reads, but because they make you ponder, mull, stop in between and reflect on your state of mind and heart, and just make you come back to the book/s in bits and parts. This is exactly what happened as I was reading “The Rooftop Dwellers” – one of her many short stories.

I started reading Anita Desai while I was in college and the only thing that got me going with her books was the trailer of the movie, “In Custody”, which was based on her book. That was the first Anita Desai which I read and I haven’t looked back since. The movie was conceptualized by the duo Ismail-Merchant, which also led me to watching all their films and be in awe of their direction and production values, besides of course reading more of Desai.

“The Rooftop Dwellers” is about Moyna and her life of rebellion, living in a barsati (attic loosely put) with her family and wanting out desperately. Desai almost manages to depict an entire story in a couple of pages. Moyna’s behaviour, thoughts and actions all veer towards breaking away from traditional roles, which Anita masters. A read for all women and all men as well.

The Novels of Anita Desai

One needs a lot of patience and time on hand to read Anita Desai’s books. Not because they are difficult reads, but because they make you ponder, mull, stop in between and reflect on your state of mind and heart, and just make you come back to the book/s in bits and parts.

I started reading Anita Desai while I was in college and the only thing that got me going with her books was the trailer of the movie, “In Custody”, which was based on her book. That was the first Anita Desai which I read and I haven’t looked back since. The movie was conceptualized by the duo Ismail-Merchant, which also led me to watching all their films and be in awe of their direction and production values.

Anita Desai writes with candour – the feelings are stark and need no explanation. Her characters are often cocooned, living in their own selves, comfortable in their skin and at times restless like any other character/s would be.

I have had various arguments with friends or acquaintances about her writing prowess and how she should be given more credit than that. Her novels are bleak but sometimes that is the truth about human nature – there is also the unknown kindness that makes itself visible in her works – from the relationship of the poet and his fan in “In Custody” to the delicate balance between a great–grandmother and her great-granddaughter in “Fire on the Mountain”, which gets maintained over the course of the book.

Desai’s characters are but human. They are awkward, shy, boisterous and often just want to live their lives cocooned without any interference from the world. Maybe that is the reason why her novels most of the time seem out of place in today’s times. That is the reason I read them. They somehow provide the necessary calm and quiet which is needed.

I remember reading, “Clear Light of Day” with great trepidation. The same applied to “Fasting Feasting”. That was due to the underlying themes of loneliness, despair and life not giving too many choices to the protagonists. Both the novels have the same undercurrents – of being there and yet wanting to have a life of their own. This is written without much sentiment, so though you feel sorry for the characters (to some extent), you do not feel the choke in the throat. For me that is the understated beauty of her books. They make you feel and that is more than enough.

My favourite Desai has to be, “In Custody” for sure. The subtlety of a poet’s last days and lost grandeur is depicted with such pathos, that even I could not help but cry in some parts (I am not being contradictory. Just stating the truth). The relationship between the poet and his long time admirer is so delicate and so factual, that one begins to wonder and introspect about all relationships in that manner.

“Fire on the Mountain” begins with an intrusion. Nanda Kaul is living her last years peacefully in the small town of Kasauli. Her great-granddaughter Raka is then dispatched to live with her. They think they are different from each other, till their similarities come to the surface along with the hurt, pain, kindness, only ending in tragedy.

The above-mentioned book is probably Desai’s most poetic work according to me. The descriptions and scenes are what are not present in her other books. The book has less dialogue and more beauty in the way the characters behave and silently ponder over the events unfolding around them. That is the true mark of Anita Desai’s books according to me – the slowness, the quiet and then suddenly a series of events occur that change the course of the characters’ lives.

Anita Desai’s books probably are set in different times and worlds, and yet they ring so true for present times. The pathos of “In Custody” to the grimness of life in “Fasting, Feasting”, her novels are not for the weak-hearted. Every book of hers is a gem to be cherished and kept and to go back to and admire as the years pass by. Anita Desai is truly one of India’s prolific and erudite writers. A must read for all literary lovers.

