Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Book Review: If I die Today – Shashi Deshpande

Book Details :

• Hardcover: 152 pages
• Publisher: RainLight (2012)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 8129120496
• ISBN-13: 978-8129120496
• Product Dimensions: 20 x 13.4 x 1.8 cm
• Amazon Price : INR296

Source: Google Images

Blurb :

Guru, an end-stage cancer patient, comes to a quiet medical campus and quickly befriends his hosts friends and neighbours, his warmth and sympathetic manner encouraging them to confide in him. Out of these conversations emerges a name Prabhakar Tambe which spreads a pall of uneasiness over the doctors and triggers a chain of events that leads to catastrophic results.

Rumours start to fly, old tensions and rivalries between colleagues and friends re- surface, and every family on the campus is caught in a web of suspicion. Within weeks, two people die in mysterious circumstances and it seems that life will never be the same again for the doctors and their families.
About the Author :
Shashi Deshpande is the author of ten novels, a number of short story collections, four books for children and a book of essays. Her best known novel, That Long Silence, which won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1990, is considered a landmark in Indian writing in English.

Among her recent novels are Small Remedies, Moving On, In the Country of Deceit and Ships That Pass. She has also done translations from both Kannada and Marathi into English. Shashi Deshpande currently lives in Bangalore.
My Review
Theme and Ambiance:
If I die today by Shashi Deshpande is set amidst the placid and idyllic Medical College Campus in Bombay, built by the benevolent Sethji, where everyone is either a doctor or related to the medical fraternity in some or the other capacity. Manju who is married to Prem, a quiet, reserved and dour faced pathologist finds herself drifting away from her spouse even as her second pregnancy progresses.

As her marital woes continue to baffle her ,she finds a perfect friend in Guru-a terminally ill patient who arrives in her neighborhood and who also happens to be distantly related to her good friend and neighbor of many years-Meera. Guru is the exact opposite of Prem. Where Prem weighs each and every word of his, Guru is a people’s person. He indulges them and draws them into his cocoon of sympathy and camaraderie. Although this book talks of marital woes and lack of communication in an otherwise good marriage, it runs deeper than that . It is about the contradictions inherent in life and death.

While Guru is incredibly brave about his impending death and draws everyone into his warm and sympathetic demeanor, it is apparent that his affable presence creates many a ripple in the otherwise perfect lives of the campus inmates. Although the book is primarily about murder, there are no detectives looking out for clues or tapping their heads to find motives. What sets the book apart from the usual whodunits and murder mysteries is that murder is done so subtly that for the most part of the book, the reader is left wondering if the murder had indeed taken place. Who would want to kill a dying man? How could his remaining alive for only a few weeks threaten the very core of people?
The characters are well etched out and each one is distinct from the other not only in thoughts, words and actions, but also in the contradictions and biases they outwardly present. There is the charming, witty gynecologist who dislikes women, the very English and suave neighbor who hates that his only child is a daughter, the drunken Tony whose moments of sobriety are looked at with suspicion, the adolescent Mriga who knows she’s not wanted and loved by her parents, and lastly Prem who has his own personal battles to deal with.

There is ambition, greed patriarchy and a fast fading humanness that binds all these people The story however is told from Manju’s perspective; Manju who is as observant and as sensitive as Guru, but exercises a certain caution while voicing her opinion. Manju sees Guru for what he really is-an interfering man who thinks he has a right to correct everyone’s life. I would have loved to see their friendship explored more in depth, but again this a book of just one hundred and fifty one pages and perhaps that would have diluted what the Author wanted to convey through this book. Manju knows what is danger and what is Guru letting himself into when she thinks, “It seems to me that Guru had begun to see himself as a spectator, above and different from all of us. That’s when a man becomes dangerous.

Yes dangerous because he imagines himself God and loses touch with humanity”. As you read these lines, You shudder inwardly. You sigh and yet you begin to see reason. Yes being a spectator is not bad but being vain is. There is a danger that is always associated with occupying a seat in the vantage point. It puts you at risk. You think you know everything. But you don’t. You just see the surface. You don’t see the dark waters beneath. Ms Deshpande puts across this point lucidly and effortlessly.
Contradictions of Life and Death:
Where Guru occupies the pedestal, Manju is one among the crowds. She knows and understands the pulse of the crowd at both the micro and macro levels. Obsessed as she is with honesty, she feels the helplessness of it all; when the chasm between her husband and her widens, when her young daughter prefers her maid to her and when her best friend of many years suddenly stops talking to her. And although Manju calls Guru a spectator, she cannot help but observe life and death from close quarters.
How close they were to death, these doctors, how intimate they were with it! Didn’t it make them indifferent to it?”
I’ve always thought it a strangely significant thing , the fact that happiness is so rarely used in the present tense. Happiness always was or will be.It never is”
The writing flows effortlessly from scene to scene, from thought to thought and is lyrical and poetic at times. There are some lines which blow you with their sheer beauty. Yet the language is lucid and simple. Nowhere does it overwhelm the reader. Ms Deshpande cleverly weaves philosophy with poetry and does it with the élan and compassion. The metaphors are brilliant and leave you with a childlike restlessness as you continue to thumb the pages.

Look at this description of sea for example, “But the sea scarcely thirty kilometers away made its presence felt in other ways. An angry murmur at night during the monsoon. Tarnished brassware and rusted iron. And the sultriness that settled on you like a damp rug, especially in summer” The story deserves a second read or probably more to unearth the many layers underneath after all its not just about a murder that has happened, but about the mystery of human thought and actions.
Five stars any day for the flawless narration and riveting plot although I feel literary pieces like these can never be rated.
~Sridevi Datta


  1. I love Shashi Deshpande's stories . As you rightly pointed out, her descriptions of even the mundane, are beautiful .Haven't read this book.Will surely pick it up. Loved the way you have reviewed the book.

    1. She is one of my Authors Sharmila and I love how she weaves so many tales and perspectives within one book :) Thanks so much for reading my review :)


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