When Anita Desai writes, she creates magic. I have always held on to this belief and moreover also thought that she is one of the under-rated writers in her own country. She writes sparingly and the words sparkle long after the book is published. My tryst with Anita Desai took place when I was barely seventeen. I remember watching the movie In Custody – a Merchant-Ivory production and as the credits rolled at the start, I saw that it was based on a novel of the similar name by a novelist called Anita Desai. I read the book as I loved the film so much. The book did not disappoint me at all and from thereon I read almost everything this writer had to offer.
The Artist of Disappearance is her latest offering. It is a collection of three novellas and in every way as brilliant as her previous works. The Anita Desai Reader (and I do not mean this in the loose sense of the word) knows what to expect. The writing is not only clear but also has many layers to it and as each one unfolds, the others become more elusive. The prose is beautiful, the nuances are well taken care of and she tries not to involve technology in her writing.
This collection of novellas focuses primarily on preservation and change. Of how the characters resist it and some give in, to face the consequences of their choices. It speaks of objects and lives – the nature of the two and how inter-connected they are.
The first novella, “The Museum of Final Journeys” talks of an officer of the British Government sent to a backwater town for his training. He is approached by an old man (the caretaker) from the countryside who wants him to visit a house now turned to a museum of strange and beautiful items. The old man wants to get rid of the most valuable item, which will haunt the young government officer for years to come.
The second novella, “Translator, Translated” is a story of a seemingly quiet teacher whose interest lies primarily in Oriya, a little less known language and how she gets the opportunity to translate her favourite writer’s first book in English. Things go haywire when the author publishes her second book and the teacher takes it upon herself to connect the loose ends, with repercussions unknown.
The third and last novella in the collection, “The Artist of Disappearance” Ravi wants to live an unknown life – like a hermit in the forest. Suddenly his life is turned upside-down when a film crew wants to interview him. He doesn’t feel a part of the existence and disappears using his tact and mastery.
Each of the characters in these novellas wants to preserve – to not let go and life doesn’t give them that opportunity. Ms. Desai’s craft is at a height – she knows what she is doing and she nails it with her writing. Read her for the writing, for the plots she creates and for the sheer beauty of language.