Thursday 17 September 2015
Review by Rajvee Vyas of "A River Sutra" by Gita Mehta
I was going to review something fresh and new, but with summer drawing to an end, I could think of only Gita Mehta’s A River Sutra as an ideal companion to a dark, autumnal evening. The novel is set by the holy banks of the Indian Narmada River. It is here that our narrator - a retired bureaucrat whose name we never find out, intends to spend his retiring days peacefully, managing a guest house amongst idyllic hills and forests. Instead, he encounters a set of bewildering characters, and he is soon pushed into an enchanting world where their lives weave with his.
The Narmada is the central motif, a sutra – thread, which holds all of Mehta’s characters’ stories together; a young man renounces his life of pleasures and riches in order to become a Jain Monk; Hindu music teacher, Master Mohan, reveals the celestial voice of a blind orphan Muslim boy to the landed gentry, but it is tragically silenced; entangled in a subliminal trance between reality and myth, a tea estate executive finds himself bewitched by a tribal woman; a bandit kidnaps a courtesan’s daughter in the belief that she is his eternal love; and, the pupil of a musical maestro vows to marry his guru’s ‘ugly’ daughter once he has been taught the art of music, only to abandon his promise. The final two stories involve the Naga Baba, following his life as an ascetic who rescues a child from a brothel, with the novel’s ending bringing a revelatory and shocking twist to his identity.
Mehta’s lyrical prose ripples and resonates like the River. Her novel reminding us perhaps better now than when it was first published, that India is a land rich in a myriad of cultures and diverse peoples, all converging together by its banks, journeying towards the vast ocean.
About the reviewer
Rajvee Vyas loves to read, write, clean, and bake (in no particular order).