The Music of Solitude
Author: Krishna Sobti
Translated into English: Vasudha Dalmia
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publishing Date: 1st January, 2000 (originally published), 2013 (re-published)
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Cost: Rs. 298 (Paperback), Rs. 184.53 (Kindle Edition)
Aranya and Ishan are neighbours. She is impulsive, anarchic and fiercely feminist. He is gentle, sensitive, orderly and believes in the institution of family, even though he has no one to call as his family. In the course of her thoughts, Aranya moves from one side of Delhi to another, finally settling in a trans-Yamuna residential complex. Ishan, on the other hand, is deeply spiritual and draws strength from his Danish guide in the Himalayas.
The two of them banter about time, existentialism, changing landscapes, food, music and human nature. They think aloud about aging and death and wonder living the way they do. This novel is about sharing solitudes and growing old in a city that is at once - keenly private and aggressively collective. This is a story of a beautiful romance that thrives on companionship.
Krishna Sobti’s The Music of Solitude: the story of two elderly people, Aranya and Ishan, living alone in government flats in a trans-Yamuna housing society is a gentle and heart-warming story. The two main characters go on walks together, share meals, visit the occasional friends and acquaintances and have a great deal of long conversations about everything. But there is a crisis running through their aimless wandering and that is the question of ‘existential crisis’ - What does one live for?
This baseline is in parallel with what the Christian poet, George Macdonald poet once wrote:
“It is so silly of people to fancy that old age means crookedness and witheredness and feebleness and sticks and spectacles and rheumatism and forgetfulness! It is so silly! Old age has nothing whatever to do with all that.”
Originally written in Hindi, Vasudha Dalmia's English translation works perfectly in terms of its effect. The rhythm and the range of tones remains intact and sounds evenly musical:
"If you keep looking for glitter outside, the one inside will be forgotten."
"The body rides on the wings of change in order to live."
"Is disappearing into the limitless, into Shunyata, the destiny of mankind?"
"Are comforts the same as happiness?"
Krishna Sobti presents many philosophical theories about life and it’s numerous elements through the characters. At one instance, one would find Aranya and Ishan arguing about ‘Joint families’.
When Ishan says, “the family is a nest of security, the dense shade of mutual support. Family life is never monotonous.”
Ananya answers to that- “Is there any point in glorifying the kind of protections which scrape away at your self-confidence? It’s not a bad thing. I've never lost faith in love or goodwill... But I do have a critical perspective.”
Sobti is not afraid to make her female characters unconventional. She, in fact is unapologetic about it. She experiments with new writing styles by creating ‘bold’ and ‘progressive but thoughtful’ characters in her stories. She was of the opinion, “Theorists might analyse texts in this narrow way but to me, great texts combine both masculine and feminine elements.”
About the Author:
Krishna Sobti (18th February, 1925 - 25th January, 2019) was born in Gujrat, Punjab, now in Pakistan. She was a Hindi fiction writer and essayist, who won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1980 for her novel Zindaginama and in 1996, was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship: the highest award of the Akademi. In 2017, She received the Jnanpith Award for her contribution to Indian literature.
Sobti was best known for her 1966 novel Mitro Marajani, an unapologetic portrayal of a married woman's sexuality. She was also the recipient of the first Katha Chudamani Award, in 1999, for Lifetime Literary Achievement, apart from winning the Shiromani Award in 1981, Hindi Academy Award in 1982, Shalaka Award of the Hindi Academy Delhi and in 2008, her novel Samay Sargam was selected for Vyas Samman, instituted by the K. K. Birla Foundation.
She also wrote under the name Hashmat and has published Hum Hashmat, a compilation of pen portraits of writers and friends. Her other novels are- Daar Se Bichchuri, Surajmukhi Andhere Ke, Yaaron Ke Yaar. Some of her well-known short stories are Nafisa, Sikka Badal gaya, Badalom ke ghere. A number of her works are now available in English and Urdu.