KAJOLI KHANNA | ROLI BOOKS | PAGES 280 | Soft Cover | Rs 350
By Ganesh Saili
Long years ago, I had heard the admonition: ‘Passions spin the plot and we are betrayed by what is false within us!’ These words from George Meredith (1828-1929) came back to as I read Destiny’s Flowers by Kajoli Khanna. She explores human error, healing and forgiveness through the lives of Mila, Pema and Atish. The trio becomes intertwined, knotted and entangled to take the reader to the magnificence of a remote fort and into the squalid animated slums of Taaza Basti; from the environs of a posh New Delhi apartment to the tranquil settings of simple monasteries with glorious shrines and then to a old sprawling bungalow in Bengal. In this world, change is the only constant. Whilst the pace may be slow, it maybe fast but movement will always be there. Who cares if you live in a summer palace, or in a shack or a hovel, the key, if you would like to call it that, is to accept change, adapt to it, flow with it and let go the weight that tends to anchor you down.
The old admonition ‘Seek and ye shall find!’ turns each of the three protagonists in this story into seekers. Each one looks for something: Mila’s looks for recovery to reinvent herself; Pema’s takes on the persona of a Buddhist nun attempting to conceal a past that refuses to fade away. It spins a gossamer web as she struggles to come to terms with the leaden weight of her murky past while Atish, sprung from the slum, lives out-of-the-box but fails to hold on to good fortune even when Lady Luck does smile upon him. For him there is no escape, no reprieve and no acquittal. Its the karma of his own cowardly acts. Destiny sees their paths intersect as the trio perforce come face to face with a whole gamut of emotions, ranging from human frailty, courage, giving and taking, grace and downright bumbling foolishness.
The first character we bump into is Mila – an art restorer in the Fort of Jogi – wanting to revive priceless artworks but is brutally assaulted. In its wash comes paranoia and depression which puts the hand brakes on her life. Trying to reconcile the pulls and pushes of love, she ends up a spiritual detective. Maybe meditative reflection the answer. For try as she will, the fairies’ of the reason refuse to be cowed under.
Pema’s story reminds me of that try as you may to run way from the world, in the ultimate analysis you cannot run away from yourself. Turning a Buddhist nun is of little help in chasing the demons of the mind. It a story as old as Time that running way from the past gets you no where and is not the solution. For ‘In the monastery of your heart lies a temple where all the Buddha’s unite.’ And the only way to go forward is to accept, reflect and move on.
For Atish – the Lord of the Slums – sets out on a journey through the world of migrant labour. A powerful combination of power and crime finds him living off, thriving and getting fat and corpulent on the hard work of the lesser fortunate.
There are passages where the author does go over the top. It seems as if there is merit to be found in verbosity. Take for instance: ‘Gold rocco ribbons serenade circlets of roses that garland the pale furniture, circumambulate the Aubusson rugs and collect in bunches on the creamy brocade curtains.’
And then again ‘Outside the viburnum bursts into life, like girls on a parade.’ Or ‘Ladies in skirts made of pine needles swing up and down, flip and turn like acrobats on the branches close-by, keeping a coterie of retiring babblers intrigued.’
How I wish the editor had run a pen through these excesses or nipped them in the bud!
As the narrative takes the characters through ups and downs, I can hear Meredith murmur in my ears one last time: ‘Didn’t I tell you old man?’ says he, reminding me, ‘Passions spin the plot and we are betrayed by what is false within us.’