By Mayabhushan Nagvenkar
Self-reflection as well as developing a sense of empathy are the only ways society can overcome the disturbing trend of neglecting elders, says Preeti Shenoy, author of “A Hundred Little Flames”, a novel which highlights inter-generational relationships across urban and rural spaces in India.
In the novel released by Westland Publishers, Shenoy, who contrasts the parallel cultures in urban and rural India in the context of interpersonal relationships, says that relationships are more cared for in rural India, where the pace of life is slower and roots of identity are more defined.
“The book doesn’t set out to teach any lessons. But it does contrast the urban life and the rural life. The two are simply different. Urban India is a melting pot of cultures. In rural India, the roots are a bit more defined, the pace of life is slower, and personally I have found that rural India is more caring when it comes to interpersonal relationships,” Shenoy told IANS in an email interview.
The novel, Shenoy’s seventh, is about a 26-year-old boy, Ayan, who is suddenly plucked from a typically urban backdrop by his father and dropped into a small Kerala village shorn of modern-day comforts, including Internet connectivity, where he is to care for his grumpy grandfather, Gopal, who has just met with an accident, and how the two connect over time.
“To take three characters from any novel (not just mine) and to say that the mindset of an entire generation can be condensed into a represenstative ideal would be looking at it extremely narrowly,” she said, speaking about the three central characters in her novel.
“There are many youngsters in India who are exactly like Ayan, but then there are also many who are not like him at all! What the novel elucidates is finding oneself (no matter what your age is). It is only at the age of 80 that Gopal Shanker finally sets out to do what he should have done 20 years ago. The book has several messages and one of them is that no matter what your age, it is never too late to follow your heart,” she said.
The father, Jairaj, does care for his son, but does not believe in his son’s dreams, she said. “He also cares for his father Gopal Shanker, but is driven by pragmatism rather than sentimentalism,” she added.
Asked to spell out the possible reasons why elders are being increasingly neglected in India, a country where age conventionally attracts respect and is equated with wisdom, she said: “There is only one reason — the selfishness of human nature. Yes, it can be reversed if there is self-reflection and empathy.”
Her parents, Shenoy said, inspired the novel’s theme.
“My mother and father, who are pioneers when it comes to initiatives for better lives for senior citizens; a deep empathy for the ageing and the fact that our elderly have a lot of stories within them, which are unheard, inspired the theme for this novel,” the writer said.
While Shenoy does not hail from Kerala, she claims she is automatically drawn towards the southern state.
“Poongavanam (a fictitious village where a part of the story plays out) exists only in the pages of this book, and you are not likely to find it on Google maps, even though Ayan put it there. However, it closely resembles my mother’s village in Kerala. Erunjipally, a fictional place, could be any small town in Kerala. Again, you will not be able to spot in on a map,” she said.
“My association with Kerala is a special one. I am not a Malayalee, though I can speak the language, and even read it. I learnt it outside my school curriculum, simply out of interest. Growing up, every summer vacation was spent at my grandparents’ ancestral home, which closely resembles Thekke Madoma (in the book). My love affair with Kerala continues to this day and this book is a tribute to a thousand cherished memories that I hold like a treasure within my heart,” she added.
Asked whether the novel could be considered a statement on the Indian family, Shenoy said: “Not really, but many have written to me saying that they can relate to it.”