Book: The Thousand Faces of Night
Author: Githa Hariharan
Publication: Penguin India
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“Her hand seemed to turn me away from the indecisive confusion of my last months in Amery; she seemed to have silently articulated the pattern she had perceived in the jigsaw puzzle that confronted me.”
This is the debut novel of Githa Hariharan and the winner of the 1993 Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for the best first book.
The story intertwines three women characters from the different panorama of life and latitude – Devi, her mother Sita, and her maid Mayamma. Each one carries the different story of their life in different ways and significance.
Debi returns to her hometown Madras after completing her education in America. Her mother started her matrimonial election. After meeting five or six prospective bridegrooms in three months Debi accepted Mahesh.
She gets married to Mahesh, who is a corporate man mostly flying here and there in business matters. He does not care for Debi’s feelings or thoughts. He is a man of the utmost practicality. Debi feels trapped and depressed in her loveless conjugal life. She left her husband’s house with a vocalist, Gopal. But soon enough she realized her role in Gopal’s life – a little more than an object. She realized all through her life she had tried to be the good girl that society demands and never prioritized her own wishes.
She got lost in the maze of stereotypes, all the definitions of womanhood. She teetered in her way of life. Finally, she rebelled and steered her track herself.
“Whatever is dependent on others is misery; whatever rests on oneself is happiness; this, in brief, is the definition of happiness and misery.”
The book is a deep debauch on women’s desperate exploration of identity in a patriarchal labyrinth.
Hariharan projects her fragmented feelings circulated in the heart of each character like the chords of music tying together in perfect symphony. Even the inherent meaning is highly tangible oscillating between denotation and connotation. What the characters do and what they think clashes in confusion. Though the storyline is simple the narrative layers are multiple.
Each character digs deep from their past and traces up in their present.
“A woman without a husband has no home.”
The male figures of this novel portray women as suitable for their patriarchal rule. Mahesh wanted a meek submissive housewife and fit to bear kids. Perhaps he inherited this from his father who echoes the same tone in his early day of marital prospect:
“But I don’t like the names of Hema and Mohana. They are too frivolous. They sound like back-chatting, tantrum-throwing, modern girls.”
“So they were looking for an accomplished bride, a young woman who would talk intelligently to her scientist husband’s friends, but who would also be, as all the matrimonial ads in the Sunday papers demanded, fair, beautiful, home-loving and prepared to ‘adjust’.”
In spite of their mute submission and silent confirmation, each women character speaks up their voice in their own way. Each one with their survival strategy etches their position in the plot.
Debi is trapped in her marriage and wish to cut the shackle,
“I looked in the mirror and saw a pale, drooping figure, almost as lifeless as the stuffed bird, a grotesque study in still life.
That night I dreamt of flying again. I flew swiftly, the globe of green and brown and blue maps whizzing past far below.”
The prose style is intricate and elaborate. Even sometimes it seems boring and extraneous. It becomes very difficult and complicated for me to catch up with too many mythological allusions and digressions. Language is highly classical and word coinage is portentous. Every now and then I lose the thread of plot that shifted here and there with utmost incoherency.
Anyway, this is the style of Githa Hariharan and I must acknowledge that the intricacies of the human psyche in the pens of the author cannot be captured in a more artistic way. Ultimately it will be a contemplative journey for the readers with a bit of patience.
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