A complex and hard-hitting novel of extraordinary emotional range, Small Remedies reaffirms Shashi Deshpande's standing as one of India's best writers of fiction.
Fifty years ago, life for women in India was governed almost entirely by male dictates, tradition, and most importantly, 'what the neighbors might say'. At such a time, two young women, one obsessed with music and the other a passionate believer in the Communist world-view, broke away from their families to seek fulfillment in public life.
Savitribai Indorekar, grande dame of the Gwalior gharana, started her adult life as a dutiful daughter-in-law in an orthodox Hindu household, but eloped with her Muslim lover and accompanist Ghulaam Saab. Leela, on the other hand, gave her life to the Party, to working closely with the factory workers of Bombay.
The stories of these two women - independent spirits both, who gave up respectability to gain love and unhappiness in equal measure - form the core of Small Remedies, Shashi Deshpande's new novel.
The narrator of the novel is Madhu, Leela's niece who travels to Bhavanhipur, Savitirbai's home in her last years, to write a biography of Bai. Even as a child Madhu had been intrigued by Bai's relationship with Ghulaam Saab and with Munni, their daughter. Now, grieving the loss of her only son Aditya, Madhu tries to make sense of the lives of these three people, in doing so, hopes to find a way out of her own despair.
As the story unfolds, she back and forth in time, drawing out, remembering, and retelling the stories of Leela, Bai, and Munni. And always in the foreground is Madhu's own story - of a life transformed in one traumatic moment that took away everything she had love and believed in: her marriage, her son and, very nearly, her sanity.