A look into the modern Indian English fiction every now and then brings an apprehension about the quality of Indian English novels at the present time. While a number of novels are published every year, a large number of these disappoint you or do not leave any sort of impression on you. However, there are moments in life when one is grateful for giving you a ray of hope. And, surely reading ‘The Withering Banyan’ by Hyma Goparaju was one such moment for me. The rhythmic but powerful voice in this novel not only shows a promise, but also successfully depicts the struggle of people suffering from a severe brain disorder known as schizophrenia. This disease is distressing not only to the patient but also to the people related to the patient. This disease often remains undiagnosed and the patient does not get the right treatment at the right time. On top of that, various types of myths attached to this disease make the life of the person suffering from this disease a real hell. This is what forms the chief motif in this novel.
‘The Withering Banyan’ is the story of a family in which a number of its members are suffering from schizophrenia. The plot basically deals with the consequences of the ignorance of this disease leading to the sufferings of the patients. At the same time, this book is not all about schizophrenia. It is also about the values and drawbacks of a compound family. The plot tries to explore the intricacies of relationships within a family. The story moves in between past and present, and credit should be given to the author who has handled the shifting surfaces of past and present with extraordinary fineness and delicacy.
The banyan tree which constitutes the title of the book has been added in the narrative not only as a symbol but also as suggestive additions. This symbolism of banyan tree adds a solid dimension to the well-woven story-line. As for the narrative technique, Hyma Goparaju is endowed with an unerring sense of situation and with the ability to visualize a scene clearly. The author has created a realistic narrative of South Indian life. Her range is wider as this work exhibits greater variety of mood and tone. At the same time, occasionally you feel that the story is dragged unnecessarily and ink could have been saved by staying away from describing same things over and over again. There is no doubt that repetition can be a useful device in fiction if used logically. However, the repetitions in this book are obviously not of that type.
While a number of English novels by Indian English writers have skated nimbly and charmingly over the theme of mental disorders and their implications, the sensibility and form of the language generally show a typical Western point of reference. I am happy to say that with its purely Indian receptivity and sensibility standing on the age-old Indian soil ‘The Withering Banyan’ stands tall among other novels like a Himalaya among pretty little hillocks. By virtue of its range and depth, its complexity, subtlety and maturity, I will take this novel as a dazzling performance by any fictional standard.