Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Reflections: In The Convent of Little Flowers

Indu Sundaresan’s book of short-stories is markedly different from her other books. She shows a whole new side to her ability and talent as a writer. Through nine short stories surrounding India and its varied forms of customs and traditions, she makes the reader confront some of the most difficult and controversial topics; topics we prefer to brush under the rug, fervently hoping they will dwindle with the following generations that promise to nurture progressive attitudes. In the author’s words, “they all deal with that intense moment in which people confront disturbing events in their lives...”

True to her style, Indu Sundaresan relates these stories with sensitivity, grace, and insight. But her writing style in this book took me by surprise for it was quite different from her other books (the ones on historical fiction). Her prose is clear and sharp, and has a quiet, mystical element to it. All her stories are crafted with an element of impending tragedy, and her writing style works really well with the themes.

Regarding the stories themselves, she discusses the pangs of adoption, the bottomless pit of poverty and struggle for survival, the rigidity and horror of ancient practices such as Sati, caste-system, and dowry, the clash of western ideals with the norm of tradition, the almost imperceptible (but very much existent) notions on the superiority of males, and the complex relationships and expectations between Indian parents and their children. The stories come at you strong, and almost cut your soul. Each one leaves you with an uneasy recollection of a similar story and of real-life characters. Your mind sighs and gasps, wondering and retreating in denial at the incredulity of it all. One story in particular is quite hard to believe and digest - it seemed one-dimensional and a little stretched. But the rest of them, sadly, are not as hard to believe.

The characters are beautifully and meticulously defined. Every character in each story has a personality of their own. The stories yet again demonstrate that people’s intentions are often good, but the numerous constraints and complexities put forth by rituals and customs, shackle their minds from discerning right from wrong. People are lost in their own bubble of self-imposed rules on right and wrong that their judgments are clouded, and their attitudes seem primitive, even barbaric sometimes. But despite so many rules and customs (which are practised in the name of maintaining a morally smooth-functioning society), basic morality and humanity seem to be lacking in many aspects of our social functioning. An irony indeed.

Digested Thoughts: I quite liked the book. I was pleasantly surprised by the writing and characterization. Hope the author explores her talents with more such books!


SecondSight said...

This one sounds really nice- will try it soon :)

Neeraja said...

Would love to hear your thoughts when you're done - her writing is so different in this book!

Srishti said...

I will add it to my list of "to read" list of books :)

Sanjini said...

This book sounds interesting . I hope to lay hands on it after my current books.