The year was 1992. Parts of India had experienced sectarian violence; many of us were shocked by the transformation of Indian polity. The country seemed to have lost its liberal identity; the new colour it was donning was unfamiliar and disturbing. On the personal front I had shifted to a new city and had lost my job, my friends, my familiar landmarks: I too didn’t know where I was heading, or even, any longer, who I was. A disturbed silence followed.
The Other Garden emerged as I emerged from this silence. In Hindu thought, the two basic questions to unlock identity are ’Where am I?’ and ‘Who am I?’ The ‘Where’ spans situational affiliations to aligning the self with the harmonies of the universe; the ‘Who’ ranges from shifting social and psychological levels to discovering the vast potential of the self by breaking free of the conditioned world.
In my life the personal and the political seemed to have imploded like mirror spheres crashing. I seemed to be in a free fall of shimmering, swirling shreds and needed to find a form to reflect this. The Other Garden tells the tale of Anasuya through many styles of writing and forms, elisions and multiple voices –including a narrator who is unsure of her identity – to create the effect of being within a shifting kaleidoscope.
Writers have been accused of stuffing their lives into their first book. I don’t think I crammed my personal life into the book, only the bewilderment, the dizziness. From the start my first novel was a literary adventure and an ambitious one at that.
Conventional modes of suspense which hook a passive reader are, for me, an affront to literature, the processes of life and the reader. I inserted a précis of the plot in the first chapter to free the reader of this and sought other, more demanding modes of engagement. The other formal decision was to not write dialogue which –mimicking naturalism- is taken to supply verbatim ‘truths’. But the effect of national amnesia meant nothing could be recalled with precision. Also I wanted a high degree of stylization.
In hindsight, the literary strategies in The Other Garden are fairly easy to analyze. But at the time of writing all I knew was that each chapter, each fragment would have a different tone and form, and often I did not know the connections between them. These had disappeared like sunk stepping stones.


Part One:
Chapter One: The graveyard of trees The graveyard of trees – one eveningPart two: Love
Chapter One: The Flat by the Sea The Flat by the Sea – Mr Ramchandani is trying too hard The Flat by the Sea – It began with Naval calling me
Chapter Two: The Navel Film  The Navel Film – Act 11, Scene 2.Act 11, Scene 2.Part Three: In the realm of the spirit
Chapter One: Through a bark, briefly
Chapter Two: AbhimanyuPart Four: RelocationPart Five: The wing beat of a swan


“the reader, cannot stop turning the pages until you reach the end. . . “- Jeet Thayil, Gentleman, November, 1995.” . . . The words evoke a multiplicity of images, the viewpoints are varied and the book has a kaleidoscope vision . . .” – Times of India, October, 1995.

” . . . Done with both skill and sensitivity . . . has the gift of drawing characters true to life and making them compelling as well . . .” – Vijay Nambisan, The Hindu, April, 1996.

” . . . joins the ranks of thinking, albeit glamorous, fiction writers with her debut novel The Other Garden which has received rave reviews . . . ” – Society, May 1996.

“. . . The rich imagery, clever word play, soaring imagination that borders on poetry . . . are deeply rooted in reality and give the reader jolts of recognition at every turn and corner . . . ” – Femina, January 1996.

“. . . The virtuoso performance comes to an end with the narrator asking the reader — ‘Now you tell me, who am I? ‘ . . . the effect of this narrative which refers not only to the puranas but also to the western classics is to question whether there is anything of significance in our lives, whatever we may learn and live out . . . All in all an impressive first book. . . ” – GJV Prasad, Indian Review of Books, March – April 1996.

“Sarukkai-Chabria’s luminous beautiful prose suffuses this novel…” – Robert B Siegle in Mirror to Mirror: Postmodernity in South Asian Fiction, 2002.

Postmodernity in South Asian Fiction, 2002
by Robert B Siegle

Chapter Six: Women On Women

The Other Garden

“Among the boldest of India’s new heroines is Anasuya, in Priya Sarukkai-Chabria’s The Other Garden (New Delhi: Rupa & Co., 1995). Anasuya has energy, sexuality, talent, sophistication, and a determination not to be herded into a marriage that will make her “normal.” She has a horror of the conventional; she also wants some form of its economic security and, finally, some form of motherhood. Her appetites and her independence engage her with all the contradictions of Bombay society sensationalized or romanticized in other fiction on the shelf.. .. It’s not a game with rules you can win by–gaming and winning are false promises of the same store of cultural formulae she wants to evade. To do so she must know these contradictions and number the sharp teeth in the doublebinds that snap at her as she blows through scene after scene… Her narrator has a parallel problem: how to orchestrate this narrative without forcing its variousness into any of the simplifying conventions at her fingertips. She cycles through narrators–her mother, her friend, her dead brother, herself–and narrative mechanics, including tales and fables with their oblique commentary, fact-filled prayers, scripts, dramatized scenes, retrospective reports, a classical narrator’s summing up. She even, like Anasuya, has something like a breakdown almost halfway through in which she toys with stylized narrative frames to contain the wild energies of the story (the romance, the “Kodachrome Family saga,” the Bollywood goonda film, tragic melodrama).… Anasuya negotiates her way right through the melodrama of fallen woman, sex siren, and outcast, and then on beyond where these narrators cannot follow, giving us glimpses rather than continuities. The principal narrator orchestrating all these words must parallel Anasuya’s passage in her narratology, restraining herself at all costs from invoking any formula for containing Anasuya. The continuities that come with these conventional narrative formulae thus give way structurally to a series of snapshots noting key moments on her trajectory. …As her own difficult task comes closer and closer to approximating the form and structure of Anasuya’s life, the narrator feels the lightening of her burden. She can let go of the narrative “I” of a sort of imperialist narratology, the mastery of self and world, and instead be free to assemble a collage analogous to Anasuya’s existential self-difference. Her own language for the narrative two-step is that she can “close what makes me be and once again be free…” (277) …Anasuya’s achievement is to have found how to live energetically with all this fragility and interconnection.”
Read the detailed review

Ordering Information
The Other Garden
Rupa&Co, India, 1995
ISBN 81 7167 3228
Available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble