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Tishani Doshi’s ‘Small Days and Nights’: Of belonging and not belonging

  • Published at 08:23 pm November 4th, 2019
Small days and nights

Tishni Doshi will talk about her books, recite her own poems and share her ideas about the craft of storytelling 

Tishani Doshi is a poet of considerable repute in India and beyond. Though poetry remains to be her main area of interest, her credentials as a fiction writer continue to grow consistently as her third novel, Small Days and Nights, was published to critical acclaim in 2018.

Small Days and Nights deals with the desire to find a purpose, with feelings of not belonging, of duality. It is about the difficulty in meeting the ideal standards of what it means to be patriotic, to be a woman, to be a parent. It is an eerily beautiful yet complex and layered novel.

The protagonist, Grazia, is half Italian and half Indian. She’s called Grace since it is easier to pronounce in the Tamil tongue; she has come back from the US in order to attend her mother’s funeral. It has been many years since her parents divorced and lived separate lives, with her father in Italy and mother in India. When they had gotten married, they tried to live in Madras, but then were eventually driven to Kodaikanal due to her father’s aversion to noise. Grace went to a catholic school there and eventually went to a university in the US. It was there that she settled down and got married.

At the time of her mother’s death, Grace’s marriage is in a shambles. That's when she learns that her mother has left behind property in rural Pondicherry, by the sea, where she had planned to live in her old age. That is not the only thing her mother has left behind. Grace’s world is turned upside down when she learns of an older sister who she has never met. Her sister Lucia, or Lucy, has Down syndrome and so her parents put her in an institution. Her mother went to visit her once a week while her father bore all her expenses.

To everyone’s surprise, Grace decides to live in the house that her mother has left behind, and to bring Lucy to live with her. The two of them have a maid, and a large number of dogs.  Despite the fact that Grace’s marriage has fallen apart because she does not want children, she takes care of her older sister like a child, while feeling betrayed by her parents who never shared Lucy’s existence with her. 

The village and its politics are also described vividly. There are thugs who go around threatening the locals to sell their property so that they can be turned into resorts and coal factories. Grace’s various friends and acquaintances are worried about her: a woman living on her own and taking care of her sister. So the question they keep asking is how long she can continue this way.  

As the reader delves deeper into the story, they realize that the small days and nights are leading them to bigger truths and depths. The story is poetic and sad, and rich with Grace’s interiority, which, much like the social and political realities, is full of conflicts, not just with others but also with herself. She constantly suffers a sense of not belonging to a particular place. Most significantly, the first person narrator’s take on Grace’s gender identity has immense feminist potential.  A must read for all.