MEANDERING PASTURES OF MEMORIES: Shovana Narayan; Macmillan India Ltd., 2/10, Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi-110001. Rs. 285. Shovana Narayan is a well-known, widely recognised personality on the capital scene. She belongs to the select band of people who grace all social, art, literary and diplomatic gatherings in the city. Hers has been a most "happening" life largely due to her own multifaceted personality and achievements service officer, (Indian Audits and Accounts) Kathak dancer married to an Austrian diplomat, her father a senior bureaucrat, mother a congress worker, she counts amongst her kith and kin a few of India's most eminent people; she has received, besides the Padmashree, some of the most coveted performing arts awards, she has performed and lived in some of the exotic parts of the world, she has suffered and triumphed over near disabling medical conditions. And yet, her autobiography exudes a strange naiveté, her narration is often that of a gushing girl still to come to terms with the large sse bestowed on her!
AutobiographicalSelf-consciousness is often the bane of autobiographies and the moment the writer becomes aware that she is patting herself on the back a little too regularly, she makes amends with uncalled for self-effacement. Shovana commences with an insistence she is a very ordinary person, with a very ordinary lineage and there is nothing in her life she can classify as `great'. The book thereafter, seesaws between self-styled `ordinary' and `life extraordinaire'. Her schooling and college in Kolkata, Mumbai and Delhi, her first dance guru, the tempestuous Sadhana Bose and then the celebrated Shambhu Maharaj, her associations with various artists, politicians and filmmakers thanks to her mother's vast acquaintances, are all detailed in juxtaposition with the changes the Indian political and indeed the world scenario was undergoing in the 1950s through to the 1990s. The Green Revolution, Lal Bahadur Shastri's clarion call `Jai Jawan, Jai Kissan', the Chinese aggression, two wars with Pakistan, formation of Bangladesh, launch of Sputnik into space with Laika and later Valentina, end of Pandit Nehru and an era, and the three tragic deaths in the Gandhi family... it makes one wonder, is the book meant for the Indian reader? For, there is no new insight into any of the known events of the past five decades.
Multi-taskingThere is so much that is laudable about the way she has handled her life; with no male sibling, she lit her parents' funeral pyre (quite a travesty!) as a government official, a dancer and a diplomat's wife, she made sure she kept her roles compartmentalised. The interesting aspects of the book are when the dance exponent holds forth on the nuances of Kathak and her own theories on everyday links with mythology. The problem lies with the fact Shovana is writing in the present continuous. She writes of people who still bestride the Delhi society like so many colossuses. She is subjective, saccharinely so. With all her adventures and experiences, if only there were shades to her delineations or had she chosen to write a potboiler, blending fact with fiction, she could have come up with a winner.