The novels of Renita D’Silva, a British Indian author, with their exquisite settings, vivid portrayal of human lives fraught with conflict and crisis, aligned at a perfect natural background of both rural and metropolitan is always worth reading. The mystery tied in a sharp knot unravels slowly allowing us to relish the smell of jasmine and the aroma of new recipes at the same time.
In a Nutshell:
The Forgotten Daughter is a family saga that explores the relationship between two estranged sisters and their mother. The meandering flow of the story glides with the three voices and by means of three styles. Nisha, the first voice wrote notes on whatever issues she faced, emotional or physical and solve them in practical and technical terms. Her smooth, mathematical life along with her scientist parents in England came to a halt with their sudden death. She was left behind with the memories, far from being emotional though, and a letter along with the will that the solicitor handed her. The letter carried the disastrous message that Nisha was not their biological child but adopted in the course of their project at the time of their research in India. There they found her in a convent. The child was always taught to loath emotions as ‘ a waste of time’ and only trained to be competent shying away from the ‘luxury of mawkishness’. Crushing her deep desire for affection and love she grew up in their way until the very discovery of her life messed her world in a topsy–turvy. She no longer could solve it by means of any theorems. She who did not cry at her parents’ funeral and arranged everything systematically, even join office in three days, ‘ …gives in to the sobs which rend her slender body reverberating through her like waves building into a tsunami.’ She felt ‘ she is not a machine anymore; she is a human torn apart by feeling…’ And from there start the new story of her life – her search for her real identity. She left England in search of her real parents, her twin sister and her provenance.
Devi divulged her story in an epistolary style, through her letter to her ‘ma’. Leaving her life at Sompur she flies to England with her husband Rohan. She wanted to be free from the burdensome love of her mother. Her love, the clingy affection always ‘ felt so heavy, like a burden almost too weighty to carry'(chapter 20, page 203) and she rebelled to run away from her clutches. One day when she did not get any response from her ma after calling for several times at first she took it as ‘ just another of ruses’ of her ma until the fisherwoman Shali informed her mother’s illness and asked her to come. She came back Sompur, carrying her kid ‘ within the safe harbour of the womb’. There she got the diary of Shilpa, her mother. The tempest she always bore within herself being unable to snuff out calmed down at a sudden ‘anagnorisis’ – her mother’s struggle for baby, her father’s pathetic death and the twin sister, her ‘nini. Her lifelong rage burst out finally in helpless agony, ‘ I am a twin? Me? Why didn’t you tell me? …. I hate you, Ma- your betrayal, your keeping my sister from me. All these years I ached for a sibling to share the burden I tottered under, the burden I shook off, (Chapter- 23, page 231).
Shilpa‘s mother gave her a diary when she got her first period, to celebrate the occasion. Her mother saved money bit by bit for a long time to afford the diary as they hardly had enough money to buy rice or dhal from the ration shop. The diary stayed with her even when she got married, as a precious gem amid pungent poverty. She used to write lip-smacking recipes in the diary, simple yet extraordinary and also her feelings. She desperately craved for babies after several miscarriages and when doctor gave up all hope, her total devotion turned to the madwoman under the peepal tree whose forbidding always proved true for her even in life’s most crucial stages. She lost her husband in violent storm. She had to choose between her husband and her baby. She chose her baby- babies, twin, one with a cleft palate. But dirge poverty and cruelty of others at that deformed face forced her to leave Nisha, the second baby in the convent in hope of a better life. Her stubborn blind faith in the madwoman proved valid again when a novice nun came with the news of Nisha’s adaptation. She realized ‘ I made the right choice … The wise woman was right… My baby will have a good life… Her face will be fixed, she will get married, have children.’ (Chapter 24 page 247).
And it was the right decision. Nisha got her surgery and everything- a polished educated life. But somewhere in her heart she always craved for the familial affection, the bonding of love. Finally, she came back to Sompur and reunited with her sister and her mother at her death bed. She felt whole at the embrace of her sister and at the affectionate eyes of her mother- ‘ Nisha realizes she feels whole, like she belongs, the rootless feeling gone… She bends down, pushes her mother’s grey hair gently from her eyes and places a soft kiss on her papery cheek and it feels right. She has come home.'(Chapter- 28, page 271). And Debi also felt the completeness ‘ and in her embrace, Ma, that part of me that was always searching, always wanting, always restless, always torn, relaxed( chapter 26 page 262).
When tear floods my eyes:
I must particularly mention the ending, the final fall of the curtain. The lines get blurred and I can feel nothing, except the whimper within me. The threads of tension so long fuelling the brain, suddenly meet the catharsis and the heart deduces to the purgation of so many feelings that are woven till now. The tear-stained smile is so brilliant that I cannot remember when it transmits into my lips. Even Shilpa’s death was peaceful with her two daughters beside her, after the lifelong turmoil of her life.
Characterization and Narrative:
As it is a woman-centric novel the male characters stand in the background as a supportive wall and encourage the female protagonists to go ahead in their own journeys. The three women character dominate the plot and weave the story appears interchanging their places from time to time like a striped tapestry of tricolour. The plot is woven beautifully with a delightful anecdote here or a tug of memory there.
The narrative is so powerful and poignant that the characters appear with reliable potentiality, never given a chance to think them as a character of the book. Nisha, Devi, and their mother Shilpa are as resplendent in their declaration of womanhood and revelling incarnation out of the mere pages of fiction.
Nature Speaks with Human:
Not only the characters but also the nature shares the same throbbing tension in this novel – the pictorial setting of a rural village, ‘outside the trees sigh as they revel in the wind’s caress… (Chapter – 24, page 252)’, ‘the earth gorged on rain, smelling luscious… voluptuous drops clung insidiously to peepal tree leaves…’ (Chapter 18, page 178) are all too fabulous as well as palpable. We can hear the grumbling cats, howling dogs, the dreamy mooing of stray cows.
Renita D’Silva proves her excellency in every aspect – characterization, literary flexibility, use of the figure of speech, unique style of presentation. As a reader, I feel totally engrossed when I read it and must recommend it to those who want to read a beautifully crafted story within the frame of a graceful setting. I wish to read all her novels as this book brings such joy to my heart. She reminds me of Githa Hariharan, an eminent character portrayer.
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