A Tale Of Turmoil And Tides
The Shadow of Legends is bifurcated into parts, in Kerala, in the village of Kattuvalli, near Mavelikara, where the author was born. The place remained abuzz with birds chirping melodiously. A little chunk of the novel is about Russia, where Sujata the author lived for four years to do her research at the Moscow State University. The whole story keeps revolving around Swati, the lead character who spins a tale describing her many family members—twins Mandakini and Mrinalini, brother Shankar, friend Janardan, and her domineering maternal uncle Vishnu. Closely allied with the royal family as its hereditary priests, the Shastri family is affluent and had sprawling estate. Shastri, following Gandhian ideals, gives away most of his land in charity and prefers to lead an austere life like a Sanskrit school teacher. The description of the events like Shastri’s favourite, Mrinalini and Vishnu Mama’s wedding was awesomely narrated.
Sujata Sankranti seems quite engaged with the characters and begins weaving a fine homely yarn though probably not as spectacular yet gratifying in some context. She has talked of many voices with each distinguishing a different narrative. Describing the character of a teacher, sort of a boss who works under no one’s dictates, she magnifies prominence depicting the job dignified. The novel tells us unfolding layer on layer about many communities in India each with its own unique rituals, traditions and customs. The novel not only evokes the familiar cosmos of any Indian family, but also delineates the myriad ways in which it differs, thus prone to social and political pressures.
The author magnificently weaves the thread of a family’s ethical and cultural affairs and chisels the rough edges of different hidden aspects. Swati’s charming voice keeps the reader’s hand glued to the book but the voice fades away by the turn of hundred pages. Ambi Swami, Bharati Teacher and Janardan speak about the past calamities in Kattuvalli, the secret of Janardan’s birth and the gruesome end of the male line of the Shastri family. While the details are plausible and the events in themselves are very dramatic, that drama is lost because of multiple changes of voice.
Gradually, the novel takes the reader to Russia—the experience was a blend of pain and pleasure. Sujata has penned Russia with things too queer a matter to talk in the novel. Leafing through the leaves, the writing goes a little abstract rather insipid; one cannot comprehend the whole scene and wonders what happened to the author who at the start took the flight of wonders to those heights only to land on the nose. The grip appears a bit slackened.
The character of Misha, Swati’s friend though an integral part of Swati, failed to impress the reader. What I took notice was why Swati, who remained vivacious knitting the loose ends in the beginning allows her story to be told in the third person. This brings in a rift that distances the main character. In a nutshell, Sujata’s fine embroidery left with certain patches unstitched, that peep out of the unplugged chinks of the story.
A mushy saga of love and romance between Misha and Swati was not too torrid an affair. This whole scene was set against the backdrop of ideology, the parallels between an increasingly Marxist Kerala that woke up to a gory morning and Communist Russia, a catapulted manifesto. A quick wrap tells the reader about the story standing on a truth that takes the novel to those towering heights though slowly.
By Syed Wazid Ali