Book Review: Of Marriageable Age
A saga of forbidden love and loss, of insurmountable desires and longing, of resistance and change…
Of Marriageable Age narrates the story of three characters divided by time and space and yet intertwined together. Spanning across continents and decades, the novel intersperses a coming of age story of Nataraj, Savitri and Sarojini who refuse to bow down by the sheer weight of cultural prejudices and traditions and in turn, carve their own space and territory. Set against the political backdrop of independence of two former British colonies, Of Marriageable Age begins in Madras in 1947 and keeps moving back and fro simultaneously in time and space, from Madras to British Guiana to London and back to Madras again.
Narrated from a perspective of three protagonists, the book begins with Nataraj who at four is adopted by a sahib, “So Nat always reminded himself how lucky he was to have been chosen at all…He had a father; and that alone was an answer to a prayer.” Bestowed with the gift of golden hand, Nat loses himself in girls and grass in London, “These girls had no secrets, or if they had, they did not know it. Their gift to Nat came unconditionally, and its name was freedom. They had one thing to teach Nat: enjoyment” only to find himself and his gift again in a rural village of Madras.
Moving along side is the story of Saroj who is raised in a strict conservative Brahmin household begins to question and hate everything associated with these traditions, “All her life Baba had been shaping Saroj to fit into the Hindu world, to make of her the tame and biddable daughter their culture demanded, a carbon copy of Ma…But now she thought of the Ghosh boy with his protuberant teeth and from her deepest depths the cry rose up, the cry of defiance that marked the precise moment of her coming-of-age, No! I won’t!” Running away and defying Baba, Saroj moves to London away from “tradition and culture and a father’s rule of law” to study medicine and yet moves back to her roots to find her true self and identity.
Traversing the lives of Nat and Saroj is the tale of Savitri, the cook’s daughter who although brought up in the English household is shackled by the age old prejudices and traditions so intensely repulsed by Saroj. Hers is a story of forbidden love and tragedy brought upon her by the self-anointed keepers of culture. Gifted with a touch of healing, Savitri pervades the entire narrative with her presence and binds every character even in her absence.
Unfolding in the backdrop is the society which is mired in old prejudices and bigotries and yet moving towards change. The book is not just a coming of age story of the protagonists but also of an entire society and culture which is portrayed through the journey of Deodat, the patriarch of the Roy family. “Deodat, an orthodox Brahmin, refused to take a wife born and bred in BG. In such a woman traditions were diluted, culture was dying, he claimed. He was appalled at the gradual disintegration of Hindu traditions, and the spineless capitulation of Indians to the secular spirit which ruled the colony.”
A beautifully woven tale of ambitions and desires forbidden by a culture where a woman is raised to marry off at a reasonable age, “…She was Baba’s prisoner. Chained and gagged, a vestal virgin to be sacrificed at the altar of marriage.” “It was imperative to marry off his daughters well. It is the sacred duty of every Hindu father…” However, the author doesn’t denounce it altogether and portrays that the same culture teaches love, sacrifice, patience, humility and offers redemption to those who have lost themselves in the coldness of life and fills them with exuberance of life.
In Of Marriageable Age, Sharon Mass builds a captivating story of three characters that evokes a range of emotions and fills the readers with sadness and joy at the same time and transports the readers to another world by her exquisite narrative style.
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