An almost semi-memoir of sorts, “My Father’s Garden” by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, a critically acclaimed and bestselling writer, was shortlisted for the JCB prize. The novel tells a story of a young doctor-the unnamed narrator-as he negotiates love and sexuality, the narrator’s need for companionship, and the burdens of his memories and his familial expectations.
It is divided into three different sections, “Lover”, “Friend”, and “Father.” The first section is set in Jamshedpur while he is studying medicine. This act talks about the various affairs and also about his discovery of an all-consuming and unreciprocated passion for “Samir,” his junior at college. Next, we move on to the ‘Friend’ act, where the young doctor escapes heartbreak and finds relief in Pakur, a small town near the border of Jharkhand and West Bengal.
He meets Bada Babu, and he strikes up an unlikely friendship and sees him as a mentor of sorts. Bada Babu is a friendly person and is ready to help anyone. We see all these actions from the doctor’s point of view. It is also a composed account of how things work in semi-urban and almost remote places in India. He is the head clerk of the hospital where he is posted, and this act turns out to be a sordid tale of apathy and exploitation, when he sees when government bulldozers arrive to tear down the neighborhood, which includes Bada Babu’s house.
We end with ‘Father’, where the young doctor is at his parents’ home in Ghatshila. His father’s obsessive gardening makes him question if it has anything to do with the choices his son, the young doctor, has made. The love he feels for multiple, but eventually wrong, men, and the heartbreak he faces in the “Lover” Act was delightfully done. Each lover is marked by his personality traits and hairstyles, and the delightful details that the author gets into are a pleasure for the reader.
In the “Father” act, the young doctor gets to reflect on his relationship with his father. There’s some politics woven into the plot too! The part about the Adivasis’ struggle for a separate state before the formation of Jharkhand was written quite well. The young doctor’s affinity for nature is an absolute joy to read, whether it is while describing the jaher, the uncultivated plot of land in his ancestral village, or just the garden his father nurtures.
The father is a failed politician, who had great hoped and wanted to align himself with a nationalist party. Hope fades with time and all that is left is his garden, which seems to be the only thing he has any control over. In My Father’s Garden is Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s fourth book, and it has loads of emotion, detail, and plot. It traces the growth of the young doctor, our narrator, and the politics of wealth, caste, religion, gender, and sexuality that leave strong bruises on the psyches of the characters. Some of the struggles in the doctor’s life might be personal and local, but the pain is quite universal.
A doctor and an author, Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar has also written ‘The Adivasi Will Not Dance’, ‘The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey’, and others, which have won awards all over the world. Get your hands on “My Father’s Garden” from Amazon.