Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s My Father’s Garden, advertised on the jacket as the latest of ‘a major talent of Indian fiction writing at the top of his form’, is supposed to be the biography of a young doctor. It spans half his life, narrating his negotiation of ‘love and sexuality, his need for companionship, and the burden of memory and familial expectation’. The narrative is divided into three distinct parts, or fragments: ‘Lover’, ‘Friend’, and ‘Father’, each petering into the other. At just a little short of two hundred pages, the book is a quick read.
Readability, however, does not detract from my problem with it. The prose is striking enough, and the tone of lacerating honesty in keeping with Shekhar’s established oeuvre. What disappoints, however, is that I am not able to make sense of why these fragments have been presented as a book.
The author’s and publisher’s thinly veiled attempt to cloak this as the biography of an unnamed young doctor may well work as a strategic response to the repercussions Shekhar faced in the wake of his anthology of short-stories The Adivasi Will Not Dance. Anybody even remotely familiar with Shekhar’s work or the unnecessary controversy he has been made privy to will recognize that the ‘unnamed narrator’ is uncannily similar to the author himself. But even if this veneer of fiction was maintained and disbelief willingly suspended, it still seems superfluous to be presented with biographical extracts on a character so young—just a couple of years out of medical college. A few years back, Mridula Garg had occasion to underline this burgeoning trend of young authors moulding their life narratives—as imagined as experienced—in keeping with market demands for the sensational and quixotic. Unfortunately, Shekhar’s My Father’s Garden seems to me to be an instance of this trend.