Monday, May 14, 2007

Diddi - My mother's voice (Book Review)

All: I'm very pleased to present the book review below from my guest blogger, Sandhya Iyer. Enjoy...

-- Qalandar

Diddi (2005)

Author: Ira Pande
Publisher: Penguin Books
Price: Rs 250

BY Sandhya Iyer

I must confess I had not heard about this book until I visited a nice, corner bookstore recently. I believe it was released more than a year back without much hype and hoopla, but had already found a niche readership among its local readers!
Diddi is a tribute that a daughter pays to her mother, by way of bittersweet memoirs told in a very unique literary style.
Author Ira Pande, who worked as both a university teacher and then editor, unravels page by page the ordinary yet extraordinary life led by her mother - the famous Hindi novelist Shivani aka Guara Pant in this deeply personal yet affecting piece of work –part fiction, part biography. So in many ways, it becomes a book within a book.

‘Perhaps because we called our mother Diddi (elder sister), our relationship with her was always somewhat ambivalent…she was for us a difficult sibling, an eccentric, much older sister…’ she says in her opening lines.

The easiest route for Ira Pande, as the author, would have been to simply to write a biography on her now deceased mother. Instead, she ingeniously infuses her narrations with generous sprinklings of her mother’s writing, giving us a real insight into the mind of this witty, sensitive yet impulsive writer.

Guara’s (Shivani) writings can be viewed at two levels - The first is the surface one, where she writes about her blissful childhood in Gujarat, her earliest memories of the people, mostly several of her household aids, who formed an important part of her life.

The second level, as Ira Pant points out, is where the real story of Gaura lies. As most romantic idealists and dreamers, she used her writings as a shield to escape from the complexities and harsh truths of the real world. And consecutively, ‘she bled into her plots, often not knowing she was doing so’. Her hidden desires, regrets and pains, which she never made evident even before her near and dear ones, preferring to hide them beneath her jovial, wry wit, made their way subconsciously into her stories. Her disappointment with her marriage, her take on the disintegration of the joint family system…all brought out a personal chord.

The fact that this is not a straightforward biography can make it a wee bit confusing in parts and might need you to re-visit certain chapters. Also, there’s an erratic pattern to the presentation, possibly a metaphor for Gaura’s restless, wandering mind.

Yet, undoubtedly, that’s also one of the book’s main highlights. The language is racy and the choice of stories is very interesting. The parts involving Gaura’s childhood are highly readable, given its old world charm and fascinating characters.

The book is then, especially useful in studying how reality creeps into fiction writing, creating characters that tell a truer story.


Qalandar said...

Sandy, welcome to Qalandar! I have not has a chance to read the review yet, but did want to give you a shout at the earliest!

Qalandar said...

Very evocative review Sandy, and (apparently like the book you are writing about) a moving one...

Mr. Bond said...

Good review, Sandy. Would love to read more from you as well.

sandy said...

Thanks Bond. Will try and write more..

janaki said...


Nice job. Besides the affection in the book - which clearly shows in the writings - it also shows a very feminine, womanly bonding - which only mothers and daughters have (or sisters). Ira Pande also has tremendous generosity in actually dedicating this book to her ma-in law ! Will like to read more of your writings. And i'm impressed ! You actually read S'valli ;)

sandy said...

Thanks Janaki. I know how passionate you are about this book and hence I'm glad the book review lived up to your expectations.

Yes, I actually read Subhashitavali!

Qalandar said...

Another collection of Sanskrit poetry in translation that I highly recommend is the following: