Anjali Joseph’s debut novel Saraswati Park is a fascinating story about a family residing in Bombay. The book is a vivid and detailed description of Bombay and manages to capture the essence of the city brilliantly. The book is almost an ode to the city. Saraswati Park, the colony where the protagonists reside will transport you to the lanes and by lanes of quiet areas of Matunga, Dadar or rather any old colony of Bombay. It is totally nostalgic at times right from its old colonies to the almost dying profession of letter writing which the protagonist Mohan does for a living.
This book is Mohan’s story. Mohan Karekar is by profession a letter writer who sits outside the post office in Bombay, he has helped put other people’s thoughts and feelings into words day on day. He is also a closet writer who also loves to read. Residing in a quiet suburban colony with his wife at Saraswati Park his life is pretty ordinary and mundane. Though on the surface all looks well between the two but underneath it all their marriage is thawing. Mohan’s lack of engagement and his contemplative attitude is pushing him further and further apart from his wife, Lakshmi. This again he does not notice or realize.
Soon they are joined by Ashish,a diffident, sexually uncertain 19-year-old nephew who is studying English literature. The book then takes us on a journey of these three different individuals who are deeply unsettled with their existence and are constantly striving to better it but are unable to do so.
So we have Mohan who would much rather read his books or attempt to write ignoring the tensions in his own marriage, his wife struggling to salvage the marriage and their relationship and Ashish who is coming to terms with his own problems. Though they are all battling their personal demons they intentionally or unintentionally end up being a support system for each other.
When Lakshmi loses her only brother she decides to leave Bombay under the pretext of helping an ailing relative, to mourn not only the death of a sibling but also the vital force of her marriage. Mohan finally realizes the cracks in his marriage which he had been ignoring all along when there is no sign of Lakshmi returning; he finally manages to take a few decisive steps to salvage it. Meanwhile Ashish jumps from one failed relationship with his school friend into another with his English tutor who ends up breaking Ashish’s heart yet again but it also helps him find his peace. Mohan‘s dreams of turning into a writer also soon start taking shape.
The writer manages to breathe life into each character with her detailed description. Though every character is well thought of and characterized it is Ashish’s story which is the most interesting.
The book which is initially very slow paced ends up being very vague and hurried at the end. The book meandering at times.and is agonizingly slow paced in places, even if you skip a few pages you don’t really end up missing anything.
But all in all an interesting and promising debut.
About the Author
Anjali Joseph was born in Bombay in 1978. She read English at Trinity College, Cambridge, and has taught at the Sorbonne, written for The Times of India in Bombay and has been a Commissioning Editor for ELLE (India)