India is a potpourri of religions and cultures, and with those come traditions and customs that have been followed since generations, sometimes blindly. This year has brought out, at least to me, one such custom in particular. First through a blog meet, and then through a book documentary, the Devadasi system had got my attention. Reading a non-fiction on the topic helped me understand that system a little more than I had previously.
It is the title and the cover that first intrigue a book lover. It’s what makes you want to turn the book over and read the blurb, to see if the story actually would interest you. Having read something about the Devadasis earlier, the title “The Temple is Not My Father” caught my eye, and the cover completed the set. I didn’t need the blurb.
The novel is the story of Godavari, formerly a devadasi, and her daughter Sreeja. It tells the tale, via flashbacks, of how Godavari was tricked into the system by her father, she being too young to know what was happening. It also brings the society around them into focus, how they react, how they treat one in Godavari’s position. There are also two spunky kids Neeraja and Vanaja, far-away cousins of Sreeja who enter into the lives of mother and daughter and influence their life and also how the story progresses. I’ll not get into the details.
As a writer, and a bookworm, it is my belief that it is not the length of a book that makes it appealing, but the story itself. A short fiction may convey in its brevity what a long fiction on the same lines may not. This novella is hardly 50 pages. But you go through so many emotions so quickly while reading those pages that it’ll take you by surprise.
I had a smile reading the curiosity of seven year old Sreeja, three days short of her eighth birthday, as she asks her mother questions that have risen in her young mind because of the attitude of the people around her. It turned to sadness reading Godavari’s replies. It turned to fury when the character of tataiyya came into picture. It turned to admiration when the spunky girl with the don’t-care-you-are-a-devdasi attitude Vanaja arrived and befriended the duo. Then came sadness again, and admiration for Godavari seeing how she rose up from the situation she had found herself in.
But nothing, I mean nothing, could have prepared me for the sense of loss, of sheer grief, slowly sinking, overwhelming grief that set in reading the last line of the novella. Cruel as it is unexpected, it leaves me thinking over it long after the read has ended, and it returns to haunt over and over and over again. As a reader, I wanted to know more. I wanted to know more of Neeraja and Vanaja, of how Godavari would handle the shock. But was it absolutely needed? I didn’t think so. It was that ending that made all the difference.
Compelling, engaging, emotional, overwhelming… this book is all. Would I read it again? I might. I can’t say for sure that I will, because the story is such. But there’s a possibility that I might. Hats off to the author for the emotional roller-coaster that this book is!
Title: The Temple is Not My Father
Author: Rasana Atreya
Price: Rs. 49
(17th November 2014)