Excerpted from The Last Song of Dusk by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi. Copyright © 2006 by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi. Excerpted by permission of Random House Trade Paperbacks, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
A C o n v e r s a t i o n w i t h Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi
Q: The Last Song of Dusk became a bestseller when you were
only twenty-six, and it caused a spate of controversy in India and
won literary awards in Europe. How has success changed you?
A: It’s made me completely insufferable. (Laughs). But seriously,
you’ve got to laugh at yourself no matter what happens. I
mean, how else do you deal with so much good luck? But I’m
keen to understand how we define success. Is it successful because
it was so widely read? Or was employing four years of solitude
to write a book an accomplishment? Coming from a
traditional Gujarati family, I was expected to join my father’s
business—and I remember feeling incredibly pressured before I
rejected that option. I guess to me that self-reliance—to negotiate
life without fear of failure—is a private victory. The book,
publication, awards—all that’s just a bonus. It’s white noise.
Q: The theme of individualism runs through the book. Anuradha,
also from a traditional Indian family, challenges Vardhmaan’s
character by eating chicken club sandwiches on their first
date in order to demonstrate a little bit about what kind of
person she is.Nandini, the artistic one, is all over the place shouting
out her independence. Are they anything like you?
A: Actually, with Nandini and Anuradha, I was trying to resolve a
personal question in my own life.You see, I divide my year between
California and Bombay, so I am constantly trying to resolve the
variance between my two lives. In India, one common idea is that
everything is fated—so you might as well surrender to life’s seasons.
This is Anuradha’s belief once she falls sick and finds that despite
her efforts there is nothing she can do about her condition.Nandini,
on the other hand, believes she’s in control of her destiny—
and she’ll do anything in her power to get what she wants. So,
are we in charge? Is there something like fate, which controls
everything? What is the middle path between the two ideas?
Q: And what answers did you come up with?
A: It was more important to ask the questions, and I won’t
share the resolution I found from fear of interfering with a
reader’s relationship with the text.
Q: Music has the power to heal in this book. Can you explain
A: I don’t know if music heals as much as it furnishes a climate
in which to recover.When Anuradha sings, it is not so much a
recital as a reconnection with the space she came from—her history,
so to speak—as well as a return to the place where the self
Q: Do you think that Vardhmaan could have been healed by
music—by the power of Anuradha’s songs? Why does he vanish
into the silence?
A: For one, he could heal from Mohan’s death if he let himself
heal. Men and women accept the providence of recovery differently.
And for another, who’s to say that his retreat into silence is
wrong? It is hurtful for Anuradha, and it’s damaging to their
marriage—but it is the only way he can deal with it. Besides,
this whole idea that we all get hurt and then we work on this
pain and then we—hey, presto!—“heal”—isn’t it a bit simplistic?
Pain is processed so variously.
Q: Love is probably the strongest theme in the book—something
that we’re all interested in knowing more about. How did you
decide to write about love the way you did?
A: I wanted to write about love that is defined by its absence.
For instance, Edward waits too long for his lover, and Sherman
is never sure if Nandini could love him; the book moves because
of love’s absence.
Q: It’s difficult to write about love without falling into sentimentality.
How do you handle that?
A: But life veers on sentimentality, no matter how we couch it
in irony or with restraint. A book is dishonest when it does not
find the unself-consciousness to speak about something that is
disturbing a character. Sure, Pallavi and Anuradha’s conversations
have a sentimental edge—but that’s life.What’s more real?
Q: Your female characters are exceptionally well-drawn.Was it
a challenge to get inside the female mind?
A: The idea was to tell the most human story I could . . . I
wasn’t thinking about gender or ethnicity or any of those postmodern
pigeonholes that float a whole education system. Besides,
the women in my life have been very compelling, and I was only
reflecting this in The Last Song of Dusk.
Q: Anuradha sends her son away. Is this an act of love?
A: It’s an act of bravery—it’s what you do because of love and
the responsibilities that accompany it. She sends Shloka away to
secure him a happiness that was never available to her. It’s the
stuff mothers do everyday, in quieter, gentler ways.And it makes
them happy, richer, and sometimes crazy.
Q: Finally, what do you believe is “the last song of dusk”?
A: For Nandini, it could be her art. For Shloka, the song is
time: He comes into wholeness as an adult. For Vardhmaan—
and I am convinced of this—his song is Anuradha, a woman
whose voice and touch grows to be his solace as it had once been
his excitement: a brave, beautiful woman whose toes were, indeed,
stepped on by Fate’s feet.
1. In chapter 1, Anuradha recounts her mother’s delicate
warning, “In this life, my darling, there is no mercy.”What does
she mean by these words? By the end of the book, are you convinced
that she is right?
2. What is the significance of chicken club sandwiches? To
Anuradha, what does it measure?
3. Do Anuradha and Vardhmaan react to their son’s death
differently? Do you think that either gender interprets loss differently?
If so, how?
4. How does the relationship between Anuradha and Vardhmaan
evolve in the house by the sea? What happens to their
marriage, and what does this new stage in their life say about relationships,
love, and responsibility?
5. What is necessary to keep secure a marriage that has suffered
astonishing tragedy? Is love enough?
6. In chapter fifteen, Nandini states, “I’ve been lucky
enough to never love.” Do you believe this is true?
7. In an attempt to cure his mother’s disease, Sherman decides
to study triste incurabilis. Is anyone in this novel immune
to heartbreak? Is there a cure for a broken heart?
8. Why does Anuradha admonish Nandini to “stay clear of
the whites,” and how does this relate to the political climate in
India at this time?
9. Does Nandini ever love Khalil Muratta, and Libya Dass;
or has she seduced them for her own motives? Why or why not?
10. Do you agree with Anuradha’s decision to send Shloka
away to Australia? What was she protecting him from? What
would you have done in her position, given her past experiences?
11. Why does Vardhmaan move into a new room? Do Vardhmaan
and Anuradha still love each other? What makes you
12. Pallavi asks Anuradha not to remember her.What does
she mean by “the memory of happiness is as heartbreaking as its
absence”? Do you agree with this statement?
13. Why is Pallavi skeptical of the idea of karma? Why is
she afraid of her fate?
14. Pallavi believes “there is only one truly important work
for all of us . . . and that work is to love cleanly.”What does she
mean and do you agree?
15. What does the last song of dusk mean to you?