n R399 n pp 261
Anjali Joseph is not a writer in a hurry to tell her story. Her debut novel, Saraswati Park, has no real plot to keep you hooked, no drama to wrench your guts. In fact, the author treats the romantic dalliances of a 17-year-old homosexual boy — Ashish — with the same ordinariness she has reserved for his guardians — Mohan Karkekar and Lakshmi.
Our first introduction to Mohan comes from the perspective of a poor bookseller, who thinks there was ‘something pleasant’ about Mohan. That’s pretty much how the readers engage with all three characters — with a vague fondness and sense of empathy.
Mohan’s job is to write letters for illiterate people. His wife, Lakshmi, once full of life and mischief, is now stuck in a rut of TV soaps and daily chores. They live in a flat in Saraswati Park.
Ashish, who is repeating his final year of college, starts out as a romantic. First, he is in love with his classmate Sunder and later, enamoured of his tutor Narayan. They become lovers. Even his sexual choices are not remarkable, and though you are compelled to read his story, the sense of detachment remains.
He may be a blink-and-miss character, but Satish, Lakshmi’s brother, shapes all their lives for the better. Satish, who is found dead in his apartment one morning, leaves his flat to Ashish (‘I encourage him to find and follow his own path in life and to fulfill his hopes as I have not been able to fulfill mine’).
Barring moments of great intensity, the characters blur at the edges. The focus stays on the painstaking prose and unhurried descriptions. The most interesting detail in this nothing-really-happens plot is an occasionally astute observation by the author. In many ways, this is a book about novel writing (Mohan’s secret dream is to become a ‘real’ writer) and perhaps then, it is only fitting that the focus stays on the writing.