The Last Song of Dusk

On the day Anuradha Patwardhan was leaving Udaipur to marry a man she had not even met… dozens of peacocks came to the railway station to bid her farewell with cries. For when Anuradha sings, even the moon listens.

Vardhman Gandharva, the boy who flew a kite so high that it stayed up for a week, and took lanterns, bits and bobs and even a chair up with it to the sky.

Divi Bai, Vardhman’s stepmother, so evil that she threw her twin sister to the crocodiles when she was 5 years old. Divi Bai’s foul-talking parrot Zenobia.

The Gandharva’s precocious and precious son Mohan, who inherited his mother’s gift of the Song, and wanted a violin for his 2nd birthday.

When Mohan falls from the window to his death, the happy couple’s life comes apart at the seams. Anuradha finds that her lineage of the Song is a healing and a solace, but Vardhman retreats into a shell of silence.

Built upon the foundations of heartbreak and tragedy, the sentient house, Dariya Mahal, watches lives play out among its lush confines. The pond in the courtyard where the goldfish never die. Where Vardhman brings Anuradha to start anew. And Anuradha brings with her a 14 years old orphan, the cat-blooded beauty, Nandini.

Nandini walks on water and eats weaver-birds, because there is a woman on her mother’s side who mated with a leopard. She is devious, sensational, the artist who paints the essence of people, and media darling. She is the barefoot, beedi-smoking little girl who witnessed her parents’ horrendous violence towards each other, and was raped by an oily relative after their death. She is the depraved lover of famous artist Khalil Murrata and his rich patroness, the lesbian Libya Dass. And leopard lover.

There is Shloka, the Gandharva’s disturbingly silent child, who was born in the wings of a storm and through a terrible promise made to Dariya Mahal that this child would be sent away when the time was right.

Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi’s narrative is rife with enchantment, and at every turn, it reveals a deeper truths – that there are very small mercies that life hands out. There is something in everyone that is their strength and salvation, that will allow them to bear everything that Fate socks out. It is a tale of friendships and sacrifices, told with gentleness and candor. That love is enough and not enough, and what begins after love has ceased is knowledge and divine eloquence.

NO! I’m not going anywhere! You can’t send me ANY place – do you understand? It was ludicrously incongruous: the big voice of a small boy. He knew what happened to people when they had to go and live with strangers. Nandini had told him all about it. The tearability and breakability of people.

Anuradha sighed.

What could she tell him in the circumstances? Was there any rational explanation for this? Maybe he was the last song of dusk. He would carry the Story everyone else had lived. No matter where he would go now, the Story would be the same, even if the characters differed in color or height or cadence of speech. What would distinguish it from all other stories would be the bravura of its sadness, the humility of its joy, the subtlety of its fury.


4 Responses to “The Last Song of Dusk”

  1. Whoa, you are a fast reader anocturne! I read this book a while ago and I remember being so struck by the language and the magical, fairytale-like quality of the book.

    Here’s a link to my write up, if you like:

    I remember being quite enchanted with the book – I still have my copy, so I might reread it one day.

    Glad you enjoyed the book, too! Have you read any of his other ones?

  2. @Lotus: don’t you believe it! some of these have languished in the drafts folder for ages – though i try to put down some thoughts as soon as i finish up.
    your review is extremely well thought up – have half a mind to delete my bakwaas and direct folks to your page. [run and read Lotus’ link, guys!] and i simply adored the worst-sex-scene competition, heheh. to be honest, his frequent descriptions of dimpled butts and louche penises jarred me as well – but what the hell?! up with freedom of expression and all that.

    i was also struck by his vehement statement about magic realism. i almost put it in there, but i felt [correctly, as it turns out] that it was too limiting a label. once you tag labels onto fresh and refreshing texts, you diminish them somehow, don’t you think?

    i wasn’t aware that there were any other ones… this is his debut, ne?

  3. Hi, anocturne!

    *Blush* I wrote that review so long ago, I completely forgot even mentioning the sex scene! That was the time when hardly anyone ever read my blog, so I never worried about what I included in my review – I am a lot more cautious now! 🙂

    I think he wrote atleast one more book after “Last Song of Dusk”? Or perhaps I’m mixing him up with Siddhartha Deb?

    And I LOVE your reviews – anytime I read one of yours, I want to go tweak mine so that they end up looking atleast half as nice as yours! 🙂

  4. @ Lotus: my dear, surely you jest?! your reviews are always more honest and i know mine look like someone turned on the Blurbomatic. 🙂

    and it doesn’t do to care who reads our pages and what they think – it cramps the style, heh heh.

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