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Sadness and schadenfreude: Review of Avni Doshi’s ‘Girl in White Cotton’

Antara was never able to reconcile with her mother Tara's self-centredness and wild, bohemian ways — how she could abandon her marriage to follow a guru, live on the streets as a beggar and chase after a vagrant artist, dragging her child along all the while. And all Antara’s advances, her attempts at closeness, were rebuffed by an oblivious Tara.

Now, as the mother begins to lose her memory with the onset of decrepitude, the daughter must confront both the situation — she does not know how to care for this unreachable person who was never able to care for her — and her own utterly understandable feelings: a tug-of-war between sadness and schadenfreude, expressed with biting precision in the very first sentence of Avni Doshi’s debut novel, Girl in White Cotton: “I would be lying if I said my mother’s misery has never given me pleasure.”

The opening sets the tone for the rest: stark reality embodied in crisp prose. Doshi's powers of observation — of human relationships as well as the physical reality of Pune and Mumbai — and empathy are evident as she unravels a family and digs up a decidedly unwholesome history, including, but not limited to, betrayal, deception and incest, while ensuring that the emotional fallout strikes close to home. Discomfort is a feeling that never leaves you when you're reading this novel, or even after you've closed the book.

Tara's long line of self-inflicted tragedies and Antara's own issues come to a conclusion that's hardly explosive, but rather true to life — and all the more disturbing for it — even as the rest of the cast, such as Antara’s husband, her father and his new wife, stay firmly in the background in this anti-romance between two well-etched characters. Their commonalities heighten each one's status as the other's bête noire — compare Tara's bullheadedness and refusal to accept her condition to Antara's own firm independence, born of necessity from a childhood of neglect. This is an impressive first novel and well worth the read if you’re prepared to make the emotional plunge.

Girl in White Cotton; Avni Doshi, Fourth Estate, ₹419

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Printable version | Nov 28, 2021 2:34:40 PM |

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