(Anita Desai’s 4 Titles Courtesy: Random House India)

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Book Review: The Artist of Disappearance by Anita Desai

Title: The Artist of Disappearance
Author: Anita Desai
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN: 978-0-547-57745-6
Genre: Fiction, Novellas, Literary Fiction
Pages: 156
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

When Anita Desai writes, she creates magic. I have always held on to this belief and moreover also thought that she is one of the under-rated writers in her own country. She writes sparingly and the words sparkle long after the book is published. My tryst with Anita Desai took place when I was barely seventeen. I remember watching the movie In Custody – a Merchant-Ivory production and as the credits rolled at the start, I saw that it was based on a novel of the similar name by a novelist called Anita Desai. I read the book as I loved the film so much. The book did not disappoint me at all and from thereon I read almost everything this writer had to offer.

The Artist of Disappearance is her latest offering. It is a collection of three novellas and in every way as brilliant as her previous works. The Anita Desai Reader (and I do not mean this in the loose sense of the word) knows what to expect. The writing is not only clear but also has many layers to it and as each one unfolds, the others become more elusive. The prose is beautiful, the nuances are well taken care of and she tries not to involve technology in her writing.

This collection of novellas focuses primarily on preservation and change. Of how the characters resist it and some give in, to face the consequences of their choices. It speaks of objects and lives – the nature of the two and how inter-connected they are.

The first novella, “The Museum of Final Journeys” talks of an officer of the British Government sent to a backwater town for his training. He is approached by an old man (the caretaker) from the countryside who wants him to visit a house now turned to a museum of strange and beautiful items. The old man wants to get rid of the most valuable item, which will haunt the young government officer for years to come.

The second novella, “Translator, Translated” is a story of a seemingly quiet teacher whose interest lies primarily in Oriya, a little less known language and how she gets the opportunity to translate her favourite writer’s first book in English. Things go haywire when the author publishes her second book and the teacher takes it upon herself to connect the loose ends, with repercussions unknown.

The third and last novella in the collection, “The Artist of Disappearance” Ravi wants to live an unknown life – like a hermit in the forest. Suddenly his life is turned upside-down when a film crew wants to interview him. He doesn’t feel a part of the existence and disappears using his tact and mastery.

Each of the characters in these novellas wants to preserve – to not let go and life doesn’t give them that opportunity. Ms. Desai’s craft is at a height – she knows what she is doing and she nails it with her writing. Read her for the writing, for the plots she creates and for the sheer beauty of language.

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Fire on the Mountain by Anita Desai

When Random House was first introduced in India as a publishing entity, Anita Desai’s works were one of the chosen to be published by them and honestly according to me, one of her best works has been “In Custody”. However, I will post about that later. For now let’s focus on “Fire on the Mountain”.

Anita Desai is one writer with rare sensitivity and perspective. She never disappoints any reader with what she writes. She is economical with her words, however each one perfectly fits the situation.

The novel starts out with Nanda Kaul, who has almost renounced the world and is now living a quiet life in Kausali amidst the hills and pinecones. The book is about her, and how her life is disrupted when her great grand daughter Raka, comes to live with her, who is just recovering from a severe case of typhoid. Nanda does not want to take care of her. She doesn’t feel like conversing again and doesn’t want to make sure of another life’s comfort.

What I loved most about the book were the small interactions between Nanda and Raka. The short conversations are enough to foretell the future events. Though for some readers, it might be a slow and dull book, however let me assure you that it is one delightful read. The approach is minimal and amidst all this Nanda’s childhood friend, Ila Das arrives to live with them. A story of three women who are brought together under one roof is done without any drama attached to it.

What takes place in the last few pages of the novel catches the reader by surprise. All the signs of the end were present in the novel, in the descriptions, in the tone of the narrator, and in the few chosen words of the characters. This, to me, is the strongest feature of the novel. A must read.