Roses with Thorns
A review of Shveta Thakrar’s “Lavanya and Deepika” in Cabinet des Fees http://www.cabinetdesfees.com/2011/lavanya-and-deepika-by-shveta-thakrar/
By Derek Newman-Stille
Shveta Thakrar’s “Lavanya and Deepika” is an enchanting retelling of the fairy tale Tatterhood with an infusion of Indian culture. Thakrar’s tale plays with the interweaving of ideas of femininity, the landscape, and the resistance to patriarchal control. Her characters are interwoven with flowers because of their deep roots in their landscape but not because they are delicate. These are roses with thorns who can defend themselves.
Thakrar narrates Gulabi Rani’s desire to have a child without having a husband. Named after the rose, Gulabi Rani has to trade her flower to the yaksha from a neighbouring forest in order to receive a bottle of oil to allow her to become pregnant. As often happens in fairy tales, the rani is given a condition – she is told that she is only able to run enough oil on her belly to cover it, but the rani decides to use the whole bottle instead.
Fairy tales often involve fantastic footwear and the yaksha gives Gulabi Rani shoes for her baby but instead of one child, the rani has two and her first daughter is born a deep red in colour with green hair like stems and sharp thorns. Her second daughter is born with skin as dark as the earth and dark hair. Lavanya and Deepika cement that connection to the earth with Lavanya’s rose-like body and Deepika’s earthy one. The children ask that the shoes be divided between them, separating gifts between them, which shapes the rest of their lives.
Despite people taking an instant dislike to Lavanya for her unusual appearance, Deepika splits everything with her sister, and the two are inseparable. Nurses lock Lavanya away while giving treats to Deepika, yet the girls are connected by their love of stories and their love of nature.
Once the girls become of marriageable age, a neighbouring raja, who has conquered all of the lands around those kept by Gulabi Rani, demands Deepika as a wife for his son. Lavanya and Deepika both bristle at being treated as an object. Thakrar explores the connection between land and marriage by having the raja treat Deepika as a perk of the landscape either to indicate its subjection to his control through marriage or, if marriage is denied, give him an excuse to use military conquest. The raja also demands that Deepika give up hunting, which had been her gift and pleasure throughout her life, wanting her to conform to a passive model of femininity. Women are treated as extensions of a passive landscape by the raja, allowing him to project his imperialism on their bodies and the land.
When the two girls leave their mother’s land to try to prevent problems from occurring at home, they are pursued by a tiger and Thakrar furthers the clashing of ideas of freedom and domesticity when the girls mourn the tiger’s domesticity, triggering the tiger’s anger at being called domestic and under the control of others.
Thakrar plays with themes of the tame and the wild by infusing her story with disruptions between the ‘wild’ and the domestic by playing with the tiger’s desire to be wild, by Lavanya’s uncertain hybridity of the human and the vegetable world, and by exploring ideas of imperial control over women’s bodies.
Thakrar’s fairy tale reshapes traditions into texts of speculation and imagination, envisioning the critical power of tales to adapt, change, and grow like Gulabi Rani’s roses and she infuses her tale with the air of magic that those roses cast. This is not a gentle flower girl tale – this is a tale with powerful thorns along with its beauty.
To read Levanya and Deepika yourself, visit Cabinet des Fees at http://www.cabinetdesfees.com/2011/lavanya-and-deepika-by-shveta-thakrar/
To find out more about Shveta Thakrar’s work, visit her website at http://shvetathakrar.com