An unceasing search for self

The book begins in 1955, just before the festivities marking the seventh anniversary of India's independence.

The book begins in 1955, just before the festivities marking the seventh anniversary of India's independence.

The Age of Shiva depicts many sides of the mother-son relationship.

The book establishes its tone right away. Its opening two pages contain an incredibly powerful description of breast-feeding that emphasises the erotic connotations of the act.

In fact, it is only a few sentences into the book that you realise this is not a lovemaking scene, but a very long account of a mother feeding her baby.

The scene goes like this: "Every time I touch you, every time I kiss you, every time I offer you my body. Ashvin. Do you know how tightly you shut your eyes as with your lips you search my skin? Do you know how you thrust your feet towards me, how you reach out your arms, how the sides of your chest strain against my palms?

This goes on for two pages. The heroine, Meera, is smart. Her story goes on for the next 25 years.

As she moves to Bombay and becomes an obsessively loving mother. The novel occasionally flashes back to her childhood, when her prosperous Hindu family fled the Muslim-controlled city of Rawalpindi in what became Pakistan.

Her character floats through a society in which women's roles are rapidly changing. The book is a fascinating study of an individual's desperate search for identity and purpose.

While Meera's elder sister Roopa is able to play the game of upper middle-class matron, and her younger sister gains identity through scholarship, she is stuck somewhere in between.

She can't find solace in religion like her mother or her husband's family, but then again nothing the world has to offer brings her any comfort either. The obsessive nature of her love for her son is, of course, dangerous in that she will be left with no identity of her own when he leaves home.

Meera is 17 when she watches a handsome young man named Dev performing at a local talent competition.

"Will you light the fire of your heart," he sings, a line that echoes through the book.

As Meera and Dev lie together on the floor of an abandoned shrine during a fleeting encounter, a local boy spots them. Though they haven't had sex, the scandal is ruinous.

Meera marries Dev and they move into his family's house.

While Meera's own father cultivated Muslim friends, Dev's family is prejudiced against them.

Where Meera's family had an easy passage across the border to India, Dev's family opens her eyes to the horrors of what others suffered, especially her sister-in-law, who barely escaped with her sanity.

Full of interesting characters, moving between two very different cities, Delhi and Bombay, and spanning nearly three decades from the 1950s to the early 1980s, the book is a page-turner.