The new installment of Ved Mehta's family history is as direct and mysterious and shrewd as a folktale; and, at times,...



The new installment of Ved Mehta's family history is as direct and mysterious and shrewd as a folktale; and, at times, inexpressibly sad. Paralleling Daddy/i (1972), it is the story of Mehta's mother and her family--beginning with her grandfather Bulaki Ram, the enterprising cloth-peddler who lives to see his miraculous, goddess-sent son ""Babuji"" (born after ten babes have died) become a member of the Anglicized Indian establishment. He also lives to coddle and comfort his high-minded, self-absorbed son's children, who know their father mostly by his walking stick: ""the sound of it on the doorstep, the sight of it leaning against the doorway."" Mehta looks in on the women of the household, secretly practicing the superstitions Babuji scorns; tells what happened to a host of poor, dependent, disruptive relations; and settles at last on pretty, eager-to-please Mamaji, Babuji's daughter, betrothed to debonair ""England-returned"" Dr. Amolak Ram Mehta (Daddyji)--she who has grown up barely schooled, thinking herself unlucky, believing that ""women are like shoes"" for men to wear and cast off. The structure is loose but deft: entries from Babuji's diary (1922: ""Another affliction. . . Dear Gopal dies of accident under tragic circumstances. . . Losing faith in everything""), followed by a narrative of those events (""Babuji stared at the empty crib and lashed out bitterly at everyone""); the early days of Mamaji's and Daddyji's marriage, accompanied by the stories he tells her of his impoverished village childhood and first cosmopolitan flings. ""He had grown up thinking that only the sky was the limit to his wishes and desires""; but she thinks him a dreamer. He thinks her status- and caste-bound; she thinks him insensitive and unaware. And between these two devoted antagonists--who managed a lasting, mutually indulgent marriage--one sees, undisguised if unsaid, the tensions of modern India. The last pages find Mehta himself, blinded by meningitis at age five, riding along a California freeway and having a fantasy that will reveal to him, in a flash of psychoanalytic insight, the price he paid for his mother's fond/cruel refusal to accept his blindness as fact. The cultural distance from Bulaki Ram's initial curse-lifting rituals is jarring--and the best measure, perhaps, of the sureness and force of this wonderful book.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1979


Page Count: -

Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1979