A Fine Tapestry
Bhavani Raskutti, Nov 19, 2018
Set in the mid-1900s in a small village in Southern India, the story revolves around a seemingly normal extended family as they deal with some momentous events in their lives.The events occur against the backdrop of imminent death of the family's eldest daughter, Latha. Anchored in the Hindu traditions of the times, it is not Latha, but her parents who first receive the news of the illness and then impart that knowledge to their daughter.Latha struggles to come to terms with her terminal illness and yet she courageously finds a pathway to leave a meaningful legacy. Her affectionate and thoughtful nature impels her to shield her loved ones from grief during her life and after.In her heroic efforts, Latha needs to strike a delicate balance between the traditions of the times and the raw emotional and physical responses of various members of her extended family.
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I thoroughly enjoyed reading the novel, A Fine Tapestry by Mythili Lakshman. Reading the book felt not too different from the enjoyment of reading classics like Malgudi Days by RK Narayan, not only in terms of the timeline and the setting of the novel, but also in the simple style of writing and subtle yet impactful references to the once strong prevalence of the extended family, their social interactions, and the traditions of various festivals, events and food some of which last to this day. References to "I would have sent the [bullock] cart (not car!) to fetch you" transports the reader back to the era of the 50s and 60s.
Life in small towns and cities in Southern India are vividly described and form the core backdrop to the novel. How some characters in the novel transition from that life to that in Bombay (a significant change in those times) reflects the transformation that India went through with urbanization and the migration of people outside of their "home" towns.
The novel tactfully and gently covers family values, arranged marriages, the extensive rituals of marriage, births and passing away, hardships endured by widows that progress to more liberal acts of widow remarriage in a following generation, and more. The balance between staying rooted to tradition yet having the zeal to move on to a new city, new business venture, etc. shows how people did so much for the generations above, below and their own without expecting anything in return.
Although I am from South India, I really enjoyed the recap of the festivals and traditions captured at the end of the book, a much needed refresher for a lot of us, who at best have vague recollections of these important aspects of our tradition.