Anyone who knows India knows how strong the vitality of spirit is here even under the worst circumstances. Continuing in this spirit, Anita Desai narrates, “I did not hide the pain, but I also wanted to communicate this capacity for enjoyment”. And this is what gives us ‘The Village By The Sea beautifully narrated by Anita Desai. It is the exemplary story of Thul, a small village north of Bombay along the coast where for centuries and centuries, life has been punctuated by the rhythms of small-scale agriculture and fishing.
And then suddenly, in the seventies, comes the wave of “progress” in the form of an industrial plant: a large pesticide factory. The initial suspicion turns to hope for a better life in spite of the obvious danger to health because the economic aspect of existence is too central to afford to challenge such a great opportunity. The story brings into contact with the humanity of its inhabitants through the story of Lila and Hari, brother and sister, who get used to helping themselves and become the bread earners for their family comprising of a mother corroded by mysterious illness and an alcoholic father, along with two other small sisters.
In the process they become witnesses of a literary radical change that has marked all over India in recent decades. The young Hari, comes to the city of dreams- Bombay to improve his condition and is faced with a new world. He gets engaged in the restaurant through the kind-hearted Jagu, who is also a poor fellow like him. The friendly Mr. Panwallah, a very kind and wealthy man helps him in all ways especially by teaching a craft that can improve the condition of his life and his family as also is the rich DeSilva, who, for no apparent reason, offer to accompany their mother in the hospital and to pay for the medicines.
It is also one of the recurrent violence of nature, the monsoons, which make life difficult for the people especially those living in shacks crowded together in large cities. In the last pages of this novel lies with a similar (albeit attenuated) sense of helplessness: no one can stop the environmental pollution and destruction of an entire area, which will surely bring with it a general crisis of local residents. It ‘a story that points out a little’ unusual India compared to what we are accustomed to imagine.
In all this the author exercises impressive description of solidarity between the rich and the poor, which touches lives in the pure realization that life is good. It’s a way of saying that with good will and good luck “there it can be done” and you can build a better future with the running wheel of destiny continuing to improve as also worsen things. Anita Desai joins the chorus of writers in the complaint of a collective drama often passed unnoticed by the rest of the world.
The trait is light and gentle, the characters do not cry, but the voice remains etched indelibly in the reader. What remains at the bottom is a strange sensation of the ongoing quest for survival. There is sweat and toil, there is suffering and there is joy. Everyone is determined by the karma and everything is as it should be. Everything appears inserted in the ongoing wheel of life, eternal change always equals to itself.
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