Title: The Age of Shiva
Author: Manil Suri
Published In: 2009
My Rating: 2 on 5
I am guilty of not reading enough books by Indian authors. I am ignorant of the new authors entering the world and the new books released by veteran authors and I would feel a pang of guilt for not making an attempt to keep in touch with my own country’s literary world. To rectify this, I picked up The Age of Shiva. I had read interesting reviews of Suri’s debut book The Death of Vishnu and since this book was not available, I picked up the next available option.
The book opens with a vivid description of a mother breastfeeding her baby which can be easily misunderstood to be a love making scene. You don’t realize until you are almost through that the author is in fact describing breastfeeding and not some erotic incident. I have to admit, this totally put me off. I am not sure if other women (or mothers should I say) would find it offending, but the very fact that the author even dared to compare a breastfeeding act with an erotic scene was offensive to me.
The book is about Meera who is brought up under the shadows of her more beautiful and attractive elder sister. In a stupid attempt to take revenge for the indifference shown by her family, she decides to marry her sister’s lover. It is Meera’s story of getting along with a new family with drastically different financial condition and social views, her strange relationship with her husband and more importantly the birth of her son. Meera’s relationship with her son is the essence of the book and is supposed to draw parallels to Parvati and Ganesha. Parvati creates Ganesha using sandalwood paste (or the muck on her body, there are different versions of the story), thus eliminating the need for a guy to create a new being. This in a way excludes Shiva from the isolated mother and son world. Meera is in a struggle to keep her son for herself and shows a reluctance to share him with her husband. There are subplots in the book which I thought act more as distraction than add meat to the plot.
I was utterly confused with Meera’s character. I could not interpret her words and actions. She appears so unsure of her marital relationship and what to expect from her husband. When she is stuck in a one bedroom house and is desperate to get out of that hell and move to Bombay, her father offers her the golden opportunity. Instead of snatching it up, she trashes it and it left me wondering why she did that. Her on-now-off-now relationship with her brother-in-law was another problem area for me. The incidents that happen between the two and the way they ‘patch up’ left a bitter taste in my mouth.
As suspected, Meera and her son grow close in their relationship as Avinash grows up, and in more ways than one. I was again disgusted by these parts and wondered if this really happens and if this was required in the book at all. Is this Suri’s way of showing what happens in a family which does not have a father figure? The ending was even more confusing. I will not elaborate much here because it could be termed as a spoiler.
I did enjoy certain parts of the book, but in the end, it left me wondering what was the point of it all. The subtext about drawing parallel to one of the most popular stories in the Hindu mythology is all fine, but what is the conclusion the reader is supposed to draw? In the end, all I remember about the book is the deep disgust I felt while reading the physical closeness between mother and son. I am not sure if I should give Suri another chance by reading The Death of Vishnu! Any suggestions?