Author: Ananda Devi
Publisher: Random House India
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Indian Tango is written by Ananda Devi, who was born in Mauritius and has her roots in India. After reading about Ananda Devi being one of the key speakers in the soon-to-be-held Jaipur Literary Festival, I got pretty eager to read this book. Originally written in French, it was translated to English by Jean Anderson. The name was intriguing and so was the summary at the back. The more I explored the book and its author, the more interested I got.
Indian Tango is Subhadra’s story; about the shedding of her inhibitions. A writer who is alien to Delhi and its chaos, Subhadra is dealing with a personal and professional phase of ‘drying-up’. But soon, Bimala, a beautiful sari-clad stranger, catches her attention near a music store and things change. Subhadra is pulled like a magnet towards her and follows Bimala through the streets, which leads to discovering a forbidden path of gratification that is shunned by society.
The characters stay with you, however little mention they have been given in the book. Whether it is Bimala, grumpy MIL- Mataji, the stereotypical husband Jugdish, her son Kamal, Velluram, the tea stall owner, the little Hoop girl Asha or the fiery, no-nonsense cleaner Bijli, you will remember them all!
The language is pretty complex; Indian Tango is an explosion of metaphors and the sentences are way too long, which further complicates things! Metaphors are meant to make things more identifiable but, in this case, it is the opposite. It is like using ‘pulchritudinous’ to describe ‘beautiful’, where using ‘resplendent’ would have sufficed (even if someone really wanted to showcase their prowess).
This book is not for everyone, but will surely come as a delight for literary lovers who enjoy advanced, refined literature. Every language has its own rhythm and characteristic, and translating it to a different language may not do complete justice to it. Thus, Indian Tango may have got ‘lost in translation’ after being converted into English from French.
I also feel that a book like this, which deals with very specific biological, societal and personal dilemmas, has to be read at the right time. On a personal level, it was a little difficult for me to empathize with Subhadra, the pressures she experienced, the expectations laid onto her and her fixation with Bimala. I agree that there must be millions of women like Subhadra who feel suffocated in this patriarchal society we live in or who tilt towards transgression later in their life. But the farthest my understanding and empathy could extend was as a clueless bystander for whom whatever happened with Subhadra was a fascinating mystery. For now, the book will sit on my book shelf until I am ready to read it again and understand.
If you want to brush up on this intriguing author, take a look at her conversation in a Literary Talks Series, with an author reading excerpt from Indian Tango.