Fans of Shree Ghatage’s first novel, Brahma’s Dream, will appreciate her follow-up, which features the return of Vasanti, the aunt of the earlier novel’s 13-year-old protagonist. Thirst reveals the true circumstances behind the supposed death of Vasanti’s husband.
The novel takes place during the Second World War, a few years before the events in Brahma’s Dream. Vasanti, a reluctant young Indian bride, is brought to her new home in Nagpur to live with her husband, Baba, his brothers, and their wives. The marriage, arranged quickly following the death of Vasanti’s father, gets off to a rocky start. Undesirous of the union, Baba plans to leave India – and his wife – to study law in England.
Baba’s attempts to distance himself from Vasanti prove unsuccessful and the two gradually fall in love. He begins to respond to her beauty and innocence, and she finds herself moved by his stories of his childhood. Distressed by the discovery of a shocking family secret, and notwithstanding his growing bond with Vasanti, Baba elects, against his family’s wishes, to travel to London. He quickly comes to regret his decision after arriving in the war-torn city and struggling to integrate into a ravaged society.
The strength of Ghatage’s elegantly written novel lies in the tender depiction of Vasanti and Baba’s blossoming relationship in Nagpur, and of Vasanti’s stalwart loyalty to her husband. By contrast, the far-fetched calamity that befalls Baba, and ultimately makes it necessary for him to fake his demise, takes the story in an implausible and unsatisfying direction. Baba’s questionable choices and actions – especially deciding to return to the scene of his misfortune, thereby sealing his fate – seem out of character for an otherwise self-possessed individual. This may be a reflection of his estrangement from home, and the turmoil surrounding him in a time and place of tremendous upheaval, but it rings false.