Mistress

25 05 2012

Beautiful. It’s the only word I could think of to describe this exquisite work by Anita Nair. It is not too infrequently that I feel at a loss for words to express what I feel about some literary work and Mistress evokes a similar kind of overwhelming emotion in me. It’s just beautiful. It had been such a joy to stop every now and then to marvel at its beauty. (Off the top of my head, I could only recollect a couple of other books which I felt were ‘beautiful” – God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy and Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. ) I feel that trying to fit the pleasure it gave me into words would be disrespectful to the experience and thus won’t dwell on the same any further.

Mistress is a masterful tale of art and adultery. Chirs comes to Shoranpur in Kerala from America to interview Koman, a famous Kathakali dancer. Koman’s niece Radha and Chris get passionately involved with each other while Shyam, Radha’s husband, could only watch helplessly. Radha’s and Shyam’s marriage is a wreck since the beginning as they are from different backgrounds and have different views of life. Radha is Shyam’s the most prized possession and he is forever waiting for her to return his love. Shyam is insensitive and materialistic, while Radha is sophisticated. They couldn’t be anything else given their backgrounds and upbringing. So, may be the reason for the sorry state of their marriage is just that they are not meant to be together. But what about Shyam’s love for Radha? Does he really love her, understand her?

Koman narrates the story of his life right from the beginning – with his father’s story – “In the beginning there was a sea.” Koman believes that in order to understand him and his art, one has to know where he has come from, and everything around him. Koman is both an observer and a participant in the tale he recounts, which unfolds the complexities of relationships.

The key characters in this novel all speak in first person, giving the reader a rich sense of them. The author presents the novel in 9 parts, one for each emotion – navarasas, the nine faces of the heart: love contempt, sorrow, fury, courage, fear, disgust, wonder, peace.

If I were to note down all the observations and conversations from Mistress that tugged my heart, I’m sure it would run into at least 100 pages. 🙂  I was so captivated by Anita’s prose that my need to capture at least some snippets of it here (for future reference) is so great.

Uncle –

I can see you are thinking forever, and he is thinking here and now . You can’t blame him for that. But it is you who will be hurt…….Everybody is entitled to making their own mistakes, I couldn’t rob an experience from her even if it was a mistake. Besides, whatever was destined to happen would. 

Shyam isn’t a bad man. He can’t be faulted as a husband. But I can see that Radha isn’t happy with him. To divorce him because he bores her – what court of law would hear of it? 

‘You are fortunate’, I said, ‘to be able to preserve your dream as you dreamt it, to want it despite all the years of waiting.’ I know that my dreams have acquired a blurred edge with all the ands and buts I have been forced to make place for. 

How do you live with such deceit for the rest of your life? How much do you not let it haunt you? How do you balance all the acts of goodness you may do against that one act of deceit? 

Shyam –

I would like to kill you. I hate you for what you are doing to me. But how can I? To kill you would be to lose you. That I cannot bear. I cannot let him take you away. I cannot let you go. Nor can I let you do this to me…none of this I can bear.

Chris –

Is this a game perhaps? Something you need to do to prove a point? To yourself. To your husband? 

Radha –

I saw the ease that flowed between her and her husband. The casual intimacies of a marriage. He took her hand in his when he talked. She touched his cheek in a casual caress…I looked away. I was glad to see them leave. Any reminders of my past made me realize how drab and barren my life was. 

The little girl voice, the bated breath, the widening of eyes, the pouting of lips, the touching and stroking as I talk. All I need to do to complete the act is scream and turn pale when I see a cockroach. Shyam would love it. He would love me to be the helpless shrieking female while he squashed the cockroach under his slipper. 

Aashaan –

I know who I am and what I am. I place the burden on you, on how you wish to see me. 

 Uncle –

It is the nature of children to never allow parents their youth, their mistakes or their fears. In the end, this unspoken tyranny children exercise over their parents is just as oppressive as the rules parents lay out for children. 

I was once like her. Is that what drew me to her? When I saw her, I saw a reflection of myself. Was this love? To seek in someone a mirror image of one’s own hopes and dreams, one’s own soul? 

Radha –

An act of defiance for me; an interesting encounter for him. Loneliness and a funneling need that had exploded into unbridled passion. That was all it was. And as is the nature of such things, it died as it was born. Abruptly.

Uncle –

I had hurt her and she was exacting revenge. Is this what living is all about? This perennial scoring off each other; this seeking of retribution.

Chris –

Aren’t you running away because she expected more from you than you were prepared to offer?

If he could, he would do it differently. Start all over again so they might have a better chance of keeping their love alive. But does he really want that chance? The truth is, he doesn’t know what he wants.

Radha –

She feels a great yearning to lean back against a shoulder and feel comforted. It is Shyam she thinks of now.

It is fear that makes me seek him, not regard for him.

I cannot continue to play wife merely because it frees me of worries. I have not done right by Shyam. I have played wife all this while despising him. For this I know remorse. I went to him broken, and expected him to heal me. When he couldn’t, I began to despise him and knew sorrow.

 I loved the way Fear and Wonder were described:

You can pretend all other emotions: courage or love, laughter or sorrow, disgust or wonder, contempt or calm, but you cannot pretend fear… you will give yourself away. Fear cannot hide itself, it emanates from you even if you try to conceal it. There is one other aspect to fear. When you are afraid, you react in two ways – with utmost courage or cowardice. The choice is yours, but only fear can draw that decision from you. 

That is the hallmark of wonder. A curiosity to know, a yearning to possess. And when you do, the wonder ceases. That is the nature of adbhutam. To be transient. For you will never know it again in exactly the same degree.


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6 01 2013
2012 reading « Peek Inside My Mind

[…] wrote elaborate posts for Middlesex and Mistress after I read them. So I don’t feel the need to say anything about them now. The Red Carpet is […]

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