Author: Anjali Joseph| Genre: Indian Literature, Fiction | Pages: 261
Set in Modern-day Mumbai, Mohan is a letter-writer, content but unhappy. Lakshmi, his wife, is a homemaker, tired of that title. When Lakshmi’s nephew, Ashish, arrives to stay with them, they both grab the opportunity as a chance to fill the voids between them, left by time. But Ashish has his own share of trials on academic, emotional, and sexual grounds, and sooner or later, he is going to have to find a life for himself.
This book was recommended to me by a friend when I asked around for books on history of Mumbai. There’s plenty of references of some of the suburbs and some less-famous localities of one of the zaniest cities the world has known – Mumbai. But that’s that! You won’t really gain anything from the book if you are looking to skim through Mumbai’s history.
Mohan Karekar is the protagonist, who is also a booklover; someone who dreams be a published author. His life is pretty much charted out – mornings at his job and evenings on his rocking chair with a book. Lakshmi, his wife, is the hopeless endurer of the pervading silence of her marriage, the household, and her own helplessness.
Life goes on at a rather dull pace for the middle-aged couple until Lakshmi’s nephew Ashish comes to live with them at Saraswati Park. Ashish Datye, a teenager, at the brink of boyhood, is battling with his sexual identity. His life revolves around his relationship with Sundar, a fellow student, and later, with Narayan, his elderly tutor, both relationships ending in dust. How the one thread of hope ties together the Karekars and Datye is what this book is about.
The Cover: With a minimalistic color scheme, the cover imparts a tranquil feel. It looks mildly dull but that resonates with the overall emotion of the story, in the earnest.
The Setting: The book is set in Modern Mumbai, circumscribing landscapes across Churchgate, Sandhurst Road, Ray Road, CST, Kala Ghoda, Colaba, Dadar, etc. Saraswati Park; also the title, is a peaceful locality of middle-class Indians. It effuses a feeling akin to a warm winter summer with light rays of the sun kissing the city.
The Characters: It would be safe to assume that the axis of the main plot is meant to revolve around the three main characters – Mohan, Lakshmi, Ashish. But then there are some less significant roles played by Sundar – Ashish’s college mate, Satish – Lakshmi’s brother, Narayan – Ashish’s tutor, Yezdi – Mohan’s childhood friend, and Madhavi – Ashish’s friend from Saraswati Park.
Lakshmi’s character is unfairly overshadowed by weightage allotted to Mohan and Ashish’s character. Ashish is perennially confused and looks for escape from the mundaneness cast by his relatives’ lives. And Mohan’s character is hardly elaborated given he is the lead protagonist and that the hook of the plot rests on his shoulders. Yet so! Not one of the characters stay with you, or even make a mark in the seemingly tedious journey of 261 pages.
The Writing: The story runs lackadaisically for all but 200 pages. And even in the last 60 pages, hardly anything really happens except – Ashish has finally achieved the one goal for his life – Clarity. While the writing is crisp, almost poetic, the attempt at creating an impact is a rather frail one given the discursive narration. Don’t get me wrong. Joseph can write, she damn well can. But that isn’t much of a consolation when you have your mind constantly weighed down by the burdensome descriptions that leave the narration tardy at arriving at the actual plot.
Read this if you want a not-too indulging glimpse of present-day Mumbai. Read this if your days get too languid. Get a glass of chilled lemonade and read it. You might like it more than I did. You might!
If you happen to read ‘Saraswati Park’ or have already read it, do share your thoughts below.