A 65-year-old retiree returns to the Indian village of his youth in this elegiac, ponderous second novel from Shankar (A Map of Where I Live, 1997).
Having lived in New Delhi for the past 40 years, working as a civil servant, married with one grown son, Gopalakrishnan has returned to his ancestral town of Paavalampatti to take care of his widowed mother. Here, he takes daily morning walks through the village’s ethnically changing neighborhoods, which mirror the increasing breakdown of the caste system. He recalls storied memories and battles an encroaching sense of obsolescence. He remembers, among other things, the strictness of his grandfather and father, whose name he bears, and the sometimes arbitrary punishments he received. He recalls his first job as a radio “artiste” in New Delhi, where he moved only because he fell under the sway of his charismatic buddy, T.R. Murthy. He considers the first time Murthy and his glamorous, educated wife meet his chosen provincial bride, Parvati, and comes to suspect that perhaps he married beneath him. Indeed, like so many of the decisions he has made in his life, Gopalakrishnan never questioned the choice of his life’s companion, having accepted the selection his family made. The union proved chilly and loveless, and its emotional barrenness resulted in Gopalakrishnan’s estrangement from scornful son Suresh. But for Gopalakrishnan, who has taken up reading the ancient epic poem Ramayana, hope remains in self-reflection.
Incremental action, but Shankar has a light touch that proves ultimately moving.