Saturday, August 2, 2008

Silent Raga by Ameen Merchant

The starkness of kanakambaram (fire-cracker flower) and the fragrance of jasmines is woven into a garland called “Silent Raga”. The descriptions follow a light rhythmic pattern of back and forth but never over done.

The book starts off in a reflective tone mixed with the early morning freshness. The freshness which can be described only by the sprinkling of water to make way for a new kolam in front of the house. The book is divided into many parts of a raga. Like Varnam, Alapana, Krithi....and in the end Mangalam.

The novel, is about Janaki, a musical prodigy in a small town of Sripuram, not far away from Madras. It is mainly set in the Brahmin community of the town. To manage the house ,Janaki stays away from the school after the death of her mother. Though away from school she doesn't stop taking music lessons which becomes her escape from the daily chores. Gayatri, her aunt ( mother's sister), pays regular visits from Madras to Sripuram. The coldness between Gayatri and Janaki turns deep rooted when Janaki discovers an affair between her father and Gayatri. How she faces this truth and the after shocks in terms of her escape to Bombay is an interesting piece of story. Her return to her past which she dissociated ten years back is the theme for the later half of the book.

The story has stark breaks in continuity at two instances- One is the disappearance of Gayatri from the story line completely and almost suddenly. The story between Janaki and Asgar ( Janaki's actor husband) during her initial days in Bombay is not touched upon at all. These are either discontinuities in the story or too focused an approach on the main characters.

All in all, Silent Raga is a novel which delves into the subtlety of human relations. Metaphors and good description dot the story frequently in the beginning but become sparser towards the end. Happiness has no metaphor, may be?

Not to mention the fabulous cover art would be a mistake. It was the first thing I liked about the book !