By Dr Usha Bande
Title: Mirror Image.
Author: Rama Gupta
Publisher: Prabhat Prakashan, 2017
Price: Rs. 500/-
Rama Gupta’s Mirror Image is a collection of 17 stories written in a simple narrative style, depicting realistic and actual scenarios and experiences that most of us past middle age go through (or have gone through). As the title indicates, the stories are a reflection of life; they focus on the spontaneous response of the main characters as they encounter small quirks of fate that have great implications in their lives. These are stories of men and women, mostly from urban upper middle-class but some represent different age groups and class like ‘Sumangali’ and ‘Bye-Bye, Blackbird’. The point of view is primarily that of the female narrators; the narratives delve into the psyche of men, women and children and as such, the portrayal revolves round how the principal characters respond to the attitudes and events in their lives.
Rama Gupta started writing these stories after her retirement, a time when many would close the logbook of an active academic life. Not Rama! She has always had dogged determination and ambition to do something new. In that sense, this is a big wish come true.
Of the seventeen stories, two stories fall neatly into the rapidly growing diasporic experience. The experiences of immigrants in a multicultural country like Australia are outlined in ‘Bye-Bye Blackbird’ and ‘Darkness under the Blazing Sun.’ One more story that is set partly in India and partly in Australia is ‘The Love of a Good Daughter.’ The average reader can easily feel the wistful, quiet sadness of the overall situation, and a reader familiar with the immigrant experience knows the truth behind the emotion of a parent who sees his/her child withdrawing into a shell; a well-settled man suddenly feeling lonely and helpless during a calamity, or a daughter settled in Australia being callously negligent of her mother who has come to help her with her new-born. Aannant gains his composure when the floods recede. Seeing river Brisbane flowing in its usual smooth rhythm, Aannant, after days of uncertainties, understands the significance of connectedness as he decides to help people to fight the aftermath of the devastating floods.
‘Bye-Bye, Blackbird’ is a study of an immigrant child’s psyche who suffers the pain of alienation when he is bullied in school in Australia. David withdraws into himself and refuses to open up. Nothing works – mother’s cajoling, doting, pampering, story-telling – nothing can divert him. Interestingly, David returns to normalcy after his father’s intervention. I would like to pose one question to the readers: Is the story only about the difficulties of alienation and cultural gap? Probably not! It has deeper undertones and hints at the male child’s psyche who feels much more secure in the patriarchal power of his father than the anxiety of his doting mother. Incidentally, the title of the story is reminiscent of Anita Desai’s Bye-Bye, Blackbird, a novel on immigrant experience.
Another noteworthy story is ‘Solitaire’ which recounts a woman’s longing to possess a solitaire. Ultimately when she is able to buy one, she has to give it to her son who wants to present it to his new bride. Rakhi realizes the reality of a woman’s existence – it is meant to make sacrifices and Rakhi has all through been a sacrificing woman. The story reaches its climax when her husband gives her a solitaire as birthday present but she is unable to wear the ring in her deformed and swollen arthritic finger. However, the story ends on an optimistic note as the aged couple reassures each other that the sulphur springs of Satluj (River) will cure her and she will be able to wear her solitaire ring. The story has a pleasant combination of tradition and modernity, human wishes and familial obligations.
In ‘Perak’ the descriptions of the ravaged Leh village and Pozy’s psyche are well worked out. Perak, a headgear worn by Ladakhi women, remains a throbbing presence all through the narrative. Pozy is found searching for his mother’s Perak in the beginning of the story; the narrator presents him a Perak at the end. In that it serves as a symbol.
Rama Gupta paints strong and determined women (Shashi Ma in ‘Mother-in-Law’, Usha in ‘Without Being Alone’, Rajamma in ‘Sumangali’) who face life in all its vagaries but do not break. In ‘Pandemonium’ she portrays two women friends, their affection, drifting apart and again making up their differences; in ‘Two Sisters’ she recounts the painful tale of sisterly love and parting, of man’s lecherousness and woman’s vulnerability. ‘Long Live the Mother’, ‘The Love of a Good Daughter’ are stories of mother-daughter relations, their misunderstanding, anger and reconciliation. When Reema hugs her estranged mother after her father’s death and showers all her love on her child-like mother, the reader cannot but feel overwhelmed. ‘Log Off in Peace’ is written as an epistle from the male point of view.
Read together, the stories form a constellation – like looking through the refraction lens of a kaleidoscope. The author realizes that life goes on and that “nothing lasts and yet nothing passes either” (p. 213). Thematically, the stories make a good read but unfortunately, structure and plot construction leave much to be desired. Moreover, some of the stories need pruning to make them compact. These quarrels aside, the stories are interesting. The cover design, binding and printing are of high standard; however, the only snag is content editing. The publisher should have taken care of polishing and vigorously editing the script.
Dr Usha Bande is Retired Principal and Former Fellow, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla