When eagles dare
We are not swept away anytime by the sheer interest of the narrative
LITERATURE BY PREMA SRINAVASAN
For a first time author, The Aerie and the Swamp is quite an achievement as it leaves the reader with a refreshing sense of possibility. However, the length of the book remains daunting as one wades through lumbering pages of prose which could have been made tighter, and consequently more reader-friendly.
The title of this book is also a metaphor for the city of Mumbai, says the author in her prologue, "that can be extended to depict the transformation of India in the last 50 years". In India, the land of phenomenal contrasts, there are "islands of affluence" coexisting with "seas of abject poverty" ... The "aerie", in the author's words, represents "Something to aspire to" while the swamp represents "something to transcend, to overcome, to rise above - as eagles do, soaring high ... in the sky with ... unlimited vistas". The metaphor of the eagle soaring upwards is carried forward in the course of the book as the chapter titles suggest. The aerie stands for freedom and the struggle of man to break free from the swamp of entrapment is the underlying theme of the book. Another constant motif running through the narrative is insecurity and does this search for security end in entrapment in the swamp? The novel revolves around the lives of four characters who are setting out to find their place in the world and by the end of 564 pages we discover along with them that reaching for the aerie may very well be like chasing a mirage while the swamp below becomes very real and very threatening. Nevertheless Nitya, Ravi, Aasha and Fateh manage to get a glimpse of the life they would eventually want for themselves and the story ends on a note of acceptance sans struggle.
The novel is divided into seven parts, complete with a prologue and an epilogue. In the course of this elaborately crafted novel, the author asks certain provocative questions on issues which matter. The arranged marriages in India, particularly in Syrian Christian and the Rajasthani communities are described in close and sympathetic detail. It is as if the author has deeply felt the pangs of the young bride about to be sent off with an unfamiliar stranger, leaving behind everything she has called her own. Fateh's marriage of convenience to Shefali is likewise portrayed with sensitivity as an inevitable step in his so-called advancement in life. Highly individualistic and rational Aasha eventually reciprocates Ravi's affection only to be violently turned down and discarded for a trivial reason. There is not much sense in asking why people behave as they do in certain situations and the wheel turns a full circle until the protagonists meet once more and come to terms with themselves. Nitya realises her potential as a designer and rediscovers her love for Fateh who is disillusioned with the material success he has achieved. Ravi realises that his triumphant progress up the corporate ladder becomes meaningless without love and his personal happiness is in precarious balance until Nitya decides to abide by her sense of loyalty and commitment.
From the beginning we have Aleykutty's comments which act like the Greek chorus explaining, recalling and sometimes predicting the nature of man and his possible reactions. The submerged story of Aleykutty who had suffered in the hands of a tyrannical mother-in law, allowing a considerable amount of space for her own daughter-in law Nitya eventually helps the latter to break out of her claustrophobic familial bonds. We get a glimpse of the NRI syndrome when Aasha arrives with her fatherless son to find her roots once more. The four protagonists realise that to put back the clock is well nigh impossible and there is in reality no choice left for them but to trudge back on the familiar road. But travelling so far had taught them a few things which mattered: there is a vision at a distance if they tried hard to see and in that process they learn to value love and compassion, which come from seeing life as a whole.
One would like to describe the book as a sustained meditation on the nature of belief, ritual, business, architecture, love and marriage. However, despite the fact that the author has the capacity to touch upon the grief and pain which lie beneath our daily experience, the novel does not succeed in involving the reader. The story moves in and out of Kerala, Bombay, Rajasthan and the U.S. and the time span during which the events take place is somewhere between early 1980s to the new millennium. While admiring the skill with which the various strands are woven together, emotional participation remains minimal on the part of the reader. Perhaps the "slice of life" illusion of the story's theme makes the whole exercise flat. At the end of the story as Aasha returns to the U.S., the reader is left with an inescapable sense of loss and is not quite convinced of the ethereal nature of the promised vision.
The author's prose is by no means contrived but we are not swept away anytime by the sheer interest of the narrative. Priyamvada Kuriyan has widely travelled all over India and this has enabled her to delineate the setting of the novel with authenticity. Her family, we are told, has an abiding passion for literature and music and the celebrity author Arundathi Roy is a second cousin. Ms. Kuriyan's interests in Communications and Strategic Management and experience as a teacher of Managerial Communication have provided the novel its purpose, its muscle and perhaps its strength. Ms. Kuriyan is no mere entertainer using words as an art form but a writer who has used her ingenuity to the full while expressing her firm opinions on issues which matter.
(The Literary Review)
Lastupdate on : Thu, 26 May 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Thu, 26 May 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Fri, 27 May 2011 00:00:00 IST
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