Why Tall Man Small Shadow is an Existentialist Novel
Vipin Behari Goyal :
There are five basic themes incorporated in the theory of Existentialism
1. Existence preced
essence : We are sum of the choices we made. Whatever we are today, is
result of choices we made in past.
2. Time is of essence : Our life is time boun
d and and our lived time i s qualitative
develops a pressure for superficiality and conformism by its socio economic
structure, and human search of iden tity and meaning causes clash
4. Freedom: We have a chance to stand back from our lives and reflect on our experiences. However we are not free from responsibility.
Existentialist may differ on what is ethical but at least they own the
responsibility t o examine our own life and our society.
The whole story of "Tall Man Small Shadow" is woven around these five precincts.
We plot of the novel is well summarized by Dr. Ro
Maria DelVecchio, Cleveland State University as follows:
The primary narrator is Anupam. Appropriate to his personality, his name means “unparalled.” He believes, among other things, “It is goo t
do pray even if you do not believe in God.” A nupam’ s sanctuary,
place of meditation, is a park bench under his favorite
tree, a jacaranda. His primary function in the novel is to coin existentialist
philosophies for the day-to-day
events that take place in his life, which
centers on his wife, Sulekha,
and their only child, Aalya.
Goyal also gives voice, at appropriate points in the novel, to some of the other characters. The philosophical issues explored in this novel are complex and challenging to the traditionally accepted social and religious beliefs of many cultures. However, the storyline has the simplicity of a fable, and it is this, if you will, “magically innocent” element of the story that enables the author to succeed in “suspending our disbelief” long enough to experience this enjoyable controversial novel.
Having survived a suicide attempt after losing the love of his life due to their star-crossed situation, Salil begins to pick up his life in his new home and finds he is falling in love with the small shadow of the lovely girl next door, Aalya, the daughter of Anupam and Sulekha. A
Ph.D. candidate researching “uneven” relationships in English literature, Aalya develops a bond with her thesis guide, Seema, an older childless woman married to Paul, a drama director.
Aalya and Seema become secret lovers, while Aalya fall
s in love
with Salil and Seema continues
to be faithfully married to Paul. A visit to
a fertility clinic eventually
results in Seema’s giving birth to twins, whose biological parents are Salil and Aalya. Paul consistently
demonstrates complete faith in his wife and never questions
the parentage of his twins, though he is well aware they cannot be his
Salil and Aalya eventually get married, and an untimely accident renders Salil incapable of fathering a child. However, the kindness they showed to Seema and Paul is about to come back on them. Salil and Aalya will soon find themselves rich in all that is most important in life, and Salil’s philosophy, “Gratitude is a way of reducing the importance of what somebody has done for you,” will give new meaning to the concept of “divine intervention.”
After we have come to know Aalya’s mother, Sulekha, for the majority of the novel from her husband’s point of view, she suddenly speaks directly to us as the narrator, and we get to know a very different woman from the bedridden asthmatic wife who is always drinking tea that Anupam has shown us. Sulekha emerges as the prime mover of the series of “coincidences” that occur leading up to the marriage of her beloved daughter. Sulekha is the one who bridges the gap between what is socially unacceptable and what is divinely possible in order to preserve her daughter’s long and happy life.
Snippets from the book that I liked & those that made me stop & think( –
- “He who loves, cares. He care
s about you morethan he cares about himself. What you like and what you dislike. What please or displease you. If you feel sick, he takes better care than a professional. A professional care is mechanical. The care of your loved ones has a healing effect on your ailment, and also strengthens your emotional and spiritual bonding.” ~ Anupam
- “A shadow has no colour of its own. It has many
shades of gray
to black, depending upon the intensity of light. It moves with the object and also with the movement of the source of light. A reflection and silhouette are different from a shadow since they do not have any existence. The shadow is positive; it’s not the absence of something. It’s an effect of the cause; it’s not part of the object” ~ Salil
- “Not really, the opposite of good is not necessarily bad” ~ Anupam
- “It is good to pray even if you do not believe in God” ~ Anupam
- “All good stories lead to a resolution of escalated tension. How can there be a story unless something goes wrong?’ ~ Aalya
- “When two strangers from different backgrounds
& upbringings decide to spend their life together, how can they
livehappily together unless they are ready to make compromises? So life is nothing but a series of adjustments. If you love, all sacrifices are valuable” ~ Aalya
- “he liked this old man. He always addresses him
by his first name, and treats him as an equal. Most of the elderly
consider old age to be a privilege. T
hey expect respect just because they are elderly” ~ Salil
- “The biggest enemy of fun is guilt. Anything done
against conscience accumulates guilt, and soon you start living a
religious life void of fun. Religion is not only opium for poor people but
also for the rich, who can suppres
s their guilt and conscience with it” ~ Salil
- “Whenever there was conflict in the value system
of an individual
& society, the winner is society. You may revolt and go your own way, but society will chase you until one day you will regret having chosen your own path. By then it will be too late and your generations will suffer. If you want to revolt, reach the highest level in any field – politics, literature, money-making – and then society will accept y ou, whateveryou may do. You may even be quoted as an example” ~ Salil
- “Traditions are time-tested and youth of every generation raised questions before adopting them. I have inherited only those traditions which survived because of their positive strength. The collective wisdom of our ancestors is a gift we can’t discard” ~ Anupam
- “How strange this whole process is. The initiation of life by zygote is very mysterious and close to making one believe in God” ~ Aalya
Every character is truly an existentialist. Sulekha believes in determining the course of events, Salil finds a way out in suicide Aalya, tries to give a meaning to the life of her mentor by IVF, Anupam is always trying to find a meaning out of absurd day to day events. Absurd here is comparable to infinity and nothingness, it is an effort to experience something that is not perceivable to senses. Farce and tragedy make the mask of absurdi
ty. If life is absurd so is death.
This book is for those who love to read philosophical fiction.
Read the views of author on his blog Author's Diction.