Dr. V. Saraswathi – Professor of English gives The Goddess a shining review
A novel is defined as a “good story, well told.” As per this definition, I would declare without hesitation that The Goddess presents a good story and tells it well. The story, with interesting twists and turns, keeps you hooked like Samuel Coleridge’s “Ancient Mariner,” and you are simply not allowed to lay down the book until you have reached the last page, nay the last word! And as you lay down the book, you are already asking yourself, “What next?”
A good story presents interesting characters in a credible context. There are not too many characters—but the few—Anand, Ashok, the narrator, and, of course, Mohini, are presented in relation to Lakshmi, the heroine. She is neither goody goody nor villainy, but a real, vibrant, human being, as lively, as interesting, as unpredictable, as you or me. A girl with strong will power, she manages to mess up her whole life, without ever losing even an iota of our sympathy. As we put down the book, we hope and pray she has a happy future, which she richly deserves.
The first person narration carefully avoids omnipresence and omniscience of the narrator. In fact, we don’t even know his name. He also plays his allotted role as a Sidney Carton-type lover, a friend, philosopher, but not guide. One wonders whether the narrator deserves to be called the hero of the novel. Two other realistic, true-to-life portrayals are Anand, the idealist, and Ashok, the Iago, who can smile and smile and still be a villain.
In presenting Mohini, the Goddess, the author must have faced a tremendous challenge. The infinite dimensions of Mohini present a delightful combination of the natural and the supernatural. We really feel sad when she says, “Good bye.” Wish she had instead said, “Au revoir.”
Great novels succeed because of the milieu they present. We are transported back to the India, Madras (now Chennai) of the 1970s; nostalgic for many of us. With effortless ease, we are taken through the whole gamut of social, political, cultural events of those days—not to forget the Madras scenario, right from the Marina beach, Sri Parthasarathy Swamy temple, the museum, etc. The quotes from the kritis (songs) of Saint Thyagaraja are a treat to lovers of Carnatic music. The political scenario and the tumultuous events are taken care of through Anand, a typical youngster of those times.
The most astounding, unforgettable section in the novel, of course, is the philosophical discussion between Mohini and the narrator. This is Gitopadesha (the discourse between Krishna and Arjuna in the Mahabharata) in a nutshell. The intricate concepts of Indian philosophy are presented in a simple, easily understandable language for the uninitiated. It should prove to be an eye-opener to Indian as well as foreign readers.
Literature reflects life. It is a mirror of reality. From this perspective, we may classify the novel as good literature that should appeal to the past, present, as well as future generations. I am sure lovers of literature would enjoy reading the novel, and might want to go over it, or at least some sections, some vignettes, again and again. The Goddess is highly readable and enjoyable.
Dr. V. Saraswathi,
Professor of English (Retd),
University of Madras,