The Age of Shiva

Written by Manil Suri
Review by Gwen Sly

On the eve of 25 January 1955, India is to celebrate its fifth anniversary as a republic. The subcontinent is beginning to readjust after the immense upheaval of Partition. In a college auditorium in Delhi sits 17-year-old Meera, feeling for the first time stirrings of a love which will lead to a less than fairytale marriage and a life unimagined. She is to find fulfilment only when her son is born many years later. Through him she will discover within herself the strength to shape her own destiny.

The Age of Shiva traces the lives and fortunes of one extended Hindu family after Independence, a time when ancient traditions were being questioned, religious beliefs lay in the balance, and women’s role in society was in transition. Religious freedom to them meant distress, poverty and displacement to an India still populated by Muslims, who retained their superior positions in employment and housing. Will Nehru’s experiment be successful? Will allegiance depend on nationality, or will religion triumph in this secular country? The historical atmosphere which advances the narrative is in a sense peripheral to the story, as this is a book above all about the feminine, of one mother’s love for her son with its incestuous shadows.

Manil Suri has written a mannered tale with an intimate insight into Hindu life. The colours of India are skilfully painted in as the author lays bare a society in progression, advancing towards the end of the 20th century whilst retaining a tangible nostalgia for the past. It is difficult to empathise with the central character, Meera, a harbinger of her own destruction, a woman who never takes responsibility for her actions and always making others culpable.