The life of a middle-aged professor’s life begins to lurch off the road when a young student comes to live with him, in a tale told with wit and grace by Indian author Hariharan.
Shiv Murthy, like most academics, has to deal with campus politics every day, but usually it’s a question of getting the administration to approve the departmental budget or repair the photocopier. A historian specializing in medieval India, Shiv leads a quiet life in New Delhi, teaching courses at the university, attending department meetings, and writing articles and class outlines. His dealings with students tend to be formal and somewhat distant, so he was somewhat at a loss when asked if he would look after Meena, the daughter of a family friend, who had broken her leg and needed more help than her university roommates could provide. He agreed to take Meena into his home for a few weeks, despite the fact that his wife was away visiting their daughter in Seattle and he had his hands full at the university just then. Hindu fundamentalists had taken exception to an article Shiv wrote about Basavanna, a 12th-century poet and reformer (Shiv had questioned the veracity of some of the legends surrounding Basavanna, and he had dwelt too much on his objections to the caste system), and their protests had been taken up by the press. The university, fearful of the bad publicity, asked Shiv to issue a public apology. Never one to look for a fight, Shiv might well have complied—had Meena not been at hand. A feminist and radical, Meena encourages Shiv to stand his ground against the “reactionaries.” He does, surprising himself at the newfound intensity of his feelings on the subject—and for Meena. Can Shiv save his career? Can he save his marriage? Does he even want to? When the midlife crisis hits, all bets are off.
A simple story enriched by elegant narration and a light touch: Hariharan is a welcome newcomer to these shores.