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Book Review: Cradle Song by Deepa Agarwal

Cradle Song is a very famous short story written by Deepa Agarwal, recently this story has been covered in her new book ‘You Cannot Have All the Answers and Other Stories’. The story has been narrated through a girl’s point of view - she sounds quite concerned and attached to her mother. As you course through the story, you will begin feeling that the story holds a deep meaning for the vagaries of life, and it is a multi-themed story.

The story opens up with a proposition of number seven. Is seven a lucky number? Probably, yes. The narrator’s grandmother has given birth to seven daughters. The narrator’s mother is fourth in the order, exactly in the middle. Seven is a lucky number, but does it hold any veracity when all children are female. The narrator’s grandmother is tired of giving birth to female children but she never loses a hope. After seven girls, there comes a baby boy, and that is the time when all perceptions about her past absolve. She is now considered lucky, people say good things about her, decorate her with jewels. In our society a woman’s image and character is weighted by her ability to produce male children.

Meena maasi is the youngest of all sisters. She is considered lucky because after her came the male child. Well, the period of luck didn’t last for long. Now the story takes us back to a time of partition – 1947. They are forced to flee their country, state, city, town, street, and home. The luck that comes with that male child seems to be threatened. Well, the most deprived child is Meena, the youngest daughter. She would rock the cradle. She was strongly attached to it. After suffering immensely during the partition, they being refugees make adjustments in life while living on a verandah.

The family worked hard. They eventually rise and see luxury and fortune coming in once again. ‘The marvel is that it actually happened,’ Mamma says.

Life moves on. All seven sisters are settled in their lives – the jinx of female children breaks – they have more sons than daughters. The endurance of partition and their old home in which they were born has been left behind. No one cares for that cradle or home. Well, one day Meena maasi dredges up the account of old days. The narrator’s mother goes blank and nonplussed. Meena, the youngest one, is the most better off among all sisters. Her doting husband has contacts; he can arrange a visit to that country and to that house. To the narrator’s mother, it comes as a shock. But at the same time she cannot put down the offer.

They all go there, including the narrator. Upon reaching there, they find the current owner of the house someone whom they know and recognize. It is Saida Bua. They hug, they laugh, they weep… a lot of talk about past and present. What an irony of time that they feel like total strangers in their own house. The consequences of partition are clearly evident on the lives of people – it is one of the most subtle themes of the story.

In the partition they lost everything. Well, Saida Bua brings forward one of the most prized possessions of their family and it’s that cradle. Saida Bua enquires about their mother and Kake, the male child. They don’t tell her reality. After getting back the cradle, Meena maasi feels triumphant and elated.

In the deprivation for that cradle, there’s a hidden aspiration that Meena wanted to achieve at any cost. It is Meena who dominates the ending. The story has got layers and undertones that seethe beneath – very subtle to naked eyes. With a gamut of sentiments, emotions, and aspirations stuffed together, this story makes a riveting read.


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