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Of human bondage

K. Gajendran

SHASHI DESHPANDE'S latest novel, Moving On was released in Hyderabad recently. Moving On is, in many ways, a departure from Deshpande's earlier novels. Here she ventures even deeper into the territory of the mind, dismantling our comfortable notions about the relationships within families. The two voices, distinct and separate, are those of Manjari, the narrator, and Baba, her father. The past is unravelled through Baba's diary that Manjari finds after his death. As Manjari grapples with a challenging present, she reviews the events of the past in the retrospective light of Baba's self-disclosures. While Deshpande confesses she worked hard to give Baba and Manjari their individual voices, she emphasises the futility of segregating past and present. She spoke to JUNE GAUR on some of her concerns in the novel.

On time as a construct

HOW can we divide human life into segments like past, present and future? Physically we may inhabit the present, but in our minds the past and the future are comfortably cohabiting with it. Memories and pictures of the past, dreams, hopes and plans for the future — these are as real to us as the present. I cannot write without bringing all of them together.

On the institution of family

I chose the epigraph to Part I — "All the stories that have ever been told are the stories of families — from Adam and Eve onwards " — because it echoed what I was saying. The family is a timeless and universal institution — everything begins here, everything that happens outside the family mirrors what happens within it. I've always been fascinated by human relationships; the locale within which the relationships are looked at is immaterial. In fact, relationships in families are most intense and most complex. To speak of the family's "domestic scope" — how cosy the word "domestic" is and how uncosy the things that happen in families are — is to forget its huge importance.

On technique

Technique is something I have to think about a lot.

Yes, technique is very important. I have a story to tell. So how do I tell it? This is as much a part of the story as the people, the events and the language I use. At the same time, the technique is something one has to work at consciously. Each novel demands its own technique; the material dictates the way you present it. There is a lot of exploration and searching before I find the right way.

On autobiographical elements in the novel

Vasu, the writer in Moving On, is far from being a mirror image of me

I don't think that I set out to recreate myself as a writer when I wrote of Vasu. Actually, Vasu came out of the Marathi magazines I used to read in my girlhood, the way they romanticised marriage and the family. Somehow she became a writer who wrote such stuff without believing in it herself. There's nothing of me or my experiences here! Yes, Vasu is a writer of stories for popular magazines as I was at the beginning, but I never wrote love stories. Only once and because I was asked by the editor of Femina to write one. The little bit of me present is in the feeling Manjari has that her mother is not always there for them, that she finds this role of "ammchi Mai" (our Mai) a burden.

On the focus on the physical

The physical, even in the delineation of the man-woman relationship, could not be glossed over in this novel.

For one thing, this is a novel in which the body is the focus. Therefore, the physical could not in any way be left out or merely hinted at. Doesn't Manjari speak of "meeting Mr. Bones head on"? And does she not criticise her mother for not doing so? And don't forget that Manjari's father, the anatomist, instilled in her an acceptance of the human body and its needs.

On each novel being a new world

For me each novel is completely new.

Like I said, with each novel one has a feeling of moving on. These are different people, and this is a different world. Obviously there are a few things that will recur — like the writer's style, or her major beliefs and preoccupations. One definite change is that one's control over the technique is more sure. For me each novel is completely new. I knew that, in this novel, the central concern was the human body. About the physicality of our selves. Baba's inability to come to terms with death and the disintegration of the body, Manjari's grappling with the needs of her own body and the violence which seems the final threat to the body are but different facets of the human preoccupation with the body. The body being one of the main motifs here, one of the titles I had thought of was "Mr. Bones"!

On the different phases of her career

Looking back now, I do feel that with That Long Silence I came to the end of a phase. The Binding Vine and A Matter of Time were explorations of a new path. Both Small Remedies and Moving On are, I think, more mellow and more concerned with the human condition than just the female psyche and condition — though that concern continues.

Definitely in these later two novels I have been much more interested in getting to know the male characters more. It is becoming increasingly clear to me that we cannot isolate the female experience. What men are and why they are the way they are is part of it.

Where do I stand now in terms of the choice of subject?

Where I always was — right in the centre!

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