Tangled web of life

Juggling between playing different roles of being a doctor, columnist, detective fiction writer and novelist, Swaminathan’s prominent interest has always been on people and issues that deal with the complexities of human relationships.

In Venus Crossing, the prolific writer gives a rather dispassionate view of human life. Her stark realism abounds all the 12 stories relating lives on the threshold of some unforeseen disaster — death, disease, broken relationships, accidents, or even loss of faith.

The introductory section of the book titled 8 June 2004 deals with the rare event of Venus crossing the Sun which could be seen from the Earth. This event marks the special moment of crossing — the transit of Venus — which sets forth the reader’s journey into the realm of similar changes in life. Swaminathan masterfully handles the theme of ‘transit’ dealt in each of the 12 stories (in very different ways though!) marking significant changes in one’s life — transformations ringing with hope, but most of the times, with despair.

Death, disease and decay are the most recurrent themes portrayed by the author in varied ways — in Sister Thomas and Gomes, love touches the hearts of a terminally ill patient and a middle-aged nurse till death intervenes and snatches him away; the story Shame, also set within the confines of  a hospital, hovers on death and the brave battle of the inmates against it; The Arrangement brings to light the physical and mental pains of a woman who is in the last phase of her life; Yellow Dupatta reveals the grief, amidst other practical problems, of a couple who are taking their dead child home from hospital.

The feeling of despair is brought about not only by death and decay, but also by feelings of rejection and loss of faith as portrayed by Swaminathan in Fly Away Peter which deals with two young women shattered by rejection from their loved ones.

The story Acts of Aggression also takes a similar route of hopelessness by exposing male domination exemplified by a renowned professor who does not think twice to molest a woman on a crowded commuter train and gets away with it, significantly with the support of the other men present there.

Swaminathan in this book expertly weaves the strands of despair with a sense of hope which is unmistakably her final gift to the reader longing to find redemption after all the disturbing portrayals of human lives. In Euthanasia, the problem of death is finally resolved or at least sorted out temporarily by the intelligent doctor; the sense of hope abounds in the story Fly Away Peter as the two dejected women support each other and begin their journey of survival; and the ending of Incidents at Abu Ghraib finds the daughter regaining faith in her mother.

Apart from the common theme of ‘transit’ which binds the 12 stories together, they are also similar in creating a very strong impression on the reader. The diligent reader cannot miss Swaminathan’s cynical view of women in Indian society, the kind of women who sustain an obsolete patriarchy as revealed in The Life Uxorious and other such thought provoking ideas highlighted by the writer.

The final impression that the book creates is in favour of a patient reading — to linger a bit and discover love, dignity, honesty and hope hidden behind the surface of death, disease, despair, grief and hopelessness.

Venus Crossing
Kalpana
Swaminathan
Penguin,
2010, pp 312,
Rs. 350

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