An epic tale, SONG OF THE CUCKOO BIRD tells the story of the
residents of an ashram called Tella Meda, "The House with the White
Roof." Those who live there are poor and destitute and have no
place to go. Established in the 1950s as a home for wayward people,
it also houses a girl who is deemed to be a goddess. Charvi is that
young goddess; when she's born her father declares her a deity. The
people in the village bring her offerings, and in turn Charvi's
family gives individuals a place to stay, food, and blessings from
the goddess. No one ever doubts the veracity of the situation, and
even Charvi grows up believing that this is her fate, never
questioning what she has been told for as long as she can
Tella Meda is an integral character in the book, as it changes from
its early beginnings and ends its life in the new millennium.
During the 40-plus years of its existence, people come and go. One
of the main characters is Kokila, whose name means "cuckoo bird."
It is mostly through her eyes that the reader will watch the
changes happening there. Kokila is an orphan who is placed at Tella
Meda upon her marriage at age 11 and is told to stay there until
she experiences her first menses. At that point she will be allowed
to live with her husband.
However, at the appointed time, Kokila rejects her spouse and
states that she will never leave Tella Meda, thus changing the
course of her life forever. Instead, Kokila has fallen in love with
her caretaker's son, Vidura, who, along with many of the other
inhabitants of Tella Meda, eventually will leave and never be heard
from again. A majority of those who come to Tella Meda only stay
for a brief while, as can be true with most people who remain in
our hearts forever but physically may be a part of our lives for
only a short time.
Another inhabitant is Chetana, the daughter of a prostitute, and
she becomes good friends with Kokila. Kokila, Chetana and Charvi
grow up together but have markedly different lives due to the
choices they make or are made for them, yet all three live their
lives out at Tella Meda. It is their stories that make up the bulk
of SONG OF THE CUCKOO BIRD.
This is a remarkable tale of a family of misfits, while at the same
time the book itself chronicles major events in India and changes
that affect those who live at Tella Meda. I found it fascinating to
see how much change actually does happen within the 40-plus years
that Charvi lives her life as a goddess at Tella Meda. A very
epic-like drama, one will walk away from this novel with a sense of
awe and possibly a handful of tissues. A wonderful book for those
who are in love with the literature of India, this is probably
Amulya Malladi's best effort since her debut. She successfully
describes the feel of what it is like to live in an ashram, the
diverse people who come and go, and the poverty that engulfs those
who reside there.
If one has to choose which book to read first by Malladi, SONG OF
THE CUCKOO BIRD is the one I would recommend most.
Reviewed by Marie Hashima Lofton (Ratmammy@lofton.org) on January 23, 2011
Song of the Cuckoo Bird