The Last Song of Dusk

The Last Song of Dusk’ by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi :

The Last Song of Dusk is the debut novel of Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi, an Indian author,  that was published in 2004. This book won the Betty Trask Award given in UK for the most prestigious prize for debut novels. It also won the Premio Grinzane award in Italy once again for Best Debut Novel. It was nominated for IMPAC Literary Prize in Ireland. It has become an international best seller and has been translated into 16 languages. Shanghvi has been voted into the Most Powerful Young Indian, Most Creative Men and some more by different media houses. He lives in Mumbai and is a contributor to Hindustan Times, Open, Time, The New York Time magazines and other publications.

The story is about a beautiful singer Anuradha who moves from Udaipur to Bombay in 1920s. It was said that when she sang even the moon listened. While in Udaipur she had many young boys who were her great admirers and everyone wanted to know who she would marry. She marries Vardhamaan who was a perfect match for her. He was a handsome doctor from Bombay. He also had many girls following and coming to him for consultations with fake complaints. So they were made for each but the story does not have aplot which says they lived happily ever after or a plot which has small skirmishes and problems. Their beautiful lives go through big upheavals that throw them apart in some sense. The rest of the story is how they come back together and find love in their lives. The firs setback in their life is the death of their son Mohan in an accident. Anuradha and Vardhamaan sink into sadness and desperation and slowly move away from each other.

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The story now shifts to DariyaMahal, a mansion facing the Arabian Sea. The owner of place had died of heartbreak.Anuradha and Vardhamaan try to reconstruct their lives. After Mohan’s death Anuradha goes to Udaipur and brings a fourteen year old orphan Nandini back with her. Nandini is a gorgeous and seductive teenager. She is self-taught painter who the opposite sex cannot resist. She is so good in her in her work that she gets easily gets connected to the big names in the art and social field. She even gets an audience with Gandhi and she talks about his sexuality. Nandhini is a beedi smoker too. She is an alluring artist with interest in panthers and walking on water. She brings in some excitement into the lives of Anuradha and Vardhamaan.

Then a second son is born but even this does not bring any changes. Shlok their son is also a very silent boy. Though silent, he grows in love, language and becomes independent eventually.  He is the harbinger of change in the destiny of the loveless life of the couple. Then there is Vardhamaan’s mother Divibai who hates Anuradha; Divbai was not very beautiful and she hated her beauty.

The once in love couple move to a haunted house by Arabian Sea. Divbai has a pet bird Zenobia in this house which was called DariyaMahal. DariyaMahal is also treated as character at the hands of the author. “…breathless, crazy, deceived sadness oozed out of his flesh and seeped into DariyaMahal”. Many, term this story as magic realism and Shangvi vehemently opposes it. “Please don’t call my work magic realism. I don’t like the word magic realism-it takes away from the realism of my story. In India, we have this belief that everything-a house, a tree-has a spirit and we must respect that spirit. So in my novel if a house is talking, it is not magic realism. You may call it heightened realism.”

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There are some more minor characters in the novel. Sherman Miler is young Irishman who is completely besotted by the wild Nandhini. Nandhini’s parents are given some space in the novel. Pallavi is the gentle friend of Nandhini. Then there is flamboyant Khalil Muratta who is an artist and his character lingers in the minds of the reader. What happens to Anuradha and Vardhamaan. They slowly rediscover their love for each other and save a marriage which was slowly falling to pieces.

Analysis

The story starts with happiness and expectations and it is set in decorous buildings of 1920s. As the story takes a dip it moves to DairyaMahal, a mansion amongst other majestic villas of Matheran. The area is one of wickedness and that is reflected in the story. The story starts with excited newly-weds to the loveless middle aged couples and then to old age where love is rediscovered and the two complement each other. The dynamic equation of love is understood.

DariyaMahal has its own life and oscillates between the good and the bad. With such a powerful setting the story weaves into the book naturally. The story is gripping. Just when the reader thinks all is well, there is a twist to the story which takes the breath away. The message is very clear in the opening line of book, “In this life, my darling, there is no mercy.” The story does not teach you lessons of how to overcome obstacles and become a strong person. Instead it teaches you that little love, right company and resilience is what you need to get through in life.

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The narrative is spellbinding. The four main characters are four different kinetic people. The dialogue is rich and sometimes it even gets rhetorical. There is excessive ornateness which can be frustrating but the plot holds the reader. The story has music, humour, tragedy, psychedelic colour, delicious food and comedy which borders on farce. The novel is truly a feast and a reading which leaves in the reader a hunger for more.

SiddharthShanghvi wrote this novel when he was twenty years old and it was his way of dealing a broken relationship. He then forgot about it, It was his friend who read the manuscript insisted that he show it to an agent and what happened is history. There is a fresh approach to his writing and so many details. It is difficult to believe a young twenty year old is the author of this book gripping novel. He is compared to Rushdie and Marquez but it is only fair Shanghvi is given his space for giving a novel which cannot be put down till the last page is turned.