11 July 2007


Running Deep

Author: Bapsi Sidhwa (based on the film by Deepa Mehta)
Pages: 201
Price: 325
Publishers: Penguin
Genre: Fiction

This is probably a rare occasion when an author writes a book, based on a film. Almost always, it has been the other way round. But then again, director Deepa Mehta and Bapsi Sidhwa have had a very close creative association, what with the former adapting Sidhwa’s The Ice Candy Man into 1947 Earth several years ago.
I must confess here that I liked the book far more than the movie. It’s a very gripping and moving narrative and Bapsi’s passionate writing lends it a texture and depth that was probably missing even in the film.

The book's theme—a brutal examination of the lives of widows in colonial India, is riveting from the word go. The potency and emotional impact of the story is probably why Deepa Mehta refused to let go off her dream of making the film. And one must add that there’s great intensity and passion in Sidhwa’s storytelling that grips you at various points in the novel.

While the novel itself is a useful chronicle in understanding a certain stinging reality, what really elevates it –even on a fictional level- is the character of 8-year-old Chuyia.
Between Sidhwa and Deepa Mehta, they’ve come up with a character rarely seen before. Chuyia is spirited, feisty, rebellious and raring to go. But as convention would have it, she is hurriedly married off and then widowed in a few months. Her in-laws send her to an ashram meant for widows, a sort of ghetto where they are supposed to lead pathetically austere lives. Of course, things are not exactly the way they appear on the surface and there’s a lot of murk lurking beneath. Through various characters and episodes, the narrative does well to question this absurd life of deprival and misery
Chuyia’s feisty spirit never dulls till a very long time. Part of the reason for this is her warrior like attitude and die-hard optimism. In true child-like outspokenness, she retorts to her imposing widow-in-chief, 'I don’t want to be a stupid widow! Fatty!’ Most of the story moves through Chuyia’s eyes and, one must say, it’s a great narrative choice. Firstly, it allows the author to survey and describe the scenes with impartial, child-like curiosity, thereby also dispelling some of its solemnity.

Which is why, it’s particularly ironic and touching when the 8-year old innocently asks ‘Didi, where is the house for the men widows'

Bapsi’s racy style of writing ensures that there is not a single dull moment in the book. The climax, where Shakuntala--- the sympathetic, middle-aged widow, holds Chuhia close to her chest, looking out desperately to give the child away to one of the Gandhian followers at a station, is one of the most touching portions of this book.
The fact that Chuhia manages to escape a life of drudgery and other ills associated with the widowhood in the ghetto symbolises a ray of hope even for those caught in the most helpless circumstance. And it is exactly this feeling of redemption, running throughout the book, that prevents it from ever getting morose and depressing.

Finally, if you’ve already seen the film and not read the book, this could still be worth visiting. However, if you’ve already read the book, I wouldn’t particularly recommend the film. The book inspite of being an adaptation of the film’s screenplay, astonishingly, captures the essence of the story far better.

-Sandhya Iyer


Qalandar said...

I hadn't heard about this, very interesting...although I am not a big fan of Bapsi Sidhwa basd on a couple of novels that I've read of hers...

sandy said...

Q: I wasn't particularly a fan of Sidhwa either...
But I was pleasantly surprised here.

AM I A HINDU? Best Seller said...

I missed the seeing the movie, After reading your review, I will definitely go and see it...Thanks

Unknown said...

Can you say what are the key words used in this novel