Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. Musings from someone who sees stories everywhere.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The Cousins Book review

The Cousins
Prema Raghunath
2011, pp 209

This is the intensely moving story of Goutami or Goutu, for whom life in upper class Tamil brahmin society hides fangs of avarice, jealousy and petty vindictiveness under its facade of old world graciousness.

Barely a year old at the time of her mother’s death in 1921, Goutu learns early on to “fight, fight for everything, the hand-me-downs, the handouts, the charity.” She knows too well that her diamond-studded aunt and her cousins envy her inborn talents and want her out of their way, even dead. Cornered too often through her formative years, she cannot afford to indulge in feminine graces. The author succeeds in making us feel for Goutu.

Goutu’s life is inexorably entwined with her tormented older brother Achyut, her debonair cousin Krishna who beds all young cousins before their wedding night, and her dutiful, clever and coldly logical husband Seshadri. They are travelling companions through the journey of life, enriching each other’s perspectives over the course of time. Seshadri cannot tell a lie, not because it is a moral issue, but because “beautifying things or rendering them more palatable did not even occur to him.”

To Goutu, lying comes just as naturally. She embellishes bare facts to create an impression, escape from trouble, or not hurt another’s feelings. A solid yet unfulfilling married life leads Goutu to turn to Krishna, and fall for the dashing but unprincipled Subra.
The story takes us all over India, from a traditional Brahmin home near Madurai in the early twentieth century to Delhi, the seat of the British rulers in India. We follow Goutu on to England, where she venutres boldly to seek a cure for her physically challenged daughter, Meera. It is Meera, who with her deep insights guides Goutu in her twilight years to find inner peace.

The transitions from place to place and from points of views of the main characters, can be too rapid and abrupt at times. The sense of place could have stronger too.

The intensity of Goutu's emotions draws the reader to her and makes her life story a worthwhile and memorable  read.

My detailed review is published in Sunday Herald