How much of an author gets into the book? Let’s be honest, a fair amount does. “All artists’ work is autobiographical. Any writer’s work is a map of their psyche. You can really see what their concerns are, what their obsessions are, and what interests them,” said Kim Addonizio, the American novelist and poet. I suspect although this is a work of fiction, some elements of her life in Andhra Pradesh and elsewhere in the world have crept into Savithri Duggirala’s debut novel, “Naati Charami: The Game of Love.” The words, “Naati Charami” in Sanskrit are said at the time of the traditional Hindu wedding when the bridegroom swears to remain faithful to this wife.
In Savithri’s book in the course of the story we see through the eyes of her characters life in Eluru in Coastal Andhra, and in cities like New Delhi, Muscat, Abu Dhabi, Singapore, and Chicago, amongst others. We also meet well-crafted characters like Rao Bahadur Pratapa Rao and his wife, Mahalakshmi; Jagannadha Shastri and his wife, Rukuminiamma and many others who come to life because Savithri writes of them as if they were real people in flesh and blood.
She has put her heart and soul into this book. This is evident in the depth of emotions portrayed through her characters when she talks of issues ranging from the stereotyping of women in the houses of old, to how their dreams and ambitions were curbed by their parents to meet societal pressures and toe accepted norms of behaviour.
Instead of talking about the book, I would like to share a few excerpts from the book: Swati compares women in India to robots, she says, and I quote, “Poor Americans….don’t know we have human robots called females here in India. They think the whole world is happy like them- free and independent. Their females too can work, earn and live freely without binding. They are not tied up with sentiments and emotional blackmails…..I will never do this to my daughter. If it were me, I would never let my daughter feel so miserable. She will do only what she likes and wants.” At that stage we have no idea how these very words come back to haunt Swati when it was her daughter Charmi’s turn to get married!!
Elsewhere we see the values of that era as taught to Mahalakhsmi :”Your husband is your God, obey your elders and treat your in-laws as you treat your parents. A girl at childhood takes refuge under her father, in adulthood it is her husband, and at old age, it is her son. So at every stage she is made to depend and tied with the golden chains of duty and responsibility. It was a responsibility without authority, till now she had not questioned her husband a single day but followed him like a shadow.”
Later, the author writes of how women were expected to be multifaceted and good at multi-tasking. “Women’s education and women’s employment have become acceptable. Not only the husband but the in laws too realize it is lucrative to have an earning daughter in law. But they want the girl to be beautiful, rich, cultured, traditional and obedient….. She needs to do service to the tired husband who has toiled the whole day in the office earning the livelihood. She has to pamper, love and help the children to excel in school and make sure they are well fed. And in the night she has to be Rambha because our scriptures say a woman is “ Kaaryeshu dasi, “ Karaneshu Manrtri, Bhojyeshu Maata, Shayaneshu Rambha. A wife has to be ‘ a slave to do service, a minister to advice, a mother to feed and an Apsara in bed.”
Savithri’s book, in my view captures, the transition from a generation which valued Patience to a generation which demands Instant Gratification, where time is measured not in hours leave alone minutes but by the number of keys you text, from a generation where the man reigned supreme to one where equality of the genders have taken on new meaning. I particularly commend the Andhra flavour that Savithri has used all through her book. It was a brilliant idea to make liberal use of the local idiom and argot. These terms are explained for the benefit of the global reader in the nine page A to Z glossary. Another touch I liked was the author’s use of our age old sayings and proverbs that reflect so much wisdom.It is so evident that for the author this has been a labour of love. Through this book, she has sought to pass on all that she felt important for future generations to know about our culture and traditions. Her plea to the present and future generations is that these rich inheritances should not be lost in an increasingly materialistic world.
For a debut novel, her writing has been commendable though I wish greater attention had been paid to the editing.