Monday 2 March 2020

Book Review: 'Tara' by Mahesh Dattani.

Less is more, they say. How true, I thought, as I put down this tiny book. The weight of the pages belied the burden in my heart. This tiny book causes more impact than the ink of many a thick spine. Dattani’s play reveals how heart-wrenching some stories can be, more so, since we know that some fiction is inevitably based on harsh truths prevalent in society.

Characters and Storyline
Humans are monsters, albeit their tendency to sometimes regret their own evilness, when it is too late to repair the damage of their actions, or inactions. And sometimes, the guilt begot of the regret, grows  like cancer and destroys the very being.
A mother is plagued by guilt, after her choices lead to actions that betray her own child. A father's inaction at the opportune time leads to distortion of normalcy and peace in the family. Two children bear the brunt of fate that hands them a Siamese deal at life, as well as the consequences of having parents who fail to make the right decisions about them.
The separation of Siamese twins is a compelling story in itself. But the twist, where the male is favored over the female, so much so, that the whole exercise ending in vain leaves the twins physically and mentally shattered beyond repair is shocking to the core. It isn’t just Tara, the girl who is betrayed. She perhaps dies more of heartbreak, than of her medical complications.  Chandan or Dan, her loving brother is left traumatized too. Haunted by her memory, he stays mentally lacerated for life.
Tara’s leg being discarded after it fails to attach itself to Dan, is the final straw that reveals multiple facets of a flawed society. Dr. Thakkar, who sells his ethics for a piece of land, exposes the maggots that thrive in the medical profession. The fact that he is shown as a gloating braggart, who exemplifies the success of an unethical operation in his interview leaves a disgusting feel in our senses. The grandfather whose blind favour to the male heir ironically does irreparable damage to the chosen child, is a powerful presence, despite his absence in the play. And the neighbour, who provides comic relief to the twin and the audience, holds a mirror to the disgusting attitudes and behaviour of society in general, towards the differently-abled.

Dattani’s brilliance has to ‘seen’ to be experienced. I’m not referring to the vivid imagery that the play evokes during the read. I mean, one feels the need to watch the play, with its elaborate stage settings that allow multiple scenes of the story to run parallel to one another. One moves from one scene to another seamlessly and is able to absorb the subtle nuances that play out between the characters, while reacting to the building tension in the gut, as one morbid mystery after another is solved.
The suspense that builds up throughout the narrative is punctuated by layer after layer of unveiling each part of the puzzle that ails the family.
Bharati and Patel’s bitterness is revealed in their arguments that are laced by threats and abuses hurled at one another. Here again, their exchange discloses only enough to build suspense and foreboding of the horror of revelations to come.

What stands out is the brilliance of the twins: superior vocabulary, acute sensitivity and above all, that unique bonding that only conjoined twins could share. The symbolic character of the neighbour girl Roopa, is a perfect element that serves dual purposes of highlighting the twins’ intelligence & sense of humour, as well showcasing the hypocrisy of society.
I was glad that the play did not show us Tara’s actual death, although the casual mention of her demise in the end nearly causes the same impact, especially because her last line in the play is ‘And she called me her star!’
Overcompensation of love can never make up for the blind murder of humanity and common sense during times of challenge. What purpose does guilt serve, except to devour the soul of the one it consumes? Bharati’s excessive affection to assuage her own guilt, ironically backfires, as it only magnifies Tara’s shock later. It also destroys her own mental faculties, and the poignant news of her death leaves no impact on her son. Her calculated ministrations ruin Tara’s reputation further with her neighbours and leave the children disgusted with their father too, especially since his authoritative demeanour causes too much damage, and he fails to redeem himself even after his confession.
If I must find a grouse, it must be that the story was too perturbing.  Perhaps, that is one of the qualities that make it an unforgettable must-read.
I rate the play 4.8/5.
How did you find my review? Do share it with literature lovers and post your thoughts on the same, in the comments below.
Until my next one, happy reading!


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