Niharika’s Bookshelf: “Small Remedies”


Small Remedies by Shashi Deshpande

First published in Viking by Penguin India in 2000

Published by Penguin- 2001

“We see our lives through memory and memories are fractured, fragmented, almost always cutting across time.”(1) This line forms the central core of ‘Small Remedies’. More often than not, life is not shaped by a chronological set of events, represented by a straight line. It is the memories, happy and sad, that define life in entirety.

This Metafictional novel by Shashi Deshpande explores the lives of two great women- Savitribai Indorekar and Leela, who, by breaking conventional norms and ideas create a niche for themselves in a rather hostile society. These events, looked upon as controversial, occur at a time when the world at large is still apprehensive about women taking to professions such as music (Bai) and politics (Leela). Madhu, Leela’s niece now attempts to make sense of the lives of these two women and at the same time, come to terms with the trauma (losing her son) looming over her own life. The identity that these women choose for themselves is very different from Madhu’s choice of full time motherhood. It is the most revolutionising emotion of her life. But has this got to do with her own insecurity of being motherless and losing her father at a young age? Some identities are imposed, some are gained, some just form sub-consciously. Towards the end, what really matters? Did Leela, despite her commitment and love for both her work and the people in her life deserve to die such a painful death? Did Bai’s single-minded determination directed towards her music invite hatred and abandonment from her own daughter? Despite her achievements, who is truly with her in her last days? Is this abandonment an answer to her selfishness?  The story of the novel itself becomes secondary when placed in comparison with the complex philosophical questions it chooses to ask.  By making situations bigger than characters, the book attempts to find answers to the purpose of life, the small remedies that it offers against the backdrop of death, illness and forged relationships.

Deshpande offers a plausible narrative that is placed in perfect sync with the theme. What appears to be rather ill-structured and isolated at the beginning comes together like the small pieces of a jigsaw puzzle— like memories which when put together create a whole new world.  The author also places some very relevant questions about motherhood, marriage as an institution, unrecognised social relationships that still form a part of contemporary lives. The journey of women towards selfhood in a patriarchal society does not necessarily call for binary oppositions. Rather than coming to  judgemental conclusions or offering solutions(despite the backdrop), the writer draws a graphic picture of their existence, leaving all else open to interpretation. The beauty of the novel however will lie not, in that proposition. Ultimately, it is these small remedies that provide a reason for survival. It is survival that takes priority over all human endeavours; an instinct that every human possesses, irrespective of how bleak the situation may seem. It is these memories, that we sometimes wish to run away from, that sometimes make us want to freeze time, that live with us and give us the hope, the courage and strength to keep going. “As long as there is memory, there’s always the possibility of retrieval, as long as there is memory, loss is never total.” (2)

1-Small Remedies, Shashi Deshpande: Page 165

2- Small Remedies, Shashi Deshpande: Page 324