A person needs a loads of patience and time in hand to read books by Anita Desai. Not just because they are difficult reads, but because they make you consider, mull, stop in between and reflect your state of mind and heart, and make you come back to the book/s in bits and parts.
I was introduced to Anita Desai by one of my library friend and the only thing which make me go through the book was its distinctive writing style, which keeps on amusing you at every moment of the book be it tragic, sadness or jealousy. The very first book was Fire on the Mountain, after which it was no looking back.
Anita Desai writes with candor- the feelings are usually stark and needs no explanation. The characters by her are often isolated/cocooned, living in their own selves, calm and comfortable in their skin and at times restless like any other character world be.
Had many debates and arguments with friends about her writing powers and why she should be given more credits for that. Most of her novels are bleak but sometimes that is the bitter truth about human nature/life- there is also an unknown kindness that makes itself clearly in her works- from the relationship of the poet and his fan in “In Custody” to the delicate balance between a Great grandmother and her great granddaughter in “Fire on the Mountain”, which is retained over the course of the book.
Characters in Desai books are but human. They are shy, boisterous, awkward and often just want to live their lives isolated where there is no interference from the world. Maybe this is the reason why her novels seems out of place in today’s time. The very much needed reason to read them. The books somehow provide the needed clam and quietness which is needed.
Remember reading, “Fire on the Mountains” with great apprehension. That can be applied to “Fasting, Feasting”. All that was due to some underlying themes of desolation, loneliness and life not giving too many options or choices to the protagonists. Both the novels have the similar connotations- of being there and yet to have life of their own. This all is written without much feelings, so though you feel sorry for the characters and you do not feel the clog in your throat. And for me this is the discreet attractiveness of her books. They will make you feel and that is more than enough.
One of my favorite Desai book has to be “Fire on the Mountain”. In a small town of Kasuli lives Nanda Kaul in her last years without any intrusion from outside world. Then her great-granddaughter is shipped to live with her. All the way through book they think they are different from each other, only till when their similarities came to surface along with pain, kindness, hurt, only ending in tragedy.
“In Custody”, the sensitivity of a poet’s last days and lost grandeur is illustrated with such pathos, that one could not help but cry in some portions of the book( not advocating Desai’s book but just stating the fact). The association between the poet and his longtime admirer is so subtle and so honest, that one begins to wonder and introspect about all relationships in that style only.
The mentioned books are probably the most poetic work by Desai. The vivid descriptions and scenes are not present in her other books. These books have less dialogue and much exquisite in the way all the characters behave and silently muse over the events which are unfolding around them. These are the true mark of Anita Desai’s Books – the quiet, the slowness and then unexpectedly series of events occur which changes the course of the character’s lives.
Books by Anita Desai are set in different times and worlds, and yet they ring so true for present times. The grimness of life in “Fasting, Feasting”, the indifference but similar in “Fire on the Mountain”, the pathos of “In Custody”, all her novels are for strong heart people who can feel emotions and pain of the characters. Books by her is a jewel to be cherished and to keep and to go back again to admire as the years pass by.
Anita Desai is truly one of India’s creative and intellectual writers. A must readable author for all the literary fans.
Other Books by Anita Desai: