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Richly embroidered moments

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SHALINI UMACHANDRAN

Brahma's Dream: A Novel; Shree Ghatage; IndiaInk; Rs. 495.

FROM its very first line Brahma's Dream promises to be a book full of richly embroidered moments — detailed descriptions, strong characters, old-world charm and laid-back lifestyles. And Shree Ghatage doesn't disappoint. Though the narrative is meandering and completely unhurried, the story of 13-year-old Mohini, born with a rare and incurable form of anaemia, draws you in. It's a pleasant book that chronicles the lifestyle of the Oek family living in the Bombay of 1947-48. It's a household that is progressive and intelligent, and the characters — Mohini, her parents Keshav and Kamala, her grandfather Vishnupant, her aunt Vasanti, her best friend Hansa, Dr. Chitnis — though not memorable in any way, are interesting enough. Ghatage charms the reader with her lovely prose and the story of a little girl who wasn't expected to live beyond the age of three, who lives with the knowledge that she will never have a complete life yet manages to be upbeat, inquisitive and full of life and love.But often this soothing narrative style is stretched too far — her penchant for ornate descriptiveness sometimes robs moments of their importance. It's a book that's almost too serene, too languid, too caught up in the beauty of pink stones that "retain within its kernel minute specks of shimmering gold" and trees "that release into the sky a flurry of parrots". Mohini seems unrealistically wise for her years or too resigned to her fate. She never seems to experience any pangs at being unable to do the things her friends and cousins do, at being different. At no point in the book does she say `Why Me'? There are too many ideas dealt with too fleetingly in the book — Ghatage tries to summarise the essence of Hinduism, explain the role of a Brahmin in Hindu society, the essence of Mahatma Gandhi's teachings and the wisdom and serenity that comes with knowing that your life is limited. Often, she takes the easy way out — a convenient Swami in the last four days of Mohini's life to give her some quick- fix answers, sticking in a passage from a book Vishnupant is writing about the history of India — to run through certain ideas or explain issues. Some situations and incidents that are lovingly and luxuriantly described really don't amount to anything or establish any particular point about the family or their life. While tales do not need to come with a neat little bow on top, Ghatage leaves a few too many loose ends; for example, she starts a story of treatment of widows in the 1930s-40s and leaves poor Vasanti (Mohini's aunt) — and the reader — with more questions than answers.

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