|DIDDI: MY MOTHER'S VOICE |
By Ira Pande
Price: Rs 250
By the time you have read the acknowledgements and prologue to Diddi: My Mother's Voice, it is quite likely that you'll be in the midst of a short nap. But if you keep reading you will be drawn in-it is an ambush the way the characters suddenly cease to grate and become real. Which, actually, they are. Diddi is the story of a popular Hindi writer of her times recounted by her daughter. Describing her relationship with her mother as "ambivalent", she dedicates the book to her mother-in-law who "was more a mother to [her] than [her] own". Clearly, there must have been a lot of water under the bridge, but if you are expecting to find out what it was, don't look in the book. What we get here is a portrait of a pretty extraordinary woman with a few exasperating flaws.
A bit of a hodge-podge, Pande's book is a compilation of translated selections of her mother's writing (short stories, obituaries, autobiography), interspersed with the author's reminiscences. Initially it is quite confusing-spanning four generations; jumping between Almora, Kasoon, Lucknow and Delhi; flitting between mother's fiction and daughter's memoir and littered with offshoot stories of someone's servant's husband's drinking problem or someone else's midget wife's cooking skills. But it works. And though it is obvious that huge chunks are left out, it doesn't matter. Pande makes clear that the work is "nothing as literary as a biography", but rather an effort to bring out her mother "as a character in her own world".
Which she does. Diddi's life and times, inhabited as much by lofty characters (politicians, poets, scholars) as ordinary people (the maid, the cook, the milkman), come alive in crackling detail, and at the end, you have a pretty good-if stylised-impression of this sprawling, literary family, its battalion of servants, its values, its hopes and its dreams. And if like Diddi, you feel that "to be born sentient and watchful is a daily miracle", this book will make you laugh, cry, raise your eyebrows. A bit like life, actually.