I read Shashi Deshpande’s “The Binding Vine” late into last night and was left with a dark, disturbing feeling . For the first time , I was reading someone who did not romanticize or glorify grief and pain . Urmi , the narrator stubbornly embraces her grief and pain after losing her one year old daughter to death . She refuses to be condoled and instead gets pulled into the sad tale of a comatose Kalpana , who apparently had been raped brutally , but whose mother adamantly refuses to file a case because she has two more daughters to marry and she does not want the daughters’ ‘ honor’ to be sabotaged .
As the days progress and Kalpana is forcibly shifted to another far away hospital much against her mother’s wish , her mother is forced to revise her views and gives a statement to a journalist of how her daughter was raped and how injustice had been meted out to her all along . The statement hastens justice , yet at a personal level , it opens a can of worms and Kalpana’s mother is forced to see some ugly truths . By the end , she sees light and in calm undertones tells Urmi that her Kalpana is “not at all like that . she is a nice girl” .
In between her grief and Kalpana’s case , Urmi manages to unearth the sordid past of her long dead mother in law Meera, who had been a victim of marital rape . Meera’s poetry speaks directly to Urmi and to the reader in the four lines painstakingly penned in a moment of utter despair .
Don’t tread paths barred to you
Obey , never utter a ‘no’
Submit and your life will be
A paradise , she said and blessed m
These four lines sum up the essence of what every young girl is taught the moment she is betrothed to a man .
And these lines Meera pens when renamed as Nirmala
A glittering ring gliding on the rice
Carefully traced a name ‘Nirmala’
Who is this? None but I,
My name hence, bestowed upon me .
Nirmala, they call, I stand satue-still.
Do you build the new without razing the old ?
A tablet of rice, a pencil of gold .
Can they make me Nirmala ? I am Mira
Even as Urmi struggles to bring justice to the dead Mira , by trying to get her poems published , she knows she has to fight many personal battles . The book though primarily about feminism is also about the mechanics of grief and loss.
A book fervently recommended to every feminist and humanist out there , I happily award 4 stars to this book .