Cry, the Peacock – Review

Book: Cry, The Peacock
Author: Anita Desai
Year: 1963
Bookhad Rating: ❤❤❤❤❤

Sickened, I shut my eyes, but tenuous eye-lids were no protection against the leer of the sun that morning. The light merely turned red, tinged with my own blood that crept through the hair-fine veins across my lids. I saw the world through my own blood that morning, and it was red.

If I had to express my adoration for this book I would pick this part from the thin paperback. It clearly reflects the working of the mind and the direction of the swerve the character possesses while she speaks her mind.

Cry, the Peacock is a shocking tale of Maya and Gautama, a married couple who cannot be more unlike each other. There are other characters too, but they’re meant to be mere references for the sole purpose of juxtaposing Maya’s psyche to the reader with the others. The comparison opens up newer aspects of the complex person that Maya is. Anita Desai worked wonders with the metaphors in the book and it’ll take me another two readings to immerse myself completely and yet not be able to work out the chains that she has floated around this very complex text.

Maya, as her name means, lives for the world of sensations and illusions and grandeur. She lives in a bubble that was shaped by her pampered and loving upbringing by her father. Gautama’s name on the other hand, symbolizes detachment from all forms of life that Maya represents. He is realistic and rational. Something that Maya cannot even begin to comprehend.

Maya was brought up in the world where she was away from the rigmaroles of the hardships and reality of the everyday life. Gautama, on the contrary, is someone who is coldly articulate and cruelly pragmatic. Love, feelings, affections do not mean a lot to him. It’s not that he doesn’t love Maya. He is just unable to squeeze them out of his self and lay it on the table like Maya wants him to. Gautama has his faults, of course. By not even acknowledging her presence at times and being oblivious to her ‘situation’ and internal strife he does have a heavy hand in the manner of the end.

Maya’s fault, succinctly put, is not simple. Her expectations from a man of Gautama’s personality is completely out of sync. Her sadness stems from unreal ideas. I call them unreal only because, as a person that he is, Gautama is just not wired that way. It is indeed sad the way Maya keeps leaning towards him and he, in his own calculating way, keeps getting out of reach.

But this is just the outline of the story. Cry, the Peacock is far from a fable of love and mending hearts.

Maya’s psyche of hopelessness and distress stems from an astrologer’s vision during her childhood visit to one of them with her caretaker. He envisaged doom for Maya and the portentous visitation has forever marred her life. She is swathed in fabrics of delusion and unwelcoming thoughts and becomes more and more paranoid as time passes. If, hypothetically speaking, Gautama was a man of love and understanding the possibilities of Maya getting over her childhood  horror of an untimely death was, perhaps, very high. But, Gautama never took Maya’s paranoia seriously. He was lost in his own uncluttered world of legalities and remained unresponsive to the fears of Maya.

With the thought of death monopolizing her life she starts to find a way out of it herself. She hallucinates and sees visions of death and pain everywhere. Her illness takes her new lows and her hallucinations and imaginations make it even more difficult for Maya to pull herself out of the whirlpool of odious and despondent imaginations. it is during one of her bouts of insanity that she convinces herself that the astrologer had just associated Death with her and he hadn’t necessarily meant death for her.

It was then that she starts imagining Gautama’s death instead.

Cry, the Peacock is a story of a how Maya gets out of this cycle. It is a fable of shocking events that is fed to the reader in small doses. Small, because a large dose would render it impossible to visualise the character. Maya, is a complex woman; she is difficult to read as her mind is orchestrated in different tangents simultaneously. A deviant thought occurs to her before her previous thought ends and the result is a cold recipe served with carefully laid out garnishes that change the taste completely.

There is a particular part of the book that I absolutely loved. During one of her bouts of insanity Maya likens Death to lizards. It is one of the most beautiful (ugly, actually) display of metaphors and that was something that I re-read at least 5 times to appreciate its worth.

The book has been worded with artistic perfection by Desai. It is, by no stretch, a light read. For a 200 page book it is way too heavy to swallow and accept; forget about masticating its meaning and digesting it with a sigh!


NB: I would like to thank Utkarsha for suggesting this masterpiece. It wasn’t a comfortable trip down those 200 pages but it was worth it in the end. A very well written classic indeed.


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