My Grandmother’s Masterpiece by Madhurima Vidyarthi (Duckbill, Penguin Random House) is a beautiful touching story depicting how old age can be a time to revisit hobbies that have been left behind. In my view, it is a story of stolen opportunities. The story is set in a modern urban Indian household. The energetic and vibrant Nini gifts Minima, her grandmother, a box of paints. But, for a week Minima lets them be. As if they didn’t matter. As if there were other things to do. Life goes on and the paintbox is never touched. Until one day, something happens that makes Minima reach out for the box. And then, there is no stopping her. As if a flood is unleashed, as if a dam is broken, the grandmother who usually tended to home chores and to her grandchild, suddenly finds a renewed interest in life.
I think the book struck a chord because it is also a story of how we discard our creative spirit, our hobbies and our life essence when we step into our familial roles. Life takes over and the hobbies that sustained us slowly fade into oblivion. Just like we discard old clothes and don new ones, we leave our creative selves behind as we traverse through life. And this is a slow and sad tragedy. It may happen to women as they take on responsibilities of their families and work. It may happen to men as they assume their roles in the new age- as breadwinners and contributors to home and child rearing as well.
In the context of Indian households, this is especially poignant in homes where patriarchal narratives exert influence. The grandfather, albeit a ‘nice’ regular person, shows hints of conservatism when he dismisses Minima’s foray into art. However, the daughter-in-law, a working woman who understands the privilege of financial and personal freedom, plays a pivotal role in encouraging her mother-in-law to pursue her talent.
I think this book is a gentle call to awaken something within that has probably been dormant for long. To awaken the creative spirit. It is a book for young children and middle grade readers. The Illustrations by Tanvi Bhat and the dash of humour in the story make this a pleasant read. However, I would highly recommend that adults read the book with them and discuss the nuances within. This will be enriching for both!