Shrayan by Abha Iyengar- Book review by Ananya Sarkar
by Ananya Sarkar
BluePumpkin Publishers 2012
Pages 253 Price Ps 395The Journey of an Individual
Abha Ayengar’s debut novel Shrayan encapsulates the journey of the central character of the same name, a man from beneath the earth from the time he emanates from his dell to cull his own way of living. The book begins in an interesting manner with the description of a head and then limbs emerging from the ground. The hairy body, “red, bloodshot” eyes and “long and yellow” teeth make Shrayan immediately repulsive to the reader. Iyengar, however, in the course of the book, changes our notions by bringing out the humane and sensitive side of an individual in search of the one thing he does not have – beauty. Shrayan also seems to be haunted throughout by loneliness despite his sojourns at different places as well as encounters and interactions with various people. His relationships with other people do not last for long, which force him to rely on his own integrity and resilience.
The book is filled with events and there are twists in the storyline that take us by surprise. However, one feels that the narrative style could have had more verve and energy. Parts of the book are portrayed in a slow and prolonged manner, with emphasis on minute details that could have been overlooked to make the plot progress faster and make it more captivating.
Also, there are some inconsistencies. For a person who had never had a formal education or read books, it is strange that Shrayan quotes an example from the Ramayana to one of the supplicants of the Baba. Moreover, because of his strange appearance, when in bondage under Prince, Shrayan is shown to be misconstrued as an animal. However, later, at Chironji’s dance school, he does not become the object of suspicion of either the students or the teacher. This does not seem credible and convincing. Furthermore, though Choronji had initially mistaken him to be another person, it is not plausible that Shrayan’s real identity never comes out in the open during his entire stay at the dance school.
The language of the book is lucid and comprehensible and the writer often uses terms such as “lehenga”, “choli” and “darshan” to locate the story in a typically Indian context.
Overall, the novel contains a story which is unique and out-of-the-box but which would have stood out with a better treatment. Coming from the pen of Abha Iyengar, winner of the Lavanya Sankaran Writing Fellowship (2009-10) and one who has several other national as well as international publications to her credit, it falls short of expectations. *****