Meghna Dutta reviews Pragati Deshmukh’s A Dark and Shiny Place (Published by The Write Order Publications, 2023)
- Published by The Write Order Publications
- Year of Publishing: 2023
- Number of pages: 217 pages
- Cover Design by Nikhil Kumar Singh
‘If Time Travel is Possible’: Melanie McCabe, The Night Divers.
“It would be enough to watch and then to watch / once more the reels of those days spin out, the
effect / like the lull and comfort of an old movie returned to, / again and again because it soothes,
because of the calm / that comes from knowing before it even begins / that the end is only the end
until you start over.”
Pragati Deshmukh’s ‘A Dark And Shiny Place’, moves like grief’s old litany, yearning for a lost
past, a respite from the gnawing anguish of personal loss, in a world reeling under the terrible
isolation of a destructive pandemic. The author articulates the inarticulate and gives language to the
inexplicable grief of a woman left alone to cope with the sudden loss of her husband, right at the
beginning of the pandemic.
As Maya loses herself to the destructive powers of grief, reality
vanishes through the portal of denial. And this denial soon becomes “more dangerous than the
tragedy itself”. Time and space cease to exist, except as an endless dark, shiny tunnel: a
dreamscape, a terror-land, in the crevices of the mind.
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Commencing just three months before the lockdown, during an interlude of frequent domestic
disharmony, the novel does have a semblance of temporal and spatial continuity, at the start. For,
Maya still shares her familiar, cocoon of love and stability with Samar. However, the increasing
frequency of the disquietude, and the imminent departure from a home, she has come to love for
three years, leaves her isolated and anxious.
And in response, Maya starts vanishing into the secret rooms of her mind. Creating an alternate reality of characters that articulate her deep-seated desire to hold on to the fragments of stability, in the flux of life, she starts hiding away from Samar. In turn, she embarks on the slow process of losing touch with the real world.
Samar’s tragic death and the isolation of the pandemic push her farther down the darkness of this spiral staircase. And with time, reality garbles into a language incomprehensible to the rational mind. Maya drifts through endless dreamscapes and terror lands, in search of comfort and love; visiting and re-visiting Samar and their long summer days, in the rooms of her mind.
The figures from a parallel reality melt into the history of the house, and its lost inhabitants. The likes of Tara, Isha, Arav, the elderly woman, and a mysterious, loving family are spirits brought to life by Maya’s unquenchable thirst for a past that is utterly lost. With them, she builds a dream world of love, warmth, and companionship, to survive the isolation and grief of loss, in a “ghost town”.
A Dark and Shiny Place by Pragati Deshmukh
“These days I don’t know dreams from reality and fact from fiction anymore…I found comfort in
this jumble of time and space.”: Maya.
However, reality is ever-present, in the novel. In fact, fragments of phone calls with her sister,
frequent calls from the complex security, a worn-out and sick dog, dead numbers, and the dust and
decay of reality, move in unison with the memories of love, light, mundane tiffs, and newfound
dream-friends. And this inter-play of the screams of dreams and reality, blur the lines of sanity.
Pragati Deshmukh and Her Writing
The readers are left groping hopelessly through the dark, as they watch Maya drift like a shadow, or not at all, in a near-dystopic world. And with her, they are racked to insanity by the paranoia of existing
in the liminal spaces between life and death, the real and the unreal. Pragati Deshmukh magnifies the
claustrophobia, fear, and madness of this entrapment through the artful use of the paranormal.
Deeply reminiscent of the Australian masterpiece, ‘The Babadook’, and ‘The Haunting of Bly
Manor’, the supernatural here becomes the living embodiment of a psychological terror induced by
loss, denial, and repressed grief.
Maya’s dreamland of denial and escape is frequently threatened by the blood of pent-up anxieties. Frothing to the surface in the form of severe hostility, from the spirits of the mind, the blood reminds her of the harsh reality of her own entrapment. The stench of decay in her beloved home, the evil glint in the eyes of Arav, Samar’s dead number, and the sudden hostility of Tara and the elderly woman, bring her face to face with the claustrophobia and horror of repression.
Her complete failure to recognise herself in a mirror marks her final descent into madness and an absolute fragmentation of her physical and mental self. The cover photograph by Mariana Montrazi, reflects this very thematic idea, as the woman on the cover stares on like Maya, at a distorted, unrecognisable reflection of her real self.
A Dark and Shiny Place by Pragati Deshmukh
“I kept feeling the glass, but I didn’t see myself .” : Maya.
Consequently, Dreamland becomes Terrorland, and Maya’s desire to fall back into the lulling
comfort of denial is interspersed with the desperate cry for freedom from the ghosts of the past.
And it is this anguished cry for help that becomes for her, the song of hope. But, to break free from
the comfortable horrors of the past, she needs, an intervention from the real world.
For though she knows that her life is “completely out of order at the current time,” she can hardly recollect if she has any friends. And under these circumstances, the only light of redemption is provided by her telepathic connection to her sister, Meera.
Pragati Deshmukh builds on the suspense, by offering the readers a window into Meera’s struggle against anxiety and fear, with reference to her sister. And the alternating perspectives create a cliffhanger as the readers wait with bated breath, while Meera races against time and lockdown protocols, to save her beloved Maya.
And it is for them to find out if Maya is finally able to wrest free from the demons of denial and sublimate the grief of loss and death.
So, go ahead, and give this nail-biter, a close read, and I can promise that you will not be disappointed. For Pragati Deshmukh endeavours to create a tantalising mixture of the rational, and the paranormal, in her gripping tale of grief, denial, and its horrifying repercussions.
Have you read this haunting novel of grief, repression, and denial? What do you think of it? Drop a comment below and let us know!