Friday, April 9, 2010
3, Zakia Mansion
3, Zakia Mansion
Reviewed by Dipali Taneja
3, Zakia Mansion tells the story of a dysfunctional family, largely from the perspective of Shaheen, the oldest of three children. Her parents inhabit strange worlds of their own, and rarely connect with each other. Their father is extremely harsh and autocratic, with strange ideas about child rearing. Their mother, Nimmi, is embittered by her life, and tries to find what succour she can, while remaining quite detached from her children.
Ehsaan, Shaheen's orphaned cousin, lives with them and provides great common sense, humour, and is a rock for the siblings, as is their grandmother, until a tirade against the independent unmarried daughter by Shaheen's mother drives the grandmother downstairs, to live with her other son. Matters have been compounded by Shaheen refusing to marry Sajid, her mother's effete second cousin, who has come to Mumbai looking for both a bride and a job.
Ehsaan's mimicry of Sajid's peculiar English makes you laugh out loud. Dadi moving out gives Sajid an opportunity to woo Nimmi, and her father's drunken proclamation of their affair traumatises Shaheen totally.
A marriage proposal from the Adamji family gives her an exit from her home a few moths later, but her husband is most cowardly in the face of his dominating mother, and Shaheen finds little joy in her marriage, although the birth of her daughter does change her life. Juhi is a child 'who just strolled out into the world and started ordering everybody about', much to the chagrin of her imperious grandmother, whom she constantly challenges.
Many tragedies later, Shaheen leaves her husband, who refuses to let Juhi accompany her. Juhi has developed severe eczema, and while going out of town to seek a cure for her child, Shaheen meets Manas, an architecture student. Many travails later, Shaheen is finally able to piece her life together.
The trouble with trying to review 3, Zakia Mansion is that you get sucked into reading the book again and again. It is a slim book, economical with words and rich in concepts and characters. It is a book that demands to be read and re-read several times over. One central concept is of the betrayal of children by their parents, of actual or virtual orphanhood. Another is of the need for kindness in human relationships. This verse, by Ella Wheer Willcox which appears at the beginning of the book, is also quoted by the holy man at the ashram:
So many Gods, so many creeds,
So many paths that wind and wind,
While just the art of being kind
Is all this sad world needs.
While I am eagerly awaiting Ms.Dange's next book, I do wonder if it will become as much a part of me as 3, Zakia Mansion has become.
Edited to add: Gouri Dange blogs at http://www.gouridange.blogspot.com/