Brahma’s Dream

Started out with high ecpectations from Shree Ghatage’s debut novel. However, Brahma’s Dream turned out to be one of the most tedious and awful books I have read. After the first three pages, you know that this is going to be about the protagonist dying. And good luck trying to find anything worthwhile from there.

Mohini is born with Cooley’s anemia, and lives with terrible agony and weekly blood transfusions in the palatial Koleshwar Nivas. The time is 1947, and Independent India. He r family is comprised of the patriarch, Vishnupant, retired professor in the act of writing a book on Indian history. Then there are the long suffering parents, Keshav and Kamala, a strange old widow, Bayabai, and assorted relatives in the vicinity, chiefly Vasanti – another widow – and a few servants.

After wading through the horrible agony of Mohini’s infections, it is mentioned that communal riots between Hindus and Muslims are in force during the Partition. Kamala, in a feat of amazing heroism and defiance of Bayabai, hires a Muslim boy from the neighborhood Irani bakery to sweep the Brahmin house – not the pooja room or the kitchen, of course.

The next cataclysm that is mentioned is Gandhiji’s assassination. After the first reaction, naturally, “was it a Muslim?”, it is established that Nathuram Godse was actually a “Chitpawan Brahmin”, presumably the community the author belongs to, because a couple of incidents are described in some detail how there was some harrassment of the Brahmin community after the Mahatma’s death. Mohini’s father has an affair, a cousin gets married, the servant gets married, Vasanti outlines the reasons why she thinks she isn’t a widow but was deserted by her husband. Then Mohini has a terminal fall in the toilet and expires soon after.

The title is derived from a theological theory that Vishnupant puts forth to advocate stoicism, that the material world is nothing but a dream that Brahma is dreaming. It is effectively shattered when Mohini whispers the most powerful statement in the entire saga, “If all this is Brahma’s dream, then why is He having such nightmares?” It is beyond Ghatage’s ability to justify the theory, or defend it. Indeed, Mohini’s suffering seems pointless.

None of the characters grow – they are one dimensional. Worse, they are Bollywood stereotypes. The angelic mother. The caring but gruff father. The benevolent, strict grandfather. The widow who shaves her head and will not sleep except on the bare floor. And Mohini, whose dying words in tune with nauseating tearjerkers are “Sorry for all the trouble I have caused.”

Perhaps the worst is that it is hypocritical. Is it possible that not only Mohini’s parents, but friends, neighbors and relatives are all so caring about her? Can even a mother be so saintly when burdened by the care of a terminally ill child? All the time? Gatage would like us to believe that Mohini’s care took a toll on Kamala and Keshav’s relationship, and drove him to have an affair. But later, Keshav tells that it was a one time lapse.

Three people hide on the roof to escape rioting and possible violence after Gandhiji’s assassination. When Vishnupant discovers them in the morning, his reaction is positively bizzare. He does not acknowledge their predicament at all, is cold to them, and we are to believe that it is because his rigid morning routine has been disturbed.

Much could have been done to define the post-Independence Hindu Muslim equation through Mohini’s relationship with Gulam, but it was left undefined and unexplored.

Perhaps Ghatage tried to show that a group or community – the RSS – existed who were violently opposed to Gandhi’s politics, but she did not present this with conviction. The saccharine responses by the characters to Mohini’s condition ensures that this novel fails as a personal saga. It fails as a political one because of the wishy-washy tone in which she presents the RSS’ ideological opposition to Gandhi. [Rather, she fails to present it.] And it is a failure as a theological one.

Instead, Brahma’s Dream bumbles along in a monotony of dull suffering. An overweening reviewer in the Montreal Gazette speaks of Ghatage in the same breath as Rohinton Mistry on the blurb. She can barely reach the playful foothills of Anosh Irani, let alone scale the lofty heights of Mount Mistry.


5 Responses to “Brahma’s Dream”

  1. With my stack of TBR’s almost beginning to resemble a mountain, I am almost happy to be able to relieve it of a book and that is what I am going to do with my copy of “Brahma’s Dream”. I’m going to take it to Goodwill where some unsuspecting reader will pick it up and be tortured! 😉

    I know, I know, I’m mean that way! 🙂

    I duplicated a comment on your previous post, be a darling and please delete one of them for me, thanks!

  2. @Lotus: gosh, you escaped by a hair! don’t kill yourself over an unsuspecting soul – who knows, maybe they’ll read it and adore it or something! it’s just that my own response to it was so negative that it was the first time i ever paused and considered a side of publishing that had hitherto escaped my notice – that reviewers give authors good press for money or as personal favors.

  3. Thank you for saving me from this book. Life is too short to waste on the bad ones, although I don’t mind a funny book once in a while for a break.

    P.S. Thanks for the idea to do a “Saturday 65” on my blog. It sounds like great fun. I just hope the “Friday 55” people won’t be cross…

  4. Regarding you suggestions for a Saturday 65, I have made them the subject of my latest blog. I really like you suggestion and I am hoping that insightful people like yourself will submit.

  5. @ Cereal Girl: i don’t thnk the friday folks have an inkling of our existence, never fear! thanks for the vote of confidence – i will get cracking on it right away.

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