There are some books that we admire because they take us to a world that we never imagined existed. They show us what we had only seen in our dreams. They make us believe the unreal and that is the reason we love them. But there is another category of books – those which show us what we already know, those which take the story in a way we can predict. They are the stories of people we may find anywhere. We love the books because they take us closer to the mundane reality of the world.
Mahashweta, by Sudha Murthy, is one such book. It is a simple story of a simple girl with simple aspirations, who wants to lead a simple life. Her name is Anupama. She finds fairy tale love and gets married, only to find her dreams shattered to pieces, when she discovers that she has leukoderma. Her husband abandons her because of her marred beauty. What is more painful than her disease is the realisation that her husband married her only because she had a beautiful face and body. He did not love her, he never had. The story moves forward as she is left to her own fate by her father, despised by her step-mother, and pushed into loneliness to the extent that she contemplates suicide.
Then comes the turning point of her life. She decides not to give up her life for her husband who had left her to die, and her family who had never cared for her. She moves to Mumbai to start her life on her own terms. After many ups and downs, she goes back to her passion – literature and theatre. Earning her own money gives her confidence, and an independence that she had never known before.
A few years later, her husband realises his mistake and comes back to apologise, and to take her home. But she has lost all love and respect for him. She turns him out of the house. Meanwhile, she also puts a stop to the advances from another suitor, saying she does not want to put herself into the troubles of married life again. The story ends with her students announcing their desire to stage the play “Mahashweta”.
The word Mahashweta stands for a lot of things in the book. It represents the beautiful girl who can’t live without her lover. It stands for the white flowers of the parijata, which led to Anupama meeting her husband for the first time. It also stands for the small white patch of disease on Anupama’s otherwise flawless skin. Finally, it also symbolises the purity of Anupama’s love for her husband.
The story is an endearing read because it holds true for every generation of Indian society. Me, my mother and my grandmother, all three of us have had the pleasure of reading this book. It brings out the fact that when a woman is strong, confident and financially independent, nothing can come in her way. But above all, the book highlights the stigmas that exist in our society to this day. Discarding a person based on external appearance and ruining lives because of superstitious beliefs are still rampant in Indian society. Why is it that facial beauty is still considered the first and foremost condition for marriage? Why is a man’s love dependent on how pretty a woman looks?
The day Indian society gets rid of these ridiculous practices, and starts accepting people for what they actually are, I would consider that ‘Mahashweta’ has truly fulfilled her purpose.