Monica Arora reviews The Last Conception by Gabriel Constans (Melange Books, 2014, 179 pages)
The oft-debated dichotomy between modern scientific research and wisdom of traditional values, religious beliefs and spiritual propensities have formed the basis of several discussions, debates, deliberations and continues to dog the human sensibility, constantly torn between the two. This conflict between science and spiritualism forms the basis of the engaging novel by Gabriel Constans, entitled ‘The Last Conception’.
The plot revolves around the young female protagonist Savarna Sikand, who is an embryologist engaged in working with fertility treatments in a high-tech laboratory in San Francisco, US. Meanwhile, her parents, hailing from the south-eastern part of India, but settled in the United States, and deeply rooted in some ancient religious cult, express their desire for their daughter to conceive and thereby continue their rare lineage. What follows is a gripping saga of the dilemma faced by the young scientist Savarna who fights very hard to tread the fine line between her parents’ spiritual beliefs and her own scientific wisdom.
Gabriel has come up with a taut narrative that is extremely simple and yet keeps the reader engaged with its fast pace and myriad topics conjuring doubts, dogmas and apprehensions in minds of young people all over the globe. Right from exploring alternate sexuality and its ramifications on the immediate family to the delicate issue of childlessness, all are dwelt upon with much thought and deliberation and ‘The Last Conception’ offers a rare insight into lives of seemingly ordinary men and women dealing with such quandaries on a day-to-day basis.
Moreover, there is this keen sense of urgency and uncertainty running throughout the narrative pertaining to Savarna’s attempts at conception and the traumas, both mental and physical, which have to be endured for accomplishing the same. The high point of the novel comes in the form of adoption of an Indian-origin baby by Savarna’s sister Chitra owing to her infertility and the feelings of joy, pleasure and pride experienced by the entire family thereafter. Such sensitive subjects are dealt with much bravado and wisdom by the author and offer a lot of information to readers regarding these subjects, thereby clearing several dogmas and misconceptions plaguing childless couples and misled elders, who succumb to mindless religious dictats and notions without studying their cause and effect in detail.
What really touched me was how the parents of the two girls, Mira and Mr Sikand, handle their daughters’ dilemmas as well as their old mother’s beliefs continuing from unwavering faith in a dwindling sect of ancient India. The maturity of their feelings and their ability to keep their family together under all circumstances stands as a pinnacle of hope in contemporary times mired under the garb of modern values or lack of them and hence, offering no emotional solace to lonely, weary souls in a confused society.
‘The Last Conception’ is indeed a very noble attempt by the author to choose such unusual and uncommon themes and write a piece of prose that unshackles the mind and offers rare insight into the much spoken and widely discussed matter of science vs spirituality. With immense care and caution, Gabriel has gently treaded around prickly territory and offered a well-researched and well-structured story which deserves to be read and preserved not just as a treasure-trove of information but also juxtaposing human emotions.
As Jean-Yves Leloup, a popular author on spirituality and psychology eulogises, ‘Do not believe anything merely because you are told it is so, because others believe it, because it comes from Tradition, or because you have imagined it. Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect. Believe, take for your doctrine, and hold true to that, which, after serious investigation, seems to you to further the welfare of all beings.’ Similarly, Rabindranath Tagore has stressed on the virtues of upholding traditional values by offering a beautiful analogy. He says, ‘It is not easy to get rid of weeds; but it is easy, by a process of neglect, to ruin your food crops and let them revert to their primitive state of wildness. […] In political civilization, the state is an abstraction and the relationship of men utilitarian. Because it has no roots in sentiments, it is so dangerously easy to handle.’
It is in raising forth pertinent questions pertaining to modern society where the youth struggle with issues concerning faith, religion and spiritualism that Gabriel Constans has succeeded commendably in her endeavour and offered much food for thought to readers in this contemporary yet important work of fiction, ‘The Last Conception’.