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Thursday, Nov 21, 2019

Review: Small Days and Nights by Tishani Doshi

In Small Days and Nights, Tishani Joshi traces an intriguing story within the concurrent motifs of isolation and identity

books Updated: May 17, 2019 17:56 IST
Prerna Madan
Prerna Madan
Hindustan Times
It’s quiet by the sea.
It’s quiet by the sea.(Shutterstock)
261pp, Rs 374; Bloomsbury
261pp, Rs 374; Bloomsbury

There are parks where concrete paths run into dead ends, perhaps to break the symmetry and the monotony of perfectly trimmed grass, or perhaps to allow visitors to shake off the sense of walking in circles. Tishani Doshi’s novel Small Days and Nights exudes the feeling of passing through just such a park. It’s entirely up to you to decide if it is pointless to reach an incomplete finale or whether it is a pleasant change to not know your next move.

From the beginning, loneliness forms the shape of the protagonist, Grace or Grazia. Her name, like her places of belonging (Madras and Venice) too, is torn between her parents’ complex and eventually unsuccessful relationship. Grace is, for most of the novel, throttled by melancholia and by the struggle between trying to find solutions to the unanswered questions of her extraordinary childhood and figuring out why nothing she does dulls the pain of emptiness. Her mother’s death brings her to Chennai, where she discovers her sister Lucia – a Down’s Syndrome child who was, for lack of a better word, abandoned by their parents at a shelter home (although she was well cared for). As a gift, Grace’s mother leaves them a home with pink walls and blue windows isolated from lives breathed within concrete boundaries, and accompanied by the vast expanse of the sea. This refuge becomes the sacred ground for Grace to heal even as she battles with silence and a sister who bears no scars of modern existence. Any intrusion of the outside world tilts the balance and bursts the bubble created painstakingly by Grace, Lucia, and their many dogs.

Tishani Doshi
Tishani Doshi ( Luca Peruzzi )

Within these concurrent motifs of isolation and identity, the author traces an intriguing story: the past that contours a character, the present that defines one, and the future that is envisioned.

Read more: The poet as mosquito

Tishani Doshi’s novel ticks the right boxes. Still, in the end, the story, which is deliberately jarring to make everything within it seem unhinged, has a few loose ends. There are too many themes fighting for attention and too many reflections of society that don’t fit into the larger scheme. Of course, this might mirror Grace’s deeply flawed character, that of the outsider who yearns to be on the inside but is far too conscious to allow herself to participate in the charade, and who only realizes at the very end that life cannot be tied up in neat knots.

Unlike much of contemporary Indian English fiction, Small Days and Nights is a genuine if confounded piece of literature. Its effect resonates long after the pages run out. That alone is reason to read it.