The ‘Good-Bad’ divide is a contentious thing. In fact, the idea of ethics itself is a dynamic idea that varies not only from time to time, but also from person to person. Yet Socialisation ensures that we learn about the expected norms that we conform to, and after the lapse of that defining period of time, we cease to question but only believe.
Prima facie Shashi Deshpande’s “In the Country of Deceit” provides us with the scrutiny of Indian society—the stereotypes of the lonely Bollywood actress, the witty old aunt and the street child-turned-governess of two adorable, cherubic children, so far so good. But the book goes on and presents the intersection of varying lifestyles, presenting at the end their common condemnation of a universal crime beyond redemption, and the reader is left wondering—is it the crime of Love or that of Deceit? And through this country of deceit, Shashi Deshpande takes the readers on a rollercoaster ride, intrepidly questioning what we have been taught and coming up with a new, hedonistic definition of a happiness that consumes them and allures them, all at once.
The book revolves around the tumultuous twist given to the life of the protagonist, Devyani, as she breaks all set norms in the pursuit of happiness. There is something that prompts her pursuit for happiness, even if it is in the form of an ‘illicit’ relationship with a married IPS officer, Ashok Chinnappa. In her sensitive portrayal of the same, Deshpande ensures that she portrays the relationship not as a whirlwind affair or a fling meant for affording guilty pleasure, but as a subtle, sensitive relationship that proves to be the oases for Devyani in her vast desert of mundanity. There is a wistful melancholy in the way the relationship is treated having an expiry date from the start. The sacrifice of Happiness at the altar of Reputation is not something unknown to us. But it points out that Shashi Deshpande’s Country of Deceit has a multilayered, profound depth waiting to be explored—deceiving the world is wrong, but deceiving own’s self is a sin. True to her characteristic style, Shashi Deshpande has once again brought forth an unexplored avenue in the everyday life of an average Indian.
The author successfully evokes the atmosphere of a small, non-descript town which is representative of roundabout any small town in any far flung corner of India. The sentiments attached to the ancestral property are truly passionate and quintessentially Indian. The dilemma of the protagonist is depicted adroitly and realistically. The element of deceit and betrayal in the parallel love story of the glamourous, enigmatic actress Rani adds a dimension that could not have been able to be conceived by a writer of lesser skill. Savi, the sister stands epitomizing all the preconceived notions surrounding adultery and marriage while the indispensable character of Sindhu, the matronly aunt and conscience keeper provides just the right blend between traditionalism and progress. The pace adopted is just right, giving the reader just about enough time to assimilate what the book has to offer without lingering for too long on the same thing.
All in all the book provides a radical, unprecedented approach to the reader and leaves him/her with shadows that last much longer than the book does.