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Book Review

The Binding Vine

Shashi Deshpande

“There can be no vaulting over time,… We have to walk every step of the way, however difficult or painful it is; we can avoid nothing.” thinks Urmi (Urmila), the narrator of Shashi Deshpande’s novel, “The Binding Vine. After Urmi’s baby dies, her world shatters and breaks into pieces. She feels the urge and the need to find her own way to endure the pain. However, her grief and pain draws her close to two other women hailing from different backgrounds or walks of life.

The Binding Vine is a soul-stirring and deep-thought-vested novel written by Shashi Deshapande. She is an award-winning Indian novelist. She was born in Karnataka and educated in Bombay and Bangalore. She is the second daughter of famous Kannada dramatist and writer Sriranga. Here novel arouse inquisitiveness in different aspects of female-centric plots and stories. This is the uniqueness of the novel.

Urmi, here, is also drawn towards the life of: long-dead mother-in-law, a thwarted writer, and a young woman who lies unconscious in a hospital bed. Through these quiet and unforeseen links that she proceeds towards healing. Gradually, as the stories of these women unfold, a tale of courage and strength unfolds too. The first woman she is drawn towards is her mother-in-law, as expected. Mira’s presence is only in the notebooks that was discovered accidentally in a rusty trunk. Mira, as a character herself is quite deep. She used to write poetry that reveals the grief of a young married woman and her unhappy marriage. Hers was an arranged marriage.

Then there is Kalpana, a young woman who is survivor of a brutal rape and who has also been quieted. She drifts between life and death in a hospital ward and is looked after by Shakutai, her poor mother, and Urmi forms a bond of mutual comfort with Shakutai. As the story moves, readers will notice that the lives of three women who are troubled by qualms, secrets, and grief, which, further, collectively act as a binding force or a binding vine of love, concern, and connection.

The story explores the chasms of time, social classes, and even death. Past memories trespass Urmi’s mind that helps her find out mysteries about herself. Apart from the feministic touch of the story, the themese of love, maariage, motherhood, dilemma of women dominate the plot. Another theme that is stressed here is rape (including the one that happens within marriage) and the insecurity of being not secured. The dishonor is not the girl’s, but of the criminal’s. And, the dilemma Urmi faces is that if she makes it public, the family’s reputation may get affected, and the prospects of marriage of the victim will decrease too. She stays confused until she meets Dr. Bhaskar, who questions the need and importance of marriage for women. He does so as Shakutai pleads him not to release the report of rape fearing social stigma.

The story here also puts a question mark on the idea of being woman and tolerating the stigmas and consequences for being woman, being a woman. Though, all the characters are women, they represent the human conflicts, in its entirety, and that a person is often a lonely bird in the corwd. Another question that comes up is the need for forgetting her dead daughter, when Urmi realizes her efforts in that direction. The book is a thoughtful and insightful in various ways, and must read.

Publisher: Penguin India
Available on: Amazon India Price: Rs 196 (paperback)

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