May 25, 2020
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Mysore Years

Written for Indian readers: Usha scorns the explanatory whine of the expat writer. A book to be relished.

Mysore Years
A Girl And A River
By Usha K.R.
Penguin Pages: 324; Rs: 295
Usha K.R’s new novel A Girl and a River is a book to be relished. Her first two novels, the acute Sojourn (1998) and the picaresque Chosen (2003), revealed an eye for detail which could be cruel, but never antic—always a strength in a writer. This strength is further realised in Girl where the humour never condescends to caricature. The story, unexpectedly tragic, is centred on Kaveri and her brother Setu, growing up in a small town in Mysore state in the 1930s. The household god, father Mylariah, is purely tutelary; the children are nourished by the women—free-thinking mother Rukmini and gutsy grandmother, Bhagirathamma. The pranks of Setu’s gang, related with verve and wit, make the first part of the book a delight. Usha is at ease with childhood, conveying its tastes, smells and terrors with percipience. The idyll doesn’t last: change is imminent as Gandhi’s call jolts the town out of its inertia.

The book addresses a traditional family’s apathy to change, and how machinations to preserve respectability are either glossed over or forgotten. As tragedy overtakes Kaveri, the book slows pace and grows unsure. This novel deserved better editing: older readers may argue over 1930 props; the second, heavier part of the book is inadequately explored.

Girl is written for Indian readers: Usha scorns the explanatory whine of the expat writer. She tells it as it is, with shrewd wit and a rich regional flavour.

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