I wanted to like The Age of Shiva – all those fantastic reviews on the cover gushing about the ambitious and sensuous writing. I was primed to like it, but to be honest, I couldn’t wait to be done with it. I could have stopped midway, but that would be a minor source of vexation, and I usually try to labour through all the books I begin to read.
The Age of Shiva is about Meera, a protagonist I found very hard to like. She is born to a progressive father and an illiterate mother still rooted in the traditional ways. She is forever conflicted and usually makes terrible decisions. While her father is all for the liberation of women (Indira Gandhi is the perfect woman in his eyes), he still doesn’t see anything wrong with constantly meddling in his daughter’s life. Meera suffers through a marriage devoid of love, an abortion, an almost-rape, and comes to a point where her son is the focus of all her energies, this son with whom she shares a strange oedipal relationship. The book is set in post-partition India, and political occurrences regularly make an appearance in the story. The growing disillusionment with Congress, the rise of Hindutva are all outlined; but they seem forced. The entire novel is in the form of a mother’s monologue to her son, and discussing the news at that point in time feels distracting for the most part, though it does provide us with a context and helps us come to terms with Meera’s world.
I am also interested in knowing if this is indeed a sensitive and intimate portrayal of femininity. I have been thinking about it, and I am not sure if I should be quick to appreciate the fact that a man has tried to understand the complex thought processes of a woman. To be specific, I find myself unable to relate to any of the feelings of motherhood the author has described, but is this a reflection of my own inexperience or ignorance?