One dog” is no less a relationship

One of them will die in the fourth year of
their marriage: this, fore­told by the astrologer but ignored by Maya’s father,
is a statement which comes back to torment Maya during that ominous fourth
year. For months she lives in fear of her own certain death. As time passes,
she comes to reflect more and more intensely on the meaning of life–to
appreciate it, to further develop her already extreme awareness of her world’s
sights, sounds, smells. But as Maya desperately tries to imprint life’s
experiences on her memory, thinking her days are numbered, she comes to save
the  life of all the more Instead of
being content to live her remaining days to the fullest, she begins to demand
more time.

At first her realization of this
alternative is not conscious. She gradually notices ever-widening disparities
between her attitudes and his, until a particular lack of perception on
Gautama’s part  “only underlined an
unawareness, a half-deadness to the living world, which helped and strengthened
me by justifying my unspoken decision” (p. 168) That decision: that Gautama, not Maya,
will be sacrificed. Time (of the full moon) and place (on the rooftop) combine
to facilitate his death.

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Only four significant events occur
beforehand: the death of Maya’s pet dog, Toto; the visit to the Lai’s home and
the ensuing trip to the cabaret; a visit from Gautama’s mother and sister, and
a shopping trip on which Maya accompanies them; and the arrival of a letter
from her brother Arjuna. These are events which, in the lives of other people,
would not be earth-shaking. For Instance, a pet and long-time companion would be
mourned, but not all readers would agree with
the childless Maya’s statement that a relationship  with
a dog” is no less a relationship than that of a woman and her child” (p.
9). Only the letter from a long-lost brother might deeply affect a more normal
person. The fact that Maya reacts so strongly to all four of these events shows how heightened her general level of perception has become. Except for
these outstanding events, Maya’s daily life is outwardly routine, she is free
to sit in her room and live a totally “mental” life. It is this inward type of
existence which Desai intends to portray in particular, the thought processes
of someone walking the tightrope of sanity. A lack of physical activity and
social interaction is essential to this end; Maya herself realizes this when
Nila and here mother come to visit. These two “had not the time for thinking
and imagining” (139); shopping and knitting, painting and cooking and caring
for orphans give their lives outward direction and structure. Maya, with no
outside concerns or social contacts, lives a life which is by its very nature
self-centered. Her isolation and introversion are essential to the development
of her character; for this reason the author has eliminated all but the bare
essentials of plot and setting.

The first-person method of narration
is crucial to the novel–indeed; one might almost say that it constitutes the
novel. Since Maya’s private thoughts form the core of her experience, 1t is
necessary for the author to convey them to readers so that they, in turn, can
develop some insights into Maya. We know the reasons for her behavior, at least
to the extent that Maya herself can communicate them; this is more than can be
said for poor Gautama. He sees only the outward manifestations of her thoughts,
and those visible aspects are so fragmentary that he cannot piece together the
total picture of Maya’s disturbance. Indeed, she has withheld from him the most
vital piece of the puzzle, concerning the foretold death of one of them. This
makes it impossible for him to act to avert his own end.